Preferred Name: Renee
Renee has worked in hospitality and tourism. She’s a mother of four and lives with her partner and children. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Aboriginal’: she was born in Australia, as were her parents.
During her teens Renee smoked cannabis daily with her then partner. The relationship ended when she was in her early twenties and it was around this time that she began taking ecstasy and ice about once a month with friends. A few years later she started taking ice daily and continued on and off for the next few years, stopping when pregnant with her youngest child. About a year before the interview she received a nine month custodial sentence and stopped taking ice. At the time of the interview she was in court-ordered residential rehabilitation and had no plans to resume taking ice.
Around this time Renee began working in hospitality and tourism. She started taking ice daily to help her work and says it made her feel like her ‘body could keep up with [her] head’, which made life more ‘manageable’. When she was in her early thirties, she began seeing a new partner and had her youngest child. During the pregnancy she stopped taking ice and saw an alcohol and other drug worker. She also attended Aboriginal-identified women’s groups, which she says helped her feel supported. About a year after the child’s birth Renee’s relationship with her partner ended and her parents began caring for her child.
She later moved to a nearby city to work and resumed taking ice. Feeling a ‘huge’ sense of responsibility, she stopped taking it several times for a couple of months but resumed when her ‘mental health […was] playing up’. She began seeing her current partner who was supportive of her efforts to reduce her consumption. A year before the interview, Renee was sentenced to nine months in prison on charges relating to violent conduct. While in prison she stopped taking ice and on release, she was referred to her local drug court where she was offered supervised parole or court-ordered residential rehabilitation. Hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how to ‘deal with her mental health’, she chose to go to rehabilitation.
Renee is currently in rehab and describes it as ‘a loving and caring place’ where she feels supported. She says she’s ‘learnt so much’ about herself and has improved her relationship with her parents. When she completes the rehab program she’ll move into a house with her partner and her youngest child and is looking forward to a ‘very busy but very happy’ future with her extended family.
Renee (F, 35, works in hospitality, ice) began taking ice every day as an ‘enhancement’ to help her complete her work tasks while on a seven-day roster.
For the last three years, I was on ice every day, working up in [another city]. I was [working in hospitality and tourism] there, but it was too easy a life up there and I was getting too caught up in the game there. Like, even the bosses would be leaving [drugs] in my pocket, you know, like just [to] make sure I was able to do the job every day. So I came back to [this city] and I was working [in tourism] here […] and it was a seven-day roster and, again, I got caught up […] smoking it every day, using it every day, like, as an enhancement.
Renee says that going to a self-help group for Aboriginal women gave her a support network and an opportunity to learn about issues that were relevant to her.
These women’s groups that I used to go on used to make me feel so normal because it’s the same girls going through the same stuff. It didn’t matter what your poison was, you know. They were all just very supportive of each other and things like that, you know […] One week we would be talking about foetal alcohol syndrome. Another week we would be talking about hep C, you know […] Just all health issues that Aboriginal-identified women were having trouble with. Anything to do with alcohol and drugs that we’d be sort of open to hear. There was about twenty of us who would go every week […] with our drug and alcohol worker. She was great. She didn’t care whether you were or weren’t clean, you know.
Renee has been diagnosed with several mental health conditions but says she is ‘never sick enough’ to get the mental healthcare she needs.
Mental health [services have] labelled me with major depression, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks. Every time I went to mental health [services], whether I was clean and sober or using still in active addiction, they’d always give me a new label. Even if I [saw] the same doctor, they’d still give me the same label or another label, so I was feeling a bit, like, unidentified, I guess, for a while. I think, you know, even in jail, no one addresses mental health. When I did use the mental health facilities, I was never sick enough for them to help me. I’ve always had, like, the 1800 [phone] number [for a telephone helpline], like, given to me just in case things are getting overwhelming, [things like] that, you know.
