For the documentary project Fighting the Demon, the Herald spent six months with users, recovering addicts and those trying to save them. This is Lucy's story.

Her first thought when she wakes up is the pipe. Lucy goes to the kitchen and turns on the jug. Before it finishes boiling she's had her first hit.

She makes an instant coffee and smokes some more while drinking her cup. By the time she goes to work, all the tiny white crystals she sprinkled in the glass bowl have vapourised. She tucks the pipe into her shirt pocket in case she needs more on her break.

Fighting the Demon

Lucy has a job, but no money. She has a flat, but no friends. She has a partner, but at the end of last year he moved out, unable to deal with the false highs and paranoid lows of her addiction.

Stephen loves her, but he hates the lying. He hates who she becomes when she's in the grip of the drug. He hates himself for the things he's done to protect her, and she hates herself for that.

Lucy has smoked meth every day for at least three years.

"It's real shit knowing you've hurt someone else," she says. "And then you get upset about that, so can't stop thinking about that so you go and buy more meth.

"I do feel guilt but… I don't know how else to cope. I've tried to quit a few times but it's hard when you're surrounded by it."

The snowball effect

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Lucy - a fake name used to protect her identity - is telling her story because she wants to get clean. In January, when we first meet her, she is at a total loss. Stephen has just moved out. Her friends have abandoned her, she says.

"I don't really have anyone to understand my story, so I thought for one this is kind of a way for me to say it out loud and be held accountable for it."

"This journey and addiction - it's cost me a lot financially, emotionally, mentally - but it could be spared on somebody else, hoping that they don't end up in the same place."

"I call it breakfast," Lucy says. She smokes every day as soon as she wakes. Photo / Mike Scott

The first time she smoked meth, Lucy was just 16. Back then, meth was a party drug. She smoked a few times on nights out, but it didn't do much for her, at first.

It wasn't until her early twenties she tried the drug again, this time with a good friend. At the beginning they only used at weekends. But after losing her job, Lucy hit a downward spiral and weekends became Mondays too, then Tuesdays, and soon she couldn't go a day without a hit.

On a bad week, she spends $150 a day on her habit. She has $50,000 worth of debt. Lucy calls it a snowball effect.

"A lot of that debt came from having to get other loans up to pay other stuff back because the payments didn't come out, because I've gone to the bag instead," she says.

Two years ago, Lucy met Stephen. He knew she smoked - at the time he smoked too - but he didn't know how bad things were.

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"It wasn't until a few months down that track till I realized it was every day, all day every day thing," he said. "At the time I didn't really see the bad side of it, and I thought there was a lot more control than there was."

At first, smoking together was fun. He adored her toughness, her sense of humour, she loved his kindness, his patience. But when they moved in together, the high quickly wore off.

"It was really good when we were up and then it was almost non-survivable when we were down," Stephen says. "And we were also paranoid that we couldn't ask anybody for help."

Lucy's first bad comedown was so stressful Stephen ended up in hospital - he had a seizure, his body not coping with the lack of sleep, forced up him as Lucy vented aggressively for hours. He says she was irrational, paranoid, delusional, and hyper-sensitive.

Lucy was also suicidal, but refused to get help.

"At one point, I had to get violent to stop her, the police were involved earlier and the mental health team had assessed her," Stephen says. His voice is shaking. He's trying not to cry.

"I had to do some things that I am not proud of. And I don't feel like that will ever be understood, I don't feel like I'll understand that myself."

He decided, at that point, it was time to quit.

"Trying to help somebody survive their comedowns as well as trying to survive my own was not something that can be done long term."

Stephen went cold turkey and got clean. He then tried to help Lucy. Late last year, she told him she'd stopped. She lied. He found out and left.

At one point, Lucy smoked up to a gram of meth a day. Photo / 123rf
At one point, Lucy smoked up to a gram of meth a day. Photo / 123rf

"All they see is the drug"

Lucy is young, under 30. She's sharp and practical, the kind of person who could both advise you on your mortgage rate and change a flat car tyre with no fuss. She tells stories about drug dealers and prisons. She chain smokes. She talks to her dogs like they're her children.

Lucy says the main reason she uses meth is to deal with stress. Growing up with alcoholic parents, she says her childhood was an unhappy one, swinging between wild parties and savage arguments in the home.

A few years ago, she also suffered a serious head injury in an accident.

