Kim Den Hertog, 50, Surfers Paradise, Qld
I’ll never forget the moment I first tried heroin.
I was 15 and hanging out with a bad crowd. I’d already been experimenting with alcohol and marijuana for years. Looking away as a friend pushed the needle into my vein, I felt a sudden rush of warmth. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. To me, it felt like love.
I didn’t even care that it made me so nauseous I spent the night throwing up. I just wanted to chase that feeling.
Love wasn’t something I had a lot of experience with. I was adopted when I was little and didn’t have a good relationship with my adoptive father.
When I asked if he loved me, he replied, ‘Who could love something like you?’
I felt like I was alone in the world.
I had also been sexually and physically abused when I was young.
When I was eight years old, my parents divorced and I began sneaking sips of alcohol and stealing my mother’s cigarettes.
Leaving school at just 14, I got a job with a travelling carnival helping run the sideshow games. I hung out with a wild crowd and was regularly drinking and taking drugs.
After that first taste of heroin, I began to use it quite regularly. It was just a fun way to pass the time.
"Nothing else mattered to me except how I was going to get my next hit."
While I didn’t have much money, I always found men who were happy to buy me drugs in exchange for sex. Because of my experiences, I didn’t really associate sex with love or intimacy. To me, it was just something I could use to get what I wanted.
When I was 18, I fell pregnant and stopped taking heroin. But when my daughter was born, I just didn’t know how to connect or bond with my baby. I knew I couldn’t be the parent she needed, so my mother, along with the parents of the baby’s father, took her and raised her.
Before I knew it, my heroin use took over everything else again. The next few years were a blur. Nothing else mattered to me except how I was going to get my next hit. While I tried to stop, coming down off the drugs was torture.
In my 20s, I managed to get clean and moved in with my boyfriend. We had two children together, but our relationship was difficult and I secretly started using heroin again. After seven years, we split up and for the first time I entered a rehab facility while my ex took custody of the kids. Although outwardly I seemed better, I didn’t feel like I’d changed very much on the inside.
Moving to the Gold Coast, I started a new life. I stayed clean for two years until a doctor prescribed me some valium tablets. Before long I was abusing the tablets and soon relapsed back into heroin use. I didn’t value my life and my father’s words always stuck in my mind. Who could love something like me?
To pay for my habit, I began working in the local brothels. After a couple of years I went so far off the rails that I was working and living on the streets. I was attacked, robbed, beaten and feared for my life more times than I could remember.
Heroin was the only thing that made me feel better. But seven years ago, a miracle changed my life for good. I was standing in a park waiting for my dealer to arrive when I saw a woman walking towards me. I stiffened, waiting for her to abuse me – like so many others had.
But as she approached, her smile was warm and open. She held out her hand towards me and I saw she was carrying a shiny Easter egg. As she handed it to me, she introduced herself as Debbie and we talked for a while.
"I learnt how to heal myself"
I was distracted because I was craving my next hit, but I gave the kind stranger my phone number. She called me later that week and asked if she could take me for coffee. When we met, I was surprised that she didn’t preach or condemn me. She just listened. For the first time in my life I felt understood and respected.
After that we met regularly and I opened up to her about my work as a prostitute. That’s when she encouraged me to seek help for my addiction. I’d already heard wonderful things about a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre called Transformations, and decided to give it a go.
I didn’t have a penny to my name, but a friend kindly offered to pay for my treatment. Heading there for 12 months, everything changed. It was tough going through withdrawals but it was worth it. I didn’t just get clean, I learnt how to heal myself inside and out.
With the help of group therapy and counsellors, I discovered I wasn’t an unworthy, unlovable little girl like my father had said I was. I was valuable and deserved a good life. From that day on I never touched drugs or alcohol again.
My adoptive parents have passed away and Transformations has helped me reconnect with my kids. We bgean to rebuild our relationships. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I earned their trust again.
I learnt to love the little things in life again, like a good meal or enjoying a walk on the beach. I also dedicated my life to helping other addicts find the same happy ending working for Transformations as a counsellor and case worker.
Then with the help of the Transformations City Church, I started Flawless Ministries. My organisation works to improve the lives of women in the sex industry and visit brothels with care packages. I never judge the women. I just show them love because I know what a difference that made for me.
If it wasn’t for that kind gesture from Debbie, who knows where I would have ended up. Everyone needs help sometimes. That’s why I’m sharing my story to show other women that it’s never too late to change. I know that a good life is possible – as long as you love yourself first.
First published in That's life! issue 12, March 26 2014