"They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no," begins a hit song. For journalist Luke Williams, however, there was no rejecting the idea. He entered treatment and kept this diary.
A single cloud in an otherwise unusually perfect Brisbane summer sky. A sky that rained sun on white gums, open farmland, pockets of rickety bush – on a little settlement, bordered on one side by those never-ending Queensland mountains.
"The brain associates drugs with pleasure, the opposite of pain and death. But instead of giving yourself something that nourishes you and gives you strength, an addict is engaging in behaviour which will make their life worse in the long run," Audrey says.
A ceiling fan clicks, over her head.
"You face a problem, you take drugs, your problem gets worse, you take more drugs and on it goes. That is what we call the cycle of addiction."
This place starts 20km after the suburbs stop, on the edge of a turbid, fast-flowing Logan River. There are no direct roads back to the city. Rivergum House comprises four large, flat "he used to give me roses" red brick buildings, like a big medical centre or a small school.
"Addiction is an illness. Addiction is a coping mechanism. Addiction is about survival," Audrey explains, sitting directly under the fan's rhythmic click.
Today, in the biggest of those red brick buildings, are 11 people in a white conference room, seated around five tables pushed together in the middle of the room.
"Remember consequential thinking" is written on the whiteboard.
Audrey is a thirty-something black New Guinean, with a slight, almost European-sounding accent. She is wearing bright, pink lipstick and her hair tied back in a short bob. Today, half her rehab class is jailbirds forced to go. There are also two former schoolteachers, a bespectacled middle-aged librarian addicted to sleeping tablets, and David, the self-described "bisexual bipolar" bear.
Audrey pauses, then asks a question: "What's the worst consequence which has come about from your substances abuse?"
Well, for me, right then and right now, I think, it caused a possum to crawl into my head and die.
Also, there is an expressionless Indian myna bird in the form of a person sitting next to me, his wild, curly, long hair bobbing along as he taps a pen on the table. And then he talks: "Good question; I suppose it was because I when I was studying music at uni and I started dealing and drugs became my life, then after a while nobody wanted much to do with me and my girlfriend dumped me" – and a bit more pen tapping and barely time for a breath.
"And one day, my Christian mum walked in on me when I was off my face with a syringe, and I had been trying to find a vein for two hours. So yeah, all of those things – and the time my friends and I got really messed up and tried to catch a guy who owed us money. We wanted to cut open his feet and drop him in the mountains somewhere so he couldn't work."
Celia, a 27-year-old stripper by trade, begins laughing to herself, louder and louder, until everybody stops and looks.
"Y'know how I'm addicted to Xanax. Well, once I was so smashed that I peeled a cigarette and ate it like a banana."
Audrey tells Celia to be careful that she's not bragging about fun times she's had on drugs. That's against the rules. Celia looks mock-devastated.
"I'm not bragging. I'm telling you what a fucking idiot I am."
Being a fucking idiot is what I do best.
Last year was supposed to be my big year. The year where I took the next step in my career; I was going to go up and up. Life had been steadily improving for five years. I was doing everything you were supposed to do, I had gotten a degree, nice furniture, I had been drug-free for six... then a breakup.
He took half the furniture and my little kitty cat. Then a failed solo work project, living alone, crying at my desk, cutting myself when people didn't text me back. And a few hundred magic pills, heroin, cocaine, pot, alcohol, GHB, ketamine, LSD, and meth. A small, light room at HR headquarters ("you need to go to residential rehab or you will be placed on performance management") and now I am here, in the cult of the pock-holed zombies.
There is a tissue box sitting on the dining table in this room, with "it's okay to cry" written in red texta. And the box is unopened.
Rivergum House is a publicly funded drug rehab. It costs $220 a week. Down the road, private rehab The Sanctuary costs $30,000 a week. My drug rehab fees are deducted directly out of my Centrelink payment: "Not bad for three meals a day and a roof over your head".
There are four counsellors. We live among three villas and have classes all day. We are not allowed any contact with the outside world for the first 21 days; no phone calls, nothing. We will have to make do with ourselves.
And on that note, Diary, today I got a knife from the kitchen and put it under my mattress.
