'The secret': Rural families helping each other through ice addiction

'The secret': Rural families helping each other through ice addiction

'The secret': Rural families helping each other through ice addiction

Updated 31 July 2017, 9:30 AEST

How one rural woman found the courage to share her secret and help other families struggling with ice addiction.

It is almost two years since the Federal Government's National Ice Taskforce recommended more support for the relatives of drug addicts, but families affected in regional towns say services are still lacking.

The families of ice addicts in rural Australia say they have been forced to set up their own support groups.

She blows up thousands of helium balloons and never tires of their cheery colours.

Her scissors glide along silver ribbon, curling it into bouncing twirls. It'll go well with the blue and white wrapping paper out front.

She likes to give the elderly Irishman a discount when he comes in to buy balloons for his granddaughter.

Making other people happier has become habit.

A smiling face, an infectious laugh — it is what she needs to run a party shop in a country town.

But if they knew her secret, would they still come?

People know Karen Harrison for her business, not for the secret that almost destroyed her life.

Her daughter, then just 22, was addicted to methamphetamine, or ice.

Sometimes Karen had to escape out to the back of the shop so she could burst into tears.

But then she would brush herself off and start again when the phone rang.

"Fifty balloons for Friday night? Of course," she answers.

"You've got to pick yourself up, right?"

She believes grief pushed her daughter into addiction.

"We lost my mum, my aunty and then she lost a very close friend," all in a very short time, she said.

Karen became a full time carer for her four-year-old grandson as her daughter drifted.

Some days were darker than others.

Then there was the phone call that stopped her in her tracks.

Her darling daughter had been beaten by another addict.

Her spleen was ruptured and she was headed to surgery. She wanted her mum.

"It was horrible, just horrible."

It all added up to a deep and troubling secret that took a serious toll on Karen's own health.

She felt embarrassed and ashamed, but as mother all she wanted to do was protect her girl.

Then, a realisation: it takes courage to fix a problem, instead of letting it fester. Karen sought help for herself.

Over three days, a mental health worker counselled her in the back of the party shop.

"Where can I find a support group for parents like me?"

The counsellor asked around, but in this town of 22,500 people, there was nothing.

Two days later, the counsellor called back.

"Karen, your support group starts on Monday. You get to name it."

Together they formed Ripples, a fortnightly catch-up for people whose loved ones are struggling with drug addiction.

It was a chance to offload, cry and nurture each other.

Word spread fast. Thirty people packed into the small meeting room in town.

Some drove almost an hour to be there.

The local councils and Primary Health Network saw the momentum and stepped in to foster it.

Funding followed. Soon Ripples was hosting forums, helping more families find ways to cope. Three hundred people came to the first event.

That support made all the difference to Karen, who knew exactly what to do when her daughter finally asked for help.

Now, mother and daughter are recovering.

"I love her so much. She's amazing. She's kicking arse," Karen said.

It does not mean everything is perfect.

But every day, Karen walks on the beach and breathes fresh, salty air. She watches for dolphins that chase boats to the jetty.

And every day, she is thankful she found the courage to share her secret.