FEW in Moree are unaware of the town’s underworld of vice and violence, much of it fuelled by illegal drugs.
But amid the horror stories there are people who are trying to break from the cycle of addiction.
Last week we profiled Maddy, a 14-year-old girl who claims to have become an addict aged 12. In part II JOSEPH HINCHLIFFE talks with a 40-year-old recovered junkie. Charlie started on drugs as a teenager and was immersed in Moree’s drug scene for more than two decades...
‘I saw the rise of the ice age’
AT the nadir of his sickness Charlie didn’t care if he lived or died.
Now 40-years-old, Charlie takes prescription pills but no longer craves the illegal drugs to which he was addicted his entire adult life.
“It’s amazing, I can smell the flowers and hear the birds,” Charlie says. “I love life now more than you could ever imagine.
“I don’t even dream of drugs anymore.”
It took years, but now Charlie has reconnected with his 11-year-old daughter and is doing a Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs so he can help others to recover.
His descent into addiction began with teenage experimentations. Then Charlie tried heroin.
“I shot up all the time… six, seven, eight times a day, just to stay where I had to be,” he says. “When ice came along I tried smoking in a little glass bulb, but I wanted a needle ... I was addicted to the feel of the steel.”
For the first decade, Charlie kept his habits hidden.
“I kept going to work, welding, machining, working cotton properties, whatever paid the most,” he says. “I had to earn huge money to pay for my addiction and I used to have to work the hours.
“As soon as I stopped working, I started going south.”
Charlie hocked his possessions and turned to crime. He is candid about the things he and his friends at the time did to feed their habits.
Selling drugs, violent robberies, break and enters – Charlie says not so long ago he would have done anything to get a fix.
“All your pride, everything goes out the door,” he says. “It subdues your conscience to the point that you don’t have one. Nothing affects you when you’re that fried.
“What most people would find totally disgusting is what you call living on a daily basis.”
At times he didn’t pay for drugs at all. But Charlie says there is no such thing as a freebie in the drug scene.
“A lot of the time you don’t have to pay if you know the right people ... but they’re going to get their money back in other ways,” he says.
“They’ll suss your house out while they are there, give you a packet to take your attention off what they’re doing – scoping your house out to break into it later.”
Charlie saw ice enter the town in the 90s. Though it was slow to take off, now he says there are dozens of ‘ice houses’ in town, with new ones cropping up as the habit spreads.
“I remember selling it to a lot of people who didn’t know what it was and once they’d tried it they’d just keep coming back,” he says. “I saw how it was being made, with Drano, caustic soda, lithium batteries… and people are smoking that stuff and just breaking their lungs down and frying their brain.
“The worst thing was what they were doing to get the money … things that would make your skin crawl.”
Charlie tried to get clean and failed. He tried again, but again turned back to the only way of life he knew.
“It took me four years of trying and failing, trying and failing, and every time you fail you fall further down the tree,” he says. “You feel totally worthless.
“I thought: I’m 38, where’s my life gone?”
In one last attempt to get clean, Charlie says he sought help and was put on a six-month waiting list for a methadone program.
“I knew I would’ve been dead in a ditch in six months,” he says.
Charlie went to the Gold Coast and within days was accepted into a rehabilitation clinic.
Aside from the professional help, Charlie credits the support of his family in helping him get clean.
He says the parents of addicts are too often forgotten.
“They’ve got no-one to go to for advice or help, or just someone to tell them that it’s not their fault,” he says. “Because it’s not, it’s a disease and it doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone. There are rich cockies on it and there are homeless people on it.
“No-one thinks about the parents of addicts and yet they’re the ones wearing the brunt of our actions.”
Now, Charlie is trying to repay his family’s support.
“My way of saying sorry is to make amends,” he says. “They’ve heard enough sorrys, it’s pathetic to keep saying sorry. But every day I wake up and stay off drugs, it is a way of saying sorry.”
He also aims to turn his experiences into a positive, saying recovered addicts can help other drug abusers.
“We’ve got wisdom through living the hard life and we can turn it into a big positive by telling people this is where you will go if you start on this path. It’s not might, not if or a maybe - it will happen, you will bash your wife, you will do terrible things…
“We can also say this is where you will end up if you can stick it out and you get clean – you will have a good life.”