Unlike most rehabs, which use the controversial 12-step program, the rehab course at Rivergum House is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We are taught that our thoughts control our behaviours and emotions, and our willpower controls our thoughts. You have the thoughts, therefore you have the power, and so on.
Audrey told us that we have complex psychological reasons for our drug triggers – often trauma – and 90 per cent of people with drug addictions have another diagnosable mental illness.
She also said rehabs – even the best of the best – have very low success rates. Only about 30 to 40 per cent of people who complete rehab remain clean. Most drop out before the end of the course.
Today, there was a dissenter in class: Max, the musician, who said that most people here seemed fairly confident and fairly happy, and that nothing compared to the high you get on drugs.
"Then you come down," Audrey said. "Addiction is maladaptive behavior, Max, it is not the meaning of life."
Today I also met David the Bear, on my way to compulsory morning exercise. He was sitting outside the villa, not looking like he was ready for the breakfast of champions, looking more like an axe murderer, dressed in black, with black nail polish, staring, without taking a blink – at me, or something behind me. And I asked him:
"Looking forward to exercise in the morning?"
"I can't exercise. I've got an enlarged heart," he said, rolling a cigarette.
"Oh, why is it enlarged?"
"I tried to gas myself in a car two months ago.""Really?"
"Yeah, man. I was off my head on speed; I just was really excited about the prospect of dying. I was unconscious, the neighbours found me. Apparently I went for a ride in Mr Helicopter and they put me on life support," he said, then licked the cigarette and lit it.
I had my first counselling session by the river with Audrey, on two ramshackle chairs, slightly leant into each other, next to a big river gum. I told her about the times I had the psych ward called on me, how I cut myself sometimes when people don’t call me back. And the latest suicide attempt, involving about $200 worth of heroin, with an attempt at swallowing it whole.
"You're safe here," she said, exhaling a deep breath.
Today, I went for morning exercise: a walk down the long, straight driveway. Max asked to join me – with his stiff, square shoulders and reptilian eyes – and said I am bound to see some "fucking weird shit in here".
With the stones crunching under our feet, he added: "Y'know, Luke, I look at some of the guys in here who are old and ugly and I think if we kept going on like we have been, we are in for a fucked-up life."
He said most of the people in here were alcoholics, one a schoolteacher, "even a psychologist… the guys in Villa 3 reckon she’s the craziest of the lot".
Max looked drawn and a bit unwell, but with good skin and nice teeth – a pampered upbringing, like mine? He wanted to get his music work back on track, he said. He sang in a band and produced electronic music before he slipped into addiction.
At the end of the driveway, we see a few residents are standing, watching something. When we get down there, we spot a small, red fox on the stones next to the asphalt gutter. It is trying to drag itself along the ground. Then it stops, looks over at us and away. There is no blood, but its body sits in a strange position.
"Broken neck," Max said. "Some bastard probably hit it on purpose."
There once was a man named Bud Flanders. His teeth were as yellow as the finest gold.
"He's only just started talking in the past few days," Max said. "37 years of smoking pot every day."
And: "This is my last chance," said Steve with blonde hair, blonde moustache, 55 years old, speaking to no-one in particular, his head in his hands, feet bouncing on the spot.
My, oh my, what a sight to behold.
But be careful, he can be rather blunt,
and then right on cue,
Steve got up and said "c--t, c--t, c--t".
After that, I got to have my first conversation with Celia. As we had a cigarette together, she said she wanted "a rich husband, a mansion, men sending you gifts, I could click my fingers and get men to do anything I want". She added that heroin was "groovy" and needles are "erotic" and she is saving up for boob jobs and a facelift.
And Zoe, purportedly that "crazy psychologist". Zoe is a mum of two. She has long, blonde hair and freckles. Her occupation is, yes, actually a psychologist.
I started talking to her when she was outside her villa, raking leaves. She wore a blue bandana in traditional "peasant style" and a t-shirt which said "I am not perfect". Her raking was, however, relentlessly perfect, every little centimetre, every little leaf – and then the leaves sitting just under the surface as well – all with a tough, focused, kind of worn-out expression.
She asked me how I found it in Rivergum House. I asked her the same.
"It's excellent. We are treated like adults here," she said.
