AN ALBANY man who said he lost 24 years of his life to drug addiction revealed his story to the crowd at the March against Meth on Friday.
The march sought to address the issues surrounding meth addiction in the Great Southern region and was coordinated by a number of community groups, including the not-for-profit Palmerston Association for which event speaker Michael Noakes works.
Mr Noakes spoke to The Weekender about his experiences with meth and other drugs, the catalyst for his recovery and the stigma surrounding meth use and recovery generally.
“I first started experimenting with drugs at the age of 12, with marijuana, and then it slowly progressed over the years,” the 48-year-old said.
“As I became an adult, I went from marijuana to acid, acid to ecstasy, ecstasy to cocaine, cocaine to speed and then from speed to ice.
“That was 24 years of my life gone, pretty much.”
Mr Noakes emigrated from England to Australia alongside his parents in 1974, spending much of his childhood in the suburb of Gosnells in Perth.
Within that period, he was charged and imprisoned three times for meth-related crimes.
In 1996, Mr Noakes relocated to Albany to help his mother settle following the death of his father.
“After my last time out of prison, just after my father passed away, I just rethought my life,” he said.
“I became what’s known as a functioning addict. I held down a job, I paid rent, I would spend 97 per cent of my pay packet on drugs and then survive on baked beans.
“It was a horrible cycle to be in.”
It was only in October 2013, when his then two year-old son Lucas was removed from his care by his mother, that Mr Noakes was motivated to change his habits permanently.
“I found myself thinking about being at a crossroads in my life where I could either continue using and leave my son out of my life, which broke my heart… or finally admit that my problem was bigger than myself,” he said.
“He is the light of my life, that child.”
After a two-month waiting period, Mr Noakes submitted to a detoxification centre in West Perth and then entered a rehab program at Palmerston Farm in Wellard.
Over time, he started a study group in the centre to help others like him overcome their hurdles.
“I really sunk myself into every part of that program,” he said.
Mr Noakes has now been clean for more than five years and spends one day a week working as a Trained SMART facilitator at Palmerston in Albany.
It was that organisation that encouraged him to participate at this year’s March Against Meth.
“I want to remove the stigma that’s attached to drug use because people can feel quite ashamed and shunned,” he said.
“I think the more we can reduce the stigma and accept the fact that meth addiction is a massive part of today’s society, the easier it’s going to be for people to reach out.”
Manager for Palmerston Great Southern Ben Headlam said while there’s been a reduction in the prevalence of methamphetamine use in the region, the past few years have also seen an increase in the harm it has caused.
He said Mr Noakes played an important role in the fight against meth use.
“He is a fantastic ambassador for recovery,” Mr Headlam said.
People in need can get in touch with Palmerston on 9892 2100 or call a 24/7 Perth-based meth helpline on 1800 874 878.