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Sonya's story

Treatment provided me with incredible love and support

Less than a year ago it was snowing. Less than a year ago suicide was the preferable option. Less than a year ago I was pacing the streets, grafting day and all through the night, alone, in the most degrading, immoral and dehumanising ways imaginable. I ran willingly into horrific and dangerous situations and thought nothing of it. Anything to get my drugs. This may sound a little dramatic but the reality of drug addiction for me was akin to an action/ horror film gone horribly wrong. I still have to pinch myself daily. Really? Was that really me? And, moreover, is this really my life today? Is the sun shining? Do I have loving friends and family in my life? Am I really free from drugs and alcohol? Yes. Just for today.

For me, the events of my childhood do not need documenting here. What matters is how I felt. Like a beacon to negativity I soaked up criticism and made it a firm part of my self-image. I can recall feeling a whole lot of fear, shame, sadness, hurt and anger. Whilst utter self-hate was ripe at a young age, I just didn’t want to be me. But God forbid I should tell anyone this. Instead, I plastered on a smile to the world, told no-one and made out like all was well. Not surprisingly, therefore, I soon felt distant, detached and not a part of anything. I felt like an outsider at school, with friends and within my own family.

My behaviour was a little odd and extreme to say the least. Balance was not part of my vocabulary. I over-ate, I didn’t eat. I wanted to be everyone’s friend, I withdrew and hated everyone, I lurched from being an utter swot, desperate to please everyone all the time, to being the naughty kid, the crazy one, the one who’d actively kick and push any limits. I just wanted very desperately to feel liked, to feel loved and would pretty much have done anything for this. Dishonesty spilled forth into all aspects of my behaviour – lying, cheating and stealing soon became second nature. I had no idea how to assert myself and didn’t think myself worthy of having needs, so I became very adept at manipulation in order to get what I wanted. Surely, I surmised, the world had wronged me and thus owed me big-time? I was obsessive, particularly around food and exercise, loved books, T.V. fantasy – anything other reality and from as far back as I can remember I was intrigued and fascinated by drugs and alcohol. I was drinking and sniffing gas by aged 10 / 11 and didn’t look back.

The rave scene was kicking off in Manchester and, blimey, I wanted in. I was in full blown active addiction by the age of 14 with drugs being the main event - the only event - of the day. I had no concept of boundaries. I lived in a shed in my parents back garden and it became a haven for local kids to come and get wrecked. Before I knew it I didn’t know how to stop. I had repeated bad trips but it never even dawned on me that the copious acid and speed might be the problem. It never occurs to me to stop so I continue in all my insanity to do the same thing, again and again, every time expecting different results. It really didn’t take long for me to descend into a world of extreme paranoia. I thought the world and everyone in it was colluding with aliens, the illuminatie and evil spirits, to send me deeply insane. I couldn’t talk. I could hardly hear or see. I lost any sense of identity. I became convinced I was nought but a shed full of drugs, for others to use at their pleasure.

I needed out, badly. I locked the shed door, crouching silently in fear if anyone came knocking, and studied hard at my A-levels. University would be my ticket to freedom and happiness. How wrong was I? This became the first in a long line of ‘geographicals’. It never dawned on me that maybe I was the problem and no matter where I went, I took me with me. It never occurred to me that I might be an addict. University, and much to my horror, I was still me. I was miserable and paranoid. I busied myself with political issues, food and exercise obsessions and copious daily drinking. I had an insatiable thirst for life coupled with crippling fear which resulted in my behaviour becoming increasingly erratic and desperate.

I remember the first time I properly encountered heroin. A dark, dingy squat. A few rotting corpses clucking under blankets, heavy curtains drawn to keep the sharp sunlight out. No-one talked. Everyone rummaged hungrily for dirty wash outs and used syringes. And me? I wanted in. I adopted one of the inhabitants as my boyfriend and heroin as my true love. It took it all away, all the fear and paranoia and shame and guilt - in a flash, gone. It felt like coming home.

I was homeless by 20 and the subsequent years are a blur of abusive relationships, public toilets, shop doorways, squats, parties, prison sentences and hospital beds. I tried moving onto travellers’ sites but my drinking and drug taking was such that even this wasn’t sustainable for long.

I rapidly relinquished any hope of maintaining a job. Despite being brought up with a strong work ethic I embarked on the non-esteemable professions of begging, steal and ‘borrowing,’ and other demeaning ways of earning a quick fix. I’d sell my granny for two and two and sell my very soul for more.

Heroin was my staple but I peppered it daily with all manner of other drugs – alcohol, ketamine, speed, acid, valium, weed, G.H.B. ecstasy, methadone, crack… you name it. In retrospect, it really doesn’t matter what the substance was – I just knew I needed more and didn’t know how to stop. I’d never heard of abstinence. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t use to the extreme – surely abstinence was for aliens and aliens alone?

Twenty-seven, and it was then, during yet another spell in prison, I discovered to my utter dismay, that I was pregnant. I was full of heartfelt promises, to myself and everyone else around me that I would stop the drugs. On release from prison, however, I soon found that I couldn’t. I just don’t know how.

