Rocky mother who lost two sons shares drug addiction battle
IT takes a lot of guts to do what Bernadine Allen is doing.
As a former drug addict, Bernadine, 48 is taking her lived experience and bravely putting herself out there to de-stigmatise the issue of drug abuse and spread a positive message to other drug users in the community thinking about seeking help.
Her message is a simple, after four months of living clean she is loving life, the grass is greener on her side of the fence and she will never go back to her old life.
Although a casual drug user before she moved to Rockhampton over 20 years ago, Bernadine's life was plunged into drug addiction in the wake of the tragic separate deaths of her two sons in the early-to-mid 2000s.
"I've lost two sons here in Rockhampton," Bernadine said.
"My youngest son Jye Conrad Perry, who was three, nearly four, was killed on the 26th of December, 2002, stabbed to death by his step aunty.
"She was a mental health patient and she had killed her own son five years before."
Bernadine said the woman had been improperly discharged from the mental health system.
"She'd been at the hospital earlier that day telling them she was hearing voices and telling them she didn't take her medication and she jumped off the ferry coming back from Great Keppel Island that day," Bernadine said.
"The mental health system gave her some pills, didn't make sure she took them and drove her back to the house where my son was.
"An hour later, my son was killed."
The subsequent coronal inquest heard that the releasing doctor knew that the step aunty "was a known schizophrenic but he did not have access to the information that she was a forensic patient, a person of special notification, or that she had previously killed a child" with changes to the system subsequently enacted.
Charges against the woman were dropped in December 2003 when it was determined she was of unsound mind at the time of the offence.
Things only got worse for Bernadine.
"My 16-year-old son Stephen was killed on Thozet Rd on the 18th of November 2005," she said.
"He was on his home from work, they had a work party, he'd had a few drinks, he fell off the bike, he had no helmet on, his head hit the ground and he was knocked unconscious.
"There was a guy who came out of the house who stood in front of him waving his arms, there was a girl coming down the road, he had to jump out of the way and she ran straight over my son."
"As a consequence I got more involved in drugs because they stopped me thinking," she said.
"To take my mind off things, it just became a part of life for a long time.
"But we can't change the past, only our future."
Over the years following the tragedies, Bernadine became a self described "functioning addict" procuring methamphetamine using money saved from her previous marriage and pokie winnings.
"I'd buy myself in bulk and keep myself going on it," she said.
"I always kept control of my drug addiction.
"I used every day but I always kept my usage to a minimum and I slept every night."
Living with her addiction, Bernadine said she got involved with the wrong people and "it was not the sort of life you'd want to live".
"But you just get caught up in it, where it becomes a habit," she said.
"You're heading on a downward spiral, there was a good chance I was going to go to jail if I kept going.
"I was going to lose my bird, my home, my life and I didn't want that."
She said she wanted out for a long time and tried unsuccessfully a few times to quit.
"There's people out there who don't want you to change your life," Bernadine said.
"They'll try and suck you back into it.
"Because if you change then that makes them feel like a weaker or lesser person."
Bernadine said in the end, she had to be in the "right head space to give up drugs" with the right support in place from her psychologist and drug counsellor.
"I gave up cigarettes and then I gave up drugs and I did them both cold turkey," she said.
"This time I thought about every other time I tried to get off it and why I got back onto it.
"I've done a lot more self analysis this time, I wrote the pros and cons of using drugs and there was only one pro of using the drugs and that was the short term high."
Bernadine said life is fantastic and she has a "permanent high" since giving up drugs four months ago,
"I've lost 10kg now since I've been off drugs because I eat healthier now and everything is clearer now," she said.
"I'm never going to do it again, you can take that to the bank."
She's thrown herself into being a "gym junkie" these days and has been receiving compliments on her glowing and clear skin.
Bernadine also said she has managed to forgive the two people who killed her sons.
She's now trying to actively share her story of recovery to inspire others to also seek help to live a cleaner lifestyle.
After sharing her lived experience at an event last week for Lives Lived Well, an organisation working to help combat drug use in the community, Bernadine received some criticism from certain quarters of social media who described her recovery as "a joke".
"To put myself out there was a huge thing for me, but maybe people can understand why I've been living that sort of a life for so long," she said.
"Maybe I can encourage other people to come forward without being judged.
"I've had people contact me privately saying I was an inspiration for them and that took guts."
Bernadine is now busy enacting big plans for her future.
"I'm going to be a famous interior designer, that is my goal," she said.
"Now I'm straight, I'm studying, I can focus, it's making sense now.
"I've wanted to be designer since forever."
Bernadine has started a Facebook page called 'The grass is greener on this side' where she's sharing messages of hope and recovery, giving inspiration to people who are battling addiction and are seeking a way out of it.
If you wish to get help for issues with alcohol or other drugs, please contact Lives Lived Well on 1300727957.