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Liz (36) tells her story of recovery

I caught sight of myself in the mirror ... what had I become? ... I knew in that moment that my life had to change.

I always had a sense that I felt very different to others as a child. I seemed to experience feelings on a much deeper level and often felt very overwhelmed and at a ‘dis-ease’, either about myself and how I looked or how I related to others, constantly doing their thinking for them.

I grew up in a very loving family, however neither of my parents was able to articulate or express their feelings about anything which was deemed ‘difficult’. Anger, fear, hurt, rejection was never voiced, and yet I sensed this from each of them, not towards me but circumstances in their lives day to day. How could I communicate anything of what I was feeling? Was it wrong to be feeling like this? Was ‘I’ in some way ‘wrong’? My parents treated me with love and care, I never wanted for anything other than emotional understanding, but I did not know how to ask for it. And so everything had to be ‘fine’.

I was sexually assaulted by a neighbour on several occasions which was frightening and confusing, and I did not know how to tell anyone. It stopped after a couple of times.

Looking back, I identify that I had very obsessive thinking about many things and my compulsive behaviours were apparent. My first addiction was related to food. It was the first substance that I discovered could change the way I was feeling. Soon after I discovered alcohol had a greater effect. I was 7 years old.

By the time I was 15 I had discovered drugs and a very fast progression into using Class As. My favourite part of my using was the ‘free party scene’. Ecstasy and speed, dancing for days in a field amongst hundreds of others. I finally felt a part of something and that everyone was the same. But the comedowns became worse over time. My behaviour changed even more, I was outwardly obtuse, aggressive, defiant, controlling and most of all, angry.

At the age of 19 I found heroin. This finally felt like my saviour. It numbed every part of me, I didn’t have to think or feel. I quickly realised however that I had become physically addicted and felt so sick when I needed more. I always wanted more. I wanted oblivion. I tried to stop many times and just couldn’t. Either the physical symptoms would leave me wanting to use, or the psychological belief that I just couldn’t live on a day to day basis without this drug inside of me, led me straight back to it.

I tried lots of different things to break the habit and get clean; I lived in various places around the country, sometimes leaving the country to clean up. I changed jobs here and there in the times I was well enough to work. I had different relationships with men thinking that they would keep me clean, but nothing worked. I felt so weak. My saviour had become my destroyer. Heroin was my best friend, and my worst enemy.

By the time I was 26 I lived in Cornwall and was accessing yet another drug support agency. I had a great key worker who encouraged me to go into rehab, but I kept saying I could sort myself out. My moment of clarity came one day when I was crying in frustration in my bedroom at home. I had spent the last 2 hours trying to get a needle into my veins. I was by at this time covered in bruises, abscesses, and was mentally battling on a daily basis that I didn’t want to use anymore and yet I could not stop. I was killing myself each day and completely powerless. I caught sight of myself in a mirror and was horrified and mesmerised by the image I saw. What had I become? How did I get here? I knew in that moment that my life had to change. Something inside told me I had to ask for help. I was broken and I could not do this anymore. I called my key worker and over the next 5 months she arranged for me to go to Clouds House. I was ready.

I went there on 4th April 2002 and following my detox, the 14th April 2002 was my first day clean. Hello world!

Clouds House. What an amazing place. I had needed to be plucked out of my environment and put somewhere like this. It was a beautiful house and at the time the grounds were carpeted by bluebells. At first I felt very anxious being around the other residents but this quickly changed. I had a great counsellor who was kind, understanding and who I felt didn’t judge me. The nursing staff and rest of the teams just had such a nurturing quality about them that it was difficult to feel anything other than safe, and that I was in the right place. Group therapy was really tough for me. I didn’t like sharing as I still had that sense that I was ‘wrong’. I am so glad that Clouds is a 12-step treatment facility as the 12-step programme has been an integral part of my recovery.

I quickly realised through the written work I did that I had used many substances over the years and that if I were to be completely abstinent, I would have a greater chance of healing. I had always wanted outside stuff to change the way that I felt, and now I was learning to change myself from the inside.

Narcotics Anonymous came into Clouds to share messages of hope, strength and experience, and it was at one of these meetings that I felt the hope of recovery and the joys that it could bring. The joys I had always wanted in my life but had always looked in the wrong places for. My time at Clouds was very dear to me. I laughed, cried, stuck to the rules, didn’t stick to the rules, made some friends, got honest when I could and left feeling like I had my whole life in front of me.

I went to a secondary treatment centre in Bristol and then onto a third stage dry house. I settled in Bristol and still live here now.

I had my life back and did all the things I wanted to do when I was younger. I went to college and then university. I joined a gym. I passed my driving test. I moved into my own home. I took on voluntary work, I progressed in my career, made friends, built relationships and bridges with my family and continued to be an active member of Narcotics Anonymous.

I am now a Paediatric Sexual Assault Counsellor working with such a fantastic group of children, all whom are learning to have a voice and express what they are feeling, no matter what that is. I am also about to start a personal instructor fitness qualification to enable me to teach studio classes at my local gyms. All in all, my life today is beyond my wildest dreams.

I hold Clouds very close to my heart for it was the place where I came alive. Every time I see bluebells I smile with gratitude.

At the time of writing I am 9 years 4 months clean.

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