After a life of struggle led her to the numbing drug, Rahera Bidois is now free and on a journey to wellness.
On the third Thursday of July, 2019, in a motel room in Rotorua, Rahera Bidois watched a man die. She’d been smoking meth with the man, a relative, who was living a few doors down from her in government-funded accommodation. Rahera had not long headed back to her room when her relative fell to the ground and started convulsing.
“Everyone was freaking out and someone started doing CPR,” recalls Rahera, now 26. “I noticed he had a rope around his neck so I cut it off. He’d tried to take his own life, but in the end they said he died of an overdose.”
Although shaken by the incident – “I know it sounds weird, but I saw his spirit leave the motel room” – it didn’t stop the singer/songwriter from using the drug that had decimated her life.
“I’d lost my son, my family wasn’t talking to me, I didn’t have a job or anywhere permanent to live and basically I wanted to die, all because of P. But I needed to numb the pain,” she trails off. To find the source of that pain, you have to go back to Rahera’s childhood. Born and raised in Rotorua, life wasn’t kind to the eldest of four siblings.
“I come from a family of alcoholics and addicts, of big partiers. I also had lots of responsibility at a young age, having to clean the house and make dinner for my siblings, which I really resented.” When Rahera was eight, she was sexually abused – something that continued until she was 14.
“I told some of my family, but they dismissed me and told me to shut up.” Something else happened when she was eight: she was given a sip of alcohol. “I tried a Purple Goanna and that was it. I felt like I’d found a place where I belonged, where I was seen.”
It was, she admits, the gateway to addiction. Marijuana came next and she smoked it all through school. “That’s when I started going off the rails, partying and being promiscuous.”
When Rahera was 18, a relative gave her methamphetamine to try. She didn’t like it. “It made me really paranoid, I thought I was going to die.” Shortly afterwards, Rahera – who’s performed with Suzanne Prentice, Frankie Stevens and at Christmas in the Park – got involved with a partner in the music business.
“I was absolutely infatuated with him and even though he was violent and I often thought he would kill me, I couldn’t give him up.” When she was 20, Rahera gave birth to her son, Karanema (now six). But because of her violent partner and her addiction to weed, her whānau took the baby from her.
Shortly afterwards, she tried meth again. “It was a perfect storm: I was in full victim mode because I’d lost my baby, I had no job or life and I just thought, ‘Why not?’ I’ll do anything because who cares? But this time around I loved P; it distracted me from having an emotional response to my trauma.”
When Rahera moved to Auckland with her partner, she tried to break her addiction. “But I’d have a fight with my boyfriend and wham – I’d find someone in Auckland to sell to me.”
There followed four years of hell, she says. “I hit rock bottom many times. I would have to go to a women’s refuge or halfway house to get away from my partner or because I’d spent my rent money on drugs. I ripped off gang members and the kind of people you don’t want to annoy, but I was reckless because I’d lost everything and was slowly killing myself.”
At her worst, Rahera went six days without sleeping, continually smoking P and running out of money. “My mouth was so full of ulcers, I could barely speak. I had heart palpitations and would fall asleep in the middle of a sentence.” When Rahera started to hear her dead relative’s voice telling her to kill herself, her grandmother took her to hospital where she was diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis. It was, she says, her aha moment.
“I’d watched someone die and I finally understood that would be me if I continued on that path.” In January last year, Rahera started rehabilitation in Auckland – four-and-a-half months of the hardest thing she’s ever done.
“I had to sit with my emotions with no distractions to numb the pain. I was so angry when I went into rehab, an anger that went all the way back to childhood. I wrote and burned a letter to my abuser and one to my violent ex, which helped me process those issues and put me in a place of learning about myself and what I’m capable of.”
Getting out of rehab during lockdown was surreal, but Rahera is being supported by a post-treatment programme to transition back into the community. She’s also working the 12-step addiction programme, attending weekly meetings and, since November, has her son back in her care.
“I’ve now been clean and sober for 18 months,” she says proudly. Rahera also credits her recovery to a show she was recently involved in, Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey, a groundbreaking theatre work in which she sang of her personal journey. It played to packed houses at Wellington’s Te Papa and in Gisborne, and has inspired Rahera to pursue a career in music.
“I’ve learned I’m not a bad person, just a sick person trying to get well,” she says. “I’m aware that I’ll always be an addict and alcoholic, but as long as I don’t pick up the pipe or drink again, I’ll stay on this journey to wellness and life will be good.”
What is meth?
Methamphetamine is an extremely addictive, powerful stimulant that produces wakefulness, hyperactivity and a euphoric effect. It’s also known as meth, P, ice and crystal. Illegal methamphetamine is created in meth labs by combining a number of chemicals, including common household cleaners and ingredients such as cough medicines.
A study by the University of Otago earlier this year showed that more than a quarter of middle-aged New Zealanders have tried methamphetamine at least once. The study found that 28% of participants reported using the drug at least once between the ages of 18 and 25, while 11% had used it monthly and 4.9% had used it weekly at some point.
For help with addiction issues call the 24-hour Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or call 0800 METH HELP (0800 6384 4357) for free, confidential support for a P-related issue or problem.
Photos by: Mareikura Brightwell, Martin Haughey, Jamie Wright.