Timaru Courier reporter Chris Tobin sat in on a session for recovering addicts in Timaru last week. This is his report.
The session begins with everyone – this reporter included – linking hands with the people next to them.
There are about 20 in the group.
Anya Ferris (62), who has travelled from Dunedin, leads the programme with assistance from Salvation Army addictions caseworker Glenn Smith.
She emphasises how they have to work together, ask questions, be non-judgemental and humble and communicate properly.
Addiction, she says, works on rewards. Addicts have to replace the rewards and make recovery fun. If it isn’t fun, it won’t be sustained.
“We use the term ‘getting out of it’,” she says.
“It’s not an accident that we use that term.
“But we need to enjoy being ‘in it’, not being out of it.”
We need ‘lived’ peer support and people saying ‘be gentle’.
“Recovery is a slow process.”
Ms Ferris is a recovered alcoholic.
“We go to any lengths to ‘score’; we do all those things. Our values drop – we go to any lengths to chase the drugs,” she says.
“But are you willing to go to any lengths to recover?”
Later she explains how she came to New Zealand from Germany, where she had worked as a doctor. In Germany she had access to drugs through her profession.
In New Zealand, her marriage fell apart; she felt isolated from family in Germany and for nearly three years she became addicted to alcohol.
A drink-driving conviction and the wish to keep her children helped her fight and beat the addiction 12 years ago.
“Don’t put yourself down with addiction,” she tells the group.
“I was one of those people – ‘the world is against me; poor me’ – then it became ‘pour me another one’.
“I had to learn a new language and alert the ‘little monkey’ to my self-talk.
“The work I’m doing couldn’t be a better job – it’s so enjoyable to be ‘in it’, rather than ‘out of it’.”
The group is asked if they want to talk about their stories, particularly about meth.
A young Maori, Bill (not his real name), speaks up.
“I’m off it [meth] because of my missus more than anything,” he said.
Earlier in the session Bill has been restless, getting up and walking away at one point before returning to sit down.
He is asked how long he has taken meth, or P.
“Since I was 12 or 13 – I’m 28 now.”
He has been off meth for three weeks.
“I reckon I’m better. I interact with my young fellah, my boy, when I’m off the P.”
Later Mr Smith says Bill has been a gang enforcer.
Jane (not her real name) says she came to Timaru from Christchurch more than a year ago after being addicted to P for two years. She made the move after finding she was pregnant.
“I locked myself at home for a few weeks and took myself off,” she says cradling her young baby.
“I’m 15 months’ clean now. I don’t think I’d change it for the world.”
One of the group mentions how doctors just prescribe pills for everything and another says he only took on jobs where it was possible to keep smoking cannabis at work.
Ms Ferris and Mr Smith are asked what they think about the legalisation of cannabis.
Ms Ferris says she couldn’t predict what would happen but adds molecules can be tweaked to prevent any mind-altering effects.
Mr Smith says the anxiety levels in New Zealand are already at record levels and he questions New Zealand’s “pill will fix everything” mentality.
One group member says her 9-year-old son is “terrified” about the amount of plastic in the ocean and he won’t go to the United States because of Donald Trump and tornadoes.
“He has anxiety over it.”
As the session ends for lunch, Ms Ferris tells the group she hopes they will have a “vision for an enjoyable recovery”.