In October 2019 high-profile victim advocate Louise Nicholas got a phone call that felt like a “kick in the guts”.
Her daughter Jessica had been arrested during a major police drug operation focused on the supply of methamphetamine to the Bay of Plenty area.
Jessica was charged with supplying meth and last May
That sentence is over, but she is only beginning to rebuild her life and emerge from the hell of meth addiction.
The 31-year-old sat down with senior journalist Anna Leask to speak about her journey.
“There’s a saying that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future – and that’s something I live by,” Jessica Nicholas poses.
“I have been clean for 16 months but it’s still early days. I’m not saying I’m not going to relapse but this sort of thing takes time.
“Every day is a bit easier.”
Nicholas sits on a couch in her family’s Rotorua home.
She is bright, animated and confident. Pleasant and well-spoken.
Her smile and laugh are big and her energy is bigger.
But it wasn’t long ago that the young mum was a shadow of the woman you see today –
barely 45kg, her skin grey and face covered in sores, her teeth falling out.
A year and a half ago Jessica was “deeply” addicted to methamphetamine, using from the moment she woke each day as often as she could.
Her habit was expensive and she turned to selling the drug to fund her own addiction.
The smoke she had on the night of October 11, 2019would be her last. But not by choice.
The next morning she woke to “a sea of police” outside her home and within minutes she
was under arrest and being hauled off to a cell.
Fast forward – through detox and withdrawal; a court case and a sentencing; being confined to her home with an ankle bracelet and monitoring; and a “tumultuous” time rebuilding her life and family – she’s drug-free and ready for the next chapter.
“A cop said to me, ‘The destruction that you have caused to the community is huge’ and that’s going to stick with me forever, because he’s not wrong,” Nicholas said of her offending.
“I did what I did to get by – and I am so remorseful …but it’s given me a purpose to try to reverse the damage and try to help people.
Nicholas’ spiral into addiction sneaked up on her, in a way.
The first time she used meth she was just 18.
For more than a decade she sucked the substance into her body – her family suspecting
and asking and her always denying and hiding.
“Once was enough for me, I was hooked and it just continued,” she explained.
“I loved it. After a while I needed it, I didn’t like coming down.
“I thought it made me happy, I just wasn’t a nicer person when I came off it.
“I pretty much spent all of my money on it and I decided to sell it to support my habit …
In the height of my addiction I was using multiple times a day.
“This is never how I imagined my life would be.”
Nicholas felt guilty about lying to her family when they questioned her about her drug use – but had loyalty to the meth.
“I was content, I was committed to my addiction and I didn’t want to give up, I thought I enjoyed it.”
Nicholas is mum to a 3-year-old-Jayde.
She glows when she talks about the wee girl, the time she has spent reconnecting, their “thriving” relationship.
Jayde was never near when she was using meth; a hair follicle test ordered by Oranga Tamariki after her arrest came back negative, proving the child was never exposed to the drug.
“Jayde was always a priority for me. She was never there when I smoked – we had a sleepout where we smoked and she was never allowed in there.
“I was an addict and at the same time I was a mother, I was a very well-functioning addict and it got to the point where it was just like someone smoking a cigarette and getting on with their day.
“That was my new normal.
“Then when Oranga Tamariki got involved and my family members were all sitting there, hearing the details and hearing their worry for my daughter -that was a real eye-opener.
“I thought, ‘How can they think I could put my daughter in a situation where she would be exposed to the drugs?’
“But on the other hand I could see their concerns – I was an addict and I was deep in my addiction.”
Nicholas’ parents Louise and Ross agreed to have her home after her arrest. First on bail and then on home detention.
Jayde was already living with them and it made sense to have the family together.
But there were rules – honesty, healthy living and no drugs – or get out.
“I am very honest over the fact that if I was never caught I would still be going, I would still be using,” says Nicholas.
“Home detention has been a blessing in disguise. It’s given me the time I needed to just sit down and get my s*** together for seven months.
“When I came to mum and dad’s I was only 45kg, I was covered in scabs, I had missing teeth and an attitude to boot.”
Nicholas vomited, sweated and struggled as the drug worked its way out of her body.
She started to regain her appetite, took vitamins, exercised. She went to
counselling and opened up to her parents.
After years of lies she relearned how to communicate; and how to accept help.
Her home detention ended on December 8 and she’s now subject to six months of conditions before she’s “free”.
“My addiction was real and I was deep. The conditions will be another safety net for me, to help prepare me for when I am handed back the reins fully,” she said.
“But I am ready for that little bit of extra rope – I am totally fine with the conditions, they will keep me accountable and keep me honest.”
She’s not out of the woods yet though. She still thinks about meth and its highs – the euphoria, the feeling of being super-productive.
