How loving husband spun into addiction hell
EMAILS have arrived in my inbox over the years from murderers in jail, from priests in exile, from do-gooders and do-badders, from drought-stricken farmers in remote Queensland and island-hopping, homesick yachtsmen.
Emails arrive in various states, some reeking of pain, some of anger, some full of joy, some just for a rant. (Nothing wrong with a good rant. Short and sharp, it clears the pipes.)
Then Luke's email lands, shooting the breeze about the Melbourne Cup. And it's different.
It's just before the Cup and he's not planning on watching this year because he's in a private Brisbane drug rehab hospital and worried that watching it may impact other clients with gambling addictions. Which is pretty insightful and thoughtful.
So, Luke's not your usual person in drug rehab. See what I did there? The "usual person in drug rehab". My judgmental brain is taking shortcuts, slumping back into comfy stereotypes.
Who is "the usual"? Luke* is pretty much like the rest of us. He likes reading Tim Winton and Chloe Hooper, eating at Brisbane's restaurants, loves his family. He's in his 50s, high-achieving, self-deprecating, and works hard. He happens to be in drug rehabilitation. You could call him the everyman of the OxyContin addiction crisis.
Luke has spent much of his adult life with chronic pain from a medical condition, successfully using the narcotic painkiller to manage the pain off and on.
"Up until last year, I had never had one iota of issue - I stopped the drugs every single time for those 32 years."
But when his wife had a serious health crisis, he reckons his "nurturing partner brain" kicked in.
"I wanted and needed to be there for her 100 per cent, so for the first time ever, I took OxyContin as a 'preventative measure' to ensure I would be able to be her rock, if pain hit. In that ridiculous decision, all those 32 years of perfect use of a potentially dangerous drug was brought undone and the slippery slope began and brought me here [rehab]."
Luke didn't enter rehab of his own volition. He was "found out" when a doctor became concerned and his usage was flagged by the Drugs of Dependence Unit.
"It was the most shameful day of my life. I knew I was in trouble but didn't know how to stop. But after the initial shock and embarrassment, I felt a slight calming."
The world has sleepwalked towards the OxyContin addiction nightmare. The controversial drug's sole active ingredient is oxycodone, dubbed "hillbilly heroin", a chemical cousin of heroin, twice as powerful as morphine.
Australia is in the midst of a prescription opioid epidemic, as a new study by Melbourne's Monash University shows more than 1.9 million adults a year begin taking prescription opioids. And consider this: Overdoses from prescription medicines have overtaken road deaths and illicit drugs overdoses as a leading cause of death in Australia.
Last year, The New Yorker ran a story headlined "The Family That Built an Empire of Pain", revealing the Sackler dynasty's aggressive marketing of OxyContin that generated billions of dollars - and millions of addicts - worldwide.
In the meantime, people like Luke and his family rake up the pieces and put things back together.
Is there a family in Queensland that has not been white-anted by some addiction? Doubt it.
Perfectly wonderful, intelligent people are sideswiped by one or two crises, and then in times of stress or burden are vulnerable and the addiction takes hold - food, alcohol, drugs, sex, risk-taking, spending, gambling, exercise, social media, internet, porn, shopping, video games.
Who can say they haven't felt the pull of one of those?
It particularly happens when we feel overwhelmed and want to either numb the pain or fill the empty emotional bucket.
Consider writer Lionel Shriver's observation about modern life's ills: "We turn on the taps in the sink to fill the bath".
Luke writes: "This is the first time my shameful and soul-destroyed me has even admitted this to anyone other than my wife, children, and the medical profession."
Shame is a corrosive, concealed and dangerous emotion. It leads us to believe our whole self is flawed. Jung called it a soul-eating emotion.
We need to accept that we're all a ragtag sackful of dirty deeds and noble acts, sometimes virtuous, sometimes vulnerable.
Right now, there are three weeks left of the year. How do you want to start the new one?
If you have troubles with any addiction, accept you are human.
Shove shame in the bloody box it came in, visit your GP and ask for help. What's the worst that can happen? What's the best?
Luke tells us: "My most proud moment was my first social occasion without OxyContin in my system to artificially make me the person I thought I used to be."
He went along to the wildly popular Brisbane's Pub Choir. "Singing with 800 strangers is just so uplifting and to be able to do it not under the influence made me realise I just might be able to do this.
"It'll take a while but I reckon I'm going to be OK."
*Name has been changed