Ryan’s* Story

There is a pervasive problem plaguing our society in Australia. Labelled an epidemic by authorities and news organisations, methylamphetamine – more commonly referred to as “ice” – is ruining the lives of many people in our country, and the lives of their loved ones.

Unfortunately, there are some common caricatures and stereotypes associated with those addicted to the substance, leading to societal judgment without compassion. Often these people are young people, and often they have a difficult background.

In recovering from the drug abuse, they have inflicted lasting damage to their health, and they have a long road ahead to recovery, and to regaining their self- confidence and dignity, if that is possible at all.

One such young man is Ryan*, an 18-year-old former ice addict now in Concern Australia’s Lead Tenant program. Coming to Australia with his mother, younger brother and former stepfather while his father served time in New Zealand, Ryan was very young when he first began using ice, and getting into hot water with the law.

Speaking to him and his Concern Australia caseworker Luke about Ryan’s experiences, it is clear he is on a positive path. He holds very little self-pity and is brutally honest as he tells his story – of a broken family, of crime, of bad “trips” and of subsequent mental illness.

ACT: So Ryan, tell us about your experience.

Ryan: I was in trouble with the police a lot and I was doing a lot of crime. I was in juvie and doing heaps of bad stuff. I was an ice addict; really bad on drugs. I was in and out of juvie. When I got out of juvie, I went to the psych ward because of drugs and went to resi care.

Police said, ‘your brother’s not safe around you because you’re all about drugs. Because I was smoking ice in the house, I was doing all sorts of stuff and my mum didn’t know about it. I mean, I think she may have known a little.

I was always kicking my younger brother out of my room. I’d say, ‘I’m too busy at the moment. Go chill with mum.’ He got taken to his dad’s house, and I’d get… well, locked up. Locked up again and again. I’d come home, cops would raid me. Every two weeks, the cops came and I’d get locked up. It wasn’t very friendly.

But I didn’t mind juvie. That’s why I kept going back in and out. I got along with everyone. I didn’t get along with a few people… I got involved in punch-ons a few times. But that’s just usual, you know. Got smashed once by three big guys, but that’s just normal in there.

I didn’t mind juvie because every time I left, I wanted to go get ice. I’d just get out of juvie and bang, get ice, go out the entire night, cops would be at my door in the morning. Then I’d be back in.

I was really bad. I was going through cars, stealing stuff, getting laptops… anything and everything. It was all for the ice, you know. I got maybe $50 grand, $100 grand worth of ice. Just in the period of one year.

But I don’t do that anymore.

When I was in juvie, the first time I was in there one month, three weeks, then I was in there one month again, another three months, six months. I spent the rest of the sentence at Stepping Stones [an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit].

I regret doing drugs. I have to go through so much hell every night. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what I go through. It’s really bad. You get really depressed, you get to the point where it’s like… you can’t really… it’s really bad. I see spirits and I see ghosts. I hear voices. My bed shakes at night. I just feel like there’s ghosts around me and they won’t leave me alone… which sounds crazy.

I’ve been off ice for 12 months.

In the Lead Tenant program, I spray paint and do all sorts of stuff now. We got our own spray paint wall at the house, which is really good.

Luke: The stream Ryan’s in, the Lead Tenant Program, has one or two lead tenants in a house, and then one or two young people. Ryan’s got along very well with the other young person in his house.

Unlike some other programs with other organisations, the caseworkers have a lot more to do with the young people. And with the Lead Tenant program, the young people are in a more normal situation – they’re helping to manage the house and can relate to the lead tenant a bit more.

ACT: Ryan, why did you get into Ice in the first place?

Ryan: I got into ice because my mate, one of my mates started taking it, shooting it up and stuff. I said, “Can I have some?” You know, I wanted to try it. I really did. And yeah it just went from there.

I was living with my mum at the time. My dad was in New Zealand. I talk to him now. I never used to talk to him. It was hard not having him in my life, but…

Luke: You met him again through Facebook, didn’t you?

Ryan: Yeah. He sent me this watch, this gold ring, gold chains… at least he’s got money, you know what I mean?

