A woman who was addicted to meth at just 21 has revealed how the drug took over her life and left her homeless, with even her drug dealer pleading with her to get clean.
Jessica Gaddes went to an all girls school and learned to push the boundaries quite young and, at 13, remembers having her first alcoholic drink and cigarette right next to the school.
Two years later, she started to use marijuana before coming out as a lesbian at 16, around the time she first tried speed.
She desperately wanted to be herself but she was often bullied or ostracised for her sexuality.
Jess found comfort in the Sydney gay scene and, at 19, she was out at Newtown’s Bank Hotel on a Wednesday before spending time in Penrith on a Thursday and Oxford Street until Sunday evening.
“Coming out as a 16-year-old lesbian was unheard of [in the early 2000s],” Jess told news.com.au.
“I was drinking to cope with what was going on.”
Jess said it wasn’t just one group of friends consistently partying – it was the gay scene, friends from her job at Centrelink and girls at school.
She was doing well at work, able to handle situations other 19-year-olds may have been unable to, and she’d bought a house, a brand-new car and had travelled overseas. She had a partner she loved.
But, looking back, Jess can now see her life was starting to spiral out of control.
“A lot of stuff that happened between the aged of 13 and 18. I look back on it and I was like, ‘how did that happen in such a short period of time’,” she said,
“I was lucky even though I had this party thing going on and we were doing stuff that no 16-year-olds should be enjoying, I was still able to maintain somewhat of a normal life,” she said.
But, at 21, Jess’ glands swelled up so bad she could barely swallow, and it was determined to be a severe reaction to the speed she was regularly using in order to keep up her partying lifestyle.
She gave it up without question after being in the “worst pain of her life” and didn’t touch any substance expect alcohol and marijuana.
But one day, as she was renovating her home to get it ready for sale, a friend she’d known since she was 16 had come over and said he had a drug that was exactly like speed, but she could smoke it, meaning it wouldn’t have an impact on her glands.
So, Jess, her friend and her partner at the time smoked the drug having no idea it was methamphetamine – one of the most addictive drugs there is.
Jess is still friends with the man who gave her the drugs, saying she knows both of them were in way over their heads, with no clue what they were messing with.
Shortly after getting hooked on ice, Jess moved up to Queensland with $60,000 in her pocket from the sale of her house. Within six months, it was gone. She spent it on drugs or on impulsive buying, fuelled by her bipolar I and II diagnoses.
It wasn’t long before she returned to Sydney with a “raging habit” – one that would stick with her until she was 28.
For most of her addiction, Jess was homeless and said it was either “commit crime or go into sex work” to pay for her habit.
Violence wasn’t an unusual thing on the streets for Jess to witness, with crimes of the most horrendous nature taking place in front of her eyes. Every time she witnessed something like this she would run to rehab – she underwent her first stint at 23 after her drug dealer pleaded with her to go after getting clean himself. It wouldn’t be her last rehab stay.
For a few weeks, she would be off the drugs before falling in with her old crowd and the vicious, dangerous and violent cycle would begin once again.
Her relationships with those around her – including her parents and brother – completely fell apart. Jess’ mum even developed Bell’s palsy – a stress condition – as a result of her daughter’s behaviour.
“There are things I will never be able to shake from my memories. You can do all the therapy in the world [but it’ll never be enough],” she said.
It was seven years before Jess got clean – and in the end it was shame that did her in.
“I put a lot of stress on my parents and my family. I’m the only person out of like 60 family members to go to jail,” she said, recalling how her first arrest led to her mum’s phone ringing off the hook as it had been in the local paper. Her mum was a teacher and a well-known figure in the community.
“Everyone was quite confused because I went from being this really successful real estate agent that was in the newspaper selling houses to being a drug addict on the streets of St Marys,” she said.
“And then charged with fraud. Like it just didn’t make sense to anyone. That’s why I say addiction doesn’t discriminate.”
It was sitting in the jail cell that Jess realised how bad things had become, and she realised she only had once chance to dig herself out of it.
Shortly before leaving prison, it was Jess’ birthday and some of the women in the prison had left her cards for her birthday. One said “the power of prayer has the power to end war”.
It was something that stuck with her, and after years of trying to do good while also doing bad Jess opened herself up. She put her faith in the Serenity Prayer, cut off those around her who were using drugs, and started rebuilding her life.
It wasn’t an easy feat – Jess had to learn how to truly get the forgiveness from those around her for her actions while using but also learn to forgive herself.
She stopped dating, began working in a pub because she always loved hospitality and began working on an app called Encapsulator, which is essentially a video diary app.
Jess said often in rehab there was a need to journal but she desperately wanted a visual representation of the change over time.
Jess, who will be celebrating eight years of recovery in April, also shares her story on social media because she wants to be the person she never had when she was getting into drugs.
As a teenager, Jess was dating someone who was a heroin user and she went with them to a methadone clinic. The woman told Jess to stay far away from heroin, putting the fear of God into her about it. Jess didn’t touch the drug until the very end of her addiction, always having fear about it.
But, Jess said that wasn’t a thing when it came to meth. She said she needed to be that person to scare young people straight about the horrendous drug.
“I just had no knowledge and that’s why I share so much – these young ones need someone to put fear in them,” she said.
“It’s like; Hey, guys, yeah, it’s all fun and games now but it’s gonna be laced with meth to get you more addicted to it. So that way when the cocaine runs out, you’re gonna be running to the meth’. I’m constantly harping on about it [to the young people I work with].”
Jess knows her life hasn’t been easy, but she is grateful for the way she has overcome her addition.
“I look at people that use for 20 years and I’m like, ‘how are you alive? how are you not in jail’,” she said.
“In some way, shape or form that drugs going kill them eventually, whether it be heart failure or whatever. It’s gonna kill you. It’s just a matter of time.”
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