In many ways, from the outside perspective, my life looked perfect. I had a beautiful family, I went to a private girls school and I was really sporty.
But I was the youngest of three girls. My older sisters are six and twelve years older than me. I remember being a sensitive person, and when my eldest sister moved to the UK when I was seven I felt confused and abandoned. Why was she leaving me? Did she not want to be near me?
My parents were high-flying career types and worked very hard, going to the country on weekends. I spent a lot of time by myself and while lots of people might have thrived in the environment of an all girls school I hated all the gossiping and groups.
I first tried alcohol at 12 or 13 at a party and it was like instantaneous relief. This makes me feel better, I thought. A lot of people are anti alcohol and anti drugs and cigarettes, but I didn’t have that framework in my head. Drinking seemed to make me feel better – why couldn’t I continue?
By the time I was 13 I was smoking cigarettes and I tried weed for the first time. I would always drink around friends, but from the age of 14 I was smoking joints by myself after school. No one really knew as I managed to keep up with my school work, but my sport’s life really suffered. Suddenly I wasn’t such a good runner and so I thought: I don’t like this anymore.
Coming from such a successful family – my parents were both business owners and my sisters are both fashion designers – I felt like the black sheep. I felt all this real and imagined pressure, which led me to feeling completely overwhelmed and anxious. The only thing that seemed to help me cope with the stress was drugs. Before I knew it, I was trying ice, aka methylamphetamine.
An icy heroin hell
I was always quite a functional addict, hiding it for a very long time, so no one really knew what was going on. My parents worked a lot and I surrounded myself with people who were all doing the same thing as me. So there was no one telling me they were worried, or what I was doing was dangerous. I thought the only person I was hurting was myself, so I really didn’t think it was a problem that my life was slowly falling apart.
After I left school I started an arts degree, as I had no idea what I wanted to be or do. That’s when things started to slowly get worse. I was going out lots and really enjoying it. On top of that, I’d had disordered eating growing up and I found that drugs took away my need for food. When I look back I was really depriving and abusing my body, but at the time I honestly thought drugs were saving me.
I met my partner – who I’m still with today – when he was 20 and I was 21. We fell in love straight away. Like me, he was also into drugs and we lost ourselves in our using and in each other pretty quickly. We were so young and unaware of the seriousness of our actions.
We both decided to try heroin without much of a second thought. His friends were into itso we didn’t need to go far to find it. I was 22 when I tried heroin for the first time. I felt like I didn’t have much hope, purpose or direction in my life, so trying it didn’t seem like a risk to me. After all, I didn’t value myself and I honestly never thought I would account for anything. I really hated myself.
Before I knew it, I was using every day and within six months, I was using needles. I guess that is the natural progression of a using addict. Things that you would never dream of doing soon become your reality. Heroin completely hijacked my spirit. It took over every thought and decision I would make.
In the end, if I didn’t use it, I would be sick. Nothing can prepare you for the horror of withdrawal. Nothing. Every time I tried to get clean, I just couldn’t. I honestly believed I would die by the needle.
The turning point
It took a lot of pain to get to where I am today. There were so many low points and so many attempts to get clean. I tried to detox at home, went to counselors, psychologists, 12-step meetings, 28-day rehabs, but nothing worked.
I was so desperate when someone mentioned I should try a long-term rehab. At first, I was reluctant, thinking: “I can’t leave my partner and my life.” But eventually, I realized it was my only hope. I called up this rehab every week for six months on a waiting list.
On April 1, 2014, I finally got in to a place in a coastal town in southeastern Australia. I was there for ten months. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have ever done for myself. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and did an incredible amount of work. Yet it still wasn’t enough.
Near the end of the ten-month program, I relapsed. My partner had gone to a rehab in Melbourne and stayed clean. I was sure he would leave me. For the next nine months, back in Melbourne, I continued on the merry-go-round of getting days up which were clean, relapsing, getting days up, and relapsing again. It was pretty traumatic. I kept losing hope and there were times I just wanted to end it for good. I wrote a few goodbye notes during that time.
On Mother’s Day in 2015, I had a miscarriage from an unplanned pregnancy. I had always wanted to be a mother but had this belief that I couldn’t get pregnant. I believed I had done far too much irreversible damage to myself. That whole experience was incredibly hard, but in a funny way it was also a beautiful gift. May 14, 2015 was my first day clean and I have never used again. Drugs or alcohol.
A cleaner life
I am now over two years clean and my partner is over three. It’s quite unbelievable really. Not many heroin addicts stay clean, let alone partners who are together. This year, we’ll be celebrating our nine-year anniversary and next year we are finally getting married. After a seven year engagement! I’m glad we waited until now.
This year, I decided to go back to school. I’m back at Melbourne University, studying to be a psychologist with the hope of specializing in addictions. I’m working at a café on weekends and also trying to balance healthy eating with exercise. It’s not easy! Especially when you’ve spent your whole life doing the exact opposite of healthy.
I started exercising around three months clean after an episode of emotional bingeing. I had put on a fair bit of weight when I first put down drugs and I was really uncomfortable in my skin. Initially, it started with the exercising and soon after I incorporated healthy eating.
For me, I needed to take things slowly. Do one thing at a time, otherwise I would get completely overwhelmed and stressed. I started social media as a way to keep motivated and as a sort of visual diary of my journey. I never expected so many people to support me; it’s amazing. I guess I sometimes worry that exercise could just be another form of addiction, but unless it causes me distress and takes over my life, I’m not that worried.”
Fenella Scarlett McCall is now inspiring many on her road to recovery and fitness with her Instagram.