A life transformed

A life transformed

15 November 2019

Sam's* life revolved around earning money for drugs and alcohol, until RSL Queensland and the Hader Clinic helped him transform his life.

I’m 48 and grew up in Charleville, a small country town. Like many kids, I couldn’t wait to leave at the first opportunity I had. So, I joined the Army.

I spent most of my Army career in Townsville. I did a deployment to Cambodia in 1992-93 and then a few touring stints. I left the Army seven years and 234 days later.

My primary addiction was alcohol and a bit of cannabis. I started smoking weed when I was 15. I gave it up when I entered the Army but picked it up six years later – because alcohol just wasn’t doing it for me.

My dad is an alcoholic and so are all his friends. Drinking and work were the consistent things in their lives – so you could say that for me growing up it was the norm.

The grip it had on me was powerful. And the scary part was that I didn’t care, nor did I want to admit I had a problem, even when I was at what we call ‘rock bottom’.

I missed positions of rank, or advancement in rank because of my association with alcohol. I didn’t want to quit, because it was a release.

My turnaround point started with an unexpected phone call. It was Kathleen, a Wellbeing Officer at RSL Queensland. I had been put in a program to keep me off the streets, but I continued my alcohol and drug addiction.

Kathleen asked, “What can I do for you, or what can you do for yourself going forward with your life to make it better?”

For some unknown reason I said, “I have to kick the alcohol and drugs.” She said, “I’ll get you into a program, but it will take about seven to 14 days.”

I responded, “No, if you’re going to ring me up and offer me this kind of thing, or want to ask me these questions, I have to do this now, or I won’t ever do it.”

I was shocked when she called back within 90 minutes and said, “I’ve got you into a program, I’ll send you the details.”

I was at the Hader Clinic Queensland within 48 hours.

When Kathleen called me, I was standing on the roof of a building on the work site. I thought, I’m working and earning good money, but I’d go home to my flat at night and realise that I had nothing to show for it, my money had been wasted on alcohol and drugs. I didn’t work to live, I worked to use.

I drank right up to the minute that the taxi picked me up to take me to the rehab centre. I had to throw the bottle in the bin just as the taxi arrived.

I found it testing for the first month – all I could think about was drinking and smoking. And it wasn’t until I was in the program for 10 weeks that my attitude started to change. I started to find peace again.

The program is a fellowship of people with the same problems, helping each other. It takes the shame and isolation out of addiction.

Checking in and going to an AA meeting is a fundamental part of my day now.

I’m still undergoing treatment as an outpatient through Hader’s transitional housing program. I didn’t want to go out into the real world straight away, because I’d spent so long being addicted.

Because I’ve been fortunate enough to have DVA assistance, I’m using this opportunity to get every bit of help I possibly can. Because the first thing you learn is that you really need to build a solid foundation in your recovery. If that’s not there, everything crumbles.

A big part of my recovery has been learning how to handle my fears. It’s also been a case of becoming aware of what was making me fearful and learning how to handle those situations.

When I go back to work, I’m going to do cleaning. It’s therapeutic.

I’m also very involved with the Salvation Army – so I’m thinking that I’d like to forge a career path there. Service is part of AA – if you give to others, it comes back to you. I’ve been volunteering at the homeless shelter for several months now.

My story is a gift and my recovery is a gift. I never wish to disrespect that gift. I have been given an opportunity by the RSL – there are many people out there in active addiction that will never get the opportunities I’ve had.

The support from people down at street level is encouraging too. They’re so positive. They say, “Sam, you’ve changed” or “Sam, you’re looking great.” It’s good when you can’t see it. It’s great to be feeling healthier too. I used to be skinny and kind of drawn out. It’s great to be getting my life back on track.

With the help of RSL Queensland and the Hader Clinic Queensland, my life has been completely transformed.

A version of this article first appeared on the Hader Clinic website. If you or someone you know needs help, contact RSL Queensland on 134 RSL, vs@rslqld.org or visit our Health and Wellbeing webpage.

* Name changed to maintain confidentiality

  • Health & wellbeing