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A meth addiction, jail, and a total eclipse of the heart

A new life for Walter

Perth-based tradesman Walter Ten Haaf blames pride and a people-pleasing streak for his stupid decision to turn to methamphetamine to work around the clock and keep his construction business afloat.

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Walter discovered that his staff had made errors while he was in hospital battling a severe infection in his hand – prompting his clients to stop making payments. Faced with the prospect of being unable to pay his wages bill, Walter decided to burn the candle at both ends, rising early to join one of his bricklaying teams as well as managing the business at night.

Friends told him to downsize and his wife Nicole said she wouldn’t mind if the business failed, but Walter couldn’t say no to builders wanting him to take on more work.

“I made a stupid choice to start taking what I thought were amphetamines to help me stay awake at night to get through my bookwork and paperwork,” he says.

Walter still had meth in his system when he got behind the wheel of his Nissan Navara before sunrise one day in October 2016

“I didn’t realise it was methamphetamine – never touched methamphetamine before that – and before I knew it, we were five months in and I’d been taking meth and I was slowly starting to climb my way out, but my behaviour was becoming erratic. I was making stupid decisions because I didn’t realise it had altered my thought processes. A lot of irrationality was coming out and aggression and then I had a car accident.”

Walter still had meth in his system when he got behind the wheel of his Nissan Navara before sunrise one day in October 2016 and crossed into the wrong side of the road in Mundijong, an outer suburb of Perth, crashing head-on into an ambulance.

Paramedic Wesley Ackerman was trapped in his vehicle for 45 minutes then flown to hospital with life-threatening injuries. Thankfully, he survived and eventually recovered, but Walter hit rock bottom. (He eventually spent nine months in jail on a dangerous driving conviction.)

“At the time, I was done – I had nothing left. I had methamphetamine in my system – I was on the wrong side of the road; I shouldn’t have been there and because I shouldn’t have been there, I had to go to jail,” he says.

Walter says he didn’t know realise he was going to do a cold turkey detox

A week after the accident, desperate to change his life, Walter checked into Shalom House in the Swan Valley, north of Perth, a Christian residential rehabilitation centre that helps men break free of addictive patterns. Shalom’s founder and CEO, Peter Lyndon-James, is a former criminal and ice addict who became a Christian pastor after his final jail term. He sees Shalom House as a discipleship rather than a rehab centre, and has come under fire for his “tough love” approach to help addicts restore their lives and relationships. Residents pay for their own programs and have to quit all drugs cold turkey, including Panadol, alcohol and cigarettes, hand over their keys and mobile phones, shave their heads and avoid swearing and gossiping. They also attend three services every week at different churches across Perth to allow residents an opportunity to discover their own faith.

Walter says he didn’t know realise he was going to do a cold turkey detox, and didn’t know if it would work, but at that point he would have done anything to change his life.

“For me it was easy – I was shaving my head anyway; I wasn’t smoking. The swearing one was a bit difficult, but the actual program of getting off drugs – the hardest one for me was I had just been in a car accident, I had a fractured sternum, three herniated disks, and coming in I received no painkillers at all. That was hard and because I was on prescription medications before that I went through withdrawals on that as well, so it was really difficult to get through.”

Soon after Walter checked into the program, his wife Nicole decided she had had enough, sold all their stuff and moved back to Queensland with their three children. “And I reckon good on her!” Walter says.

But a few months later, as she saw the positive changes in her husband, she moved back to the area to join Shalom House’s couples’ program to start rebuilding their relationship.

Walter’s rehabilitation was so extraordinary, that when he faced court for sentencing a year later, his defence lawyer hailed him as a “major, major success story.” What the lawyer didn’t mention was that the key to Walter’s transformation had been meeting Jesus.

“The best way that I could describe it is like if you cut an artery or need heart surgery, you can’t put a Band-aid over it – you’ve got to go on the table. And the only way you’re going on the operating table is if you submit to God,” he says.

He had no relationship with God and was just “going through the motions.”

“Now, most people can make basic changes themselves when it comes to habit – they can change the way they do things – but they can’t change the way that they think; they can’t change the way that they feel; they can’t change the way that they react. That’s all internal stuff that only God can do with the heart – you need to have a heart transplant to change the way you are and the only one who can do that is God … How important was God in my recovery? Fundamental.”

Although Walter attended a Christian school and grew up in a so-called Christian home, he says he had no relationship with God and was just “going through the motions.”

