A lot of my past was handed down to me through the generations. Addiction, prostitution and sexual abuse ran in the family, but this pattern ends with me. Whilst I had 20 years of heroin addiction, where my love of this drug obscured my love for my family, my devotion to my sons ran too deep to be buried forever and I was determined to be a better mother than my own. I’m now 20 years clean, reconnected with three of my sons and running a foundation to provide accommodation for women with a history of drug abuse and offending – supporting them to progress to living independently. It is my strongly held view that holding onto secrets keeps us sick and it is through facing our past and our darkness that we move forward. So this is my story…
Being exposed to all these influences, and having suffered so much abuse, it was no wonder I picked up alcohol and nicotine at an early age
Both my mother and my grandmother were prostitutes and addicts, so they were unable to take personal responsibility for their own lives, let alone mine. It was deeply engrained that we would all maintain family loyalty and keep the secrets of sexual abuse and mental ill health. This meant we all stayed sick and trapped in this world where drug taking and crime were the norm. My family had a real reputation and were well-respected in criminal circles.
My mother was mentally unwell and frequently slashed her wrists with a razor blade in front of me. She was also an alcoholic and dabbled with injecting heroin. I felt responsible for helping her, but I was just a child. One of my earliest memories was as a toddler being kept in a cot to stop me running around and seeing my mother on the floor cooking up and injecting heroin. I had buried this memory for a long time and it only came back to me much later as an adult through all the work I have done on myself. I was routinely handed to my mother’s clients, as she had been handed to my grandmother’s clients in her childhood. I was sexually abused more times that I can count, including by both my parents.
I even used to sleep with a needle under my pillow
Being exposed to all these influences, and having suffered so much abuse, it was no wonder I picked up alcohol and nicotine at an early age. I originally hated both, but accepted them from my mother out of a sense of wanting to be close to her and part of everything. I was probably nine or ten when I started drinking. I don’t fully remember how old I was, but I know it was far too young. I then progressed to speed pills, then snorting cocaine and then heroin when I was 20 years old. For me, that was it – I thought heroin was what I had been looking for all along. I threw up the first time, but the feeling of being wrapped up in cotton wool was too warm, comforting, safe and womb-like to resist. I made the mistake of thinking that the solution to all my problems was outside of me, when I now know that it’s an inside job. At the time, however, I buried all the pain and emotions, embracing heroin as my lover, my friend and my everything. The drug was then part of my daily life for the next 20 years and I would do anything I could to get it – including committing many crimes. I even used to sleep with a needle under my pillow.
The thing that eventually led to my recovery was my love for my sons. I had four sons – three of whom were born addicted to heroin. It doesn’t make me at all proud to say that, but I have to speak the truth and face my past. I was so deep in addiction that, when my waters burst with my third child, I didn’t think I could cope without a hit, so my first thought was not to go to hospital but instead to a crack house.
The thing that eventually led to my recovery was my love for my sons
I was in and out of prison for my crimes and didn’t pick up my sons for eleven years. I attended eight rehabs, but I never stopped trying. With a grim determination, I tried whatever was suggested to me and it was at the eighth rehab that I finally got clean and stayed clean. I found faith, but do not consider myself religious, and I also found forgiveness. I was able to tell my mother that I forgave her and I also eventually stopped punishing myself for everything I had done. I found a solid foundation of prayer and meditation.
This led me to the fellowships (12-step programmes) and to The Forward Trust (then known as RAPT), where I became a trainee worker in a prison and was then promoted to senior worker. They saw in me something I couldn’t see in myself. I didn’t have any qualifications and didn’t believe I was good enough, but I now realise I have something worthwhile within me.
With a grim determination, I tried whatever was suggested to me and it was at the eighth rehab that I finally got clean and stayed clean
Unfortunately one of my sons died from his own addiction at 21 years old. He had been clean for nine months, left rehab and the next day he was in hospital on life support after taking cocaine. My son would have been 36 this year and I commemorate his birthday every year. Previously, I deprived my kids because of my inability to think beyond my addiction, so I am determined not to forget them now that I am able to. I have a mug with his name on and a ring with some of his ashes in.
I am so pleased to be reunited with my other three sons and to have them proud of how I have turned my life around. I was nominated for an award, when working at the prison, and went to Buckingham Palace with one of my sons to receive a commendation from Princess Anne. When I was there, someone asked my son if he was proud of me for being at Buckingham Palace. He replied “I am proud of my mum every day”. Whilst both my parents are now dead, I have made my peace with them and can say that I love them and mean it, without any resentment or confliction.
I am so pleased to be reunited with my other three sons and to have them proud of how I have turned my life around
I now run the Treasures Foundation and have a number of houses for women who have a history of addiction and offending. I was shocked at the accommodation these women in recovery were being offered, where drugs were often rife, and I was determined to provide something better. I have more houses being developed and also some one-bedroom flats where women can progress to living independently. These women are vulnerable and traumatised when they come to us. Some of them can’t get undressed at night for bed because they still fear their abusers. (I can relate to this having addressed a number of fears relating to my own childhood sexual abuse.) Some woman here can’t take a bath without knowing there is nobody else in the house. Others will hide bags of vomit in their wardrobes to conceal their problems with bulimia.
What I want for the women here is for them to climb as high as they can using whatever potential they’ve got, so I am looking to start a business that will enable this. I believe every one of these women has a gift or a treasure in them and was stopped, by what happened to them, from reaching their full potential. We are all treasures hidden in dark places. I was never able to reach my potential as a runner, even though I showed great promise as a child, because my mother wasn’t able to nurture this in me. Whilst I’ve never achieved my ultimate dream of being in the Olympics, I was proud to carry the Olympic torch when the games were in London. I want our women here to reach for their own dreams too.
My advice to anyone experiencing addiction caused by childhood trauma is to share what you have gone through as it’s the secrets that keep us sick
The work we do in South Africa as a foundation really humbles me, when I see the little support that is available to women there. We are lucky in the UK, compared with this, as we have many more resources available. Help is available here. I would encourage people to reach out and grab it.
My advice to anyone experiencing addiction caused by childhood trauma is to share what you have gone through as it’s the secrets that keep us sick. Letting these out helps things to unravel. Just make sure that you exercise wisdom in who you share with. The shame that we feel starts to heal when we voice our fears and what we’ve been through. We need to be able to bring out the darkness in us and talk about it before we can progress on our journey. No secrets. No hiding. The truth will set you free.