My son was born. There were complications at the birth but he was generally healthy and my God how I loved him. I loved him so entirely and wanted nothing more than to be a good mum. I tried my damndest to do all the right things – healthy dinners, bedtime stories, parks, museums, cuddles, but the drugs were rife in my life. I tried anything, everything to stop – college, moving house, changing acquaintances, scripts, counselling but none of it seemed to work. The consequences of this were huge. I neglected my son emotionally and took him to ever increasingly dangerous situations.

I took him to a graveyard. I was clucking and I was riddled with an obsession to use. The graveyard was littered with junkies and needles. My son was three. My ‘mate’ overdosed and I gouched out. I was awoken by the all too familiar sounds of stern voices and police radios. As I was carted off I glanced back to my little boy, stood alone, in his little yellow mac, hiding behind a statue. His face said it all. His little face, scared, confused, lost and alone. I knew that feeling so well as a child myself. Seeing, clearly, the damage I had caused filled me with horror guilt and shame that haunts me to this day.

I recall the guilt of using with my son fiercely. Heroin use, no matter how potent, was an increasingly futile attempt to quell my guilt and shame. I recall finding reality entirely unbearable by this stage. On my way to score I’d frantically stuff chocolate bars down my neck in a bid not to feel, I’d swim and run like a maniac and I’d consume ever more drugs to avoid it all. I didn’t know at the time this was what I was doing but I did it with all the zeal and determination of a wild animal. Following considerable struggles, understandably, my son was eventually taken off me and went to live with his dad.

I knew it was over. I knew I’d failed in that which I yearned for more than anything I’d ever known. I’d failed as a mum. The agony of this, oh I can’t tell you. Like someone had reached into my chest and ripped my very heart out. I had an overwhelming urge just to make it all go away. For a long time I couldn’t handle seeing cartoons, playgrounds or even boiled eggs because they all reminded me of my little boy and what I’d done. It took everything within my power to maintain the denial and, as if my using hadn’t already been coursing the base of an all time low for years, it nose-dived and headed dramatically lower.

I’d wake at 6.00am every morning in sheer panic. Silence where I expected the pitter-patter of little feet as my son would eagerly leap “Mummy! Cuddle!” into my bed in the morning. I would always ensure a bottle of spirits and a hit was waiting every morning and try my damndest to forget it all.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to maintain contact with my son but I was riddled with obsession to use and I only ever really thought about me and the drugs. Selfish to the core. I only ever considered my guilt, my shame, my pain and I frantically shovelled more drugs down my neck. I’d hitch to London and skipper out on the streets on my own in order to see my son the following day but more often than not I’d be arrested or arrive intoxicated or generally let him down some way or other.

The cardiac arrests, the prison sentences, my dad, my sister, my little boy on the phone, “Please don’t be naughty mummy.” None of this could stop me. I sold everything and anything I could get my hands on, and more. I manipulated, exploited and abused others and willingly allowed them to abuse me in return. Any semblance of dignity, pride, self-worth or humanity were long gone. Yup, like I sold my soul for a poxy 2 and 2.

Pacing the streets, trench foot, liver disease, skinny as Skelatore, white as a ghost, sporting black eyes and miserable as sin. I will never forget those last few weeks leading up to treatment, and nor do I wish to, for they serve as a stark reminder of where I go – fast – if I put just one mood-altering substance in my body.

I hadn’t even been able to maintain a trailer on a travellers’ site or a room in a squat for years so it was soggy blankets and shop doorways all the way. I refused to spent 20p on a loaf of bread so I was eating out of dust-bins. I recall being so thirsty one night I found an outdoor tap with a hose-pipe attached and sucked on that. Who does this? Is this behaviour even human?

In the remaining three weeks out there I was in court 3 times, I moved counties 7 times, I had a stream of various bad-news-fellas in tow and, my final night, I was shaking violently and puking into a Tesco bag on a bloody icy-cold squat floor, waiting for some arrogant-toss of a dealer, who was late, of course. I was being nursed by white cider, little sip by little sip through a straw, for fear of throwing it back up again. Raw. Desperate. Cold to the core.

Out late one night, I was offered the opportunity for treatment from an outreach organisation. I never considered that treatment might be for me, and I certainly never thought myself worthy or capable of it. I was cold and tired and just wanted to be there for my son so I grasped the offer with both hands.

My time in primary treatment was largely about relinquishing blame and bringing it back to me and looking at the horrific consequences I’d reaped on others throughout my using. I was given the option of doing six months secondary treatment at an all female treatment centre, Hope House in London. I knew I needed as much treatment as I could get but, “Are you entirely mad?” I thought, “All girls! Ugh!!!” I couldn’t think of anything worse. I’d never had a proper close relationship with a woman and it filled me with fear and dread.

Turns out, it was by far the best decision I have ever made. I was held and loved and nurtured and the counselling was second to none. The feelings that I dealt with during my time there were painful; loss, rejection, fear of abandonment etc.. and – the killer – shame. I recall one time, following an argument with a close friend, the pain being so incredible I sat on the front step, unable to move, not wanting to use but, instead, wanting so fiercely to die, to stab myself and die. All this following a mere tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte with me pal! Oh dear. I really lacked the most basic of coping skills.

