Boni Newland had relapsed back to using heroin after two and a half years in recovery, when she decided at 27 to reduce from Buprenorphine at The Buttery and be entirely free from opioid substitutes.
Speaking from an idyllic fishing village in Thailand, the location of the 12-step-based rehabilitation facility where she works as a support worker, Boni is a world away from her former life using heroin and opiate substitutes.
“I had been to jail. I was dying. It was a life of prostitution, heroin, benzos, My life was on the line,” she says.
“I relapsed on heroin after two and a half years clean the first time. When I was relapsing on heroin I was on Methadone too. In order to come off the Methadone I came to Lismore, swapped from Methadone to Buprenorphine, so I could come to The Buttery and could get clean.”
Boni decided to undertake The Buttery’s Maintenance to Abstinence (MTA) Program, one of only two residential facilities in Australia for people who wish to withdraw from an opiate maintenance program (Methadone or Buprenorphine) to pursue an abstinent-based lifestyle.
“People call Methadone the ‘liquid handcuffs’ for a reason. When I was on Methadone and Suboxone, it was like I was covering myself with a sleeping bag and the drugs took away the ability to feel human. It also meant I couldn’t travel.”
“I didn’t feel like I was living, I was surviving. I lived to use and used to live,”
The program’s Therapeutic Community (TC) modeI was integral to Boni’s recovery, she says. “What fuels addiction is isolation – the solution is connection. The residential group setting made me feel I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t misunderstood.
“I never really thought I was going to get out of a life of brothels and crime until I was completely drug-free.
“Having support workers at The Buttery with a lived experience in recovery was vital.
“When I was at The Buttery, I wanted to become a support worker myself. They were so strong and staunch in recovery.
“Addiction is a hopeless state of mind and body. I think what I offer now as a support worker is hope. I am passionate about recovery. I want to inspire people.
“Since I’ve been clean, I’ve started surfing and travelling. I want to write my life story. I love hiking. I love nature. I love the ocean. In addiction I went to the ocean five times in five years. It robbed me of everything.
“I think the medical community fears abstinence. Doctors fear that if you reduce, you will be at greater risk of overdose, which I guess is valid, but I think abstinence needs to be recognised as a solution.
“I’ve had doctors want to throw Methadone at me. In reality, there aren’t a lot of people who are just on Methadone. They are usually on other drugs. It’s stopping one evil for another. Maybe Methadone is a good short-term solution, but people go on it for years. There needs to be more support, more time, effort and care and non-judgemental approaches for people in recovery,” she says.
Residential Programs Manager at The Buttery, Trent Rees , says the age of the average Methadone user was increasing.
“It’s not unusual to see people who have been on Methadone for 20 years or more. We’re not saying that people can’t live effective lives, but I think there is a lack of awareness – both in the medical community and the recovery community – of abstinence options.
“Boni’s story just goes to show how coming off substitutes can change your life. At the very least it allows you to travel. A life on opioid substitutes can be very limiting,” Mr Rees says.
Boni adds, “Being free of drugs has been the best thing that has even happened to me. My advice to anyone considering abstinence is that it can be really painful, but it is easier than using.
“Your misery can be refunded if you decide abstinence and recovery aren’t for you. What do you have to lose?”