The sun was beating down on my daughter and myself. I was sweaty and felt dirty and that’s how my daughter looked as we lay in the alley. I had put the 2 bags of clothing that were our only belongings, next to the discarded rubbish from Christmas parties. My daughter, Sarah, lay on those bags. Crying herself to sleep. Asking when we can go back home. She was 9 years old and had missed the last 2 weeks of school going from place to place. We had no food, no shelter, nothing to drink. Drug addiction had completely consumed my life and was now destroying my daughter’s life. Christmas had never seemed so bleak.
A few weeks before Sarah was born, I broke my hip working in the mines and got laid off from work. The relationship between Chantel, Sarah’s mum, and I quickly became toxic. With Chantel already deep into drug taking, all the parenting responsibilities were falling onto me.
I was on minimum wage through workers compensation and I soon fell into severe depression. It was then that ICE entered my life. I was told that this would help with my depression, anxiety and pain.
I thought that by being strong and reacting violently in stressful situations, I was protecting Sarah, but I was completely wrong. Because of my erratic behaviour and my neglect of her, I put Sarah at risk. I would always allow Chantel back into our lives. Chantel was extremely violent and very hostile. She’d have fits of anger and explode with rage. She would drink vast amounts of alcohol and combine it with a concoction of drugs. When Sarah was a toddler, I left Chantel, but this break in our family violence only took Sarah out of immediate danger.
As time progressed, I was increasing my drug use, with trying to run my own business and being a father, it was getting harder. I thought the more I used, the better I would be able to cope with life’s problems and hope they would just disappear altogether. But I also thought the more I used the more hours I could work and the more money I could make, and that Sarah and I could be happy. I would drop Sarah off to school, have a nanny pick her up after school and look after her until I got home from work which could be anywhere from 8pm to midnight. I was almost completely out of Sarah’s life. I could only now imagine the hurt and feelings of abandonment she went through. Soon things started to decline rapidly, I began to associate myself with violent and dangerous drug dealers and allow them to be in Sarah’s presence.
I began to stop paying rent due to my drug use. Eventually we were evicted and what was left of Sarah’s safety and stability was gone. I had so much ICE and riddled with so much guilt that I was behaving very erratically. I had the police and NSW Family and Community Services turn up to the hotel I was in. They called an ambulance and I was put into a Mental Health Ward. Sarah came to see me, when she’d leave, she would yell and cry, I felt heartbroken with what I had done. Sarah would lie down next to me and her words to me were, “Daddy promise you will never leave me again”. It was time for me to be discharged and it was the lead up to Christmas. We had nowhere to go. Sarah and I ended up a couple of blocks away in a dirty alley way with 2 bags of clothing and 50 cents to my name.
I had now hit the lowest point of my life and brought Sarah with me. I looked at her laying there on the bags with her eyes closed all sweaty because of the heat and that’s when I decided to call Odyssey House. I was told to come straight into the cottages and from that moment I never looked back. We had Christmas that week. All I can remember is the extreme relief I had that Sarah was somewhere safe. I had finally given her a Christmas present that would change her life.
In the program I was given a Family Support Worker and a parenting treatment plan in addition to my own treatment plan for my drug use. I took part in the mental health program and was shown how to communicate better with Sarah. I learnt a lot about having integrity and accountability.
Since being at Odyssey, Sarah has been undertaking counselling with a child psychologist so she can keep dealing with any past trauma. She has made great progress. She is also eating healthily and is making friends.
I am now a parent who is responsible and nurturing. I shall never forget that a child is a reflection of their parent, so I will also continue my counselling to better myself and be the parent that Sarah needs in her life.
*name changed for privacy
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