At one stage, I was ringing my Probation and Parole Officer and telling her, ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m feeling really overwhelmed, I can’t face society today’, in my clean and sober time, and she told me to go to [a] mental health [service] and [the service has] just [said], ‘Well, you’re not sick enough so here’s a 1800 [phone] number. If you do keep feeling this way, just give them a call’. Well, I ended up nearly insane. My poor partner didn’t know how to handle me. I was just rocking and crying, just hysterical and nothing really bad [had] happened. It just happened. So that’s when I really started looking at it, like my mental health, because I was going to ring my dealer and go, ‘Yeah, bring something’, you know, but I didn’t, you know, and that’s when I started looking at things really different[ly], from that day onwards, because I wasn’t using for nearly a month then, before that happened. Like, I was three days shy of a month and, yeah, I didn’t want to [start taking ice again], I knew I didn’t want to, you know, but my mental health, yeah, was out of control. So I felt like really unidentified.
When a drug court gave Renee the option of residential treatment she decided to take it in an effort to stop drug use altogether.
Whilst I was incarcerated the court had offered [to refer me to] drug court, and from drug court I could have an outside address or go to a rehab. I chose the rehab because I guess I needed to know how to deal with my mental health on the outside so I don’t, like, get triggered again, and when I am triggered I know how to deal with it […] From jail, I was thinking that rehab’s bad, rehab’s bad, you know […] I’ve been here for nearly two months now, and it’s been great […] There’s little rewards, you know, that keep coming in rehab. I mean, at first I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I can’t do this’. It’s not the fact that I can’t walk away from drugs. It’s the fact that when my head mucks up, I don’t want to [start taking ice] again. That’s my drama, you know. I’ve been clean nine months. I’ve been clean 14 months. I’ve been clean like all these other […times] but always relapsed on my mental health side of things. Always, whether it was a bong or whether it was ice, you know. So in that respect, that’s why I chose to come to rehab.
Renee says she was diagnosed with angina and hepatitis C when she went into residential treatment, and began taking medication for her heart condition.
I have [to take medication to lower my] cholesterol, and aspirins because […] I’ve got an enlarged heart and when I went to the specialist here [in residential treatment] she said I suffer with angina […] Next week I’ve got an appointment [to discuss treatment options] for my heart and for the hep C thing, so I’m really nervous about them both really. But here [in residential treatment] they get onto everything so quick. They’re really good like that, you know. Instead of waiting for weeks on end, you’re in pretty quick. Like, so it’s really, really good in that respect […] I’m really, really appreciative that they’ve done it so quick.
Renee suggests making services more culturally sensitive and tailoring them to the needs of Indigenous clients.
I’m Aboriginal-identified, yeah, so my culture is a big part of me. So I would really love [it] if all rehabs were Aboriginal-identified culturally friendly, if that makes sense […For example, rehabs could] have an Aboriginal worker, get their culture in their programs where they can just be Aboriginal and do their thing. Here [at this rehab] I just pray a lot to my ancestors here because that’s all I can do at the moment, because there’s no programs within these programs about my culture. If I come up with anything, you know, the staff is more than willing to work around me, and if they can help me out with anything to do with my culture, they are more than willing to help us. But yeah, that’s all I can do at the moment and that’s keeping me grounded, like just knowing that my ancestors are watching over us. I mean most hospitals and institutes and jails, they are all built on burial grounds, so I’ve really got to watch where I tread and how I’m reacting and things like that, like for my culture, my cultural ways. In that respect, I would just like to see like an Aboriginal flag out the front with an Australian flag, you know. [I would like to see] a few Aboriginal paintings and get the message stick in there, you know. The message stick is exactly that: it just carries on the message to the next lot [of people].
I’m really having a hard time finding a common ground between like rehab rules […] and my Aboriginal culture. I’m really finding it hard to have that common ground, but they keep telling me, you know, ‘Just whatever you can work out’. And my mum and dad are working with me, to work out like what I can bring my culture to here, as well as abide by the rehab’s rules and regulations too, because it’s really important that I follow rehab. Their way of doing [things] is for my recovery and I’ve got to work out how to bring my culture into my recovery, you know what I mean?