He went to jail for three years… well, that’s what I found out. I used to speak to him when I was a really little kid, but I don’t remember it too well. He’s not allowed to come to Australia for another three years because he’s been to jail.

ACT: So what was the turning point for you that made you go in a better direction?

Ryan: Well first off, Concern Australia helped me a lot.

They took me to a church called Krosswerds; it’s like a church rap thing because I like rapping. And we just started rapping together and we all just started talking about our experiences because they all used to be on drugs and they’ve come off everything; they’re good people.

I lost my best mate to drugs. He committed suicide and yeah, that made me think a lot more.

I had ice one time [12 months ago – that was the last time]. I saw spiders everywhere. I couldn’t get out of this trip. You know, I just saw all these spiders coming at me, attacking me. I saw a spider, you wouldn’t expect it to be so big, on [my friend]’s face.

Luke: He hadn’t had ice for seven months before that.

Ryan: Someone gave me a bad batch. I started smoking it, but no one else [in the room] started smoking it. No one except me. They tried to f**k me. Two hours later my mates left me and I haven’t spoken to them since. They just wanted money off me. They didn’t give a shit. I was hallucinating; it was really weird, that day.

I got home and took ten Valium, which I shouldn’t have, because then I had to go to hospital. But the trip stopped for an hour or two and I was thinking, oh my god, that Valium saved my life. Got home and bang [it started again]. Luke was with me. What did I do? What did I do?

Luke: You couldn’t stop moving around, trying to get the spiders off you.

Ryan: And there were things coming out of the ground. It was the worst experience I’ve ever gone through. Spider legs coming out of the ground… it was weird. Everything was spiders. I couldn’t… I had bare feet, trying to run away from this. I could feel them on me.

Luke: It was a bit of a wake up call, I think.

Ryan: Yeah. I knew that if I did this again, I could kill myself. You know what I mean? Because this is serious, that stuff. It is real serious.

And they call that a psychotic episode. A drug psychosis. Now I’ve… got schizophrenia. Which is hell. I see things every night. Which is crazy. But it’s all in my mind. Which I know. I know that it’s all in my mind. I’m pretty stable compared to what I used to be.

I take my medication at a certain time. I take my medication at about nine in the morning, then I have to have it at about five at night, then about nine pm again, otherwise I start going into a psychotic episode. It’s really bad because I won’t be stable for the rest of my life. But for some reason I am stable when I have my medication and can talk to people normally and make conversation. I don’t know. Some people might not think I’m stable, but I think I’m stable.

Luke: He has his ups and downs, you know, but he’s certainly a lot more stable than he was when he’d just come out of Stepping Stones.

ACT: So what would you say to children and young people going through similar experiences as you?

Ryan: Not to do drugs. I’d say don’t do it. When you’re young and taking ice, you’re going to be f**ked. Sorry for the language, but you’re going to end up either dead, have bad mental health issues, or you’re going to be on it for the rest of your life. Which is not good, you know. The ice will take over your life. You’ll go to jail. You’ll become a dealer. You could end up killing someone from giving it to them.

You know what I mean? You’re hurting other people. And you shouldn’t be hurting other people.

The Lead Tenant program has been really good. There’s a good group of workers. They’ve got a good group of people working at Concern Australia. It’s a lot better than resi care, because you get to be independent. And it’s good to be independent, because you learn new skills and you learn what to do in life. You learn to look after yourself. You gotta cook for yourself. You’re in a normal house, know what I mean?

Luke: Ryan has been one of the most successful people who have gone through the Lead Tenant program.

Ryan: I’m the best person in the organisation in care! Every worker loves me.

Luke: He’s certainly very engaging, very honest. And proactive as well, that he’s sought out the help with his mental health. So that’s really important.

ACT: Ryan, what do you want to do next?

Ryan: I want to get a job. I want to go work at a TAB. I want to go back to school and do year nine and year 10. I want to get a house, get a job, have a bit of fun with my painting, see my mum, see my brother. You know, I saw my brother for the first time in a year and a half, two days ago.

And then yeah, get my learners so then I can get my Ps and then get a job, hopefully.



*Name has been changed.


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