We had lunch with Tarnya today. Weird, because we haven’t seen her for over a decade and when we used to know her she was just a skinny elfin child of twenty. The woman who walked into my work place today was self-assured, beautifully dressed and, well, a woman. But the girl was in there still because I recognised her straight away.
We embraced. There were no unnecessary niceties because when we knew Tarnya previously she had been in a very different place. She was raw and pared back to basics. She was sixteen when Heroin took her life hostage. When we first met her she was a few years in to this dreadful addiction and it landed her in the juvenile detention centre where Arthur worked. My memory is a little sketchy around those times. There were so many young women – girls really – and they were almost all addicted to heroin. But I remember Tarnya because we met her mum and spent a bit of extra time with her in the community. She gave Arthur a black and white drawing of a swan taking off for flight, which we still have, the whole image drawn in boot polish. It is unique.
Questions. I had so many. Underlying all of them was my incredulity that standing before me was someone who had actually made it through to the other side of heroin addiction. Faces – I tried to stop them – but faces of precious lives lost, beautiful young women with so much potential, flowed through my mind like a slide show. Yet here was Tarnya; vital, living proof that some can survive. She couldn’t understand properly, and I couldn’t quite put it into the right words, but she gave me a gift today. It was hope.
She had continued to use (heroin) until she found herself pregnant. The doctor put her on methadone during her pregnancy but she still hung out with her drug using friends until the birth of her little baby girl. In those first two weeks, while her baby detoxed in hospital, Tarnya was told she was an unfit mother and her newborn would be fostered out at the earliest opportunity. Desperate to avoid this she managed to convince the father’s parents to raise the tiny life. This was Tarnya’s “lightbulb moment”. She had good people around her who loved her and created a safety net and who gave her hope, but giving life to her daughter was the turning point and incentive she needed to start the arduous journey out of addiction. Four years of relapse and hard work later, Tarnya took her last hit. Over the years she has had increasing care of her daughter. Her dream is to have full custody.
Just before she left to go back to work Tarnya divulged she still struggles every day. “When I used it accompanied every emotion. If I was happy I’d use. If I was frustrated I’d use. If I was angry, bored, scared…whatever, I’d use. Now I have to face every day and every emotion on my own. Without my best friend (heroin). Every day is a struggle and I still fear what might happen if something brings me undone, like losing my job…” She looked at me earnestly, with the same raw vulnerability of long ago, and we said our goodbyes. I watched her walk away and my prayers followed. Be safe. Be strong, sweet Tarnya.
Thank you Tarnya. Thank you for giving us a little share of your hope. Thank you for the lovely frame, which contained these words, “LOVE – Love is everywhere. Do you LOVE yourself enough to risk success?”