If you looked at all the things that have happened in my life you would think I was two different people.
My CV would say been to uni, got a degree, done all this good stuff. But then there’d be heroin addict, prostitute, been raped, been to prison four times, stolen from her family, had her children removed twice, overdosed on heroin accidentally three times, had to have ambulances turn up. It doesn’t add up.
I had a happy childhood. I am from quite a conventional family really. Both my parents were together, they stayed married. I had a sister and a brother, I was the youngest. We grew up in a nice area, I had a good education and went to a private all girls’ secondary school. But I didn’t do great cos I was a bit of a day dreamer and I liked socialising and just having fun. I didn’t really want to do much school work. I got my five O-levels and then went to sixth form college. I completely failed my A-levels, and didn’t get into uni, so I went to college instead.
Just before I was 18, I went round Europe travelling, that’s a really happy memory. I loved travelling, I loved French, I loved music. My older brother used to take me to gigs from me being like 10-years-old and by the time I was 15 I was going with my friends and trying to blag my way into sold out gigs and bribing the doormen to get me in, which actually worked well. So I was really happy, I had friends and started going out.
When I was 18, I started going out to places like The Hacienda, and then the party drugs started. It was just kind of, wanting to fit in with everybody else. Then a bit later after that, I met someone who was using heroin, and I fell in love with it and by the time I was 21, I was addicted. I was just really naïve I think and I wanted adventure, you know. I was just a bit reckless.
By the time I was 22 I’d already been arrested. My boyfriend would give me cheque books and cards and I’d go and sign the cheques to make money. I’d lost the job that I had in an office and by the time I was 23, I was smoking crack as well as injecting heroin. And my parents knew about it, because the house had been raided when I’d been arrested. They were heartbroken but just wanted to help. They never kicked me out of the house, they put up with a lot.
When I was 23 I was kidnapped by dealers who the guy I was with at the time had stolen from. I managed to escape and I ended up having to have a six car armed police armed response unit come to get me out of this pub where I had hidden.
I then thought I could leave it all behind by moving to London with a methadone script. But then the script ran out, and I ended up homeless in Brixton at 24. I started working as a prostitute on the streets of Streatham and Brixton, being beaten up by pimps. I was raped with a knife to my throat down an alley. I didn’t report it to the police, just ran back to the house where I was staying and had a quick bath and went straight back out again to earn more money.
Then I was arrested again for handling stolen goods. I was with a guy who was doing street robberies and I was in prison for about four months. That was the second time I’d been in prison. I was relieved, just to be somewhere safe, and somewhere where I had a roof over my head every night and I wasn’t running from people. I had a detox inside and came out. When I returned home, I started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but they didn’t last, and I started taking the heroin and crack again. Maybe I just wasn’t ready, I don’t know.
By this time I’d lost everything. Because I’d ended up homeless, I’d left all my vinyl at my dealer’s flat, and I went there one day, and he wasn’t happy about something so he was hitting me with this big stick with nails in it and refusing to let me leave. So I just had to get out of the flat while he was asleep. It was a really chaotic time.
It was another couple of years before I got funding to go to Phoenix House in Sheffield. I spent a year there and came out and I was fine for quite a long time. I started going to college, it was a mature access course. Then I decided I wanted to start uni. I went to Sheffield to do my degree but I got pregnant at the end of my first year with my eldest daughter, and I took a year out, split up with her dad in the middle and then went back to uni.
I did really well in my degree, I got a 2.1. So, I went ahead with my career and I just loved it and it was going quite well. Then I met my youngest daughter’s dad, who was, just like me, a raging addict. But he was probably a bit further away from not using the heroin, crack and coke and whatever. I thought I was strong enough to deal with that and I wasn’t. When I found out he was snorting coke when we went out I decided I wanted some.
I got pregnant again had my second daughter in 2006. Through the pregnancy, because I had given up the drugs, I still had the odd drink, but nothing like I had before. But he didn’t. He’d go out partying and come back and then we’d have a huge fight and it got physical. I actually came out worse and that happened twice while I was pregnant, and you know I ended up phoning the police. But in your mind you think, ‘I’m not a battered wife because I’m not thinking “is he gonna hit me every time he walks in the house?”’.
