"Is your love for your children greater than the love of the drug?"
Sally* broke down with tears streaming down her face when asked this question by the director of an addiction treatment centre.
Her children or the drug. Of course she chose her children – but her actions weren’t reflecting that, because the Scarborough mother-of-two was addicted to methamphetamine.
Sally’s five-year addiction saw her lose everything; custody of her children, friends, family, her home and her clean record, after she was caught by police with a smoking implement.
The drugs had became her life; a secret life she was determined to hide from everyone.
Sally began taking meth as a “drunken mistake” while in a relationship with a former partner who was also a user.
Over time, the 39-year-old started using every fortnight, then every week and eventually, every day.
Sally’s parents June* and William* thought their daughter was dealing with depression and anxiety, which she was originally diagnosed with about 13 years ago, and supported her through it.
They paid Sally’s rent and bills, but she was always after more money from them.
After they found out about her addiction, June and William confronted Sally, who finally admitted she had a problem.
Aside from the confrontation with her parents, Sally said she knew she had hit rock bottom when she was involved in a serious car accident.
She drove for two kilometres and hit a set of bollards.
She still has no memory of it, and said she was lucky to escape without injury.
It was at this point Sally said she began to realise what impact her drug taking had had on her life and those she loved.
“I had lost my kids, I had lost everything,” she said.
“I was couch-surfing between friend’s houses, I had smashed my car and I was self-medicating with meth.
“I was taking it to make myself feel numb so I didn’t experience any emotions and it blocked anything that I didn’t want to deal with.
“I was a shell of a person.”
June said to hug her daughter was like embracing a block of ice. She wasn’t the daughter she once knew.
“It was horrible, she was like Jekyll and Hyde. We never knew who we were going to get,” she said.
“It wasn’t our Sally we were dealing with, it was a monster and it was a monster these drugs created, they made her lie, steal and manipulate.
“Drugs took over everything. As much as she loved her children, the drugs became first and the kids became second.”
Sally moved in with her parents under the provision she would get help, although she was still using and lied to them about attending drug counselling sessions.
Eventually it became too much for June and William, who were then were forced to kick their daughter out of home.
June said it was one of the hardest things she ever had to do.
"But nothing we did worked,” she said.
“We put all the boundaries in and no matter what it was, she smashed through it.
“Sally would say she was going to kill herself, and I would have to say, ‘I’m sorry but you are killing yourself anyway, I will grieve for you but I cannot stop you. You’re doing it with this crap you’re putting in your body’.
“The lady at [a Perth drug rehabiliation centre] said ‘if you do not deal with this, she will put you in the ground, she will kill you’.”
After being kicked out of her parent’s house in March, Sally started attending drug counselling services before being allowed to move back in.
June and William became “guards” who would stand outside Palmerston to make sure Sally didn’t leave the weekly sessions.
“There was no way she was coming out of there,” she said.
“We didn’t trust her.”
After going to counselling, Sally decided to go to rehab. She wanted to turn her life around; for herself, her children and her family.
But the struggle to find Sally a place to stay was ongoing.
At one point, Sally stayed at Perth's Palmerston Association for six months and said she saw only three people who went into the rehab facility.
This was despite about 10 to 15 people accessing the counselling services each week.
“That’s not a lot,” she said.
“You’d get told not to even ask about women’s beds because there was such a shortage.”
Getting clean overseas
After waiting months for Sally to find a rehab facility, a family friend recommended Eden Medical Retreat Addiction Treatment Centre in Lombok.
The Eden facility was officially opened by Perth woman Angela Olifent in November last year.
A nurse with 44 years' experience working in Perth hospitals, Ms Olifent said she had seen the problems associated with a lack of beds in local facilities firsthand.
“Females are taking meth more so than males, and it’s at a later age,” she said.
“From the age of 35 up to 60, people are getting into meth a lot more but no one talks about that.”
Sally spent about a month in Perth being counselled by Ms Olifent before making the trip to spend 13 weeks getting clean at the purpose-built facility in Indonesia staffed by a team of doctors.
The former customer service assistant said she had a lot of fear around going but she knew it was now or never.
“I had to do it for the kids because otherwise I wouldn’t have them in my life anymore,” she said.
“My kids are my everything.”
Ms Olifent said it was a life or death situation and it was time for Sally to take ownership of her addiction.
Sally said herself she had “the biggest tanty” the morning she left for Lombok, with the fear and anxiety of not having her support network finally kicking in.
She got on the plane with Ms Olifent by her side.
Six weeks later, she was almost scared to return home and leave her now “sacred environment”.
Ms Olifent said 80 percent of addicts had a predisposing psychiatric condition, so when Sally arrived she met with the in-house psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist deemed Sally had previously been misdiagnosed, and instead had a personality disorder rather than depression and anxiety.
“From there we tailored her treatment, and because of her risky behaviour we put systems in place to manage that,” she said.
“Sally was exercising every day and having up to five hours of counselling daily, using neural linguistics, with breaks that included going for a walk or a swim.
“She had an MRI scan on arrival too because meth use and the car accident could have caused damage. She was extremely lucky that she was fine, especially because meth abuse can cause early onset dementia, Parkinson’s and heart failure.”
Ms Olifent said although Indonesia was a getaway destination for most Australians, rehab at Eden was not a holiday – it was work.
“It’s a life or death situation, it’s not a game,” she said.
“We’re not playing with people’s lives, we’re there as long as they’re committed, as long as they take ownership of their drug addiction, we can assist them to be well again.”
Ms Olifent said what made Eden different from other facilities was the fact they prepared people for discharge and took clients out in social situations to slowly integrate them into normalcy.
While at Eden, Sally was involved in assisting earthquake affected communities and a local school where she realised she’d rather spend money on helping others than buying drugs.
“We incorporate the whole person and we have to give hope to the person who is the user and the family,” Ms Olifent said.
“We combine the treatment with the person, but we also counsel the families because on discharge we have to all be on the same page; there’s a lot of hurts, anger and resentment.
“The most important thing about people coming out of drug addiction is that they’re feeling they are supported, incorporated and must have things to do.”
Life after rehab
Once she came home, Sally faced one of the hardest parts of her whole experience; telling her children the truth.
Ms Olifent said part of the steps to rehabilitation was to acknowledge the truth before explaining to loved ones and asking them for forgiveness.
“This is very important because even though they’re children and you might think they have gone through unscathed, they will have damage on the way, so it’s important to be honest,” she said.
“People can forgive honesty whereas they don’t forgive lies.”
Sally’s children took the news well and said she felt a great sense of relief they now knew the truth.
Now clean for more than four months, Sally is working to become an addiction support worker assisting Eden and its clients by sharing her experience.
Ms Olifent said there was no better person to empathise with someone “going through this terrible journey”.
Sally said before going to Eden she couldn’t see how the drugs had affected her.
“It wasn’t until going to rehab and actually going through the detox and then feeling better, healthier and more alive, that I realised who I had become," she said.
"I know it's going to be tough and the work hasn't stopped but I now have goals and direction.
"I want to help others get rehabilitated and realise what life they can have without drugs."
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.