"Have you been to rehab before?”
"I've been to eight different rehabs and none of them worked."
"How long have you had the alcohol problem for?" I asked, as she heaped leaves into a wheelie bin.
"My partner died in 1996. When my son got older, he started talking about how much he missed his Dad. When that happened, I realised I hadn't grieved. I fell to bits. I started drinking and drinking – at night, at first, with just the lamp on. And then drinking all day. Y'know, the thing about grief is, the more you hold on to it, the worse it gets," she said, gathering up a bundle and placing it gently into the bin.
Today, we learnt about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The guilt-anger-depression cycle. We made lists of goals, of things we are and are not.
Women talked about being raped by their stepfathers. Others talked about having fun, then becoming miserable, then ending up with no job and nowhere to live.
"Think about where you are on the hierarchy of needs," Audrey said. "For instance, if you are someone who is always thinking 'am I wearing the right stuff?' or 'do I look okay?', you might be at the stage of belonging, or needing to fit in. Social affiliation."
People with addiction often had traumas, Audrey said. Further trauma resulted from drug use.
A woman named Margie spoke up: "I was sexually abused by my stepfather at 13. I started drinking. I drank and drank. I felt ashamed and guilty. Then my sister ran off with my husband and my kids. I can't forgive her. I drink and I drink and I make a fool out of myself and now I want to stop."
Sitting next to her was another new guy named Wyatt, quiet and 47, with dark hair, dark eyes, glasses, a slightly protruding chin and a very thick mono-brow. He talked about how he was addicted to the sleeping tablet Restavit.
And then, the deluge: "I spent six years in my room. I didn't even go to the mailbox. I took packet after packet of Restavit. I know a lot of people in psych wards are there because they have attempted to kill themselves because of Restavit. I know people think that Restavit is a weak drug, but if you take enough of it, it is strong. I knew a woman who took 90 a day. My wife left me, I have declared myself bankrupt, and Restavit has ruined my life."
Max, the dissenter, leaned over to me. His hair was wildly expressive, his statements original, lethal and impossible to predict. He whispered: "My name is Wyatt, I am a Restavit addict, I once pushed in line to get it, then I went to rehab because I've got no friends".
Today, at about 4pm between classes, I had my second session with Audrey by the Logan River. Two kookaburras sat about 10 metres above us, on a massive river gum.
I said some things to her, like:
- "I use tinted moisturiser to hide the flaws."
- "I don't think I'm a bad enough drug user. I never used every day."
- "I got dumped four times, then suspended from my job."
She said things like:
- "There is nothing wrong with the way you look and your skin is perfect and I think most people would consider you very good-looking."
- "How comfortable are you with your sexuality?"
- "I hate it when people treat me like 'the black one'."
- "I think your problem, in a nutshell, is low self-esteem."
- "It is possible that if your parents both had a mental illness, then you go through stages of over-achieving, not feeling perfect enough, and then underachieving to try and get some recognition."
- "Remember, with your humour, often it’s a case of making fun of things we feel uncomfortable about. Humour speaks measures. Think about that the next time you make fun of your own sexuality."
Okay, gay issue dealt with. Let's move on. Let’s keep the trite out of this. Then this exchange:
"Do you self-harm?"
"Why? Do I seem like someone who would self-harm?"
"Well, it's more like nearly everybody who comes to rehab is a self-harmer."
"Really, most drug addicts are self-harmers?"
"There is a very high percentage."
Later, Max the dissenter got out his guitar and sang his new song:
News spread quickly today that two women have been kicked out for breaking one of the rules: they were having sex. Apparently it happens all the time.
I walk past Villa 1 and see Zoe sitting outside. She's in tears. Not hysterical, just a bit teary.
"It makes me angry," she says. "Those girls were great… but people leave, you have to deal with it and move on. And tomorrow is a new day."
I can't sleep. I walk around the villa and spot Max, also awake. He says: "My girlfriend and I were supposed to go to Europe together, but I spent all my savings on drugs and she dumped me, and I fucking love her, and I miss her."
