My birthday surprise was deadly

Rachael thought a little pick-me-up was the perfect present. Until it totally shattered her world.

Rachael Nichols, 25, Sunraysia, Vic

I couldn’t wait for my party to begin. In just a few days I was turning 21, and I’d planned a big Hollywood-themed bash to celebrate. I’d booked a venue, hired a limousine and bought a glamorous black and white gown to wear. It was definitely going to be a night to remember.

But opening some presents the day before, I received a gift I wasn’t expecting. Inside a bag were some glass-like crystals.

Ice. The drug is also known as crystal methamphetamine and having dabbled with it a couple of times over the last few years, I knew the powerful effects it would have. It’ll help me have a good time, I thought.

My birthday was always a bittersweet occasion, as I lost my mum, Rhonda, to breast cancer when I was two. While my dad, Noel, 60, did a great job raising me, I never really dealt with her death.

Falling into the wrong crowd at 15, I began experimenting with marijuana, before turning to party drugs and then trying ice for the first time when I was 19.

It’ll help me have a good time, I thought.

It seemed to make all the pain, sadness and anger go away. So, when I opened that surprise present, I thought it would be the perfect birthday pick-me-up. If only I’d known the damage it would do.

On the morning of my party, I was on top of the world as I delved into my secret stash. A warm buzz took over and I was on a constant high as I went to the hairdresser, got dressed and then partied the night away.

I never imagined giving in to that night of temptation would lead me down a terrible path of destruction. But from that moment, I was completely hooked.

Rachael at her 21st birthday party
It all started at Rachael’s 21st birthday party.

At first, I used ice to stay alert while I held down a part-time job and finished the certificate of aged care that would help me fulfil my dreams of becoming a nurse, like Mum had been. But soon, whenever I wasn’t high, I craved the feeling so badly I’d do anything to get it.

When my euphoria wore off, I sank into depression – forced to take sleeping tablets so my body could rest.

By the time I was 22, I was feeling so run-down I saw my doctor. And what happened next left me shocked. Tests revealed that I had cysts on my ovaries.

Mum, I panicked. Was history repeating itself? Although the cysts weren’t cancerous, I was still fraught with worry – and I needed her more than ever as I had surgery to remove them.

When my euphoria wore off, I sank into depression.

Thankfully the operation was successful. But recuperating at home a month later, I felt so overwhelmed. I needed something to lift my spirits. And my old friend ice was calling me.

As addiction increased its hold, my hopes of becoming a nurse fell by the wayside, and when I split with my boyfriend things got even worse. Locking myself in my house, I was soon spending around $1000 a week to keep up my habit. I plundered my savings to pay for it.

It wasn’t about being the social butterfly anymore. I was all alone. I just felt like I needed the drug to survive. Before long, I couldn’t even take a shower without reaching for my stash.

‘I just felt like I needed the drug to survive.’

I’d stay up for six days at a time and as my skin became sallow and spotty, I spent hours picking the sores in front of the mirror.

My appetite disappeared and my weight plummeted to a frail 45 kilos. ‘Please let me help you,’ Dad urged, desperate to do something. But I didn’t want to listen and pushed him away.

One night, I was such a mess I fell asleep with a cigarette still lit in my hand. I woke up to the stench of smoke – my mattress was on fire! I was able to put out the flames, but it was a sign my life was spiralling out of control.

By the time I was just 24, my addiction was so bad I was even hallucinating. Once, I swore I could see a complete stranger huddled up on my bookshelf.

…my life was spiralling out of control.

What was happening to me? Terrified and confused, at that moment something snapped.

I knew if I didn’t stop, this drug was going to kill me. I was a bright girl. How had I become a junkie who’d blown $8000 of her savings in the last three weeks?

With trembling hands, I called Dad in tears. ‘I need help,’ I cried and he raced over to collect me.

Admitting my problem was just the first step. Going cold turkey was agony. My body was racked with hot sweats and cramps as my hunger for the drug overwhelmed me. I just wanted the pain to go away – and it was then, at rock bottom, that I tried to take my own life.

My mum died when I was only 2.
My mum died when I was only little.

Fortunately, Dad stopped me and when I woke up, I realised I was in hospital. ‘He got you here just in time,’ the nurse told me.

Overwhelmed with relief that I’d been given a second chance, I made myself a promise that I’d find the strength to get clean.

But with no drug facilities at my hometown of Mildura, Vic, I had to recover in hospital. It was so hard – but at least it meant temptation was out of my reach.

Leaving two weeks later, on Mother’s Day, I felt determined. It was normally a day I’d cloud my sorrows with drugs. But this was the start of my new life.

I was so lucky to have a second chance.

At first, doctors kept me on antidepressants and monitored me closely, but eventually I didn’t need them. I kept myself busy by watching movies and spending time with old friends. It was a relief to be free of the lifestyle that had gripped me for so long. Once I was well enough, I even landed myself a job as a nanny.

I’m proud to say I’m still clean. I’ve escaped a cycle that could have led me to an early grave. I’m back to a healthy weight, have a great relationship with my family and I’m saving up to travel overseas.

I hope my story can serve as a warning about the dangers of ice and inspire addicts to get the help they need. I wasted five years of my life, but it’s never too late to change.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the issues in this story, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Originally published in that’s life! Issue 2, 2014.

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