Jessica Apanui, formerly known as “Meth-ica” to her friends, says she’s proud to be part of the new documentary Mana Over Meth, telling her story and encouraging others to tell theirs.
Former methamphetamine addict Jessica Apanui (Ngāti Porou) was deeply embroiled in the drug world for 25 years – as a user and a dealer. Her addiction to the drug was so intense that her mates started calling her “Meth-ica”. But she has been clean and sober for three years and she can proudly say goodbye to her past life and alter ego.
“I feel sorry for Meth-ica, that she had to go through what she did,” Jessica says.
“Being in recovery has given me the opportunity to live. Once I changed my mindset, it helped me transition back into the community and be part of my whānau again.”
Part of Jessica’s recovery is being brutally honest about her past and delving into the reasons why she became addicted to methamphetamine in the first place. Her journey is the focus of a new documentary, Mana Over Meth, which is part of the Loading Docs series and was released online earlier this month.
Jessica, 40, grew up in a violent home and started drinking and smoking marijuana when she was 12 years old. At 17, she craved stronger drugs and tried methamphetamine to help numb her pain.
“I remember that first hit. It was strong and it was potent,” she says. The seedy world of drugs became a huge part of Jessica’s life. She would smoke half a gram of methamphetamine daily and became a dealer to help fund her habit.
In the midst of her addiction, she gave birth to two children, but even becoming a mother couldn’t stop her from taking drugs.
“I began using to suppress a whole lot of pain. I wanted to get out of my own head, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to unsee what I had seen and all of the behaviour that comes with it.
“It was an intense way of living. My anxiety was through the roof because I was always looking over my shoulder. It was so chaotic and dysfunctional on all levels. I felt like that mouse on the wheel. I was trying to keep up and trying to survive.”
The turning point for Jessica occurred three years ago, after the police raided her home in a drug bust.
“That was my rock bottom,” she says. “I was charged and convicted for allowing my premises to manufacture methamphetamine. It was like a tornado. I lost everything.”
To avoid prison time, Jessica was forced to go to rehab and get clean. The world of drugs was all Jessica had known for the past 25 years of her life, so taking that first step to getting clean was extremely difficult. “I didn’t want to give up because I didn’t know how to live any other way.
“Making that decision meant that I had to leave everything that I had known and say goodbye to all of the friends that I knew. Mentally, I didn’t know how I was going to make friends with others. I didn’t know how I was going to hold a normal conversation.”
Jessica spent a week in a detox centre, 91 days in rehab, and nearly two years in recovery. Her motivation was her whānau, especially her two children, who are now 20 and 14.
“I wasn’t a present mother back then, but I am now. My children now have their mum back!”
Jessica met Mana Over Meth’s director Holly Beckham in 2020 while the two women were both in rehab. Holly (Ngāpuhi) has been clean for three years and wanted to help others struggling with addiction.
The director worked hard to surround Jessica with support to make her feel safe while she was reliving the trauma of her addiction. The production was steeped in kaupapa Māori, with the practicing of karakia and the acknowledgment of their ancestors to guide them.
“Our wāhine are suffering in silence while using meth to escape the pain of sexual abuse, depression, physical abuse, and intergenerational trauma,” Holly says. “It’s time to break the silence. It will remain hidden if we don’t share our stories. We could feel our tupuna while we were making this doco. We let them guide and awhi us.”
Jessica says being involved in Mana Over Meth was therapeutic.
“I had the ability to re-enact my life and show all of the nitty-gritty ugly stuff. I stand in my mana and know that I’m not that person anymore,” Jessica says.
Today, Jessica currently works for the Auckland District Health Board in the area of addiction and recovery. She was also asked to speak at the Meth Summit at Government House in Wellington earlier this year.
“It was a life-changing moment for me, a former junkie, to be on that stage. I didn’t have to be anything other than myself. That’s all I ever wanted to be in life. Just be Jess. And now I get to be that person.”
Mana Over Meth is part of Loading Docs’ 2022 collection and can be viewed via loadingdocs.net.
This is public interest journalism funded by NZ on Air.
PHOTOGRAPHY: JASON CRANE, LUCKO PRAWITO