Just before 8pm, I needed to burst. I slipped into my bedroom, grabbed the knife and went into the bathroom. I rolled up my shorts, took a deep breath and put the knife right into the top of my inner thigh. I wonder if this how people feel just before the bungee jump? And counted 1,2 – get ready for an exciting, naughty little slit – and then heard a big bang at the door.
"Luke, where have you been?"
"Fuck off, Max, I’m busy."
"I need to tell you something."
"C'mon, poof, open the door."
Annoyed, then panicked, I put the knife in the bathroom drawer. I unlocked the door and opened it. Max was looking so excited; he had gone all "Thunderbirds are go". Were those reptilian eyes showing some emotion?
"Guess what happened!"
"Celia has been kicked out."
"Really? What for?"
"She smuggled in Xanax in her shoe and she’s been popping it left, right and centre. And do you know how they found out?"
"Because she was talking shit all the time?"
"No, 'cause one of the staff caught her off her face, eating a cockroach."
He stands there, hovering on the spot, eyes exploding with gossip.
"And?" I say, as he continues standing and staring.
"And now it's time for Bolivian tennis!"
He walks over to a fruit bowl, nurses it in his hands and begins throwing its contents onto the ceiling fan. Clunk, slash, an apple and an orange and a peach. The geckos scatter.
Two guys emerge from their rooms. "All right, Bolivian tennis!" one says. They also start throwing fruit until the room fills with confetti – though more often chunks – of red and orange and pink.
One guy then gets the utensils drawer completely out of the socket and carries it into the living area. He starts throwing spoons and forks. Ring-a-ling-a-ling, like they are in a blender. Now half a dozen people are jumping up and down, screaming.
Bud Flanders, with his yellow teeth, comes in and says: "Stop this, stop this, God doesn't like it."
He's barely audible over the yelling and clanging. He goes to the fridge and gets a cake he baked today.
He walks up to the ceiling fan and says "cake for everyone". His "cake arm" takes a big extension, his teeth glisten, his mouth opens wide as he throws. He misses the fan by a good metre and the cake lands near a couch, like a soiled nappy, splattering cream and icing. One piece of jam is now a long line down a flyscreen.
Not to worry. The cockroaches will have the place spotless by morning.
At 7pm, it was fresh and cool. The grass was freshly mown. The sky looked like a toddler had made a mess of pink and purple paint behind the hills, as it turned dark.
Zoe had been playing piano in the main building for 20 minutes straight. I could hear it all the way from my villa. "Symphony No 9" was written on the music sheet in front of her.
Somebody had written on the whiteboard:
And someone – probably the same author – had written underneath: "Read it in a non-linear way. It spells Zoloft. Love, Max".
Zoe's fingers produce the perfect soundtrack for meds time. About a dozen of us sit outside the little medication room, as we are not allowed to carry any drug (not even for asthma). And they watch us swallow the meds, so we don't hide them in our mouths.
I'm waiting for my nightly Zoloft. Sitting with me, in front of a dusty bookshelf, is Margie, her cheeks still rosy from the years of alcoholism she spoke about.
There's Liam the schizophrenic. And Bud Flanders, whose saying today was "God has rescued me from my darkness".
And there's Dick Smith, the night counsellor (actual name Brad, but looks just like Dick Smith). When Zoe wraps up Symphony No 9, he begins to make small talk.
"Got to worry about the state of the world," he says to the four of us. "People just want big houses and plasma TVs. Backyards are getting smaller, kids aren't playing sport, it's all about me and me and me."
"People are so self-absorbed, superficial, so concerned about what other people think of them. It's egomania out there."
Margie went in for hers, then Bud. Brad was called away to attend to something, leaving just me, Liam and David the Goth waiting outside the room.
Liam blinked unevenly. He had big, dark rings around his eyes – possibly from the medication.
"A dog being fist-fucked," Liam whispered.
"Wow, Liam, that was rather random."
"Heh, heh. By the guitarist from Metallica."
"What sort of dog is it?"
"Any dog I like," he replied.
And that was pill time. Good night.
I started chatting with Zoe again. She told me:
"Did I tell you I'm leaving this week?"
"Well, I am. I think I'm ready to go. I've healed a lot here. And Luke, if you put in lots of effort, you can heal stuff as well."
Maybe. Maybe not.