I started to work through childhood stuff, adult trauma and began to grieve the death of my mum. I began the process of addressing my core belief of self-hate and started to develop a kind, loving relationship with a god of my understanding and, ultimately, myself. I have been equipped with the necessary tools to live a truly loving, responsible and productive life. Even the simple act of saying ‘no’ had previously eluded me. I feel that a lot of my difficulties stemmed from a core belief that I was utterly and entirely shit, worthless. Almost like I didn’t even warrant saying ‘no’. I was cared for and loved into starting to believe that maybe I am worth it, maybe I can do this, do life, follow my heart’s desire and be a mum. Thanks to Hope House, I now believe that I am worth it.

The best bit? The friendship. The girls. My mates. That I have loving friends and my family in my life is everything. Me! Having friends! Check it out! I still don’t fully know how to take that. They invite me over to their house for dinner and everything. Because…. And this is the bizzare part… because they like me. Not because they want anything from me. They don’t want my drugs, they don’t want to sleep with me, they just want to be with me. This means the world. That I have loving friends and my family in my life is everything.

The overwhelming feeling, on arriving into treatment, immediate for me and amazing, was one of unfamiliar, complete and utter safety. It held me through darker times. I recall a counsellor saying – just listen – you never know when you might catch a gem. So without realising quite what I was doing at the time, I surrendered, I gave up the fight, the battle, the struggle. I gave up and for the first time in my life, bloody-well did what I was told.

I knew I couldn’t trust me anymore. I couldn’t even trust myself to save a sorter for the morning, I couldn’t trust myself to visit my son as agreed so how could I trust my own decisions around anything at this time? I had no sense of identity – I didn’t even know what music, if any, I liked. Self-obsession was a killer. I couldn’t make eye contact and found communicating, socialising agonisingly difficult. Like a child in an adult’s body I didn’t know what feelings were, no matter how to handle of them. I had never even heard of boundaries and the concept of asserting my needs or asking for help was entirely alien. I struggled massively with self criticism and could barely move without a barrage of “You twat! You useless, worthless utter twat!” etc etc…

The treatment centre I went to is based on the 12-step model. I came in thinking: “My God, all that work, daily?” and “God… Prayer… You serious..?” but a part of me knew I needed a programme for living because for a very, very long time I’d floundered about, clueless. Treatment has provided me with the tools for living and a strong support network enables me to continue to cope with life and all its myriad of little trials.

I am, and always will be an addict. I now know that I have an illness. I was very sick for many, many years and I have to work hard, daily, to ensure I do not return to active addiction. My illness lives inside my mind and is a crafty, crafty, insipid bugger. It latches onto feelings and tells me to avoid them at all costs, it seeps, almost unnoticed into my thoughts with increasing self-criticism and negativity. It tells me I’m not loved and unworthy of love, it tells me you all hate me and… well it goes on and on and on…It wants me alienated from life. It wants me back curtain-twitching in the shed. It wants me alone, isolated and ultimately, dead.

This is a fatal disease and it’s easy to forget that. I have to treat it daily by working a programme and taking action in my life to do the suggestions laid out by the programme. It’s been hard. I still have to force myself through self-obsession and fear to connect with people, the right people, but I do this with all the enthusiasm and zeal of a red-blooded addict. I do not wish, at any cost to return to that place.

Treatment provided me with incredible love and support and nurtured me to start to develop a kinder, more loving relationship with myself. I can still abandon myself and want it all just to go away – dangerous – all too readily, so ever increasing growth and self-awareness is key. Spirituality, prayer, meditation, contact with a higher power is fundamental in my life and I find daily practice essential. I pray for guidance, turn up for life and hand it over. That simple.

Today, I have friends who invite me to dinner and stuff! Weird! Invite me to dinner! Seriously! Today, I am realising my dreams. I am following my heart’s desires. Writing was always a passion of mine but I just never believed in myself. I never believed I could. Realising my heart-felt dreams and following my passions I feel alive. It isn’t all plain sailing, it’s been quite a struggle learning new skills, learning how to live, life on life’s terms, as they say. Nevertheless, the buds of the fruits of my efforts are popping out and are faintly visible. And never, truly never, in my wildest dreams… Blimey!

Above all else, the best thing when all’s said and done - my son. My little boy. I see my little boy these days. I remember the first time I ever saw him without a drug inside me. He was six years old. He walked, nervously across an old car park, I guess not really knowing who I even was. I was struck, speechless, by his blue eyes. So blue, electric and I’d never, in six whole years, really even looked before to notice. Over the past year in recovery my son and I have begun building an open, trusting, playful and, the best bit, cuddly relationship. I came into recovery to be a mum. I appreciate that it takes time and care and ‘easy does it’ as my family struggle to adjust to ‘the newly emerging me’ but it’s about stepping up, growing up, taking responsibility. I know, now, beyond all doubt, that, just for today, I need to do everything within my power to ensure that I never let my son or myself down again.

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