I left school at a young age, but I remember how well I did in Social Studies, Science and Maths. If I’d had different opportunities as a youngster, I believe I potentially could have done quite well. My hope was to become a medical doctor.

I guess I probably gave up when I was about twelve. It would have been from witnessing my father in jail again, and my mother struggling to look after the five of us. At twelve years old, you want a few more things because your peers have them. So, what kept me away from school was that I didn’t have the shoes, nor the uniform. School fees hadn’t been paid – all that sort of stuff. I felt very low and very despondent, and I remember having thoughts of, ‘Why?’ and, ‘This isn’t fair.’

I remember praying and praying for my brothers and sisters, because we’d be so hungry. My mum would be in the next room just recovering from another hiding my Dad had given her in one of his drunken outbursts. Dad had been taken away by the police. So, I think it was then, aged about eleven or twelve that it kicked in: ‘My life’s never going to go anywhere.’

Then, I had my own lived experience with addiction. By the time I was 24, I was in Carrington hospital. I went on a methadone programme and a detox programme. Back in the community, I got on with life for a wee while, but then I’d relapse and go back into addiction again.

I had a severe black out one night, and in the morning, I found myself standing in the district court, with no recollection of the night before. I was wearing a hospital gown, and I stunk of smoke. It was a High Court case and they charged me with arson. It was my first experience on the other side of a police cell. I remember being hauled out of a cell, thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ My head was really foggy. I was pushed into a line of people and told to move forward. We were marched out on to a big stage, and we couldn’t see out. Apparently, what they do is march you in front of all the cops who are coming on duty that day. I was asked who I was and what I’d been picked up for. It was so frightening. I couldn’t see them, just the bright lights. It was the most bizarre thing.

It turns out that what had happened was that I’d had a massive taste of heroin and blacked out. I was living alone above a massage parlor in town, and as I’d fallen, I’d knocked some clothes down, which went onto a heater and set fire to the building.

The only person to give me information was my lawyer, who was a busy person. His instructions were clear about what I should say, how I should dress, and what I should expect. It was helpful, but it didn’t actually prepare me. Since it was the High Court, I appeared in the morning, then was locked up downstairs with some others. Up again for the hearing, and down again for lock up. It was like another world. When the judge pronounced the verdict of not guilty, it was fantastic, I was able to walk out. I felt sort of empowered.

It was pivotal for a wee while. The trouble was I was slipping in and out of addiction. I could get a year’s sobriety, but I would struggle. For me, drugs were medication. I saw my father self-soothe with alcohol. It was a learned behavior from a really young age to utilize substances. It wasn’t necessarily that I liked the feeling of the drug or the drink, it was that I escaped from my reality. My reality always felt like it was really hard. I always felt quite disadvantaged.

I just wanted to try harder to see if I could experience the other side of life, because it always looked really great on that other side of the fence. I can say now that it is greater. It’s nice to have financial freedom, it’s great to own property, it’s great to have my own car. I was really quite connected to my wairua – to my spiritual side – and whether or not that was tipuna saying to me, ‘Come on girl,’ there was something that changed spiritually for me and I became really determined. That’s why I moved from the North Island to the South Island because I knew no one when I first got here.

You kind of get pushed or guided towards where you’re meant to go. So, there it was – Te Puna Wairua. I’ve come to learn that you need to access it. Whether I lived in Auckland, or Wellington, or even in Rarotonga, I’d need to plug in to myself. Meditation and reflection are really important to me. Because what I do know is this: if you do the right things, the right things happen. People said to me, “I’m doing the right things and all this crap is happening.” Then there’s something in your life that you’re not doing right, there’s still something that you haven’t let go of. A secret something.

My husband and I are older parents. We’d tried really hard to have children and couldn’t have them. We tried IVF a couple of times, but it never happened. So, we ended up getting whāngaied twins, a boy and a girl that we’ve had since they were 9 days old. So, I look back now on life and think, we’re here now with these things that are happening in our life. I truly believe in law and order and karma and wairua and all that that. But my god, you have to sacrifice sometimes in life to get there.

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