health

'My terrified daughter sat on the stairs as I was arrested for ice.'

After growing up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Greg Fisher did what he thought a good Jewish boy should do. He married, had a daughter, Carly, and started making his way up the corporate ladder. But after coming out and leaving his wife, Greg’s life veered into the fast lane. A-list parties and a growing business empire were an intoxicating mix, and by the early 2000s his high-stakes lifestyle was spiralling dangerously out of control. In his brutally honest memoir Inside Out Greg writes about getting hooked on the drug ice and the destructive effect this had on his life.

I was at a friend’s house in Double Bay and we were having a great night with the usual red wine and coke. I walked into the kitchen and a friend of hers was smoking something out of a pipe. I asked what it was and he said to me, ‘Greg, you don’t want to know. Don’t touch it. I’m losing everything.’ I said that I would just have a try and again warned me, ‘Greg, don’t do it. Your life will never be the same.’ ‘Oh, stop being so melodramatic’, I said and reached out to inhale the vapours coming out of his pipe. Whoosh. It was incredible.

Ice brings up your heart rate, you feel sexy, loving, confident and social. It’s a complete rush. By then a lot of the cocaine on the market was of poor quality, as dealers were trying to make more money by cutting it further. This was pure stuff.

For the rest of the evening, I would periodically run into the kitchen to have another quick smoke. That was it. I’ll never forget it. And everything he said was true. If you have a relationship with Tina, as the drug was called, you can’t have any other relationships. Tina takes over your life. You become completely dependent; if you run out of ice you go crazy, you have to find it and you have to keep it with you.

Ice becomes your friend and confidante, your personality, your entire life. When ice was introduced into the Sydney scene it was marketed as being 100 per cent pure – the purest form of speed. You would pop it into a glass pipe, light it underneath, the crystals would melt into liquid and the liquid would vaporise into smoke. Inhaling that smoke gave you the most exquisite high.

It was so pure and so intense that it was sold in deals of 0.1 gram, a quantity that could last you a whole night. At $50 to $100 a deal, it was cheap compared to coke. And it made you alert and sexually confident compared with coke, which was increasingly having physical side effects. I carried different sized pipes with me and would often nip into a bathroom, take out a small pipe that fitted into the coin pocket of my jeans, and light it. Any of the ice left over from the previous smoke which had hardened would once again vaporise and I would get my fix and go off dancing.

As a drug, it’s easy to manage. It also goes well with any other drugs. If you’ve taken too much of a downer, ice will lift you up again. If you feel yourself crashing, you just reach for some ice and the ‘whoosh’ comes back to restore you. I very soon became addicted.

I dropped kilos in weight, had pale skin from being inside so much of the time and big black rings under my eyes. Without Tina I lost my sense of humour, had no confidence and was unable to interact with others. I walked away from my family. My parents continually rang me but I avoided them. I didn’t go to my sister’s fortieth birthday party and eventually they relied on me less and less to be a part of the family.

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Like all addicts, I became a master manipulator, coming up with a story for everything. When my family commented on the disappearance of two beautiful paintings I had had hanging in my lounge (which my dealer had taken when I hadn’t paid on time), I simply said I no longer liked them and had sold them; when they were concerned at the amount of weight I had lost, I told them that it was much healthier than being a fat blob; and when they commented on how tired and drawn I looked, I barked back that they would be too if they had had their company ripped from under them and were fighting for their corporate survival.

I wish at that point I’d had the courage to talk to my parents about my addiction and the debts I had accumulated. Instead, I continued the façade and the lies. I know my parents would have supported my rehabilitation and assisted me financially. The fact was that asking for that help would have meant accepting my failures and acknowledging my addiction. And I was not anywhere near ready to do that. My beloved Aunty Phyl saw what I had become and couldn’t bear it and took me out of her will.

With the lies, homelessness, family separation and feelings of utter hopelessness, my addiction only grew. No longer was I part of the real world. I had collapsed totally into the underworld. I hated myself. I hated looking in the mirror. I was so ashamed of who and what I had become. I felt there was no way back and secretly I just wanted my life to end. There is no glamour in drugs and drug dealing is the absolute pits.

Yet despite these feelings, it was at this time that I met Luke, my soulmate and life partner. There was an instant attraction between us, and when I look back I do wonder if we weren’t in fact brought together by a higher being to save each other, as if we had to go on a very difficult journey together so that we could both develop as individuals and ultimately go on to help others in troubled circumstances.

I wish at that point I’d had the courage to talk to my parents about my addiction and the debts I had accumulated
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At first we only saw each other casually. I often joke that Luke is the longest one-night stand I have ever had. He came into my life with true empathy and understanding based on his own life experiences of coming out. Both of us had struggled to come to grips with our homosexuality in light of our religious upbringings; mine Jewish and his Christian.

While I pursued marriage and fatherhood, Luke was engaged to a woman for a couple of years. He felt enormous pressure to succumb to the expectations of his traditional Christian family and to pass onto another generation the ideals he had been brought up with. Not long before the wedding, Luke realised the enormity of the mistake he was making and didn’t want his future wife to go through the heartache that marriage would have brought.

