Radio star Jay-Jay Feeney is used to sharing her life on air – from her struggles with infertility and her split from husband Dominic Harvey, to her decision to call time on her long-distance relationship with Algerian boyfriend Minou.
Whether talking about styling her new Auckland apartment or confessing to spending $12,000 on UberEats over two years, Jay-Jay is loved by fans for being relatable and authentic.
However, there's one secret that, until now, Jay-Jay, 47, has kept hidden not only from listeners, but even workmates– the heartbreak of having someone very close to her who is addicted to methamphetamine or "P", which has seen him go in and out of prison many times.
"He started a life of crime at around 14," the radio host tells Woman's Day. "One of his earlier felonies involved robbing a pharmacy. Police found a gun in his bedroom ceiling.
"He started taking codeine pills, then went on to meth. To fuel his addiction, he would get money from anywhere. Stealing was his main crime. Once he even hid in a ceiling for two days without food just to carry out a heist."
Jay-Jay is sharing her own experience to help others, using her platform to help break down the taboo of addiction so people can talk without judgement.
"There's definitely a stigma around it, especially meth addiction. Being in the public eye, I felt I couldn't talk about it. It's such a challenge dealing with an addict. I wanted to talk about it, but until now, I didn't because of shame. I'm determined to help change this stigma where I can."
Jay-Jay says her family is "complicated". Her mother was just 16 when she had her, and Jay-Jay has nine siblings between her mother and her biological father, who she only met 10 years ago. She was also sexually abused as a child, leading to anxiety and depression.
But Jay-Jay says knowing and loving someone who is a meth addict has been the most stressful aspect of her life. She has post-traumatic stress disorder from dealing with the "dramas", which she believes impacted her years of fertility treatments.
"When there's a meth addict in the fold, everyone close to them suffers from the lies, the personality swings, the theft and violence. It's all against loved ones and it can be an incredibly lonely and frightening place to be."
At one stage, Jay-Jay even feared for her life. She reveals, "He threatened to kill me. He said he was going to shoot me in the face. The rage was real. He meant it. I have no doubt that he would have done it and my husband Dom felt the same. We left our home for a bit as I was terrified he was going to smash our windows to get to me.
"I went to report it to the police and I was shaking. I couldn't even speak, I was so frightened and traumatised. I tried to get a protection order but couldn't until he'd actually done something. That seems crazy to me because if he'd got to me, I knew he would kill me."
It was hard to recognise her once-beloved friend as the grip of addiction transformed his personality. "The lowest points were seeing him as a total stranger – a person to fear, who wouldn't compromise or be reasonable. A person who used to be likeable, charming and funny, but was now angry, mean, violent and unpredictable."
Tougher still was dealing with the pain the person caused. "For someone on P to blame everyone else and not take any responsibility for their actions really broke me. How could he inflict the hurt he'd done on purpose and not feel remorse? How could he not see he was destroying lives other than his own?"
When Jay-Jay sought professional support, she discovered a range of options for addicts, but she couldn't find support for families or friends. After watching journalist Patrick Gower's recent documentary On P, she criticised aspects of the broadcast on her More FM drive show, saying it didn't shown the real impact the addiction has on others.
"Meth is an epidemic in this country – not just for addicts, but for families and close friends too. I felt the doco glossed over the impact of P.
"It destroys lives and relationships. There are great stories of people who overcome their addiction, but many addicts don't. It's families and friends who are left to deal
with people who are often dangerous and untrustworthy."
Brave Hearts was set up five years ago by Erin and her friend Ros Potter, who, like Jay-Jay, had struggled with the fallout of an addict in their lives. At their first meeting in 2016, 60 Bay of Plenty residents turned up. At the second meeting, more than 270 people came. Due to demand, Brave Hearts expanded to Auckland in 2018, and Hamilton and the South Island in 2019.
Brave Hearts now facilitates group meetings, phone support, one-on-one wha-nau sessions and a private Facebook group. It was exactly what Jay-Jay was looking for. She dived in, posting to the group in June, "I see that many of you are feeling like I am about the issue of meth. I know action needs to be taken. I'm not claiming to be an expert of any kind, but I want to use the way I feel and the things I've seen, and the things you feel and say, for positive change."
Jay-Jay was inundated with messages. She heard many stories of the devastation that addicts ravage on those close to them. Fired up to learn more, she flew to Tauranga to meet the group.
"It's incredible that there is obviously a huge need for this support and that these two women had to set up a group themselves, which now supports hundreds of families all over New Zealand."
It was Erin's experience with her son that motivated her to found Brave Hearts. Erin tells us, "He was given cannabis at 13 at his school. By 15, he was into meth. I didn't even know what meth was! I noticed cut straws and broken lightbulbs, but I had no idea he was using them to take meth."
At 19, struggling with getting his use under control, Erin's son revealed his addiction to his shocked mum. "For the next 10 years, we rode a roller-coaster of fear. We all battled his addiction. Home became a war zone. Each time I went out, I dreaded what I'd find on return. Once cops raided my house. I was so ashamed. A policeman told me there was only one way out of this for my son – death.
"Tragically, my story is the same for many New Zealanders living in chaos as their lives spin out of control as they try to find help for their loved one. Addiction breaks down the heart of the community. Forget the stereotype of a meth addict – our members are from all walks of life, including wealthy families and professionals."
Erin's story has a happy ending. Her son has been in recovery for six years, has completed a degree and is engaged to be married. Yet for many families Brave Hearts helps, the addict ends up in prison or dead, with family and friends torn apart.
Jay-Jay also met Rotorua nurse Nicky Goldsbury, who flicked on the news one evening to see a report about an explosion at a suspected "P lab" in Katikati. The footage showed armed police leading a tall, stocky man outside. His face was pixelated, but the tattoos on his chest made him instantly recognisable.
"It was my son Karl!" she tells. "The same sporty boy we brought up in a loving family, who couldn't even stand cigarette smoke, here he is on television as a drug criminal! I can't tell you how many tears I've cried over it. The shame of me, a nurse, having a P-dealer son. I kept beating myself up with what I could have done differently."
But Nicky wanted to let Jay-Jay know there is hope, revealing that on Karl's last stay in Te Ao Ma-rama, the Ma-ori focus unit at Waikeria Prison, he faced up to his addiction and crimes. Now out of jail, he works in a social agency helping troubled youth.
Jay-Jay admits her own terrible experience had previously coloured her view of addiction. "I'd become cynical about drug addicts," she confesses. "I felt that many people had difficult lives but not all turned to drugs. Since learning about addiction being a disease, I sympathise more."
After getting involved in Brave Hearts, Jay-Jay has met with the New Zealand Drug Foundation and is now producing a podcast about Aotearoa's P epidemic, which she hopes will also feature Paddy Gower. Her main aim is to teach kids about meth and support people who, like she did, feel isolated, anxious or terrified dealing with an addict.
"For those of you who have experienced meth in your family or friends, please know I'm determined to get more action in educating our youth about how destructive this drug is and supporting families who are dealing with a loved one on P," she enthuses. "I hear you and I'm here to help."
Photo / Maree Wilkinson