9 Feb 2024

From meth addict to building apprentice: How a mother of two turned her life around

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 9 February 2024
Bex Chapman at the height of her meth addiction (left), and through her recovery.

Photo: Bex Chapman

This story includes mention of drug use and eating disorders

Bex Chapman fell into meth addiction as a young mum but is now free of drugs and working as a building apprentice in Upper Hutt. 

After seeing many other women lose custody of their kids as a result of addiction, she hopes sharing her story can inspire others on the journey to recovery.

"I feel very passionate about influencing other mothers to get clean for their children. Also, I'd like to encourage other women to give construction a go and just really show people who are stuck in addiction that there is such a beautiful life available in recovery after using drugs," Bex tells Kathryn Ryan.

Bex says she didn't have the kind of childhood you might picture for someone who developed a meth addiction - she grew up in "a loving Christian home" where both parents were present, loving, supporting and encouraging.

It was as a 16-year-old on a drunken night with a few friends that she tried methamphetamine for the first time.

"I knew it was so bad and always said I would never do it but it was just an opportunity at the time with a group of friends and I just didn't want it to fit in.

"When I smoked it, it was a sensation that I liked. But it wasn't 'I need more of that, I'm going to sell my soul to have more of that now'. It wasn't that for me."

That said, Bex guesses that lack of availability was probably the biggest reason she didn't have it again straight after that.

"It wasn't something that people would pull out at a party every weekend ... If I had it in my face more often, if it was a more common thing, it would have been harder for me to stay away from it."

Six years later, going through a difficult breakup with the father of her young daughter, Bex began hitting the nightlife.

"[One night] I was in a car with a very good-looking man and he offered [meth] to me and I didn't say no. And then he gave me some to take home and a friend and I had that together. Yeah, it was just really downhill from there really fast."

At the time, Bex says she was struggling with body image and self-esteem.

"I was quite anorexic and taking other drugs to suppress my hunger. I was training a lot to fight in the ring for Muay Thai kickboxing, so I was really passionate about that. But I think as well I had a lot of anxiety ... a sense of wanting to fit in with people."

Meth swiftly became part of her everyday life.

"For me, it was really quickly going from having a job and a good routine and disciplined training for the kickboxing and good people around me… very quickly my life was pretty much revolving around using and people who were using, and I lost my job.

"I guess you just sink in the quicksand really fast. And I guess for me, it happened so fast that by the time I realized this was controlling my life, I was in so deep that I didn't really know how to get out.

"I always had my daughter and I always really tried to be a good mum and loved her wholeheartedly and did the mothering but when she was at school I would be using.

"I wouldn't be using 24 hours a day. I was, I guess at that time, a functioning mum as well. But it definitely snowballed beyond that to the point that I couldn't function."

Meth took an ever tighter hold on Bex's life when she began selling it.

"That opens your life up to gangs, police raids… I ended up on a curfew 24 hours a day where the police could turn up any time of the day and knock on the door and you had to present yourself. So then, as a mum, how do you be a functioning mother when you're not allowed to leave your house, you can't go grocery shopping, can't go to school? It just became so unmanageable."

Looking back she feels a lot of guilt and shame about risking the loss of her daughter - something she had promised herself she'd never let happen.

"I've done a lot of therapy to try and learn to forgive myself for that. Taking the risk as a mother, I can't explain it. It just had a hold over me."

In 2020, constantly getting arrested for breaching her curfew, and feeling like everything was crashing down on her, Bex ended up at the Wellington police station.

When she broke down, a police officer told her that if she really wanted to change her life, there were three things to do - be honest with her mum ("I had been denying anything"), check into a rehab and change her lawyer ("the lawyer who was representing me was not very good and a little bit corrupt").

"I had been denying to the police as well that I had any involvement, any addiction … and I completely said 'Yeah, I have a drug problem. And I want help."

Bex's mum organised for her to join a rehab programme at Wellington's Red Door Recovery, which she says was one of the best and hardest times of her life.

"I absolutely loved the programme. I loved the people there ... but it was my first time away from my daughter and I really struggled with that a lot. I also struggled with being clean and having the reality of what my life had become. And the things that I had done and the charges that I was facing.

"I remember we would do yoga and it was such a peaceful, calm environment and I would get so emotional. I would just be all tears and emotion and really couldn't deal with it because I just hadn't stopped for years, I hadn't stopped to feel reality ... I absolutely had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be or if I even would have the freedom to be.

"I just had this strong vision of my daughter and the love for her, it really got me through. I just was desperate to be a better mum."

One night, Bex rang her older brother and opened up to him about everything.

Eventually, she and her daughter moved into a studio under his family home.

As his wife helped her learn "how to be a mum clean", Bex's brother got her an entry-level job on his construction site, digging holes and carting wheelbarrows filled with gravel.

Hard labour helped her process her thoughts and also delivered serotonin - "which is like a chemical that you love, right, addicts love it".

When Bex's brother offered her an apprenticeship, she "dove in".

"I'd fought so hard to keep my daughter that I wasn't prepared to be completely absent. A lot of the trading hours can be really hard. So I started at 7.30 and finished at 3."

BCITO (Building Apprenticeships New Zealand) have given her "amazing" support and connection to a whole community of women working in construction.

"I got to the end of my first year and fell pregnant with my second daughter, who is just such a gift of recovery for me, and took some time off on maternity leave.

"[During the pregnancy] I gradually staged myself out of the physical hard labour. At the end of it I was painting fences and stuff like that. it's quite unheard of to be pregnant onsite but I guess I just like to be different."

Although it's hard being the mum of a young child with a very physical job, Bex returned to work when her second daughter was ten months old, and still being breastfed.

"It's definitely been a journey. But I love it. I wouldn't change it."

Now she lives with "relief and freedom" from addiction.

"It's not a constant battle in my head anymore … I know I can't speak for anyone else because everyone's different. But I've just definitely found such a beautiful …. my life is just something beyond my wildest dreams.

"Having the routine having the structure, having my daughter after coming so close to losing her and being able to be my authentic self, has really taken me quite far away from the desire to use drugs. I don't even vape, I don't do anything. I even sometimes second-question having a panadol."

Where to get help:

Alcohol Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797 
Drug Help website

Eating Disorders Association of NZ: 0800 233 269