Everyone thought Kathryn was living the dream — a North Coast lifestyle, three young boys, and a husband of 19 years.

Before walking into her first Family Support Group session last year, nobody outside of her family knew the shame and anger she carried as the partner of someone living with mental health and drug misuse issues.

In January last year, Kathryn’s husband, who had a history of depression and anxiety, started ‘microdosing’ on LSD to manage symptoms. Eventually, this escalated into a cocktail of alcohol and hallucinogens. He was taking mushrooms, ketamine, MDMA. Eventually, he became suicidal and erratic.

Before attending the group, run by The Buttery’s B Well program, Kathryn felt totally isolated. “I felt like I was the only one who had experienced something like this.”

Kathryn had participated in The Buttery’s family counselling program and was referred to the group sessions by b.well.

“After my first group, I was asked ‘How do you feel?’

“My first response was ‘exhausted’. I felt like this weight was being drained from me. I was so sad that the words coming out of my mouth were real. I couldn’t believe that story was mine.”

Kathryn explained, early last year she discovered her partner had been using LSD daily.

“There were changes. He just started with a new psychologist and I saw such a shift. He was so aware of your surroundings. It was around that time that his alcohol consumption really escalated. He had never been a big drinker but it got to the point that he was creating opportunities to drink. He was becoming very secretive. He had a group of friends who were in the same line of employment who were distributing MDMA,” she said.

Eventually, with three young boys in the house, Kathryn asked him to leave the family home. Kathryn described the period leading up to his rehabilitation as ‘defined by danger, disaster, and chaos’.

“He made suicidal threats. I had to save him from an attempted suicide. He was in an out of hospital. He did a detox at Byron Hospital but checked himself out. He overdosed. He had nowhere to live. He would move from friend’s house to friend’s house but it never lasted long because his behaviour was so chaotic and unpredictable,” she said.

Kathryn said the support group bonded very quickly over similar stories.

“The age range was beautiful.  The youngest would have in been in her late twenties. There were a few grandmothers in the group.

I think having the counsellors there, including one with a lived experience of addiction, helped.

“We laughed so much which was really odd. I never expected to laugh so much in the group. It was like a release button was pressed.”

Kathryn said the group helped her deal with anger.  “I had so much brewing inside of me. I really don’t know where I’d be if I remained in anger. If I didn’t have that group to give me the psychology and the science behind addiction, I wouldn’t have got to that level of compassion that I live with today.

“The best thing I learnt from the group was setting boundaries. I still refer to those boundaries.  I can now say, ‘that is not okay’. It also helped me work through a lot of the guilt and shame I was carrying.

“One group session we were asked to write down the things you enjoy doing. Then we were asked how many of those do you do every day?

I realised then how much of my life had been taken over by having a family member in addiction. Now I try to do things for myself.

Kathryn’s partner is now living back in the family home, and although she admits they have a long road ahead, she sees hope for her family.

“He is now in recovery. He did his three-month rehab. He started studying. He is an active dad. He is trying.  Now I need actions. I need to see it.”

“The group improved my relationship with my partner. I was given a language that he wanted me to speak. Before I couldn’t step back and see addiction for what it was,” she said.