Almanac People: Billy’s Life Journey

Billy’s Life Journey



Billy’s* admiring himself in the large glass security doors when I let him in. Shoulders back, chest out, jaw square.


Big handshake and that famous Billy grin: disarming, sincere, vulnerable. Always wanting to please.


Saturday afternoons are usually quiet downstairs and we sit in the silence of the open office area and look at each other. Outside, it’s a warm day and the valley, green and lush after generous winter rain, is snoozing happily under a gentle sun. On the far slope, a new housing estate, uniform beige and brown.


I tell him he looks great. Put on weight. Suits. The sunken cheeks and thin chest have filled out.


7Kgs, maaate. Feel great. Eating well for a change. Three square meals.


The dark rings under his eyes are fading, and his skin is clear, full of colour. Eyes sparkling like headlights.


Two months of rehab down; one to go.


Billy’s out on day release. Curfew is dinner time. He’s dropped in to pick up a suitcase full of clothes and to catch up and fill us in on his progress.


He tells me proudly he’s reached Step 4 of the 12 Step Program.


My higher power is me, mate. My inner strength, my determination.


I have a disease. I realise that now. I’ll never be cured. I will battle every day for the rest of my life. It’s my life journey.


He speaks slowly, emphasising every word.


One fuck up and I’m stuffed.


When all is lost, there’s only honesty.


You were right to move me on. I wasn’t engaged in the program. Was bullshitting myself. Taking the place of someone who needs it.


I tell him we’re proud of him and tears well for both of us.


He blinks, and looks around the office, enjoying the peace. How are things here?


Alright. You know.


Billy tells me about the compulsory morning exercise regime and how it builds structure and routine.


And the Truth Sessions. Residents sit in a circle and tell everyone three things they’re proud of today, followed by three they aren’t. Others look you in the eye, and tell you where you’ve fucked up.


It’s tough. Some can’t handle the honesty.




He looks like a young man given a second life.


And he was lucky. Usually, you, family, whoever, have to shelve out thirty grand for a bed. They just happened to have an empty free community bed for someone with the arse out of their pants, the day Billy phoned up. They were impressed with his initiative. Pack your bags and get over here, they said.


He was about to be evicted from his unit in Thornbury. Billy would have been homeless.


Billy’s dedication to his recovery has seen him rewarded with a position on the residents’ leadership group. A few short-termers have been flaunting the rules lately; Billy pulled them up.


It’s about respect.


This is not the evasive, anxious, twitching Billy, we used to know when he was in the clutches of it all. There is conviction here. Purpose.


A few students drift downstairs for coffee in the common kitchen area, or a smoke outside. Omar* enters the office, put his hand out to greet Billy, only for Billy to slap it away and pull him into a warm embrace.


Billy proudly fills Omar in on the past few months, leaving nothing out. Omar shakes his head in admiration.


The downstairs area begins to fill with activity and noise, and Billy grows anxious, his new confidence suddenly shaken. There are some faces he doesn’t recognise. He catches my eye and we head towards the door.


We stand outside and say our goodbyes with the wind whipping up from the valley. Billy will be released mid-December and from there will do three months in a transitional house where he has to engage in educational and employment support, and submit to regular drug tests.


Priorities are to learn to read and write, and join Narcotics Anonymous.


Christmas is at his mum’s house. Their relationship is on the mend.


This is Billy’s life journey. One day at a time.


A while ago, Billy gifted me a royal blue and white footy boot key ring. I think of him whenever I put the key in the front door lock.


  1. Terrific stuff Andrew. I needed that. Back at work today after a week off, and have felt a bit uncertain of whether I want to be back. A couple of “Billy’s” that I spent a lot of time with recently, dropped off the face of the earth a few weeks back.
    I think the work of rigorous daily honesty that you describe got a bit much and they just gave up. When they were close to getting what they wanted, but the hard yards got too hard. Its their journey but I like happy “endings” like Billy’s.
    People think Rehab is a magic pill, but its just a guiding framework/process of rigorous introspection and daily practice. Have thought a lot about Ben Cousins and Senator Lambie’s son in recent days. There is so much expectation for “someone to do something”, but there are no short cuts and you can’t force anyone to change. Often think of Macbeth’s “I am in blood so far, that to return is as tedious as go o’er”.
    Ice/meth destroys your brain chemistry for 6-18 months after you stop. Meth brain. “Recovery” seems like a cruel joke when you feel shit no matter what you do or what happens in your day. Relapse seems the only possible ray of sunshine.
    Personally I’d happily remove all the privacy laws over bank accounts and electronic surveillance, and have capital punishment for the high end dealers.
    On ya Billy. Made my day.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Go Billy. Fantastic read Andrew.
    Peter B’s comments are brilliant and in my opinion spot on in their entirety.

  3. Thanks Andrew.

  4. Thanks Andrew this story resonates with me big time re alcohol ( over 3 and a half years with out a drink )
    Hopefully a story to come time to touch base,PB ( I truly get your comment big time ) Starks I needed to read this !

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    And here I am complaining about the jobs I’ve had. Thanks Andrew.

  6. Good luck and best wishes to Billy from the bottom of my heart.
    Thanks for this, Starkers.
    One just cannot help but feel uplifted after reading it.

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Terrific work Starkers. As you know I’ve been where Billy has been more than a few times in my life. There but for the grace of God. Wishing Billy and yourself good health and jolly thoughts.

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