I learnt that the reason I turned to drugs and alcohol was because I had all this pain bottled up. I didn’t want to deal with it – because it was too much and I was embarrassed – so I self-medicated to forget it all.
Ashley has been through and seen it all, from being abandoned as a baby to having an abusive alcoholic stepfather and later attempting suicide. Below Ashley speaks about his own drug and alcohol abuse, including his recovery through Fresh Start, a rehabilitation program based in Northam where he and the resident Great Dane, Boof, are inseparable.
You could say I had a bit of a rough start to life… At just three months old I was left to die under a bridge. Luckily someone found me but it wasn’t my last near-death experience. I’ve since been stabbed, beaten, hung myself twice and had a heart attack – most of it was because of booze and drug addiction.
I’ll go back to the beginning though.
The person who found me under the bridge took me to hospital and from there I was placed in an orphanage. At 12 months old a New Zealand couple (a Maori man and an Aussie woman) fostered me and we settled in Mandurah. I called them Mum and Dad but by the time I was 3 they’d divorced.
When I was 7 Mum married a horrible man, the most violent alcoholic I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Over the next 8 years I got hit a lot, my two adopted brothers and sister got hit a lot but Mum copped the worst of it by far. Sometimes I’d come home to broken windows and blood spatter on the walls and I just knew Mum had been bashed again.
After she left him, Mum moved to Bunbury but I decided to stay behind to do an apprenticeship in Perth. I was given special permission to leave school and at 15 became a butcher’s apprentice in Osborne Park.
My boss was like a father figure and the other butchers were like brothers but I had to grow up pretty fast, be the tough guy. That’s where I discovered speed, cocaine, drinking and everything else that comes with it. In those four years I didn’t just become a butcher, I became an alcoholic and addict.
I met a girl at 17 and got engaged. I was absolutely smitten until one day I came home to find her in bed with my best mate. In a rage, I slammed the door so hard it snapped off the hinges but then I went to the Ossie Park Hotel, got drunk and pretended nothing had happened.
When I got home she’d move out. I called her father and told him what she’d done, while I was putting up a noose to hang myself. In desperation, I jumped off the chair. Luckily, her dad had rushed over, knowing what I was about to do, and smashed a window to get to me. He cut the electrical cord from around my neck and brought me back to life.
With only 3 months left on my apprenticeship, I almost lost it completely. After a stint at Graylands Mental Hospital my boss took me back, though, and in those last few months I really proved myself. I even became the 7th best butcher in Australia.
Aged 20, I was about to buy half of the butcher’s shop but turned up one day to find it had been burnt to the ground thanks to a fire at the nearby Super Value supermarket. The owner’s sons had set the store on fire and the surrounding shops went up too. They got done for arson but I was retrenched within a week.
Just like that, my dream of running my own butcher shop was gone.
Shortly after my 21st birthday I decided to travel around Australia to see what was out there. My first job was in Port Hedland as a full-time butcher in Coles before I got a second job as a bouncer at the Pier Hotel. Back then it was known as the roughest pub in WA. I was pretty tough though – I did a lot of boxing as a kid and used to box the meat in the butcher shop, like Rocky!
Over the next 9 years I travelled all over the country, to Darwin, Alice Springs, Adelaide, Sydney, up and down the Queensland coast. I came back to Bunbury to surprise Mum for my 30th birthday (like I’d promised to) and the look on her face was priceless. Before long I took off again, this time going back and forth between Melbourne and Darwin for a while.
Along the way, I was bashed and even stabbed. There were too many beatings to count – lots of stitches in my face, hospital trips, black eyes. All from people who were drunk or on drugs and didn’t know what they were doing.
I found myself sleeping in alleyways and under carparks in Melbourne’s freezing cold. I had a big beard, didn’t shower and was drinking 12 litres of wine a day. Completely dependent on it, I didn’t care where I slept. I didn’t even know myself anymore.
Drunk and out of it one night, I wanted it all to end so I hung a noose around a tree branch out the back of a random house. I actually rang up Helpline to give them the numbers for my family so they could let them know I was gone. The lady on the other end managed to keep me talking for a while until finally I got sick of it, threw the phone away and jumped from the tree.
I didn’t break my neck but I was black and blue, swinging. Nothing hurts like hanging yourself and surviving. The only reason I’m here today is because the police satellite tracked my phone to find me. When I came to I had 6 police officers standing over me, making sure I was okay.
The cops took me to hospital but the alcohol withdrawal seizures I was having (known as DTs) were so bad that they lost me and had to shock me back to life.
I went through the hospital’s detox program and they contacted my family in WA to tell them what had happened. My brother, who’d never said he loved me before, called and said:
“I love you, mate. What are you doing, ya idiot? Come home, I’m going to get you a ticket. When you get here you’re going to see a bloke called Dr George O’Neil, you’re going to get treated and then you’re going to Northam for a long time, mate.”
That’s how I found Fresh Start’s recovery program in Northam that Dr O’Neil started. It’s been exactly what I needed. Seriously, I take my hat off to all of the staff here and at the clinic in Subiaco. Thanks to them I know and understand myself better than I ever have before.
Through my recovery I learnt that the reason I turned to drugs and alcohol was because I had all this pain bottled up. I didn’t want to deal with it – because it was too much and I was embarrassed – so I self-medicated to forget it all.
I don’t know why I’m still alive but maybe it’s so others can learn from what I’ve been through. Now I’m living one day at a time and working through recovery, doing the group sessions, chores and work therapy. If I can do it, anyone can.
I’m also thankful for Boof, our resident Great Dane. It’s odd but we have a bit of a shared story – I was abandoned under a bridge as a baby and he was thrown off one as a puppy. I suppose we were both rescued in our own ways.
Boof follows me around everywhere and he’s the best counsellor. Sometimes the others ask me who I’m talking to as they walk past – you’d think they’d know by now it’s Boof!
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