Three years ago I was a person I don’t even know now. I don’t know who she was. I didn’t have possessions, I didn’t have a nice place to live, I was forever in and out of hospitals and police cells. I was at my lowest point ever of 8 years in addiction. I had slipped from a binge-drinking to full blown alcohol dependency. I woke up shaking each day.

I began taking drugs at the age of 14. By the time I was 15 I had moved out from my chronic depressive mother into a very chaotic group of friends, that at the time seemed amazing to me. Lots of other young people who appeared to not have any parents around, seemed to live by themselves and do what they wanted, including drinking and taking drugs. I loved it. I loved any drug I was offered. I’d take anything. Very quickly getting into a relationship with a much older man, my first ever relationship and it is still my very worst one.

By the time I was 19, that relationship was over, I was stuck in a council flat, on my own, not a lot of friends, and just drinking by myself.

Those first few years seemed to be great. Lots of raves, lots of friends, lots of great nights. But that all vanished very quickly, and I was just the ‘messy drunk’ the ‘kethead’.

The years continued; lots of messy situations, dangerous situations, abuse, isolation, job-finds and then job-losses; family fall outs, been took advantage of, depression, self-harm, criminal convictions and prison.

Just under three years ago I found myself once again losing a good job, and having to move to a horrible flat in Beeston. Surrounded by other drunks and drug addicts, it’s an incredibly depressing place whether you’re in addiction or not.

I’d become very depressed at this point, and was mostly just drinking by myself at home, getting more depressed, and then self-harming until I passed out.

My last appearance in court I had stolen someone’s bag whilst drunk for money for drugs, and the judge had said to me before I left “if I see you back in here you’ll be leaving through a different door and you won’t be going back home”. I remember wanting to kill myself. I’d been thinking like that for a few years, but those last few months in Beeston I’d made more conscious efforts of attempting to do so.

And there I was, without any exaggeration, if I’d continued how I was I had only two outcomes. I was either going to end up killing myself or get sent to prison.

Something made me want to stop. I was just so beyond fed up of how I felt, how I was and how my life was.

I spoke to my housing worker, and we arranged me doing an at-home-detox, as I did not want to go into rehab.

I postponed it once, but went the second time. On the morning of my detox I looked around at all the cheap plastic empty cider bottles I had littered about, and finally finding a bottle that had some still in it, drank the rest of it, before starting to walk from Beeston up to Leeds Addiction Unit. That was the last time I had anything alcoholic to drink. 

I had to go to Leeds Addiction Unit once a day for five days. The first few days were horrendous. I felt so ill, I was given Librium and the withdrawals were shocking. I had no money at all, so I walked the two and a half miles there and back each day. The first few days I was so incredibly ill and still don’t even know how I managed to make it there, but something kept me going. The first few days felt like an eternity, but I did slowly start to get better. Once I had completed those 5 days, I started taking antibuse.

The following week I began recovery courses. I started attending groups and meetings.

I found they helped. Filling my days with different things to do and go to. A few weeks before, my life had been a routine of drinking until I passed out, waking up with a dry throat at 2am, been wide awake and sitting watching police shows until the shop opened at 7.30am and I could go buy some cider. It was the cheapest thing for the largest amount which would get me smashed. And if I had got my benefits then I was able to buy ket and get doubly-smashed. That was my life routine. Maybe throw in collapsing somewhere and waking up in hospital or stealing something and waking up in a cell.

The thought of even going two weeks without drinking terrified me. I couldn’t understand how I would celebrate a birthday without taking drugs, how I would have a hen party without drinking.

Not looking too ahead helped me, at that point, literally one day at a time was all I could do. But that worked.

Fast forwarding to now, if someone had told me whilst I was sat in that disgusting flat downing 3 litres of cider at 8 in the morning that I would have moved completely out of Leeds to go to one of the best universities in the country, I’d not have known what to say to you. But that’s what’s happened.

I began volunteering not long into my recovery, then started an access course at college. That then got me 5 university offers. They didn’t care that I had convictions, once I began explaining about them and where I had been to where I was then, it showed to them that I had completely turned my life around.

I secured a job and moved up to Durham to begin a degree in Criminology. I’m now in my second year, I’ve maintained employment throughout my entire time here whilst at uni. I volunteer for Barnardo’s and NEPACS, where I work in Durham Crown Court and help the families of people who have just been sentenced to custody. I now have a sessional job position at a place I began volunteering a year ago, which is a male homeless hostel. I run a recovery group there, and work with up to 50 men, many also with addictions.

Out of all of these achievements so far, my personal proudest one has been my driving. I’ve now been able to was been able to pay for driving lessons, and in the last 3 months I’ve passed my test and just got my first car.

I have achieved that and given myself that freedom, when for years and years I’d never been allowed, or would have been safe behind a wheel of a car, is the most amazing thing for me.

I’ve just done a skydive. That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. I’m now looking into a course to learn how to become a licenced skydiver and begin it as a sport. I would never even had the money to do anything like that if I was still in addiction.

The thrill and rush I’ve got just from those two examples alone is more than I’ve ever got off drugs. And they are still here now with me and are mine. They aren’t things that are going to fade away within a day.

My recovery is amazing, and what I have achieved is so far incredible. But life is hard. Its really bloody hard. Things still happen and come along that I have to now deal with soberly, no matter how raw or painful they may be. I am still finding who I am, and how I deal with things. But I know if I were to even have one drink, I would loose everything I have now, and will end up where I was 3 years ago. I won’t ever let myself get complacent, because you need to remember that you only have the things you have now BECAUSE you have stopped doing what you were doing. Whatever issues or problems arise and have thrown themselves at me, the thought of drinking or using doesn’t even come enter my head now.

But I can’t and won’t ever forget where addiction can take you if you let it.

Just last week a friend I had met in recovery has died from a drug overdose. Its so incredibly sad, but a startling reminder to each and everyone of us.

Value your recovery as much as you valued your addiction.

I’m not going to say one type of recovery is better than another, because I don’t believe that. I didn’t work the 12 steps to get to where I am now, but I know that works fantastically for others.

I know I can always just pick up the phone, ring someone, or go do something else to work through and deal with things. I know that if I need and want it, there is support there for me. There is always support within recovery for anyone and everyone who wants it.

Things were able to change for me gradually but dramatically, but only when I was completely ready for it. I have reinvented myself, my life and my coping mechanisms. However bad some of my past has been, I wouldn’t change any of it. It has made me who I am today, made me get to where I am now, and given me the passion for the path I want to take in life. I feel I’ve given myself a second chance at life.

I’m just incredibly thankful it happened at the age it did for me, and I’m still amazed everyday at the opportunities that are now available to me.