A champion windsurfer's descent into drug addiction reached rock bottom when he stole $40,000 from his mother - but her forgiveness has helped him rebuild his life.
Life was good for Clayton Dougan, 35, after he won national windsurfing titles in his 20s; but a rapid fall from grace began when he was found to have bowel cancer four years ago, and told he might not live.
To cope with the pain he was prescribed oxycodone, known as hillbilly heroin. Soon after, he began dealing, then using, ecstasy and methamphetamine.
The drugs helped him cope with pain following a nine-hour operation to remove part of his bowel, he said. "But it takes the mental pain away as well, I suppose - it makes life seem not as bad."
His cancer went into remission but the pain continued and his addiction "escalated". Living in workers' accommodation on his mother's property near Masterton, he began using her eftpos card to pay for drugs.
The turning point came shortly before Christmas last year when, after withdrawals totalling more than $40,000, his mother confronted him.
Dougan said he would never forget her "look of disgust" when he admitted the thefts. He handed over her card, packed his things and left.
His mother, Cheryl Wharrie, made the painful decision to completely cut him off. "We knew we had to cut ties . . . there was only one way out, he had to do it. We couldn't do it for him," she said.
The entire family, and Dougan's best friends, agreed to the "tough love" approach. "Everyone had to agree. It was incredibly hard because the whole time you're thinking, he's my son," said Wharrie.
After Dougan endured a lonely Christmas and New Year his mother contacted police. He pleaded guilty to charges of dishonestly using the cash card and theft at his first Masterton District Court appearance in February.
Dougan began getting counselling for his addiction soon after Christmas and completed a nine-week residential programme a month ago. He has been free of alcohol and illegal drugs for 170 days.
He still uses prescription painkillers for continuing post-operative pain but was weaning himself off, he said.
In court yesterday, Judge Barbara Morris said Dougan had made a significant, positive change in his life after a "Jekyll and Hyde" period.
Taking his guilty plea and efforts to rebuild his life into account, as well as Wharrie's forgiveness and waiving of any court-ordered reparation, she convicted him and sentenced him to 100 hours' community work and 12 months' supervision.
Dougan said he would pay his mother and his stepfather back.
He is working as a painter again and plans to return to competitive windsurfing.
The lesson had been hard but effective, he said. "It's a pretty big eye-opener when you see the devastation you've done to your friends and family.
"It was a big crossroad - is this going to be my life, or what?"
- The Dominion Post