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‘I am an addict’

“A P-smoking mum has been charged with giving methamphetamine to her two daughters aged 3 and 6 in what experts claim is a legal first.” That was the introduction to a New Zealand Herald article in October, 2010. Today, that “P-smoking mum,” Adriene Johnson — or AJ — has turned her life around.

Never in a million years did Adriene Johnson think, at 37 years of age, she would be leading an Anti-P Ministry march down the main road of Gisborne.

Or have a legal, warranted car, a full-time job, a roof over her head, be able to pay her bills and be in a healthy relationship.

But that's what has happened.

AJ, as she is known, has been clean for 840 days. That's about two years and four months.

“Recovery is about talking about your story so it can help others.”

She was honest about her past when she applied for the job in Gisborne. Since then she has been promoted to a management position, her boss is supportive — he even donated the sausages for the sausage sizzle after Wednesday's Anti-P Ministry parade down Gladstone Road.

“There will be people who still judge, they don't matter. There are also people who are willing to give addicts a chance — I'm an example of that,” she says.

“I am happy to tell anyone my story.

“There is a lot of stigma and shame with it that stops people from reaching out. You can get better, you can change your life. It's not easy but it is so worth it.”

AJ has lived in Gisborne for almost two years with her partner, she attends narcotics anonymous (NA) meetings, and sees a counsellor.

Her children are now 16 and 14, and live with their dad and step mum in another city. AJ says he is a wonderful dad and they are now on good terms. She sees her kids on school holidays and they are building back the relationship. But 10 years ago it was a much different situation.

She had broken up with their father, was living on the North Shore with her boyfriend who was a drug dealer selling P from their home, and they were both using it.

One night in 2010 they were raided by police. It was the second time they had been raided but this time the police took hair samples from her daughters.

Scientists determined the girls had been exposed to P for at least 18 months, through second-hand vapours as their mother smoked P in their home.

That was where the two charges for administering drugs to children came from. Those charges were later dropped but charges of possession for supply, possession of utensils and being part of an organised criminal gang stayed.

She spent a weekend in jail, lost custody of her children who went to live with her mother, was given home detention and supervised visits only with her children.

Still she managed to find a way to use P.

There have been various stints in rehab, yo-yoing between being clean, then going back to the toxic relationship with her ex- boyfriend who was still using.

“I loved him, I thought it could work,”

She'd feel guilty but couldn't break away from her ex.

AJ remembers the first time she tried P. It felt “amazing”.

She was 18 and had gone to a “tinny house” to get pot but they were all out. A guy down the road said, “try this”.

So she did. AJ stayed up four days straight. Felt in control of her mind, her emotions, and it blocked out the emotional pain.

“My introduction to meth was really hard and really fast.”

AJ began to hang out with gang members.But life spiralled out of control.

AJ grew up in South Auckland, poor. Her mother was a single mum to four girls. She never met her father, who moved to Australia when she was three.

Her aunty's husband sexually abused her as a child. She blocked it out for years.

But when her Nana died, “my favourite person in the whole world,” when AJ was 13, she began to have flashbacks of the abuse.

She stole her Nana's medication to block and numb her pain but the flashbacks continued and her abuser denied it.

“I didn't know if I was going crazy — did it actually happen?”

The hardest rehab in Australasia

At 14, she started smoking marijuana.

“If it wasn't for the fact that I smoked pot I would not have gone to places where there was P available.”

It is why she voted yes in the recent cannabis referendum.

“Because if people can get it legally and safely, then they wouldn't be at the tinny houses or the gang houses where P is available and they wouldn't be in that circle in the first place.”

There were many times she “should have died”.

Kicked out of home at 18, AJ's meth use sky-rocketed. She moved between couches and boyfriends, men another comfort to fill the void of not having a dad.

Eventually she moved into a gang house on the North Shore where she met her children's father. When she discovered she was pregnant, AJ says she stopped meth but continued to use pot, telling herself it was “the lesser of two evils”.

But when their first daughter was six months old, they picked up meth again. Little by little the usage increased.

“I used while I was pregnant with my children. They lived in dangerous situations, they saw arguments, violence, police raids.”

Pregnant with her second daughter, she gave up P again. This lasted for six months — but in the last trimester she started to use again.

“I told myself it was OK because I hadn't used it for the first six months of pregnancy.”

But when her second daughter was born, she was an “angry baby”.

“She cried a lot and looking back it was because she was detoxing — she wouldn't take my milk.

“I was trying to look after two kids and maintain a drug habit. I wasn't happy and I wasn't being a good mum.”

She and the children's father broke up. He has been clean for nine years.

AJ began a relationship with the drug dealer.

“There was violence, from both sides. There were police coming over, dangerous people, lots of money in the house” — and her two pre-school children.

Having fast easy money from selling P was as intoxicating as the drugs, she says.

After the police raid and losing her children there were stints in rehab and plenty of relapses. The shame and guilt around what she exposed her kids to would make her use again — to block out the pain.

The rehab stints ticked boxes and kept her out of jail but she was not ready to give up drugs or the man who she thought was the love of her life.

Eventually, she got clean for herself. She blocked her ex-partner's number, deleted it and moved to Gisborne.

“You have to want more for your life. You have to know you deserve more. I tried to give up for my children so many times. But I still couldn't get clean. It happened when I got real about my childhood trauma and started to look inward.”

The last stint in rehab was at a place called Higher Ground — the second time she had been there.

It's the hardest rehab in Australasia. AJ describes it as “very intense”.

“I got really vulnerable and thought ‘what do I have to lose?' ”

She met her current partner that time and he has been clean a few months longer than AJ.

“He is amazing.”

February will be their two-year anniversary.

While living in Auckland he suggested they call Gisborne home.

“I can keep you safe there,” he told her.

Ten years on from being the P-smoking mum, “life is amazing,” AJ says.

“It's still a struggle. Life can be hard. I feel so much strength in myself and from telling my story. I am who I am. I make no apologies for who I am. I am an addict.”

AJ has a “healthy fear” about relapsing. She keeps herself safe and does not put herself in situations where it is possible.

“I keep myself safe.”

She surrounds herself with people who inspire her.

“Addiction is a disease. You need to have people around you, you can't do it on your own.”

AJ says she lives in a place of gratitude.

“It's the appreciation of the little things, the birds chirping, the sun shining. Like a little kid who gets really excited. There's something out there I call a higher power.Prayer is a big one for me. I give thanks.

“I want people to know that you're not alone. You're never alone. It's never too late to reach out for help . . . and it's never too early.

“What have you got to lose?”

Narcotics Anonymous holds meetings in Gisborne where people can be listened to without judgement.

Monday, 7pm, Holy Trinity Church.

Thursday, 7pm, Tauwhai Men's Centre.

Friday, 1pm, Holy Trinity Church.

People can also go on Facebook and “like” the Anti P Ministry page. People there will always reply to private messages.

RECOVERY: Adriene Johnson is an open book about her past. Sharing her story is part of her recovery. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

  1. Marley Wilson says:

    This woman is phenomenal in her truth, her courage to tell all and her dedication to giving back . . . . In absolute awe of her!