From ruin to recovery: How 50 days in ice rehab saved my life

One year on: Sarah has kicked her ice habit and moved forward with life after a 50 day stint in therapy. Photo: Steven Siewert The four youngsters a year ago. Photo: James Brickwood

This time last year, Sarah was 14-years-old and under the spell of ice. She could see no wrong in stealing from cars, or family, to fund her addiction.

Crystal meth had left her so detached from her own emotions, she considered it “fine” that she had sold her own body on Sydney’s streets, to fund her next hit.

If Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had a case in mind for someone who could benefit from last week’s $300 million investment in drug treatment then Sarah could have been it.

“I was in rehab for 50 days and I don’t smoke ice anymore,” she said with the hint of a proud smile last week.

In November last year, The Sun-Herald held a series of confronting interviews with four teenagers who were undergoing residential therapy for ice addiction at the Ted Noffs​ Program for Adolescent Life Management (PALM) in Randwick. (Their names have been changed for this story). Those interviews, approved by the teenagers, their parents and the foundation, depicted three children who, after hitting rock bottom, wanted to break the drug cycle, repair relationships and start afresh.

All except Sarah, who was so consumed by ice at that stage, she could not recall – with any clarity – a time before she had first sampled the drug, at just 13.

“You know it could kill you, right?” I asked her back then.

“Yes, but I don’t really think about that. When I smoke it, I just hope for the best.”

One year on, gone are the wide eyes, the hives and the indifference to being just two more police charges away from lock up. She appears happy and healthy. She has plans.

“I’ve got a make-up and hair apprenticeship now,” she told me. “I always wanted to do the make-up side of it but everyone says, if you want a really great job, you got to be able to do both.”

Sarah had just entered PALM when I met her last year. She remembers how “nervous” she had initially felt. “I don’t think I talked to anyone there for a while. But it actually turned out to feel like a home. I started eating food again. I even got fat,” she laughed.

She recalls how, during the early days in treatment, she “wanted ice all the time”.

“Wanting it still happens sometimes,” she said. “Only now, I don’t want it in my life.”

She said therapy had made her realise “there’s all this stuff I’d like to do that, if I were on ice, I couldn’t do.”

One year on, another of the PALM four, Jim, is off all drugs and eyeing up an apprenticeship as a plumber. Then 14, he had been funnelled into therapy, via the legal system, on the back of a daily ice habit that was being funded by two home break-ins each day. “One of my many regrets is how I ruined so many relationships,” he said back then. Today, however, he is rebuilding bridges with his family and the healing will edge one step closer in a fortnight when he spends Christmas with his siblings.

Blue Mountains based Dean was 16, homeless, and also committing crime daily when he wound up at PALM via a trip to the hospital. “It took a doctor to tell me I had two broken ribs … I could not feel a thing. You don’t feel pain on ice. They got me to do a urine test. It told them everything they needed to know. “They asked me: ‘Do you want some help?’ And I replied: ‘Yes, yes, please’.”

The Noffs Foundation reports that today, he is using less drugs and in transitional accommodation available through the NSW government’s Going Home, Staying Home program.

There is no current information about the whereabouts of the fourth child, Carla, though Noffs chief executive Matt Noffs said that was not necessarily “a bad thing”.

“Every story reads differently. Some move on and choose to put the experience behind them. For some it’s a quick turn around and they want to keep in touch. For others, the process takes years. And sadly, some don’t make it all.”

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