Ashleigh Rudd, 23, Perth, WA
Lights flashed as I stepped out onto the catwalk. In my slinky gown, I strutted down the runway. From the outside, it seemed like I was living every girl's dream. I'd been scouted by a modelling agency and, at 16, was living a life of glamorous photo shoots and fashion shows. But for three long years I'd been hiding a dark secret from which I couldn't escape...
Growing up, I was always a high achiever. I was a school prefect, getting top grades and was also a champion athlete. Competing in short distance and cross-country running, there was nothing quite like that rush I felt when I crossed the finish line in first place. A true perfectionist, I'd spend hours each week training. But at 13 I suffered from terrible shin splints and a bad knee so I was forced to give up my favourite pastime.
Looking for something to fill the void, I started hanging out with a new crowd. Some of them used drugs, dabbling in cannabis and prescription pills on weekends. I'd never been involved in that scene before and part of me was intrigued. So when a friend suggested I give it a try, I thought, what's the worst that can happen? Little did I know...
I started hanging out with a new crowd.
At first the rush I got was exhilarating. It was just like the feeling I had from winning a race. My worries vanished as a sense of euphoria overwhelmed me. Soon I was spending every weekend getting high.
I kept it a secret from my school friends because I knew they wouldn't approve, but they could tell something had changed. 'You've been acting differently,' one told me. Before long, I drifted away from my old mates. Drugs were my new best friends.
It wasn't long before my parents, Paul and Miriam, found out what I was up to. Desperate to stop me, they'd ground me and confiscate my phone in a bid to keep me safe.
But I'd do or say whatever it took to escape and at 14 years old, thinking I was old enough, I moved in with my boyfriend at the time. My parents were at a loss about how to stop me.
The trouble was, as time went on, the high I'd experienced at first seemed to fade. That's when I turned to heroin and methamphetamines. Weeks blurred into months as the person I used to be vanished. After two years, Mum managed to get through to me.
'Come home,' she begged. 'I'll do whatever it takes to help you.'
She'd even started studying to be an addictions counsellor. Hoping to get me back on the straight and narrow, she said I should try to find some work.
I had a stroke of luck when I was scouted by that modelling agency a few weeks later. Within three days I had my first job and I couldn't believe how well I was getting paid!
I told my family I was clean at last - but the truth was every cent I earned was paying for my habit. At my worst, I was using $1000 worth of drugs a day.
When I moved to Melbourne for modelling jobs, I'd spend most nights sleeping in my car so I had enough cash to spare. Heading off to shoots, other girls might think I had a perfect life. They had no idea. As my weight plummeted, I started hallucinating. I had visions that I was being stalked and even believed a girl lived in the walls of an apartment where I stayed sometimes. I couldn't break free of the grip the drugs had on me.
A doctor diagnosed me with drug-induced schizophrenia. 'If you don't stop, things will only get worse,' he warned, prescribing medication. Desperate to change, when I turned 19 I started having counselling and soon after, I met a guy named Campbell, now 27. Tall and handsome, I fell for him right away. But he was battling his own demons and we struggled to give each other the support we needed.
...we struggled to give each other the support we needed.
Two years later, I was at rock bottom. Unable to even hold down a part-time job, my life fell apart. Mum discovered I was using again but thankfully she refused to give up on me.
'I've found a place that can help,' she told me. She'd booked me into a drug and alcohol rehab clinic called The Cabin Chang Mai in Thailand.
'I'm coming with you,' she told me firmly.
'Okay,' I whispered. But could I really break free?
I owed it to my parents and myself to try. So the following week, my entire body ached as Mum and I completed the eight hour trip to Thailand. She kissed me goodbye at the clinic and vowed to see me as soon as I was well enough to come home.
My new life was incredibly tough, but with the help of a psychologist, group therapy and exercise, I felt a tiny part of my old self returning. I couldn't believe how many years I'd thrown away on drugs. But life can't be transformed overnight and it was 115 long days before I felt strong enough to go home. Finally setting foot on Australian soil, it was like seeing the world with new eyes.
I knew I'd never be able to repay my parents for what they did for me, but I'd never waste another moment on drugs. And I wasn't the only one.
I knew I'd never be able to repay my parents for what they did for me.
While I was away, Campbell had been working on beating his own demons, too. 'I'm so proud of you,' he told me. I was amazed at how far we'd come and I couldn't wait to start a happy, healthy life with him.
Two years on, I'm thrilled to report I'm still clean and we're saving for a house of our own. I'm studying mental health and psychology with the aim of being an addictions counsellor, just like Mum did for me.
I wasted eight long years on drugs and now I have my whole future in front of me, I won't miss another second.
When Ashleigh and I first got together, we wasted all our time doing drugs. Constantly in a haze, we weren't really living - we were just existing. I was completely out of control and knew I needed help.
So when Ashleigh's parents took her to Chang Mai for rehabilitation, it gave me the determination to get clean. Working with a psychologist and counsellor, I started to reclaim my life and when Ashleigh got back she helped me, too.
I was incredibly proud of what she achieved and quitting together has made us an even stronger couple. I'm now focusing all my attention on health and fitness and have plans to start studying holistic or mental health.