Football Captain

Recovering Addict and Ex-Offender

Nikki’s story

I was born in Gravesend and raised in Dartford, Kent. I had a pleasant childhood. Growing up, life was smooth, and my older brother and I were spoilt.

When I was five years old, my parents split up. I still don’t know the real reason, but I remember them arguing most of the time. My mum moved out after the split, and I would yo-yo between them, spending time with each throughout the years. Deep down, I just wanted to ‘fix’ them and make everything okay again. But I knew I had to accept that it just wasn’t going to happen.

I began to cope with the changes, but something happened that really affected me deeply – my granddad was diagnosed with cancer. I was 13, and I remember completely breaking down over the news. My granddad was my best friend and my rock. I just couldn’t imagine a life without him.

I told my granddad I loved him and left the hospital. Two hours later he passed away.

At one point, the cancer went away, but it soon came back. During this time, my mother and I would spent a lot of time visiting granddad at the hospital. About three years into his battle, my granddad became extremely ill and it was clear that he didn’t have much longer left. I wrote him a three-page letter, telling him how much I loved him, and took it to the hospital to read to him. I started choking up five lines in, and had to stop – I was so overcome by emotion. I told him I loved him and left the hospital.

Two hours later my granddad passed away.

After my granddad’s funeral, we had a wake at his home. That was when I tried a little bit of whiskey. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I saw everyone around me getting drunk, so I did it too.

I started to drink more regularly. While I didn’t enjoy waking up with a headache, some of my issues magically went away whenever I had alcohol, including the difficult feelings I was coping with after granddad’s death.

At 17, I got a football scholarship to America. I was so excited, as I am extremely passionate about football and was eager to begin my career in it. A couple of months into the scholarship, I started going out every night with the others on the course. This led to excessive drinking and messy hangovers, which deeply affected my performance on the scholarship. After missing countless classes, I was kicked off the scholarship and sent home.

My mum was extremely disappointed and sent me to go and live with my dad. What made it worse was that she had dedicated a large sum of money from my granddad’s inheritance to fund the parts of my course not covered by the scholarship – and all I did was throw it all away. The feelings of guilt and hurt really started to sink in, but I didn’t yet realise I had a drink problem.

I started taking loads of payday loans to fund my drinking habit

My erratic behaviour soon caused me to lose my job, so I moved back in with mum. I was unemployed, but I still needed to drink. I started taking loads of payday loans to fund my drinking habit, which led to bailiffs turning up at my door numerous times. My mum had to foot those bills and she eventually kicked me out again.

I moved back in with my dad, and got into a physically and mentally abusive relationship with somebody around the same time. Looking back, I can see that it made my drinking worse, which led me to lose another job I had just started. I became so desperate for a job that I started to tell lies on my CV so I could secure employment – only to be sure that I could buy more drinks.

I got a job in London, where I got involved with the wrong crowd of people who enabled me to drink more and more. I’d stay out drinking for hours, sleeping in the office overnight until the next morning rolled around again. One evening, I was so drunk that I attempted to jump off of London Bridge. Police were called, I was sectioned for 48 hours, and taken to see a psychologist – but I wasn’t really interested in what they had to say.

One day, I made the fateful decision to steal from a former employer. I was released on investigation, and a year later, I was sentenced to 16 months in custody.

I had a really unpleasant time in prison and felt miserable for most of my sentence. I started to worry that everybody would hate me when I was released; my mental health deteriorated massively and I began self-harming. About six months into it, however, came a turning point for me. I didn’t trust anybody around me in prison, and even though there were plenty of opportunities to get alcohol, I decided to stay away and go cold turkey. Making that decision was a life-changer.

I was initially introduced to The Forward Trust in prison, but I was reluctant to engage with them because I was convinced that I didn’t have a problem. Around the same time, my mother got in touch after she found out that I had been imprisoned – she wanted answers.

Somehow, my whole perspective shifted. I came back a completely different person

After spending a few weeks in a different prison, I came back to the one I was originally based in, and, somehow, my whole perspective shifted. I came back a completely different person. I think that came from the moment I decided to be honest with myself and open up more.

I started to engage with Forward’s Alcohol Awareness workshop and AA classes. I learnt a lot from the workshops and started to come to terms with the anxiety and resentment I had buried inside me.     

After being released from prison, I have rebuilt my life. All of those fears I had while I was in prison were self-limiting – I just didn’t realise my potential. Looking at my life today – it’s crazy, but in a really positive way!

I now have a full-time job working in construction, within the Production Team for SOSEC & Instaboom. I had actually been introduced to the job by somebody at an AA meeting. I feel extremely comfortable in my role and everybody knows my story.

Fast forward to today, and I’m captain of the team!

I have also been able to return to my passion for football. The governor and officers at HMP East Sutton Park allowed me to train with Maidstone United Ladies whilst I was serving my sentence. At the time, I was insecure and worried about telling the players about my past. Fast forward to today, and I’m captain of the team! I also finally mustered up the courage to tell the team my story, which was received with acceptance and an open mind. Becoming a football team captain is a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl, and to finally be able to reach it is priceless.

Despite the experiences I have gone through, today I can say that I am proud of myself. I have a great relationship with my mother, I have a job, a place to call home and I am living my passion of being a footballer.

If you are going through what I experienced, I’d encourage you to reach out and seek help as early as possible. I am extremely grateful for the support I was given by the prison officers, my family and The Forward Trust. I spent so much time resisting support, when it was everything I needed to be able to build myself up to where I am today. There is no way that I would ever want to go back to prison, because I know that the loss of my family and the life I have built would be too much to lose. Looking at life through sober eyes is one of the most joyful things that I have ever experienced – and I never want to give it up.  

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