But she’s determined not to cave to the cravings that still gnaw at her from time to time.
“The thoughts have definitely subsided, I don’t think about it as often as I used to,” she said.
“I talk about how I am feeling to my mum and dad, I just get it out. Half my problem was bottling things up so much that I got overwhelmed and that’s when I would start to think about using
“But now I have different coping mechanisms – counselling has been a big help with that.
“It’s something I will have to live with for the rest of my life – it will always try to
hold my hand. The difference is that I am stronger now.
“And I really like it over here in sobriety.”
Nicholas has cut all ties with people from her “old” life.
Anything or anyone that could trigger her to use again has been banished.
“I’ve had to dismantle relationships … That’s one of the biggest things, recognising that you have to say goodbye to friends – people who have not done anything wrong, they are just not good for you anymore.
“I don’t have anything against them, I just have to make myself safe.
“One of the biggest things is people not removing themselves fully from their old life and ending up back on the same hamster wheel.
“Addiction will try and sneak in any chance it can take – it gets in your brain, it takes over and it will be something I have to manage for the rest of my life.”
She’s still rebuilding her relationship with her parents, whose support was the biggest factor in her recovery.
“I’ve got a lot to prove and a lot of trust to regain, a lot of respect to get back,” she said.
“There have been a lot of lies and that’s something I am very conscious of and something I will have to continue to work on and through.”
Nicholas has had a lot of support on social media – that’s been inspiring and “a lifeline”, she said.
After her arrest went public she started to share her journey via a private Facebook page and made contact with another recovering addict, Nicola “Nix” Adams.
Adams ended up in prison in Australia after she turned to drugs following the death of one of her children.
When she was released she started to post video clips on Facebook, and later explained that was a form of therapy.
“To have someone that has walked in the same shoes and come out the other side -I can see that it’s possible to make something of your life,” Nicholas says of Adams.
“And that’s what I am now trying to do for other people, I want to try and prevent people from using.”
Keen to educate people about addiction, she said the stigma around meth is one of the reasons users keep it so quiet.
“Just because you’re an addict, you’re not a dirty person – you’re not a bad person. Sometimes drugs can make you do bad things but addiction does not have to be forever.
“You make bad choices sometimes but every day is a new chance to make better ones and make a positive change.
“I think there’s a picture of meth addicts out there but not all of us are using drugs and robbing dairies and being violent. There are some people like me who are just quietly in the background.
“That’s why so many people find it hard to speak up about their addiction, they are scared of the stigma that is attached. Don’t be scared to ask for help, it’s okay to speak out.
“If a friend or family member doesn’t want to listen, find someone else – keep talking about it, keep asking for help until you come across someone who’s willing to help.”
Asked if she’s proud of her efforts to rehabilitate, Nicholas’ face breaks into a huge smile.
“100 per cent yes,” she said.
“Sometimes when I walk past the mirror and catch a glimpse of myself I can’t believe it.
“I was a walking billboard of a meth addict. I was literally a bag of bones, grey. Now I look healthier, I feel healthier and my relationships are just thriving.
“And I am proud of staying clean for as long as I have. I haven’t slipped up and I have my parents to thank for that, for providing the safety net for me and not taking any s***.
‘Some families don’t want to be tarnished with that brush but frankly, no one wakes up and says ‘right, today I am going to become a meth addict’.”
Nicholas can’t quite believe how much her life has changed since the morning she was arrested.
“I was content. For the rest of my life I was going to be a drug addict and that was that,” she said.
“But then I got an opportunity – at the time I didn’t think getting arrested was an
opportunity but hindsight is a funny thing.”
Louise Nicholas is also immensely proud of her daughter, and confident that if she stays honest, keeps talking and works hard, she’ll do great things.
“I remember when they said, ‘We’ve arrested your daughter’ and my heart just dropped,” she said.
“We knew she was on that s***, but she denied it. It was always going to be a matter of when, not if, the police came knocking on her door.”
The whole process has been a huge learning curve for her and her husband, but it’s one they don’t regret being at the centre of.
“It was a very tumultuous time, especially in the beginning. The first few months were really hard,” she said.
“But now we’ve got our old Jess back and the relationship she is building with her daughter and the way she’s managing is a really neat thing to see.”
When asked if she’s forgiven her daughter for the deceit and the harm she caused through her addiction, Louise Nicholas paused.
“I don’t think there is anything to forgive,” she said.
“We knew a long time ago that she was into this stuff and we knew at some stage she was going to hit the brick wall and we would have to be there to pick up the pieces and get her back on the right track.
“We were frustrated, more than angry. Frustrated that we couldn’t just get into her head and shake her and say, ‘Stop using this s***’.
“We were angry it got to this stage, but quite quickly we realised that the arrest was a good thing to happen.”
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