James Bateman wears his badge of sobriety proudly as he goes into his second year clean from crystal methamphetamine, but it was a life he never believed would be his.
Less than two years ago, Mr Bateman, a Gamilaroi man, was living out of a van in his hometown of Moree in northern New South Wales and dealing drugs to support his habit.
On an average day, Mr Bateman would spend his time high on ice and isolated from friends and family.
“If I was going to a dealer’s house every day, I would have wasted a thousand a day. I’d smoke a pipe, I never needled it, ten or more times a day”, he said.
He did this for five years with no motivation to get clean. “I thought that was my life, I thought it was great,” he said.
Mr Bateman's life was once ordinary; he had a wife, two children and drove trucks for a living, using speed occasionally to stay awake while on the road.
“I had a breakdown of a marriage and somewhere towards the end of the breakdown a mate had said ‘try this’ and you know, it just killed everything and then I went five years on ice,” he said.
“I never spoke to my kids and just lost a lot, pushed my family away and [I last saw my children] about five years ago.”
The turning point came when Mr Bateman was arrested for drug possession and dealing and sent to the Tamworth Correctional Facility where he did three months behind bars.
He had no choice but to go through withdrawal.
“The first week was intense, I had hot and cold sweats and I just wanted to sleep,” he said.
“[There’s] two things you don’t do when you are on ice - sleep and eat - so when you come off it you crave it.”
Upon release, Mr Bateman chose to check himself into the Maayu Mali Rehabilitation centre where he spent six months learning to live without ice.
He said the centre was a challenge but it “changed my life and put my loved ones back around me”.
“We have groups here, you know, programs they put in place and you do two programs a day which they help you deal with [addiction],” he said.
“They help you use strategies for every day-to-day instead of getting down about things… and learn to walk away and ring those who you love.
“I still use those strategies every day… once an addict, I suppose you’re always sick with the problem.”
Maayu Mali is the only rehabilitation centre in the New England and north-western NSW region.
Patients must be sober when they check in.
The closest rehabilitation centre with detox beds is 267 kilometres away in Armidale. It has only four dedicated beds to help addicts go through withdrawal.
Around 1.3 million Australians over the age of 14 have touched methamphetamine at least once in their lives with methamphetamine continuing to be the most-used illicit stimulant in Australia.
“Maayu Mali is a centre that is just for Aboriginal people in Australia so all of our residents here are Aboriginal people [and] all of our staff are Aboriginal people,” said centre manager David Kelly.
“We get a lot of people who have experienced contact with the criminal justice system that come to us from custody or in the community, but we [also] have a lot of other people that come to us directly form the community.
“We have people as young as 18, as old as 70 and we also take men and women.”
Mr Kelly said the staff works to keep the patients as busy as possible by running boxing classes, art classes, community visits and guiding patients on daily walks around the property.
The staff and patients come together every dinner and lunch as a way of helping to introduce family values back into the patients’ lives.
Mr Kelly said they do see familiar faces return but it is never an unfortunate surprise.
“We know that drug and alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing addiction,” he said.
“If they’ve relapsed and their using again it’s a very good thing and we try really hard to establish a positive relationship with residents while they’re here and while they’re leaving… they are so they know they can always come back if they need help again.”
Today, Mr Bateman works full time on his dad's farm, a 10-minute drive from Maayu Mali, looking after a herd of 500 cows alongside his fiancé, Kelly Aitken, and her two children.
“Kelly and the kids are my higher power, they’re the reason why I everyday get out and say, I’m going to stay clean,” he said.
Through mistakes made and lessons learnt, Mr Bateman wants to pass a message onto others who may be battling with an addiction.
“They say rehab's for quitters, but you know, it’s not,” he said.
“You lie in jail and you talk to your inmates about beating the law, well if you want to beat the law, get clean you know, then you’ve beaten them cause they’re the ones sitting there saying addicts will never get clean, it’s not true, it can happen.”