At the age of 50, Rawiri’s greatest regret is that he waited so long to do something about his drinking.
At The Salvation Army Bridge I ended up having deep therapy. The outcome wasn’t good to begin with, because I felt a deep hatred for myself rise up when I realised what I’d put my family through for all those years. But that realisation motivated me to change.
Nowadays, Rawiri’s life is profoundly different. It’s filled with hope, a sense of purpose, meaning and connection with himself, his whānau and community.
My partner and two children are still getting their heads around the new me.
For so long they knew me as a party animal, but not in a good way. They are still getting to know the new version of me.
Rawiri grew up in Papakura, South Auckland. His elder siblings gave him a hard time, resulting in him turning to violence to get noticed in his family.
My family wasn’t violent; it was just me. Counselling has helped me to understand that I was always trying to one-up my brothers. I was forced to assert and defend myself against their bullying. After a while I became the sort of kid who couldn’t resist a fight.
“If I saw a fight happening, I was all in. Even if it had nothing to do with me. I took that behaviour into adulthood and added addiction to it.
Once I turned 15, I left school to work in construction, which meant I was able to hang out with older guys after work. From that point onwards, I starting drinking and smoking. Life was a party.
Ten years later, Rawiri decided to try and stop drinking, but found it challenging. By his late 30’s, his life was dominated by alcohol and other drugs, and violence. Then he met Annie.
Annie told me the kind of man she was looking for. Even though I knew I was definitely not the sort of man she was looking for, I wanted to change. I was a different person when I was with her.
At the age of 39, Rawiri had a wake-up call – a heart attack.
Our first son had just been born and we moved to Christchurch for a new life. It was a new place, but I was still the same. I managed to stop smoking cigarettes, but I just couldn’t stop using alcohol and other drugs.
My doctor told me I was at the extreme end of being an alcoholic and that I had to give up drinking. I thought he was talking rubbish.
I was drinking a bottle of whiskey every day. I would get up in the morning and if I didn’t have a coffee cup full of whiskey first thing in the morning, I would start throwing up.
By lunch time I would start shaking and sweating and need to go out to the car and have another drink. After work it was drink, drink, drink. People used to ask me how I could drink so much and get up for work in the morning. I was just used to it. That was my life.
Rawiri’s drinking was affecting his work, and his boss was concerned about the repetition of bad decisions he was making. Rawiri resigned before he was fired, and amazingly walked straight into a new job as a supervisor in construction.
Then he suffered an accident on the construction site.
I broke my wrist, elbow and shoulder. It happened in the early morning. Of course, I was way over the limit. I didn’t tell anyone. I hid the injury.
The next day I couldn’t move my arm. The seriousness of my injuries meant I would need a lot of time off work, and of course my alcohol problem showed up in the blood tests—my liver count was off the charts.
Doctors encouraged Rawiri to get help for his drinking, but more months passed.
I was constantly throwing up in the mornings if I didn’t have a drink—all this while I was trying to get my kids up and ready for school. I had so much hate for myself and decided I couldn’t go on. I decided to take my own life, so I cut my wrists. That was my rock bottom. My partner Annie was upset. I knew I had to do something because I wasn’t just ruining my life, I was ruining the lives of everyone around me.
Rawiri was determined to stop drinking. However, he didn’t understand how important it was to do this in a medically supervised detox centre, given the severity of his problem.
I didn’t listen. While I was waiting to go into detox, I decided to try and give up myself. I woke up in the back of an ambulance.
He made it through detox and was admitted to the Bridge programme. There were many significant moments for Rawiri during his stay, but it was the people he was surrounded with that made all the difference.
“There were so many good people at the Bridge who encouraged me to keep going. They told me that I would get there.
Recovery Church is a place to belong before you believe. I thought to myself, well, I’m never going to believe, but belonging’s helping my recovery, so I’ll just stick to belonging.
People say that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. That’s been true for me because it’s the connection with good people in The Salvation Army Bridge and Recovery Church that keeps me on the right track.
One day, an incident that would normally have triggered him to become violent did not result in violence. He was able to walk away. A breakthrough had occurred on a deep level.
I was being abused by some guys. One of them threw a slice of pizza at my car. In the past, I would’ve lost it—it would have got violent fast. But I took a lot of deep breaths, closed my eyes, cleaned it off and drove home.
Annie was worried that I would go out looking for those guys later. The old me would’ve fought back. That night I felt so good that I hadn’t retaliated. When I woke up the next day, I felt so excited that I’d walked away and done nothing. I knew that I had the courage and strength in that moment.
I can’t believe that Annie stayed with me after everything I’ve put her through over the years. Recently I asked her to marry me.
Every day nowadays, my boys yell out to me, ‘Dad, I want a hug’. That’s new. They never used to do that.
I want to be a good role model for my kids and a good dad. They’re the reason I’ve kept going and I’m determined to stay sober for them.
To anyone reading this who’s living with addiction, you’ve got to be ready to change. I’d encourage anyone living with addiction to enter into the Bridge programme and to try and go down the path I have. Take it one day at a time.
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*All names and identifying details have been changed in this story to protect individual privacy. Stock images are used in all recovery stories. The Bridge would like to thank our tāngata for being brave and generous in sharing their stories. We wish them all the best for healthier and happier lives.