Back from the dead: ‘The photo that saved my life’

Mum-of-two Melissa had hit rock bottom

Melissa Matos, 42, was horrified when she received a series of pictures.

But with the love of her two girls, she fought back from the brink.

Here in her own words, Melissa tells her story.

I poured myself a glass of water and popped the white pill on my tongue.

Then I glugged back a mouthful of liquid and stuffed the packet of tablets back into my bag.

I’d been prescribed antidepressants after giving birth to my first daughter, Katherine. Two years later, I had another girl, Elisabeth.

But when my marriage to their dad broke down, I found myself struggling to get through the day.

I also had fibromyalgia, which caused pain in my muscles and has no cure.

Dosing myself up with pain medication for that as well as the antidepressants, I felt a welcome numbness.

As the years passed, I found the regular dosage wasn’t enough though.

Instead of the recommended maximum of eight pain pills per day, I was taking 24 – but still I wanted more.

I went to multiple doctors for prescriptions, but eventually, one of them discovered what I was doing.

‘Please,’ I told him. ‘I can’t get through the day without the meds.’

By now, I’d been addicted to pain medication for six years and the thought of life without it was terrifying.

As the withdrawal set in, I was sicker than I’d ever been and I became racked with panic.

I’d never tried any hard drugs before, or even been much of a drinker.

But one day, my then-boyfriend Terry* put a wrapper of heroin in front of me.

‘I’m just going to give you this to get you through the next few days,’ he said.

From then, I was hooked.

Each time I injected myself, I felt more numb than before. But when the drug wore off, all I cared about was my next fix.

I’d spend most of the day shooting up in my bedroom, while my girls, then five and three, were in the room next door.

Melissa didn't realise how bad her addiction had become. Credit: Supplied
(Melissa didn’t realise how bad her addiction had become. Credit: Supplied)

Terry made sure they were fed and dressed and took them to school before he went to work.

Katherine was used to seeing me sick, so she thought it was because of my fibromyalgia.

She’d come into my bedroom and lay wet rags on my forehead.

‘Are you sick again, Mummy?’ she’d say.

I felt awful but I couldn’t stop.

One day, I’d been doing heroin in the bedroom but as the drugs rushed through my system, something felt different.

I blacked out, and when I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by strangers in uniforms.

‘You’ve had an overdose,’ a paramedic was telling me.

I sat up, panicked.

‘Where are my girls?’ I screamed.

‘They’re safe,’ he said. ‘They’re with their dad.’

In hospital, I realised the full scale of my using for the first time, and I called my mum, Elaine.

‘I need help,’ I sobbed.

Back home, I visited several drug addiction centres.

But faced with long waiting lists, I couldn’t get immediate help and I soon began using heroin again.

It was another year before I finally realised how lucky I was to still have my two girls.

If I don’t get clean, I’ll lose them for good, I thought.

So, I went to social services and asked for my mum to have temporary custody.

The next morning, I began an outpatient detox program.

It was the hardest thing I’d ever done and I relapsed several times, but the amazing staff never gave up on me.

Once I’d completed the program, I decided to move to a new area with the girls.

But it was tough and after a few months, I felt the temptation of drugs pulling me back.

Terry and I had broken up, but one night, I reached out to say I was struggling.

‘Look at how far you’ve come Melissa,’ he said. ‘I’m going to send you something.’

Melissa has turned her life around after getting clean. Picture: Supplied
(Melissa has turned her life around after getting clean. Picture: Supplied)

Moments later, a string of photographs flashed up on my screen. Looking at them, my jaw dropped open.

They were pictures of me.

But I was unrecognisable. Passed out in the bathroom with my mouth wide open, I looked like a zombie.

My skin was covered in sores and my eyes were rolling back in my head.

Terry told me he’d taken the photos at the height of my heroin use.

He’d tried to show me them before, but I hadn’t been able to see just how addicted I had become.

I felt a wave of shame and disgust. But then, I felt something else – pride.

I realised then that I’d turned my life around and I was lucky to be alive.

That night, I logged onto Facebook and shared the photographs, hoping my story might help others.

The post went viral and I was inundated with messages of support. It was all so overwhelming.

Now, I’ve been sober for four years.

I’ve written a blog about my experience and I focus on raising awareness about drug addiction.

But most importantly, I want to be the best mum I can be for Katherine, now 12, and Elisabeth, 10.

Drug addiction almost killed me, but their love gave me a second chance at life.

*Terry’s name has been changed

For drug addiction support, call Lifeline 13 11 14 (Aus) or 0800 543 354 (NZ)

Related stories