The start of my life was happy. I was brought up in what some might consider a privileged way – I went to boarding school and even had a pony. But when I was 12 that was all taken away from me. My dad was convicted of fraud and sent to prison, and the rest of the family – my mother, my three siblings and I – were made homeless. That was the start of the dysfunctionality in my life.
We were housed by the Housing Association in a local pub until we found a council house, but even with a roof over our heads, things continued to deteriorate. My mum started drinking because she couldn’t cope, and then dating a younger man who sexually abused me. Meanwhile, I’d been taken out of boarding school and sent to a nearby state school where I was bullied relentlessly. My dad’s crime had unsurprisingly caused a stir in the local papers, which quickly put an end to any hope I had of having a fresh start.
In recruitment, drinking at lunchtime was the norm, but I would drink at lunchtime and continue to drink all afternoon.
By drinking and smoking, I eventually earned my place in the ‘party crowd’ at school, and while I’d always be the last one up drinking after a heavy night, nobody in that group ever saw it as a problem. It carried on like that all the way through school and university.
After leaving university, I managed to hold down work with some recruitment agencies in London. Yet again, I found myself in the sort of setting where my excessive drinking largely went unnoticed. In recruitment, drinking at lunchtime was the norm, but I would drink at lunchtime and continue to drink all afternoon.
I spent some time in rehab, but I was drinking again as soon as I got out. That’s how it was throughout most of my adulthood: periods of drinking and sobriety. I just always managed to give the appearance of someone who was doing okay.
I had to leave the family home and start living in my car.
The longest period of sobriety I had was when I got pregnant with my first son – that was a wonderful time in my life. But with my second, I carried him all the way to full-term and he was stillborn. Of all the things I’d gone through, that was one of the hardest. I was devastated.
On what would have been my son’s first birthday, I started drinking again. It wasn’t long before I was using cocaine too, and then crack and heroin. My family washed their hands of me at that point; nobody wanted to know me. I had to leave the family home and start living in my car. Things almost reached breaking point when I caught pneumonia and was taken to hospital – all of my organs failed and I had to be put in an induced coma. Nevertheless, within a few weeks of leaving hospital I was drinking, smoking crack cocaine, injecting heroin, stealing and using counterfeit money. The only thing I didn’t do is sell my body – probably because I was in no fit state to.
I was sleeping rough wherever I could until someone helped me secure a five night stay in a community house, where I had an interview for longer-term residence in a hostel. Luckily for me, it was snowing at the time, which meant I could stay on in the house until I was relocated – otherwise I’d have been back on the streets.
In the dry house, I was finally able to get some clarity and perspective, and I had a conversation with my key worker there that changed my life.
In the hostel, everyone was allowed to keep drinking and taking drugs, and while I wanted nothing more than to be reunited with my son, it was incredibly difficult to get sober in that environment. In the end, I spoke to my key worker who helped me move into a dry house where drugs and alcohol were forbidden.
In the dry house, I was finally able to get some clarity and perspective, and I had a conversation with my key worker that changed my life. They opened up to me about their own past struggles with addiction, and in doing so, gave me strength to persevere with my recovery, and hope that I might one day see my son again.
I haven’t taken drugs for over two years since then, and I haven’t drunk for over a year and a half. While I’ve gotten to this stage before, this time really is different. Before, I would reward myself with a drink after longer stints of sobriety, but now I have absolutely no desire for that kind of chaos to return.
I have a much clearer understanding of myself now, too. And thankfully, I have enough people around me that I can talk to if I’m having a bad day. One of the most difficult things for me used to be admitting to people that things weren’t okay. But now I live my life like it’s entirely open. I have no room for white lies or grey areas. I’m not an angel – I know that. But anything that gives me reason to feel anxious, I stop and look at and resolve straight away. Mental health issues, depression, anxiety; I know I can live with them and lead a normal life, so long as I’m not suppressing my emotions and letting them build up.
I’ve still got a long way to go to make amends with the rest of my family, but I’m building bridges every day.
Best of all, I have my son back. I feel so unbelievably lucky that I’m able to take him to school every day, pick him up in the evening, and brush his teeth at night – it’s the small, mundane things like that, that feel so special. When I take him to football and stand for two hours in the freezing cold, I’m smiling inside because I feel grateful to be there. The need and want for material possessions, the things that used to make me feel validated – the cars, the house, the money – has all disappeared. All I need is for my son to say I love you and kiss me goodnight.
I know my son is much happier, too. His teachers have told me they can really tell the difference. And during the lockdown, we’ve been able to spend lots of quality time together. It’s been magical, actually. After two long, hard years apart, I get to feel a little bit like we’re making up for lost time.
I’ve still got a long way to go to make amends with the rest of my family, but I’m building bridges every day. I used to pester people with apologies and expect everything to go back to normal straight away. But now I appreciate the need to take things slowly, and I’m content with that. I talk to my sister all the time, my mum and I are okay; everyone’s in a place that’s okay, and that’s okay for now.
So long as these issues are still stigmatised, so many people – especially women and mothers – will continue to lose out on the help and support they so desperately need.
People think mothers going through addiction don’t care about their children – that they’ve chosen their addiction over their kids – but they don’t realise that some mothers don’t know their rights: they simply don’t know there is a way out, and because they don’t know how to get the right support, they give up hope. I was lucky. I was able to take power from the people around me and keep fighting for my son. But I’ve met plenty of mothers who aren’t as fortunate. When you’re homeless and at rock bottom, it all seems like too much of a mountain to climb by yourself. It’s far easier to just get that next fix and live in oblivion, rather than reality.
I now work as a Peer Mentor for The Nelson Trust and Turning Point, where I hope I can do for others even some of what my key worker did for me. My future dream is to improve access to substance misuse services in towns like Marlborough, where I’m from, where, because it’s a privileged area, social issues like that are hidden away from view. I strongly believe that if people were able to go to the high street to seek the help they need, rather than having to travel to other towns on expensive train journeys, it would make all the difference. As long as these issues are stigmatised, so many people – especially women and mothers – will continue to lose out on the help and support they so desperately need.
So many people gave up on me ever being able to carry out my role as a mother. My message is that it’s never too late. Mothers can come out of addiction and go back to being a mother. And for all the children out there who don’t think their mothers love them, they do – they might just need a little support.