“I grew up with all the right answers and throughout my childhood and earlier years it was like I was being programmed –  I was learning the Scriptures; and then when I came to Shalom, it was like all the wiring had been done and then somebody turned the power on,” he says.

He becomes emotional thinking about the first time he felt that electricity go through him.

“I never believed in people saying to me ‘you’ve got to invite Jesus Christ into your heart.’ For me I thought I’d done it because I was dedicated when I was younger, but when I went to church [from Shalom], somebody said ‘do you want to accept Jesus into your heart? and I was like, ‘oh, I’m pretty sure I’ve done this, but why not – I’ll give it a go.’ And I went up there and it was a heartfelt decision to actually invite Christ into my heart; and I remember that night just feeling like what I was on was better than any drug – it was just amazing.”

His second encounter with Jesus happened after he started digging deep into his childhood trauma in counselling sessions at Shalom.

“I had got to a place where I realised I’m stuck, I need help, and I wrestled with it myself and then I just prayed, ‘Lord, do what you got to do.’ And it was as if it was divine – within a couple of hours, I was sitting down with a counsellor talking about childhood issues and I’d never talked about it. My wife didn’t even know about that. She only found out about that stuff through the program. The first time I disclosed it was with my counsellor and I remember feeling it was like a weight dropped off – I just felt lighter, literally. It sounds cliché but it actually was exactly like that – my soul was lighter. And because of that, that gave me the courage to do the next one and I started telling him all the stuff I’d done wrong. And I’ve done some pretty shocking stuff. And every time something happened.”

Born into a family he describes as religious rather than Christian, Walter says he copped a lot of abuse from his harsh disciplinarian father, who had suffered at the hands of his own father, who was in the Dutch special forces in New Guinea during World War II and took out his suffering on his family.

“There was a lot of screaming and yelling in the night. As I grew up it was nothing to get a hiding for putting shoes in the wrong place or not setting the table the right way or not getting good grades at school,” he recalls.

“I was the oldest of six, so my mum talked to me about it and I had nowhere to go with it. So I started talking to one of my teachers at school and then he molested me when I was 12, but I was too scared to go to my mum and dad about it. I didn’t have anyone else I could talk to and it played on my mind and I tried to hang myself with my dad’s belt.”

Walter says he had grown up being angry with God because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and what he saw as the hypocrisy of church members.

“There was a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of swearing, talking about women the wrong way, a lot of lustful stuff. I found porn material at quite a young age, from Christian people. So I had this disconnect and, because of my relationship with my dad, every time somebody said God the Father – even though I loved my dad and I respect him – as a younger kid growing up, I was just angry and, because I was angry, I blamed God.”

“I used to blame everybody for my life, but I was always running.”

At the end of the five-stage program at Shalom, which can take up to three years, a resident is clean from drugs and alcohol, has started mending fractured relationships with loved ones and is working either part or full-time.

Asked what the key to graduating the Shalom program was, Walter says: “It’s pretty easy: Humble yourself – that’s it. Be teachable, be open to be taught, zero pride, let go of the past, stop blaming everyone for your problems and why you are where you are and suck it up.

“I believe just because you’ve been through a lot doesn’t give you an excuse to act in a certain way – you actually need to be respectful of people and that’s something that I’ve really learnt and understand while I’ve been here.

“I used to blame everybody for my life, but I was always running, I was always chasing my tail, but peace is elusive if you’re blaming everybody else for the way you are. And it wasn’t until I actually realised that by owning my stuff that I’ve got a chance of dealing with it that I got through it. I don’t want to be carrying anything I’m not meant to be carrying – I don’t think that’s what God wants us to do. But as soon as you own it – a lot of people think that being honest is a sign of weakness; I feel like it’s a pretty good trait for integrity.”

Now working as chief operating officer at Shalom, Walter is confident that he wouldn’t have the life he now has without the Spirit-filled program at Shalom.

“We wouldn’t have a marriage if I hadn’t done what I did. We were 100 per cent on the road to divorce, our three kids would have grown up in a similar environment to what I did and in 20 years my son could have been in rehab,” he says.

“But through this process we’ve had family restoration, which is complete, the kids have been able to receive a voice, where they never really had one before – they’re able to talk about how they feel – sometimes too much! So as far as our family goes, without Shalom House and the program we went through, there’s just no way that we would have been a successful family.”

 

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