It’s like you put a bit of the blame on yourself and think, ‘well, I really provoked him’. It’s like not wanting to accept a situation, or, not wanting to say what it is. It did get to the point where I didn’t really want to say anything to him, cos I knew where it’d end up. But still in my mind, I’m not experiencing domestic violence. It was just always this attitude of it’ll be alright or it’s my own fault.
But still I had these two absolutely beautiful girls, just perfect, and, you know, I was quite happy. Just before I had my youngest daughter, I decided I wanted to go back to university and do a masters. I had her half way through – so I had a baby half way through both of my degrees – and then went back to finish it. I did quite a lot of qualitative research with in-depth interviews and participation. I loved it, and I really, really wanted to put that to some kind of use afterwards. But I relapsed on crack and heroin probably five months after I’d finished that MA.
We were at a party one night and my partner offered me a pipe with crack in it. I was already drunk and had had coke and I just took it. It was like a button was switched and I just couldn’t stop. Within weeks we ended up on crack and heroin again. My children were removed because my eldest couldn’t wake me or my partner up and she thought we were dead. The girls were both separated from each other at that point. I went to live back with my parents and I was told at that point to to get on a methadone script, to stabilise and go to contact and the assessments and in six months’ time I’d get my children back. And that’s what I did and that’s what happened.
I think, when the care proceedings were starting, if somebody had said to me, ‘In order to get your children back, you need to get clean and you need treatment, you need help and proper support in what your problem is, and you need to address it so that you can move forward in your life’, I’d have done it. But, it’s almost like they just stick a plaster on it. Medicate her with methadone, keep her happy, she’ll be fine. They don’t really understand that in order to recover, you’ve got to be abstinent and you’ve got to be clear-headed, not medicating.
So the girls came back to me and within two years they’d been removed again because I just hadn’t addressed anything. I was still on methadone. I started bumping into people at the drug service. I had a bit of money in my pocket, and with the difficulties of being a parent and just not knowing what to do, it’s like I thought ‘just this once’. It had still not quite sunk in that ‘just this once’ never actually happens. So then I started shoplifting and I got arrested a few times.
Eventually, I was in prison for the fourth time on remand and social services phoned the girls’ dads and said, come and get your daughters and take them out of our county – well they didn’t actually say that in words but they might as well have done – so they’re no longer our responsibility and we don’t have to pay for them. Really the girls could have stayed together, my sister was there, she’d have taken them both. I was never consulted in the girls staying together. And it was just like, this is the easiest option.
I got into treatment but they told me that to detox, I had to stop using heroin on top of methadone. I really, really wanted to, but I just couldn’t. Then, my dad got diagnosed with leukaemia and he was dying. I was sat at his bedside once, he told me he had like four to six months left, and I just thought, ‘What are you doing? You’re putting this shit in your body every day to kill yourself, your Dad’s having to have all sorts of drugs put in his body, desperately fighting to stay alive’. And I just started begging again for a detox, and, eventually a doctor said yes.
From the moment I went in, I did a really quick detox, and I sailed through it. I’ve never, ever, not one single day since, wanted to use drugs again. I might fancy a Southern Comfort and coke every now and again, bloody hell. You just have to get over it, and think, well this is a choice I’ve made, and these are the reasons I’ve made that choice. I promised my dad. I saw him the week before he died and I said to him, ‘I want you to stop worrying, it’s over, that’s it. I’m gonna be ok, and the girls are gonna be back with me and I don’t want you to worry’. My dad died when I was four weeks clean. I just will not break that promise.
I have been clean since March 2013. I am now totally self-sufficient and working for a charity, supporting other women who are experiencing similar issues to the ones I’ve been through.
Now, both my daughters are back in my care. I am overjoyed, cos that’s what I got clean for. It’s been tough though, especially for the older one. She’s had quite a few big changes, she’s had trauma in her life, she’s been let down. It’s a massive adjustment for the whole family really – but we do really love each other. This is the first time that the three of us have lived together, just the three of us, and I couldn’t really ask for any more.
Zara is not her real name.