A former drug addict hopes his story of recovery will be a beacon of hope for others.
Wagga man Philip Kouvaras spent years couch-surfing, squatting in abandoned buildings and living under a car park in Melbourne before he moved to Wagga and turned his life around.
The 53-year-old lived as an addict from the age of 22.
Now, Mr Kouvaras says, he’s never felt more fit and healthy.
He said his tale was a familiar one.
The former photographer said he had studied, worked and when he turned to drugs his family and friends had tried to help him.
Mr Kouvaras said they had begged him to come home, the Salvation Army had offered help and the courts had ordered rehabilitation but he wouldn’t listen.
“I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I want drugs’,” Mr Kouvaras said.
“I’m not insane but using drugs makes you insane… it’s debilitating.”
He said he could give all the advice in the world but it would only be as good as the advice he had ignored for years.
It's hard when you're amongst it.Philip Kouvaras
“It’s hard when you are amongst it,” he said.
“As you come off it, you feel bad and you want to go back … it’s the same story.”
Mr Kouvaras said it was like living in suspended animation.
“I didn’t want a home because I wanted smack,” he said.
“It was cold, it was rough but once you’ve had your fix you can sleep on hot coals.”
Although one day, he said he realised he didn’t want to die.
“Now I’m living by example,” Mr Kouvaras said.
“I saw other guys got their lives together … you realise you’re not the only victim in the world.”
He said it was Narcotics Anonymous that saved him and the work of the Rehabilitation Centre at Calvary Riverina Hospital.
Mr Kouvaras has been off heroin for three years and despite a relapse, he said he was back on the “right track”.
“Everyone thinks their story is different,” he said.
“But there are half a dozen fundamental issues that are the same: childhood; resentment; loneliness; victimised; inability to cope; and violence.”
I've done terrible things but I'm willing to change.Philip Kouvaras
Mr Kouvaras said he was taking responsibility for the choices he made and he was looking to find work, to contribute to society and give back.
“I’ve done terrible things,” he said.
“But I’m willing to change.
“I have hope, I have faith, I want to live.”
Mr Kouvaras said the only thing he would ask was for businesses to give recovering addicts a chance.
He said being turned down for low-risk jobs because of his past was “devastating” and a major factor in starting back down the wrong roads.
“When you can’t even collect trolleys you think: ‘I haven’t got a hope so what’s the point’,” he said.
“I don’t ever want to blame anyone else … I’m an addict but I’ve paid my dues.
“It’s not easy to find work and it’s frustrating.”