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Opening up

From being an addict to becoming a committed leader in the social services sector, 59-year-old Tuta Ngarimu continues his fight against meth addiction in the community. Reporter Akula Sharma attended one of his support group sessions at Puna Ora in Elgin, where for the first time he talked about his “rock bottom”.

You can either stay in that space for the rest of your life or you can do something about it,” says Tuta Ngarimu. “You must have that conversation with yourself — nobody else.”

Everyone had their own rock bottom, he said, whether from a relationship, after a trauma or through any kind of addiction.

“Many people have this perception that we can't do anything to help whānau until they reach rock bottom.

“I have always wondered what this term meant, because I have worked with whānau who appeared to be at that level.

“But when you go and do the mahi, help them, you discover that it was not rock bottom. They weren't even close, not even halfway through.”

Mr Ngarimu said for him, rock bottom came from the end of his relationship with his partner.

He was brought up in an environment where being a Māori tāne (male) came with a connotation.

“One day you're playing at Waikirikiri playground and the next, once you grow older, because of who you are, you have to act in a particular way.

“Like every kid, I saw my dad and his mates as people I wanted to follow. I thought whatever they did was the way it should be for me.

“And when you're old enough, the word ‘mana' gets dropped in.

“You begin to idolise your elders and people around you . . . the way the man beats his missus up, slaps his kids and gets wasted every night.

“This for me was normal back in those days.”

Mr Ngarimu said he started idolising one such man. He called him “the one with the biggest mouth”.

“Whatever he did, me and my mates did the same. We respected him. We thought that was ‘mana', how he treated his girlfriend — we thought that was the way to treat our girlfriends.

“We had learned and been around these things throughout our lives, and there had been nobody who said to me, ‘that's not good'.

“Even when in my heart I felt that, ‘what was I doing?' . . . but I kept on telling myself otherwise.

“What I was doing was because I wanted to be that person with the big mouth.”

Eventually, Mr Ngarimu said the person he and his mates idolised ended up getting all of them imprisoned.

“When I look back on my life — being in that group, patched up — I thought all of those decisions were right. I would tell myself that was how he was doing it.

“. . . things like having a huge number of shotguns stashed under my first-born son's bed, having molotovs sitting in the wash-house ready to go.

“That was the kind of life me and my mates brought our kids through.”

A significant event in Mr Ngarimu's life changed all his beliefs.

“I thought I had mana, that I was the man, I was part of this thing.

“And then, my partner left me. I couldn't even walk around. I felt like I had lost my mana, my perceived mana.

“This was when my whole world came crashing down.

“I thought about ending my life at some stage. I was the lowest I had ever been.”

Mr Ngarimu said that on reflection, he was thinking only about himself.

“Why was all of this happening to me?

“When I look back on how I ended up at that stage, it stands out why.

“I got myself into that place.”

During that time, Mr Ngarimu said his kids were the only hope he had which helped him pull back from this dark space.

“I had three tamariki and four whāngai living with me, the four were my friends' who was doing life in Paremoremo prison.

“I lived in an awesome community who loved me and were there to help my kids. During my rock bottom, even when I was getting wasted every day, the community looked after my kids.

“Which is when, unexpectedly, I questioned myself. Did I want to stay how I was for the rest of my life or do something about it?

“I had that kōrero with myself . . . a pono (truthful) conversation.”

After that realisation, Mr Ngarimu looked at his children and his family, and he began working his way out of that space.

“When you are in that space, grief takes over. You begin to think you deserve to be there, you don't deserve to be happy, you blame yourself.

“But once you make that change, find something you love deeply, (to me that was my kids), you take your second step of coming out of ‘rock bottom'.

“I challenged my belief structure, every little thing and slowly pulled myself out of that space.”

A part of his rock bottom was addiction to drugs, Mr Ngarimu said.

“I was eating five or six trips at a time and if someone came to talk to me, I'd have a locked jaw.

“I thought of drugs as a way of help but in the end, none of that stuff works.

“I had to stop lying to myself. When I accepted that everything would open up if I got myself out of that space, everything did fall into place.”

Now, Mr Ngarimu runs weekly support group meetings for other whānau who struggle with meth addiction.

He never judged anyone on whether or not they were at their rock bottom, he said — he just went to them and gave them the awhi they needed.

If you need help

Weekly walk-in support group meetings for whānau affected by meth addiction are held at Puna Ora, Elgin shops, 6pm Wednesdays, Kaiti Hub Markets 9am Saturdays, fortnightly Friday 4pm Tokomaru Bay Clinic Tokomaru Bay, Friday 6pm Ngati Porou Radio Station. Contact: 027 498 1051

NZ Alcohol and Drug Helpline 24 hours service on 0800 787 797.

For information and guidance contact NZ Drug Foundation on (04) 801 6303

SAY NO TO METH : Support workers Moana Rangiuia and Hope Jones with Tuta Ngarimu. Picture by Paul Rickard