I wish I could leave. Especially now the bipolar bear has been coming to my window at night, asking for sex. Me and nearly all the women in Villa 1. Most of the staff, too, apparently.
Tonight, he appeared at the window as I was doing the dishes, like the ghost of Catherine to Heathcliff. And he said: "I'd like to take you to the cow paddock."
"C'mon. It's a full moon, I'll get a blanket, we can roll around and have some fun."
"Um, no, we can go play darts or something," I replied.
Oh, by the way, somebody asked why there was a knife in the bathroom today. And the night worker asked where all our fruit had gone. We were given more fruit. I got another knife and put it under my mattress.
As night fell, some guys were feeding the magpies bits of mince. Liam came over and counted the holes in our flyscreen.
I smoked cigarettes until I started wheezing. Max got out his guitar and sang Nirvana. Everyone sang along. I took the opportunity to pretend I was having a shower and made a sharp, exciting little cut on my inner thigh – followed by cleanse, tone, moisturise, night cream on my face.
We have this daily thing called "Feelings Check". We sit in a circle and say what is on our minds. Everybody claps. People say:
- "I'm great."
- "I'm grateful."
- "I'm scared."
- "I'm changing."
- "I'd like to thank Christy for the pudding."
It was also Monday games night – as in, kids' party games and learning to have fun without drugs. People always spend it complaining. Tonight, about half the participants were bitching that they didn't want to do it. Bear David just flatly refused.
"I've just been told by the manager that maybe I shouldn't be here," David the Bear said. "Apparently I'm not sharing my feelings enough."
He stood, stamped his big, black dock shoes on the ground twice and said: "Last night I didn't want to play pin the tail on the fucking fuckface, or whatever you were playing at games night.
"I fucking hate parties. When I was 14, a bunch of guys for no reason had a go at me. They hit me and hit me. 'Cause I was such a big bastard and I wouldn't fall down, they grabbed a metal pole and knocked me unconscious."
Tears started falling down his face.
"So if you really want to know how I feel, I feel like killing something. I feel like chucking it on the ground and stomping on it and watching it die."
Audrey was sick today. We had a guy with white, blonde hair and white, milky skin teach the class. He was very overweight, but softly spoken and seemingly quite a decent person.
About five minutes into his talk about "thinking errors", like "black-white categorising", Max the dissenter cut in:
"How can you possibly empathise with us?"
"I understand addiction?"
"Why, because you've got a food addiction?"
"That's getting a bit personal, Max."
"Well, I object to being taught about drug addiction by somebody who can't control how much they eat."
"I feel like you're attacking me. Why are you so angry?"
"Why do you eat when you’re not hungry?"
On that note, the white-haired guy got up and walked out. So did Max.
Max was gone for two hours. I was worried he had been expelled, until he came back to the villa, almost skipping with joy.
"They put me on the phone to psych services."
"And?" I asked.
"I've been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder," he said and then cracked up laughing.
"Sociopathy?" I said.
"Yeah, I'm basically a psychopath and I'm officially fucked up now, so I'm happy with that."
"Why did they say you were a sociopath?"
"Because apparently I'm impulsive, I'm aggressive, I have no concept of authority and I lack empathy?"
An eventful day, all round: David got kicked out for his constant sexual harassment.
Audrey spent three whole hours with Max today. They seemed to spend most of the time laughing.
Their session went so long that Audrey missed ours, but that was okay. She apologised. To compensate, we will have an extra-long session tomorrow.
Audrey. Audrey by the river, on the seats.
And she just kept staring right into my eyes, her 1960s eye make-up, her blue contacts, that glowing face, and I was playing with my shorts and then I said: "There is something I have to tell you. I self-harmed last night."
She welled up in tears, then put her hand on my leg. She told me cutting didn't help. I told her I felt like it did. She said I cut myself when I was anxious and I need to do breathing exercises instead. She told me that my thoughts caused my anxiety and thoughts were things I could control. That there was no need for me to be anxious.
She said I was funny, good-looking and smart. She told me I was safe.
"Anxiety comes in waves," Audrey said. "It peaks, then it goes. You need to identify when it is starting and slow down your breathing. When you slow down your breathing, your body will relax, you will feel better.
