My mum and dad had quite a volatile relationship, and they split when I was 9. My dad drank quite a lot and, after the split, my mum starting doing so as well.
She started seeing other people not long after she and my dad split up and would sometimes bring home random men.
Then she got remarried. Not long after, I was introduced to my new step-dad’s cousin, who me and my siblings were told to called ‘uncle’.
My step-dad wasn’t around much because he worked away, but my ‘uncle’ would come over regularly and soon began to sexually abuse me. He groomed me, bribing me with cigarettes and money. I was only 11 years old.
I tried to not be in the house so he couldn’t hurt me, but he came looking for me anyway.
Then he started doing things to me in front of one of my friends. My friend convinced me we needed to tell someone, and we told her mum, who went straight to the police. He was arrested and criminal proceedings against him started, but he died of cancer before they could get a conviction.
I was so angry about everything – what had happened to me, but also that he’d escaped any sort of justice. I’d been taught to suppress my emotions, so I didn’t have any kind of outlet for the pain. Then I discovered drugs. I first tried cannabis when I was 12, and moved onto amphetamines and speed when I was 13 or 14. Drugs helped me to cope.
I moved out of my mum’s house when I was 16 and got into a relationship with a boy who sold heroin. I soon started smoking it, not having any idea how addictive it was. My boyfriend was controlling and violent, but I thought that was normal.
I started shoplifting to fund my heroin habit and by 18 I had my first custodial sentence.
Whilst in prison on remand, waiting for the judge to make their decision about whether I would get a sentence, I realised that I didn’t actually want to be released from prison – I needed to stay inside, so I could make a clean break from the drugs. So I asked my solicitor to request a prison sentence from the judge!
It did the trick and I got off drugs and stayed clean for 4 years, until I was 24. But I ended up getting into another violent relationship that led me back to drugs and subsequently prison. I then spent quite a few years in and out of prison, all for drug-related offences.
When I was 30, I had my daughter. Not long after, I got pregnant with my second child, a boy. I was devastated when I found out at 28 weeks that he was stillborn, and had to go through the trauma of giving birth to him. It was heart-breaking and I really struggled, ultimately losing custody of my daughter.
I ended up back in prison, where I heard about a charity called Lighthouse Women’s Aid; they run refuge services for women who have experienced domestic violence. I got in touch and they gave me a place to stay when I got out of prison.
I knew I needed to do something about my issues with drugs, so I found a Christian rehab centre and got accepted.
It was a long programme – an entire year – but I’d been through so much trauma that I really needed that time to work through all of the things that had happened in my life.
I graduated in March 2017 and I felt like I got a lot of closure. I got back in touch with my dad – who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, but has changed and cut back on his drinking – and he came to my graduation. We’re still in contact now and I’m also back in touch with my siblings.
Two years later, I moved to Ashford in Kent with my new partner, who I met through recovery. He’s so different to anyone I’ve been with before and it’s so lovely to have a normal, healthy relationship.
When I got to Ashford, I looked up the local drug and alcohol service, because I wanted to volunteer – my dream is to be recovery worker. The service was run by a charity called The Forward Trust, and they had a volunteer role going. It wasn’t quite what I was going for long-term (it was an admin position), but it was a foot in the door and experience.
I was interviewed by the team and they were so lovely. I was really surprised when they got in touch to tell me they wanted to offer me a role – but not the one I’d gone for! With my recovery and rehab experience, they thought I’d be far better suited to a Peer Mentor role.
I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back. I now facilitate workshops and groups, including one on violence reduction. I also help out with their Alcohol Pathway service and mentor individual clients too.
Lockdown has been a bit of an adjustment! To begin with, it felt like a little bit of a holiday, but Forward soon got all our groups up and running digitally using video and messaging services – so now I’m busier than ever!
I’ve also completed a Peer Mentoring Level 2 course and am about to do another one in Substance Misuse. I’m hoping to apply for their paid Trainee programme soon too.
I’ve been clean for over three years now. It’s a miracle I’m alive, but I’m doing so well. The change in my life could happen to anyone. No matter what you have been through, recovery is possible if you want it.