ISTARTED taking heroin when I was 14. My parents had divorced and I was hanging around with a new group of friends. My girlfriend was occasionally using heroin, and one day at a party she offered me some. I snorted it. At first I didn't notice anything different; it was very subtle in its effects. I had more later and I began to notice a few things. I had been worried that day, but all of my troubles seemingly disappeared and I was left with a feeling everything would work itself out. I remember thinking ''This is great!'' There was an overwhelming sense of security and a calm I had not felt since I was a boy. My confidence was boosted 100 per cent. After that we were using heroin two or three times a month. Twice a month turned into once a week, then into two or three times a week. At that time, heroin was the most freely available drug in Hongkong, and I had about eight or nine dealers to choose from. Heroin made all of my troubles fade into insignificance and my world seemed a better place. In Sydney, my exam results at the end of term were pretty much the same as the term before, but I had enough credit points to continue the next year. This was besides the point though because it was the summer holidays and I had 21/2 months off. I was going back to Hongkong and I would soon have a cheap supply of drugs. I arrived at the airport and my sister was there to meet me. I got home and said hello to the family, then as soon as was polite I made my escape and went to my dealer. He was still there; nothing had changed. After I got my drugs I went to get some syringes. I had said I would never use a needle. In Sydney it was different, because the heroin was so expensive the amounts I used would not have been enough to overdose. In Hongkong heroin was a lot cheaper and stronger. I always tested a small amount first to check the strength, but the amount I was using increased steadily. By the time I left Hongkong I was using about two or three grams a day. From Hongkong I went to Thailand for a holiday with my family but, needless to say, it was not much of a holiday for me. The withdrawals were so strong compared to when I had just been snorting heroin that I thought these pains could not be because of the drug. I was so ill I could hardly move. All of my muscles had turned to jelly and I couldn't keep food or liquid down for more than half an hour. I was constantly sweating, but I had chills at the same time. It was the worst pain I had felt, but it was not enough to push me away from heroin. I went back to Australia and was using heroin again as soon as I had the chance. The day of my 21st birthday came and there was a party arranged. I mixed up a generous amount of heroin and injected it. As I drifted away, all I could remember was my girlfriend saying ''You're turning blue Chris''. The next thing I knew someone was giving me mouth to mouth resuscitation. People were crying and screaming; it was total chaos. I had invited all of my friends over to celebrate part of my life, but they almost got a chance to witness my death. Although the thought of dying was frightening, I felt helpless and separate from the rest of the world. I had started to think about giving up, but I couldn't bring myself to go for help. All of the negative thoughts I had about myself and my life were coming together just when I was on the brink of recovery, as if to say, ''Hey, remember us? The reason you started taking drugs in the first place was to wipe us out, but the minute you stop we'll be back; oh, and by the way we've grown since you saw us seven years ago.'' It was too worrying to contemplate. My sister was a great help to me over these few months. She and my girlfriend were doing everything they could to support me in giving up the drug. I expected to be disowned by the family, but for the first few days my mother was OK. I started to believe I had pulled the wool over her eyes, but about a week later I crashed my motorbike. The ambulance came, and they wanted to take me to hospital, butI was on the way to my dealer's house so I signed a form relieving them of their responsibility and off I went. I could not move my left arm, the whole of my left side was bruised and starting to puff up, but all I could think about was getting more herointo ease the pain. When I got home I went straight to the bathroom to clean myself up, have a bath and get high, but I found it impossible to get my clothes off on my own and had to ask my girlfriend to help. After I had injected myself, I lay back with a huge sense of relief and started thinking about what had happened earlier. I would rather get hold of a packet of white powder than get medical attention for serious injuries. Heroin had become the most important thing to me and it completely overshadowed my will to live. I stayed in the bath for about an hour and a half feeling sorry for myself, then called my girlfriend to get me out. My side had turned black with bruises but the heroin had taken away most of the pain. This was the time for the confrontation with my mother that I had been dreading. For the first time it felt like we were talking to each other. She told me she knew what was going on and was there to help, if I wanted it, but it was my life and I could take drugs if that was what I wanted. The love and friendship I felt were beyond words. My mother made an appointment for me to see a counsellor, and I decided a Methadone programme would be the best way to sort myself out. At first I sat down with a notebook and wrote down all the reasons I could think of for staying on heroin. Most of them were pretty poor. The next list was of all the reasons for giving up and, surprise surprise, there were about 10 times as many. Whenever I have thought of using heroin since, all I had to do was go through my list and the feeling passed. One of my ''good'' reasons for staying on heroin was that I did not have to deal with my family when I was stoned. I had always felt my parents did not understand me and looked down on me. Thinking back, I had never told my parents how I felt about myself or them, so it was no surprise they did not understand me. I thought sorting this problem out would be a step in the right direction. I started to write a letter to my father, whom I had not seen in three years, about everything that had happened to me since we had last seen each other. I also wrote down how I felt when I was growing up, not having him around, and about the times I hated him for things he had done. I wrote down everything I wanted to say to him but had never dared to. Writing it all down, I tried to look at things through his eyes too. I read through what I had written, and to my surprise I felt I hated my father less. Over the next few days I fought with myself over whether I should send the letter. I could see my father taking it the wrong way, but I knew if I told him my feelings we could work towards straightening things out. I sent it off, and wrote to a few other people. The response I got was incredible. My father was angry when he first got the letter, but he read it a few more times and took it not as a hate letter but as a chance to clear up the misunderstandings that had pushed us apart. I had put everything as honestly as possible, and my father had answered all the questions I had asked. He had told his side of the story when he saw things differently, and had asked questions himself. It seemed as if I had a totally different father. I could see how much he cared. One of the biggest excuses for staying on heroin was gone, and as I thought about it more, one of the biggest excuses I could have for using heroin again was gone. For a few days after I got the letter it felt like I was walking on a cloud. It amazed me how much energy I had spent keeping these feelings of hatred alive, and now I had dealt with the situation, I found I had a lot more ''spare'' energy to do the things that interested me. As I looked down my list of reasons to stay on heroin I knew that if I could work things out so all of my reasons were eliminated, I could give up the drug and stay clean. Although it took a long time and I ran into a lot of obstacles along the way, I managed it.