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When Nicole lost her children, she couldn’t get out of bed for six weeks.
They were moved out of her care after being exposed to domestic violence by her then partner. The same man who introduced her to the drug ice.
Nicole had smoked weed for many years but trying ice happened almost by accident.
“I walked in on him in his garage one night and he quickly hid the glass pipe. So, I just made out that I knew what it was. I thought it was speed. I pretended to know what it was and then I got addicted from there.”
At first, things seemed okay. Both Nicole and her partner were holding down jobs. But when her partner lost his licence due to drink driving, things began to spiral.
Eventually, Nicole asked her partner to leave: “He wouldn’t leave. We got into a big physical fight and my five-year-old daughter witnessed it. He ended up breaking my nose… That’s the main reason why my kids were moved out of my care.”
After the kids left, ice became a coping mechanism. For a while, Nicole lived at a domestic violence shelter. When she returned home, things continued to go downhill.
“I couldn’t open my two kids’ bedrooms for months… As soon as I opened the door, just the memories of them being there was… oh, it was horrible. I couldn’t function.”
When she was forced to leave that property and the memories of raising her children there, Nicole moved in and out of a number of “drug houses.” Eventually, she found herself living at the Fyshwick Caravan Park. It had only taken six months for her life to fall apart.
Nicole’s story is just one of six powerful stories of ice addiction and the slow and uneven process of recovery documented in a new exhibition opening at Tuggeranong Arts Centre (TAC) on Thursday 7 November.
On Thin Ice is a multi-disciplinary arts-documentary collaboration between photographers Hilary Wardhaugh and Martin Ollman, sculptor Tom Buckland, printmaker Jess Higgins and myself.
We developed the exhibition by working closely with individuals in our community, many of whom have been undertaking the residential program at the Salvation Army Recovery Centre here in Canberra.
The project began late last year, when TAC CEO Rauny Worm approached me, following my involvement in the public programs for the exhibition of Myuran Sukumaran’s work—Another Day in Paradise.
Reflecting on the stigma that often surrounds ice addiction, we were inspired to tell the real stories of people in our community in order to challenge the often one-sided portrayals we see in the media.
As Nicole says: “The way the media portrays it is very, very black and white. There’s more to it than that.” We need to acknowledge that in comparison to other drugs, relatively few Australians actually take ice.
We can’t even say for sure whether its use is increasing. However, we shouldn’t underplay this either.
Some evidence suggests that among the people who are using, the harms are increasing. According to the website cracksintheice.org, we’re seeing “an increase in methamphetamine-related helpline calls, drug and alcohol treatment episodes and hospital admissions for methamphetamine use, dependence, psychosis and other mental health problems, as well as methamphetamine-related deaths.”
Behind these statistics though, are the individuals struggling with addiction and dependence and the consequences that come with them. What we learnt from this process of talking to individuals and documenting their stories is that addiction is complex.
All of these individuals have complicated stories, filled with loss and trauma, which led them to where they are today. As Paul, one of the participants in the project said to me: “You don’t wake up one day and decide to become a drug addict!”
By using art to share these stories, we hope to reflect their complexity and to reveal the human side of the addiction debate. Rauny Worm says: “By sharing stories of addiction and recovery, we hope to use the arts to encourage empathy in the broader community and promote recovery as a collective effort.”
Printmaker Jess Higgins says: “At the beginning of this process I got to spend time at the recovery centre and listen to Linda’s story, after listening to her story I began to realize that at some point in these people’s lives they had been let down by the system, fallen through the cracks. I had to create a work that reflected this idea and feeling I had. I created a large scale woodcarving of 2 figures that took about 7 hours to carve, the figures are intertwined into the shape of a circle, these figures are repeated. It is my idea of the unbroken cycle and the system.”
Higgins’ works for the exhibition will feature alongside photographs, text, sculptures and a sound installation. Together, the exhibition tells the stories of these remarkable individuals whose journeys are full of pain, trauma, and loss, but also, hope.
For Nicole, the hope, and the driving force behind her recovery journey, lies with her kids. She acknowledges though, that it cannot be about her children alone: “Now I see that, if I don’t become mentally well for myself, and become a good, confident person for myself, then I’m no good as a role model for my kids.”
What: On Thin Ice opens
When: Opens 5.30 pm on Thursday 7 November. Showing until 30 November
Where: Tuggeranong Arts Centre
This story was written with editorial support from Aidan Delaney.
Feature image: Nicole. Credit: Hilary Wardhaugh.