Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Big Mistake - part 1

Some of you might remember this Maccas ad from 1999:

I always watched that ad with a smirk on my face.

And this, my friends, was my Big Mistake:

look at my wrinkle-free 22yo face...
Excuse the dodginess of the picture, I had to take a photo of a photo because I can't work out the scanner (never trust a printer-scanner that comes free with the computer...).


We started going out at 19. We've all been there haven't we? The passionate romance, the first true love, the extreme drama that accompanies teenage love, girl's father hates the boyfriend, a forced separation (military service which was compulsory in Italy until 2005) that makes the relationship even more tragically romantic, the conviction that this will last forever etc etc.

Then at 20 I was in a really bad space, making very bad choices, drinking way too much, mixing with dodgy people, losing friendships, quit uni etc. I needed a change, so I came down to Melbourne for that change. My Mum was born here, so I had some contacts to rely on (extended family and my mum's childhood friends) and a very handy dual citizenship that opened all sorts of doors in Australia for me.
I stayed here for 6 months, and I just loved everything about this beautiful country of ours: the spaces, the air, the food, the people, the extreme weather...

But I had left the boyfriend behind. So, being 21 and lovestruck and a little homesick and dumb, I decided to go back to Italy. Which was a mistake in itself because after a short while I was back in that deep hole. My mum talks about me in that period as a flower who gets one drop of water per day: just enough to survive, but not enough to flourish. I was constantly droopy. I missed Australia soooo much.

Then after a couple of months, the bombshell from the boyfriend. "Sara, I have something to tell you..." in my head I'm thinking "you f***, I was faithful to you while I was away" but the sin he committed in my absence wasn't an adulterous affair.
"I'm staying home from work for 3 days, and I might need your help. See, while you were away I missed you so much, I needed something to keep me happy. I started shooting up. But I want to stop, because I know it's wrong, and I'm earning good money now, and I want to save up to get us a place together and have a lovely life together".
At first I had no bloody idea what he was talking about. I had smoked some joints in my late teens but anything heavier was for me just so inconceivable, it was just a barrier that "good girls and boys" from my bourgeois upbringing just didn't cross, an option so unfathomable that I thought only people from poor or ignorant backgrounds took. How much I learnt since then...

He was going to stay home to withdraw. He thought he could do it cold turkey because he hadn't been injecting that much. It would take 3 days to get out of his system and then he'd be fine. Free from heroin forever.
I was flabbergasted. I was frozen. I didn't know what to say or what to do. I wasn't even sure he was talking about heroin. I wanted to ask more but simply couldn't. I was suddenly changed. It felt like the rosy carpet of promises of my private school upbringing had been taken away from under my feet. It felt like the wonderful experiences had in Melbourne had never happened. I felt guilty for my overseas stay. I felt like I was standing on the brink of a cliff at nighttime, totally unable to see the depth and size of it.

That was the beginning on 1998. That was the crappiest year of my life. It was the year where I saw who I thought was the love of my life sinking as low as he could get. Begging for money. Stealing money. Blaming others for his choices (one has to say though that his mother's choices did have a bearing on his bad choices, but that's another long story for another day...). Some things my memory has somehow erased. Others I remember. The drug dealers, the madness in his eyes, the sickness, the multiple car accidents, the spaced out look in his eyes, the cold sweats, the happiness when he had the stuff flowing through his veins, the fresh marks on his arms, the fear of an overdose, the armchair he pushed upstairs all by himself during a crazed withdrawal. Because of course I didn't know at the time of that conversation, but heroin withdrawals aren't a walk in the park. And quitting isn't easy at all. And it never happens on the first go.
Like any addiction, if all the factors that caused it are still present (in his case, low self-esteem, inexistent family support, boredom, bad influences, easy to access dealers, uninspiring environment), there's nothing to prevent a relapse. And every time there's a relapse, the next withdrawal gets worse.
Then trying to get him in rehab, learning all about methadone and naltrexone, doctors, nurses, clinics, counsellors, case workers, finding out that so many people I knew where affected by this terrible addiction, seeing a horrid side of life that I never imagined, hearing from his therapist that he had relapsed, over and over and over again. And after months of no progress and losing his job and being 40 million liras in debt (which converted in current Aus currency would be around $60K) and being evicted from his rental property and thrown out by his relatives, big changes had to be made. So it was decided he was to go and live with his grandparents in Sicily, 1000 kms away, so he could get clean, away from his daily temptations. I went with him, still so in love but getting quite over it, to make sure he was going to be okay. I flew back to my parents and I started seriously thinking about coming back to Australia.

All this happened with my parents not knowing a thing about it. I had to find in myself the strength to drag another human being out of his own pit of nightmares, without having a confidant or a shoulder to cry on. So I returned to good old booze to help me out. As I was helping him out, I was falling deep into alcoholism. And very dangerously, driving while very intoxicated. And mixing with highly dubious characters. And I started cheating on him. I did feel obliged to be with him, I felt I couldn't just dump him, but in my dazed state I somehow justified the cheating, thinking that if I fell in love with someone else that would be a more honourable way out than just abandoning him to his own destiny.
I was deprecating myself, putting my life and others' in danger, doing things I was ashamed of, not living truly to my values, wasting my life an ultimately once again withering away. I was the little flower who's not given any water at all.

I don't know how much longer I would've lasted had I not finally opened up to my mother and shared my burden. And like me she felt sorry for this boy who hadn't had the easiest family life.

But then he came back from Sicily. High as a kite. Because heroin is there too. Because heroin is everywhere. Just like all drugs are. Because before all this I was quite naive and cocooned in my little world. Because the world is full of unhappy people that choose one poison or another. Because the world is full of scummy dealers and pushers that will give weak youngsters freebies to get them hooked quickly.

I didn't dump him because I still felt I had an obligation, kind of like a wife.
But this little flower had to come back to Australia. It was all too much. On a one way ticket.

I arrived in Melbourne at 6am on 12/12/1998. I walked out of the doors at Tullamarine, smelt the air of the beginning of a hot summer's day (ended up being 32 or 39 that day, can't remember well, I slept all day...), and uttered those words. "I'm home".

And I truly was. And it was so exhilarating and uplifting and I felt alive again and wanted to live and not drown myself in alcohol.
I always loved Sorrento backbeach

Now, you'd think that would be the end of the story.

See, the big mistake wasn't using one year of my life to help a loved one get out of drugs. In a way, that made me grow, I made many sacrifices, stopped being self-centred and by trying to save someone else's life became a better person.
No, the big mistake is what happened next...

But that'll have to wait for the next post, kids are awake and screaming for attention...

1 comment:

  1. Wow Sara! You have us on the edge our seats! What a growing experience... fascinating to know what makes a person who they are today. Your perspective from arriving here as an adult makes me look at Melbourne in a different way - have I taken it all for granted? Looking forward to reading more about your life. xxx