In the most heart-wrenching decision of his life, he broke off the relationship and moved from Adelaide to Sydney to seek Reparative Therapy. This 12-step program aims to take you from gay to straight. They teach you to reject your gay identity, treating homosexuality as a behavioural identity that you can kill off by not responding to it and acting out those behaviours. In its place they teach you to take a Christian identity that connects you with God and gives you wholeness, healing you of homosexual brokenness.

Luke took part in this program for two years, and it left him feeling utterly worthless. At one point he felt that suicide was his only option. Not long after we met, I moved from my Double Bay apartment on traffic-soaked New South Head Road into a quiet town house tucked at the bottom of a hill on leafy Edgecliff Road, Woollahra.

Luke began staying over more regularly, and before long moved in with me. Our relationship became tumultuous. He developed a drug psychosis from smoking too much ice, and constantly thought he heard multiple voices all around him. He was paranoid and thought people were talking about him and laughing at him. He was often exhausted and started missing work at the television network where he was employed. He started to use less than me, and tried to encourage me to slow down. But I kept going.

Through all of this I never stopped loving Carly or wanting to be a part of her life. While my reliability and the degree to which I was present diminished, I adored Carly as much as ever. During the school holidays in January 2005, Luke and I took Carly to Coffs Harbour. She was 11 years old. It was now almost nine years since I had left my marriage. Michelle had primary custody of Carly, and I was pleased that she was willing to allow me to take Carly away.

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I was so excited – I had reduced my drug intake and felt confident that I could be away and have a ‘normal’ holiday with Luke and Carly and forget about the whole drug nightmare. I just wanted to be with my daughter. I wanted to be in a happy place and jump in and out of swimming pools and simply delight in her company. We decided on Opal Cove in Coffs Harbour for a short break. It was a very comfortable, family-oriented hotel with a banana plantation leading down to the beach. The resort had memories for me: back in my funds management days, it was in Global’s portfolio and I had had a lot to do with it.

I was suffering from paranoia due to my ice addiction and had a strange sensation that I was being watched.

One day we drove to an airfield where Luke went sky-diving, then on to the Big Banana, Coffs’ iconic tourist attraction. As we were driving along, I had pangs of anxiety that I was being followed. At the Big Banana, we went straight to the restaurant where we ordered their famous banana thickshakes. As I drank, I became increasingly anxious and I asked Luke to look after Carly for a minute.

I went outside to the car park and smoked a cigarette. But instead of becoming more relaxed, the sense that I was being watched only intensified. The next day, Luke, Carly and I were jumping in and out of the resort’s pool. It was a fantastic place to relax and play with an 11-year-old child. There was a water slide that kept us amused for hours. Carly squealed with delight as we raced each other down the slide into the pool. ‘Come on, Dad, once more.’ This went on and on.

I climbed out of the water, picked up a ripe mango and started cutting into it. At that moment, I looked up and saw a group of people walking towards me. You can tell a detective a mile away, the requisite smart pants and crisp shirt. A tall, calm 30-something woman whom I recognised from my earlier arrest, said, ‘Hi Greg, we’re detectives from Sydney and we’d like to have a chat with you’. I nodded. ‘But first, please put down the knife.’

Greg Fisher's memoir is available now.
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My heart sank. I went numb. ‘Not here, not now, not in front of my daughter like this.’ She suggested we have a chat in private and Luke immediately said, ‘We’ll come too’. I felt a great sense of dread. Until this moment Carly hadn’t known about any of my criminal activity. I was afraid for everything she was about to experience.

The detectives advised me that they had a search warrant for our villa at the hotel as part of a sting they were conducting across five locations. In order for the operation to succeed they needed to operate simultaneously; if word had got back to me while I was away that a sting operation had taken place, there was a risk that I would flee. That was why they had to arrest me in Coffs Harbour and couldn’t wait for me to return to Sydney. The fact that I was already on bail meant I was likely to be locked up immediately and held until the case had been processed. My anxiety the previous day had been justified; they had indeed been following me all day from the airfield to the Big Banana.

The detectives conducted a thorough search of the two-level villa, going room by room with a video camera, asking me a series of questions about what they were finding. They took computers, cameras, phones and papers. Carly sat on the stairs with a towel over her head. She was terrified, despite Luke’s attempts to comfort her, and had no desire to be videoed by the police.

After 45 minutes I was formally arrested. ‘You’ll be coming down to the station.’ ‘When will I be coming back…? I have my daughter.’ ‘We don’t know. We can help to make arrangements for your daughter. It will be up to the arresting officer at the station whether or not he will grant you bail.’ I gave Carly a cuddle, explained that Luke was going to look after her and that she would be okay. She cried and clung to me. Even though I had disappointed her by leaving home when she was two years old, this was different. It would hit the papers and would cause her embarrassment, hurt and upset. All I could think about was that I had to get back to look after Carly.

All my selfish drug-fuelled behaviour and all my responsibilities as a parent ran through my head. It was one of the lowest moments of my life. I was at true rock bottom. My friend’s words that evening in Double Bay when I first tried ice had been prophetic. I felt I had now lost everything. But it was just the beginning.

This is an extract from Greg Fisher’s recently released memoir Inside Out, published by NewSouth, $29.99.
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