Please be aware this piece contains references to sexual abuse, domestic violence and addiction, which some people may find distressing.
I grew up really confused me, like with religion to start with. My dad was Protestant, my mum an Irish Catholic. I ended up resenting religion.
I was never satisfied as a child being at home – I always wanted to be somewhere else. Which led to me being sexually abused by my auntie’s partner. I used to hear the domestic violence in that relationship – I was scared of the man who was responsible for my abuse. I was scared to say anything in case it made the domestic violence worse for my auntie. I ended up telling my nana about the sexual abuse that had been happening to me. I felt like I wasn’t believed, like she didn’t believe me. I think that’s when I started to not trust anybody.
My dad was a gambling addict, and my mum and dad were always fighting. My dad’s addiction meant there was sometimes no money to buy food or pay rent. One of my childhood memories was a rent man coming round to the house, and my mum telling us not to speak, to be quiet, so he wouldn’t know we were in. I felt scared. We had no money to pay the rent.
I had an unhealthy relationship with my dad. He used to borrow money off me – I had a Saturday job where I would work all day for £4.50 – and he would borrow it. I used lie for him so he could feed his gambling addiction. Keeping his secrets – they weren’t my secrets – they were his. I was being brought up that it was ok to lie. This built up a wedge between me and my Mum. This is one of the reasons I felt like I couldn’t tell my mum when the sexual abuse started.
I suppose I just started to act out in other ways. Bullying. Keeping secrets. I started shoplifting when I was at school. I was 14 and one day I wagged school, went into town, went into WHSmith and shoplifted. I was stealing stuff my mum and dad could never afford cus they never had any money – pencil cases, parker pens, rubbers, you know stuff you needed for school. I started getting a buzz from it – having all this stuff that I couldn’t afford, but I had it.
Growing up was confusing – especially around morals.
I met the father of my two children when I was 16. I’d just left school. I had a job in an office – a secretary. I didn’t stay there long when I met him.
I became a caretaker for my partner – he was using crack and heroin daily. I wanted to try and change him – I became obsessed with him. Maybe looking back, it was about thinking that someone else’s problems were worse than mine – it was easier to look at someone else’s issues and try and help them than look at myself and my own. Believing I wasn’t as messed up as I really was. I wanted to spend every minute of every day with him. That’s how I eventually started using drugs with him. I used to smoke crack with him, but I used to take heroin behind his back. He asked me to mind the heroin for him. I used to take it round to him in the morning so he had something to get up to. I quickly got addicted myself. I started regularly shoplifting – getting the money to get the gear.
I was in the relationship for four years. I left him and moved down to Newquay to try and sort my life out. I had engaged with drug services and was put on a methadone script for the first time. I got a job in a hotel and felt good.
Although I was doing ok, not a day had gone by where I hadn’t been thinking about my ex-partner. And one day I decided to phone him up and tell him where I was. He came down the next day. And that was it then – we were off. His control issues started to come out, he was jealous of my new friends down south, the new life I had. The first time he hit me was when he found the bottle of methadone in the wardrobe with my name on it and realised I’d been taking heroin behind his back. He just went ballistic. I felt like his anger was justified because of the secret life I’d been having behind his back. Even though I’d left him.
We then stayed together up until 2001. I found myself homeless and pregnant, with a massive drug habit, unable to stop using, even though I was pregnant. I was scared – I didn’t have any family – we’d lost contact. Isolated, lost, confused – I just couldn’t see a way out. It was the definition of ‘hidden’ homelessness – sleeping on users’ floors.
I’d been committing crime throughout this period – I got caught with stolen goods, done for shoplifting, and a couple of times for possession. I’d been given fines, probation, and community service and eventually on my last offence which was possession with intent, I received a 9 month rehabilitation in a residential rehab and 2 year probation to follow.
The fact that I didn’t go to prison just to be punished for the crimes, and not seeing the issues behind the crimes, gave me a chance. It gave me a chance to look at my issues and try and deal with my addiction problem. This is one of the reasons why I’m where I am today – that chance. A glimmer of what life could be like.
I used to believe I was worthless. A bad mum. Couldn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing. Couldn’t stop doing what I was doing. Didn’t know how to. Addiction had left me with nothing; it had stripped me of everything. I’d lost the ability to communicate with people. I had no social skills, and very low self-esteem. Until one day, I decided I’d had enough. The drugs stopped working.
I’m not going to lie and pretend it’s been easy though. Cus it hasn’t. I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. Overcoming a lot of obstacles that in the past have held me back. Co-dependency, abuse and trauma, domestic violence, addiction, the fear of no one in services understanding me, and judging me. Services not concentrating on long-term solutions – refusing to see me as a whole person, and just substituting one drug for another to stop me from committing crime, rather than supporting me to deal with the triggers and causes of my addiction.
I celebrated seven years clean of all mind- and mood-altering substances, including alcohol, on 24th November 2015. I’ve been back to college, volunteered in services, rebuilt relationships with my children and family, and am now in full-time employment.
I support women who are currently going through similar issues that I have been through – using my lived experience helps them to get identification and not feel so alone. I think women should work together, communicate and empower each other to make positive changes. And services should do the same.