From the moment she met him she knew she was going to marry him. What Elise Niu, a personal trainer and mum-of-four from the Kapiti Coast, didn’t foresee was that her future husband, Ray, was also going to become a P addict.
Here, the Kiwi couple share their deeply personal story - a story about family, compassion and hope, and a young mum’s refusal to let the man she loved destroy himself, or their family unit.
Ray and I met in 2001 when I was 18 years old. We had both just been selected for the New Zealand under 21's mixed touch [rugby] team.
For me, it was love at first sight. It’s so weird but as soon as I saw him I was like, ‘I’m going to marry that man and I’m going to have his babies.’
Ray is a quiet person and very shy - quite the gentleman - so I had to chase him a bit. Eventually he started opening up and chatting with me through text messages. We started dating and then in 2006 we made the move to Australia together to start an OE.
Not long after getting there I unexpectedly got pregnant. That kind of put the OE experience to rest and we actually never went anywhere after that. We had our first child in 2007, and then got married in 2009. Two more sons followed in 2010 and 2013. We were living in Sydney.
When you ask me were there ever any signs of what was to come I’d say that yes, there was a little bit of gambling. I used to work part-time at a bar and Ray would come in to work and while I’d be finishing off my last hour or cleaning, he would just sit on the pokie machines.
I didn’t feel it could be an issue, but the buzz he got out of jumping on the pokie machines triggered off an excitement.
It was a few years later, in 2015, that the meth reared its ugly head.
By this time he was working in the oil refinery industry, and you would hear rumours that there was P and that it was really available in the industry. It was always just something that people would talk about or joke about, but I’d never thought my husband would ever be involved with it, with him being a family man and the fact that I’m into health and fitness.
But I started noticing changes in Ray...
The first sign was weight loss; my husband’s beautiful looks just disappeared. It was a gaunt and frail look - so when your husband is wearing your track pants and they’re falling off HIS hips you kind of feel like oh, what’s going on here…?
And then for someone who would never raise his voice or call people names he began having these rages.
I started to diary his patterns of behaviour and what I found is that I would have a few good days of a happy-ish, upbeat husband and then three days of him sleep, sleep, sleeping, and usually the sleeping would happen over the weekend.
The talkativeness was another sign because my husband’s not a talkative person. So when I had a husband coming home and chatting 100 miles an hour and not making sense at all I was like ‘who are you? Who is this person?’
I found it uncomfortable because I knew it wasn’t normal.
And he wasn’t sleeping at night - he would just be up on his phone till three or four in the morning and then have to get up for work at 6am.
I would say ‘hey, are you taking anything?’ And he would just say ‘I’m taking a pre-workout supplement and that’s why I’ve lost so much weight’, or that it was just something to keep him awake at work or to give him energy at work.
I’d ask, ‘Well, why is it affecting your behaviour and why are you losing that much weight on a pre-workout [supplement]?’
He used to say ‘you never believe me’ so I started feeling like I was the bad person, that there was something wrong with me and that I was brewing up trouble in our relationship.
The day I found out
It got to a point where our arguments were so bad that he packed his bags and left for a week. I found out later he spent that week sleeping in our garage.
But in that time he also accessed a personal phone and credit cards and spent tens of thousands of dollars on drugs and gambling.
I was freaking out, a week not knowing where my husband was. I had to find a way to bring him back home.
So I called him and said, ‘Look, I’ve got something on - I need you to come home and look after the kids’.
There was still some part of myself that was thinking that I was just a really bad wife and I had caused this issue because I was putting so much pressure on him.
I actually had nowhere to go so I just ended up going to the movies and eating popcorn and ice-cream, feeling sorry for myself.
When I arrived home afterwards he had fallen asleep on the floor in the lounge and I saw something popping out of the back of his pocket.
I reached in and found a pipe and a little bag of white, powdery stuff. I’m not too aware of what drugs look like and I was like ‘is this is what I think it is?’
This is what you read about in the papers; this is what you hear about in stories where families fall apart.
My natural reaction would usually have been to hit the roof, yell and scream, swear, ring the police.
But there was some part of me, a voice in my head and a part of my heart which was telling me to change my reaction.
So I went into my room and took a deep breath – at this point I was shaking. And then I wrote him a letter, telling him I loved him and I would be there for him.
I slipped it into the bag he’d brought with him and then laid down next to him and put my arm around him.
In a soft voice, so as not to wake him, I just repeated these affirmations: ‘I know who you are; I know you are a great dad, you’re a great husband and I’m going to help you be that person again.’
I told him that everything was going to be okay and that we were going to get through this together.
And then this is quite strange, but after a few minutes he woke up and said ‘babe, I have something to tell you’.
We tried to find help in Australia and Ray did counselling but it wasn’t enough. Through all the one-on-ones with psychologists and the group sessions, he was still using drugs.
Looking back over the year we'd just had, there had been times when I had seen him hold his stomach in pain and seen him vomit. I had just thought my husband had a tummy ache. Now I know those were times when he had tried to fight it and now that I look back I’m like ‘man, you were having withdrawals’.
So there were times when he had tried to stop because he knew he was losing his family and losing the plot.
It was around this time that my mum came over for an early Christmas and I also found out I was pregnant with number four.
