May 31, 2024
June 2023
Wāhine Story

Mel's story.

At one point in her life, Mel needed drugs to function. Now, she’s the one supporting others struggling with the shackles of addiction.

At one point in her life, Mel needed drugs to function. Now, she’s the one supporting others struggling with the shackles of addiction. Mel is married, owns a home and has a child on the way but looking back, such a career and balanced life was a pipe dream.

When she was young, life was grim. Her father wasn’t around and her mother was in an on/off relationship with an abusive partner. Every day was traumatic. “I watched a lot of abuse. Alcohol, drugs...things like not being able to eat or being too scared to ask for things, so I was pretty much just hiding in the background having to listen to my mum scream. Then there was the parties and the loud music and trying to get to sleep. I know I wet my bed until I was 12 because of it, so it was pretty tough.”

She was expelled during her first year of high school, ran away from home and at one point broke into her mother’s house. Police got involved and at 15, Mel was charged for the first time. Shortly afterwards she was sent to the West Coast to work on dairy farms, which she loved and excelled at. Mel also grew to love the social side.

“I used to drink quite a bit...that’s the culture of dairy farming. I fell into binge drinking. I was drunk all the time. I would wake up drinking, drink all day, go to the pubs. I was pretty out of control.” At about 20 she entered a relationship and “settled down”. Life was good for a few years, until she turned to drinking again.

“I had my son, then at 24 life took a turn. I met a new guy and I was lying and pretending to be someone I wasn’t because I needed to be who he wanted me to be. I thought that was normal. Even though I was nursing I was still drinking. I’d pretend I was working night shift but I was actually out drinking. He believed women shouldn’t drink; it was a very toxic relationship.”

Mel was in a dark place. It would only become worse. “I started drinking with a friend when she introduced me to meth. It was all downhill from there. I ended up dating a drug dealer, living in the house and being on drugs every single day. Even relying on it to get up and do anything. My personality changed, who I was changed.”

Three stints in jail between 2012 and 2019 didn’t curb her addictions, until the option of going through He Kete came along, which she was sceptical about. “I had the same attitude I think every girl does in prison, here’s a get out of jail free card. But, I thought I’d rather do He Kete than stay in jail.” And as time passed, Mel’s attitude shifted.

“He Kete was so hard, it was very challenging, but I loved it. Every minute of it. When I got out I thought ‘shit, what I had in there was really good’; looking at my behaviours and really learning about the effects of meth to my body, to my brain... that’s when it clicked for me. There is help there. If you want to change, it’s possible.”

Mel now works for an organisation that supports women behind bars struggling with substance abuse issues, facilitating an eight-week programme for eight wāhine. It’s a career she says is her purpose.

“I’m just real with them and it’s about them knowing in themselves if they want to change, they have to want it and I don’t believe it’s going to work if you’re forced into it. I think they appreciate where I come from, because I’m an open book...I’ll let you in on all the little secrets about what worked for me and if you don’t want to do it, you won’t. It’s about people knowing their own journey, not forcing the journey on them. If I can change just one person, I’m doing what I’m meant to be.”

Names have been changed.

Learn more about our social enterprise Oak Tree Devanning

keep reading.

Check out more news from Pathway.

stay up to date.
subscribe to our newsletter.