"Cutting yourself gives you relief, I understand that. But it damages your self-esteem in the long run. I think, Luke, everyone has it in them to make themselves feel better. You can do it. You don't need to cut yourself to feel better."
Zoe left today and we had a big graduation ceremony. Her mum was a beautiful hippie lady, with long, grey hair. Her two sons – well-dressed in their private school uniforms – came too.
Two women from her villa got up in front of everyone.
"You mean so much to all of us," one said.
"Your help around this place sets standards," said the other.
Zoe burst into tears: "Thanks for making me feel beautiful again.”
Audrey got up and said: "Your tough facade is about survival. It was a successful way to stop you from being hurt. I just want to tell you, you don't need to be protecting yourself all the time. You don't need to be that tough in this world."
Zoe wished us all well and said goodbye. On the way out, Max came up and said:
"Hey, did you hear about what happened to Liam? We only found out this morning."
"No, what? I can only imagine."
"He snuck off yesterday afternoon and got his hands on some drugs and he overdosed. He's dead."
"Yeah, bloody sad, isn't it? It's awful. It's truly fucking awful. Apparently his schizophrenia came on after he was driving a car drunk and he killed one of his friends, poor bastard."
More classes. We talked about boundary violations: physical, sexual, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
"I like violating people's boundaries," Max said. "I like farting in people's ears."
"I like Japanese bondage-style sex with really slutty girls. I like getting people bashed. I'd like to kill someone one day and I am not wearing any underwear."
Audrey is running the class. She looks at him. Then she rolls her eyes. He shifts uncomfortably. He stares back at her. She angles her head, cocks one eyebrow and purses her lips.
Max changes tack.
"I think it's because my first sexual experience screwed me up," he says. "My auntie asked me to put my finger in her vagina when I was six, so I did. It was a breach of trust and I've been wracked with guilt ever since. But, I don't know. Now I am just trying to find my relationship with God again. I don't feel guilty about that anymore. But having a sexual violation like that really screws with your sense of right and wrong from a young age."
Audrey is certainly a good counsellor. But culture is critical and it's like she keeps seeing me as "the gay one". She keeps asking me about gay stuff.
In fact, I am going to talk to her about it and ask her to stop. I'll tell Audrey that I am sick of being the gay one and of her questions about my sexuality.
So, I did tell Audrey about my annoyance with the constant questions about my sexuality.
"Before you go, Luke, I would like to thank you for educating so much on gay issues. And if I said anything to offend you, I apologise," she said.
"But I guess it's also worth wondering why it bothers you so much that that people regard you as effeminate."
I bitched all day to the guys in the villa about that comment.
Not giving a fuck what people think has actually been a constant message throughout most classes. But it's hard when stuff just comes around again and again in your mind.
I think about the morning chorus of "faggot" I got, every single day when I walked onto the school grounds, by boys in a bright, red uniform.
Sneak attacks were the favourite, particularly pushing me into metal poles. It got worse when my male friends from primary school deserted me. My then best friend threw my pencil case on the floor and said "fuck off, you gay c--t".
As years went by, people threatened to stab me. They prank-called my house. One day, somebody said to me: "You're a poof, 'cause you run on your toes."
An effeminate male. Skinny, ugly, with red hair and big, cystic pimples all over his face, arms, neck and back. When I wasn't being called a pizza-face by the girls, I was being a called a dirty, faggot c--t by the boys.
I stayed awake all night, thinking and remembering. And then I started howling. I sat outside and stared at the open night sky and howled and howled. My face was all hot and wet at the same time. I went to bed and cried and cried. I got angry and I punched the shit out of my pillow. I punched two holes in the wall.
And I didn't sleep.
Next morning, I know I have to talk to Audrey about how I am feeling. She sits right next to me by the river and I take out a list I made, of all the things which had happened in high school.
She gently rubs my back as I go through all the details, as I sob, and says: "You've got through the worst of it. You have already survived it. It's time now to accept yourself and be kinder to yourself."
Writing out lists was actually an idea I got from Max, who got it from Audrey. He was writing out "gratitude" lists, "how to be kind" lists and "what people feel" lists.
I stayed awake again, all night. I suppose everybody has their soft spots. Every living thing does.