"I've been through a lot of traumatic things and that probably has led to some sort of depression but I don't know how to deal with that," she says. "I don't think I was every taught how to deal with stress or problems properly."

She is immensely lonely. Her family won't see her if they know she's using. The only friends she has now are addicts too, or dealers. She doesn't trust them, or they her.

"It's not a friendship, as such. Most of them will stand on top of you to get a better view, they'll screw you over."

She blames the stigma around the drug for her isolation.

"As soon as somebody knows you smoke meth or whatever they don't want know you. They think you're a crackhead. All they see is the drug. Nobody's asked 'why are you smoking it' or 'how are you feeling,'" she says.

"Nobody understands. And hey, sometimes I probably wouldn't struggle so much if I just had a friend. It's so lonely. I don't scroll through Facebook and stuff anymore because I despise seeing people out there doing things, having fun, and I'm stuck in this hole, and nobody's got time for it."

It's not that she hasn't tried to quit before. She tried cold turkey, and got sucked back in. She's tried counselling, she says, but it doesn't work. She doesn't feel like the counsellors understand that even if she gets rid of the addiction, the stress will remain. She thinks they judge her for her drug use.

Much of the time now, she doesn't sleep. Part of that is the drug - but part of it is her over-anxious mind.

"Sometimes if I'm really stressed out... I'll just lie in bed and I start thinking about one thing and I can't get off that subject," she says.

"It's torture. Because you think about something bad, you could start by blaming somebody else for whatever, and then all of a sudden you feel like ashit person. So I just get up have a smoke and try find something else to think about."

Taking time off work seems impossible for Lucy. She wants to quit by herself. Photo / Mike Scott
Taking time off work seems impossible for Lucy. She wants to quit by herself. Photo / Mike Scott

Striving for a better life

Through January and February the main cause for Lucy's sleeplessness was her guilt. Stephen had tried so hard to help her but she'd forced him away. She realised she did want to be with Stephen and she did want to quit. But it was going to take more than will power. She talked to Stephen, and asked if he wanted to leave town.

"It got to the point where it was either spend a miserable life alone or make a plan with him. I didn't know what else to do," she said.

"I can't imagine continuing to smoke meth and it getting better. There'd just be more sadness and more loneliness."

Stephen knew it was their best shot.

"Last time she tried to quit she just kept falling back into the addiction because it's around everywhere really, it's around everywhere where we are."

Even if Lucy told her suppliers she was quitting, they continued try and push meth on her, he said.

"I saw the tricks. One guy, he used to act like he was being there for her, [but] he was feeding her up on it and helping supply his own habit. At the end of the day he didn't care at all."

Stephen went to the man's house with a machete and told him to back off.

"I was willing to kill him. The next guy that I found out about ….I was going to put a bullet in him. I did some stuff very much outside of the law but they kept trying. It's something that takes a lot to beat."

Stephen knows some people will not understand why he stays with Lucy.

"I could see a future with her, I could see a bigger picture for us, and a better life. What I want is us to be able to build a family and a real life together."

"I've lost family that I love and it's taught me to never give up on those that you love, never ever, no matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets."

Meth now is more pure than when it first arrived. It enters the country as a finished product, rather than as pre-cursor substances. Photo / Supplied
Meth now is more pure than when it first arrived. It enters the country as a finished product, rather than as pre-cursor substances. Photo / Supplied

"Meth has stolen from us"

In March, we visit, and they sit on the couch together, holding hands. Lucy's face is scabbed, a telltale sign she's still smoking. But recently, she started having more than coffee and a pipe for breakfast. Today she had toast.

They're planning to leave town within a month.

"You've been waiting a long time," Lucy says to Stephen. He kisses her and says. "I have."

Lucy wants to go cold turkey. Her plan is to study, to throw herself into renovating their house, to exercise - anything to keep busy. She knows it isn't going to be an easy road.

"We might find it tough sometimes, but there's a method to the madness. It's not just to get clean it's to gain the years back that meth has stolen from us. It's taken a lot of time away from our lives."

"Meth is evil. It's soul crushing basically. It consumes you. It's kind of like being possessed."

Her biggest worry is that without the drug she'll cease to be able to function.

"Currently, I'm physically reliant on it. I can't focus, I can't do everyday things. I have no energy. I'll just sit on the couch. I don't feel happy, I can't enjoy anything without it," she says.

"That's a facade though isn't it? It's just a facade. The strange thing is you can get that same enjoyment without drugs, you just have to learn what makes you tick."