'I was prescribed opioids after back surgery. Within a few years, I was addicted to heroin.'

This post discusses suicidal ideation and drug abuse. 

As a teenager, while my friends were getting into smoking cigarettes and pot, I resisted. I craved acceptance, but I passed on offers of getting high because my singing voice was precious to me. So, when at 27 I found myself so deep into addiction that snorting oxycontin in public bathrooms was a regular occurrence, no one was more surprised than me. 

Until then I had lived a particularly healthy life. I practiced yoga and had a growing interest in 'food as medicine'. Then at 21, everything changed. I'd been living with back pain for months and was placed on opioid pain killers while exploring the cause. Eventually I was diagnosed with a spinal tumour. The jelly-like growth had enveloped my T6 vertebra and wrapped itself around my spinal cord. Treatment was imminent because as my doctor colourfully put it, "Imagine your spine is like a carrot. If you were to get into an accident, there is nothing stopping your spine from snapping in half and paralysing you." I stared at him, my skin prickly and cold. "Although, the surgery also has a chance of paralysis."

By 23, after extensive chemotherapy, I was ready for surgery. I was wheeled into the operating room while doctors and nurses hurried around me, each new face adding another cannula to my arms. An attractive doctor placed a breathing mask over my face and asked me to count down from — Ten, nine, eight... It was early the next morning when I started to come to. All I could hear was the beeping of hospital machinery, interspersed with guttural screeches and desperate groans coming from the other patients around me.


The recovery was long, physically agonising and emotionally debilitating. I continued on the previously prescribed opioids, but more were added. In the depths of recovery, I never considered using the pills for anything but their intended purpose, but as someone who has battled mental illness their entire life, I noticed how they made me feel. As a child my anxiety was so bad I resembled a shivering whippet with its tail between its legs, and I was suicidally depressed by the time I was 17. Taking opioids felt like being tucked into a blanket and handed a cup of hot milo. It was safe and warm in your tummy and full in your heart. It's easy to see how someone who has been fearful and burdened most of their life, could find solace in that dangerous little pill. 

Watch: Let's talk about drugs. Post continues after video.

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As time went on my health improved but the world around me was crumbling. Within the span of six months my best friend and father passed away, and my long-term boyfriend left me. The grief began to eat me alive and my reliance on opioids developed into full-blown addiction. All I wanted was to feel like everything would be okay, and for a moment after I lined up that white powder and sniffed it in - I was snorting rather than swallowing this pills by this point - it did. It wouldn't last and the heartache still broke through, but there would be a renewed sense of hope. I could survive another day... or at least until my next hit. 


It was during this time that I embarked on an ill-fated 'romantic' getaway to Italy with a man nearly twice my age. This meant my doctor had to supply me with the full month's worth of the opioids prior to travel, which was a complete disaster. I ended up inhaling the entire supply within the first 10 days and swiftly going into withdrawals. My pain skyrocketed, my mood was uncontrollable, I would sweat through the sheets by night, and was sick to my stomach by day. Suffice to say, the relationship did not last. 

When I landed back in Melbourne alone, I met my mum at the airport. She hugged me and I weakly said, "Mum, I think I need to go to rehab." She smiled and replied, "Okay, babe. Let’s get you home first." I went to rehab and got clean. That was seven years ago. I'd love to finish the story here and tell you it has been smooth sailing since then but that would be a lie. 

COVID hit and while many of my friends were drinking their way through Melbourne’s extensive lockdown, I stayed strong for two years. Then, weeks from the finish line, I crumbled. I was living alone and one too many puzzles later, I relapsed.

Only this time I did the one thing I said I’d never do. Heroin. 

I went to the streets, seeking comfort in the way of opioids. I told myself it would be one time, I’d buy a box and be done. But I went back again, and again… and again. Each time my dealer tried to push me into taking heroin, telling me how much cheaper it was; the quality more potent. I resisted, offended by the insinuation that I was that kind of addict. Then one day he ran out of oxy'. I tried to resist the temptation but as the withdrawals hit; I was back knocking down the door for help. Not long after that first hit of heroin, I was a full-blown addict. 


I watched myself deteriorate, rapidly losing money, weight and the will to get out of bed. The cold sweats returned and my skin became so itchy I drew blood from scratching. I had one focus — score, use, avoid withdrawals - repeat. 

I promptly sought help when I realised where my actions could lead — I wasn't that person anymore. Calling my addiction specialist, who had supported me before, I expected shame but received support and encouragement instead. He reassured me, saying, 'Let's not call this a relapse. It's a lapse. You've learned from it.' He was right. Before this, I feared anything that might trigger a return to addiction, but that fear no longer looms over me. It was as though I had been waiting expectantly to mess it all up and now that I have I can relax. My goal is never to use again, but life is long and often unkind. At least in the future I know that if I ever have another 'lapse' I have the resources to seek safety. And if I know there is safety surrounding me, what do I need opioids for after all?

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are free programs available across Australia. You can find further information on support groups near you via their websites.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 


If this post brought up any issues for you, you can contact Drug Aware, Australia's 24hr alcohol and drug support line. You can reach them on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024. 

Kirsten Moore's new book 'Gutter Glitter' is out now.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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