Max possibly somehow caught wind of what was going on in my head – I think he must have seen Audrey and me by the river. The next day, he announced he had come up with a plan for me, inspired by a highly effeminate champion Thai kickboxer he once saw on TV.
"I am going to turn you into society's worst nightmare," he said.
"A poof who can kill you."
"No, Max," I said. "I don't need to know that kind of thing, not anymore."
"C'mon," he protested. "It will give you confidence."
He took me into the shed with the boxing bag. His philosophy was simple: your hard bits, thrown at full force into the other person's soft bits.
- Elbows to eye sockets.
- Knees to testicles.
- Fists to windpipe.
- Shin to stomach.
- Legs to ribs.
- Head to back of head.
I told him I didn't think it was necessary. But he just kept crapping on, so I asked him what he and Audrey had talked about.
"That I started taking dexamphetamine when I was 13," he said. "I took it 'cause I couldn't concentrate like other kids. I took it for 10 years, got good grades and I got into uni. I don't think I would have been able to do it without the dexys.
"When I was 14, I started smoking marijuana. And I don't know, I got so bent I felt like I had become privy to some secret world that normal people didn't know about. At 15, I started taking LSD and I fucking loved it, because it made me feel like a child again.
"Then I started taking amphetamines, and heroin to help me wind down off amphetamines. I got dumped by my girlfriend and went crazy on heroin. I was numb, and life without pain is a beautiful thing."
And so on. And still I couldn't sleep.
I told you I like pills.
Today, I was put on anti-psychotics. I went to bed an hour later. I'm dopey and blissed out right now. I am still a bit anxious, but every time a bad thought enters my head, I tell it to disappear. And it does.
I sat outside and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains. Easter is coming and I wonder if it is actually about transformation. I felt something inside, like a burning ball of something special, and I think I might have a soul. I don’t think anything will ever take that away.
When I told Max, he said his mum was a Christian and so is he, and everybody misunderstands Christianity because they think it is all about fear of dying, when "everyone is scared of death".
Later, I told Audrey halfway through our session that: "I feel like I have a soul now, and I wonder if there is actually some kind of God, y'know, like a divine force or some kind of something within."
"God is what you understand it to be Luke; it's a way of making meaning."
"Are you religious, Audrey?"
I knew I was crossing a line by asking that question.
"Yes, not big-time literalist, but I am."
"So you're Christian?"
"No, Luke, I'm a Muslim."
And still staring at me, with a slight grin, she said: "And yes, I know many Muslims are anti-gay, but I think being gay is part of God's plan for you."
Final feelings check.
I said I was leaving today. I told everyone how much I've changed. I said Rivergum House was the best experience of my life. I said I've learnt lots and lots. That I cried over things that happened to me 15 years ago. That sometimes the nicest people are the angriest.
I said drug abuse is a form of anger turned inwards. I said I would not take drugs ever again, because it stops me from experiencing my soul.
I saw Max, who was on his way to exercise and he said: "I'm leaving in two days. I am going to be moving in with two chicks and I am going to go to church and get a job and sell my music."
"Drugs?" I asked.
"I'm over it. I've found a new life. I might have a drink every now and then, but that's it."
Then he hugged me. But the last person I actually saw before I got in a taxi was Bud Flanders.
"I see you and Audrey spending a lot of time by the river," he said. "I can hear what you are saying about me sometimes."
Max rang me last week. I told him I happened to be visiting Brisbane in a couple of days.
He said he was going really well and was now living with his girlfriend on a farm outside Logan. Come over, he said. But when I arrived at the little cottage, he was acting all weird and back-offish. I wondered if he was having doubts about me being there.
I asked to talk with him in his kitchen. We both leant on the dining table.
"Is there something wrong, Max?" I asked.
And he said "Nah, I'm just on acid", and I said "Can I have one too?" and he said "Got money?" and I said I'd get some out later and put two acid tickets in my hand, which I then placed in my mouth and a long celebration began.
Luke Williams is a Melbourne-based journalist. All other names in this story have been changed.
If you need to talk to someone about drug abuse, addiction or rehabilitation, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Illustrations: Oslo Davis
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