Relentless optimist



Joanne’s story

I was born in Canada to British parents and, although I came from humble beginnings, we were always an adventurous family and would move around a lot quite often. On the one hand, I loved it but on the other, I think it started to play a role in making me feel quite unstable in my social relationships because I never really had a place to call my home.

Early on, it was quite noticeable that I was a very driven person with bundles of energy and this would often manifest with the way I would eat and the way I would read. From a young age, I remember having extremely disordered eating patterns as well as going to the library and picking up fifteen books at a time! In my later years, it made sense why addiction would be something that I was bound to face at some point in my life.

Mental health issues are also quite prevalent in my family; my own great grandmother was depressed for six years and couldn’t leave her hospital bed because of it; nor were the health professionals ever able to diagnose her. In my early teens, I began getting severely bullied at school and I remember feeling ostracised by the other kids; I wasn’t from their country and I had different tastes in music to everyone else. I would say that from the age of about seven to twenty seven, I would have thoughts of suicide – and that in itself was self-harm to me. Despite what I went through at school, I always had an insatiable hunger to learn new things – and it made me a straight-A student!

I began stealing money from a young age from my parents but at that time, I didn’t really see it as a problem. I do remember though that, one day, my dad had found out that I had stolen from them to buy chocolate at a school fundraising event to binge on them in secret, and all he said to me was: “the only person you’re lying to is yourself”. Those words would forever be burnt into my brain for the years to come.

I opened up to my boss, who was incredibly supportive of me, and less than a week later, I was sat in a recovery meeting in Berlin. That day was February 27, 2010 and I have been living drug-free ever since

At 18, I moved to London in what seemed to be a great time both socially and in my own life. I started working in music, often helping to sell vinyls and LPs – music would then gradually become a big thing in my life. I got sucked into the lifestyle soon after and found myself going to clubs and parties every day. I’d find any excuse just to stay up all night. Not long after, I started experimenting with drugs like speed and MDMA.

One day, I decided that I wanted to go to Berlin to forget everything and lose myself. In other words, I probably subconsciously wanted to become more reckless as I didn’t have any self-love. I remember telling my old boss, David Enthoven, the news and his face just dropped as he instinctively knew that taking that decision was probably not going to encourage my sobriety. I had always been really close to him; I felt like I could trust him and that he was the only person who ever showed me love. Despite seeing the way in which I was ruining my life, my boss never tried to force recovery on me – and he’d know all about the recovery journey since he was 25 years clean himself.

When I reached Berlin, I still felt horrible about myself. A few months down the line, I ended up getting into a toxic relationship with somebody who was still grieving over the death of their ex-partner. I never felt like I was enough for him but looking back, I could see that this was the feeling that I always carried with myself throughout my entire life. The end of that relationship signalled a breaking point for me, and I then knew that something had to change.

One day, after being awake for almost an entire three weeks and in a state of desperation, I called my mother and asked for her help. She knew how much of a bond I had with my boss and encouraged me to get in touch with him. I opened up to my boss, who was incredibly supportive of me, and less than a week later, I was sat in a recovery meeting in Berlin. That day was February 27, 2010 and I have been living drug-free ever since.

I went to Berlin to lose myself but didn’t realise that I was actually going to get clean there. It was like going to the gates of hell but then actually making it back alive.

In finding recovery, I have found myself – and I wouldn’t change that for a thing

My early recovery days were tough; I made a promise to myself to never use again, so I filled my time with a lot of physical activities and exercise. Soon after returning to the UK, I decided to work in a Mental Health Trust. During my time there, I could see that a lot of the female patients weren’t being heard, so I founded the first ever Women’s Institute group within a mental health community setting. I would often facilitate meetings with women who had complex mental health issues. It was a really fantastic thing to do and I was also supported by the National Federation of Women’s Institute to create the group. The model that I was working from has also previously been used in prison settings but was then brought out to be used in the community.

I now work full-time at Music Support as a Services Officer, as well as managing a classical violinist and also volunteering at Girls Rock London – so I’ve got quite a bit on my plate! After initially just volunteering at Music Support, I became a full-time employee in January 2019. The organisation provides mental health support to those in the music industry which are two things that I am passionate about; so I am really happy about being able to use all my skills and passions to help and inspire others. I am also passionate about Girls Rock London; as it empowers women to make a name for themselves in the music industry and to stand up to patriarchy. As a sponsorship officer, I am in charge of getting free instruments to teach the girls music.

I think stigma around addiction and recovery still exists, as people seem to have a specific image in their head of what an addict should look like and those ideas need to be broken down. We need to be open with recovery talk in order to destigmatise it. It’s really the only way.

I can look in the mirror and love the reflection staring back at me. I’m not afraid of who I am anymore

My life now in recovery is amazing – for the first time in 27 years, I can finally feel emotions that I never felt or even knew existed. I can look in the mirror and love the reflection staring back at me. I have now also found other things that I truly enjoy doing, such as gardening. I’m not afraid of who I am anymore. I’m no longer that lonely child. But the most interesting thing about my recovery, is that I was able to come to terms with my own sexuality. I now identify as queer and I am currently in a loving relationship with someone who understands me so well. For so long, I couldn’t even understand myself, but now it all makes sense. I spent so many years feeling suffocated by boundaries and feeling boxed in by people – but now I am just free. In finding recovery, I have found myself – and I wouldn’t change that for a thing.

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