I’m lucky that I have parents who step in and offer solutions and so my parents said to Ray, ‘Do you want to be part of this family Ray, do you want to get the help you need?’ And he agreed that yes he did, and that was a turning point for us.
We identified that his [work] environment had a strong impact on the situation; we knew he was dissatisfied in his job and that the drugs were easily accessible. Nothing would change because he could still go to work and see the provider of the drugs and be like ‘I need it’, and no amount of psychological help would change that.
We had our friends in Australia and Ray had his brother and sisters there, but we were only really there for work - so we decided to come home [to NZ].
I sent my kids back to New Zealand with my parents then spent the next three and a half weeks packing up the house and selling things off. In the meantime I still had a husband who was having tantrums and highs and lows and rages. I wasn’t even sure Ray was going to come home with me.
Everything that had happened was like it was my fault, in his head. I had sent away the kids and there was a certain anger he had towards me.
We're coming home
But there was a point where I said ‘we can do this at home’ and that declared to him that we were going to get through this together.
And with that on the 2nd January 2016 we flew back to New Zealand.
We moved in with my parents and within the first few days we got straight down to business.
We sat down and looked at ideas, and to begin with we looked at sending Ray to rehab. He started the application process and had a phone meeting, only to find out he didn’t qualify.
So we were just like ‘okay, what we do next?’ My parents and Ray were like ‘this is a sign’. Ray said, ‘I’ve got to pull my head in and sort this myself.'
We are a family that talks - so we would have monthly meetings with my mum and stepdad, who would check in where we were at.
We started a practice of going to church every Sunday.
So we were implementing things in our lives that we hadn’t had prior to that, and we were also identifying parts of our lives that were causing stresses, just through that practice of talking.
Ray needed to keep himself busy and have a new focus so my mum and stepdad gave him jobs to do around the house, to keep him busy and moving while he was detoxifying himself.
Like gardening: Ray loves being outdoors and it was like a natural, therapeutic way for him to keep himself busy without the huge pressures of going to work every day, working long hours - you know, provide provide, provide.
My parents own a drain-laying business and so they had him preparing the drains outdoors to be laid.
After three months Mum said she began to see a new spark in Ray’s eyes. By then Ray had no need to have a fix, he was able to feel good on his own.
And so he was offered an apprenticeship in my parents’ business, and he has now almost finished his first year.
Part of Ray’s stresses before were that there was an element of financial pressure and not knowing what to do with your money when you’ve been paid. So now we've seen a financial adviser and learned skills to manage our money. When you have that in place it relaxes your relationships.
Physical activity and training each week has been really powerful [for Ray] with the feel-good endorphins it releases - it’s been a natural kick.
The future is bright
There has been a huge transformation in my husband - who he is and what he stands for.
He's been clean since the end of 2015.
And for him to freely talk about something that in the past he felt guilt and shame for - he’s like, 'actually, yeah I want to talk about this' - and I’m like ‘this isn’t my husband’ because, as I said at the start, he doesn’t like to talk.
This whole experience has shaped me too. While we were in Australia I was at home raising our family but once I got home I realised I wanted to do something that would contribute financially and that I was passionate about.
My biggest passion in the world apart from my children, family and husband is fitness and making people feel amazing through movement and community and relationship so I launched my business Functional HIIT.
I’ve created it entirely around my family, running sessions after the school drop-off in the morning and at 6pm, when Ray is home from work – and business is flourishing.
We are in our own place and we are doing things and Ray is doing things, and I know its cliché but it’s like a fairy-tale story.
We believe that the steps we took are why we are here today, and it’s definitely a story of hope because I know there will be families with similar stories.
Reliving the memories, I have said to Ray ‘I just want to punch you, haha.’
I remember the pain and the anger - but revisiting those feelings has made me realise I no longer feel that way any more.
The strength of your relationship with each other and the help of extended family are hugely important. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own.
We just hope this story will reach the right people and that it will give some hope to others.
Looking back we’ve definitely come a long way, and now I can’t believe I was actually in that position.
When I started working at the oil refinery my pay pretty much quadrupled. I had been on $8.50 at the saw mill in Taranaki, and over there it was like $32 an hour.
You think you’re on a decent wicket, but the time away [from family] is hard. Everyone thinks it gets easier the longer you’re away, and when you’re doing it more often - that you just get used to it. You can be away for a few months at a time and just coming home for a week or a weekend. But it doesn’t get easier, it just gets harder.
And my perception, my thinking for a father is that I had to be a provider. We were all shacked up [in Sydney] in a two-bedroom unit with no backyard, there’s a lot of things that play on your mind as a father - you know, that you’re not doing your job properly and you’re never home.
I chose the wrong way to cope with what was going on.
To be honest, I can’t really remember much about that year. That’s how deep I got into it and how fast it was.
But you know when you’re trying to tell somebody something, but you can’t? There was a lot on my heart through the whole time but I didn’t know how to say it.
Coming back to New Zealand wasn’t easy because in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘what are they [Elise’s parents] thinking of me and what was their perception of me?’
I thought they’d be always looking over my shoulder but it wasn’t the case. They were just really supportive and gave me something to focus on.
It was Elise that got us home and she stayed by me the whole time.