"People talked about it like it was food... We called it kai. That's more or less what it was. We didn't care about food - we needed meth." Jordan Bond talks to a lifelong meth user who got his life back on piste and off pipe.

Most 7-year-olds can tie their shoes. They can brush their teeth on their own and catch a ball pretty well. They can balance on one foot, but might still need some food cut up for them. They get dirty and they're usually just busy being kids.

Nathan Rakuraku was learning how to use a lighter.

He started smoking marijuana at 7 years old. Between his dysfunctional two homes and the people who frequented them, he was surrounded by substances from year dot.

"I had no father. The males around me were using, and I wanted to be like them. I picked up on the bad things because I thought they were good things at that age."

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The use of methamphetamine, a mainstay at his primary house, was an inevitability for him. He left high school at 15 after getting caught stealing cash from the office.

The floodgates opened. He had time, money and meth to use and sell. He was as free as he was imprisoned. Meth was novel and thrilling, and he was flying higher than ever.

"When days were good, they were good," Nathan said. "But when they were bad, they were really bad, like it was the end of the world."

His own and others' demand didn't slow, and it quickly became vital in order to even function. He was living day to day, hit to hit.

"People talked about it like it was food ... We called it kai. That's more or less what it was. We didn't care about food - we needed meth."

Surprisingly he managed to hold down jobs - working at a bakery, on an assembly line and in construction - in part because he had a symbiotic relationship supplying some of his managers who used as well.

Nathan had a daughter in 2008 with his partner, Ayla.

Outside of his job, he'd almost operate like a shift worker at a mine, two weeks at the coalface selling every day in his home suburb of Manurewa, then taking a week off to stay with Ayla and their daughter in another part of Auckland. He was using constantly.

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In his on weeks, he'd cruise around his regulars, directionless in life and in deed, offering a heavier bag to stay with clients and friends.

"I used to think I was Santa Claus," he said. The bearer of gifts, not wrapped with a bow, but in a small snaplock bag.

They were mostly happy to house him while he was "in".

And when he ran out?

"There was no point being around me, because I had nothing for them."

In 2011, he was jolted from his living nightmare by a fate that often comes with the territory. Nathan was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on numerous firearm and aggravated burglary charges.

He made the tough decision to try not to use meth in prison, even though everything was available with the right contacts. The only way he stayed stable inside was by smoking marijuana and cigarettes.

Nathan Rakuraku had a ''spiritual experience'' last year which set him on the road to recovery. Photo / Supplied
Nathan Rakuraku had a ''spiritual experience'' last year which set him on the road to recovery. Photo / Supplied

"My daughter got brought in every week. If I was using [meth] in there then it wasn't me she was going to see; it was someone else."

After jail, things gradually descended back to his old normal - using and dealing - until one day last year he had a revelation.

He calls it a spiritual experience. Someway, somehow, without any prior brushes, he saw something brighter.

"I blurted out loud, 'I'm ready to serve God', and as I said that I was able to be myself again."

He stopped using meth, and hasn't used it since: cold pipe.

"My whole life I'd never known God until that experience. I've only known him since I've been off the drug, and it's given me more than I've received my whole life."

It's been eleven months now since Nathan stopped using drugs. He's 28, is still with Ayla, and between them the couple have four children.

Nathan's daughter is now 8. A fifth, another girl, is on her way in June, marking both Nathan and Ayla's one year clean.

The Salvation Army took them in and offered their growing family support and a place to stay, food to eat, counselling, and most importantly for Nathan, clarity of purpose.

"I look at it like God's given me the opportunity ... to do the right thing over the wrong thing. I want [my kids] to have the start they deserve, because I didn't have too much of that."

How, after a sudden about-face from the pipe, does he see life now?

"Bright. The world's bright these days. Back then there was no world."

He now has a day job driving for the Sallies, picking up people and delivering food.

In early May, Nathan's speaking at the Salvation Army's Red Shield Breakfast in Wellington, sharing his story and representing all of the clients the Salvation Army has worked with during the past year.

His talk is part of the Red Shield Appeal running from May 1 to 7, which raises funds to support the Army's work fighting poverty.

"I'm going on a plane for the first time, but I'm only going to Wellington," he said with a laugh. "I never ever thought I'd get to go on a plane."

The Red Shield Appeal - how to help

The Salvation Army annual Red Shield appeal is from May 1 to 7. Funds go to fighting poverty.

• 20% of NZ children regularly go without essentials such as food, clothing and heating
• The number of homeless New Zealanders is growing, with one in every 100 Kiwis classed as homeless
• Every year 68,000 NZ children rely on The Sallies for basic needs (food, clothing and household goods)

To support The Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal:
• Visit salvationarmy.org.nz
• Call 0800 53 00 00
• Give to a Salvation Army street collector between 1-7 May