This coming July 2020 will mark 15 years since I’ve been clean from heroin and crack cocaine. I can still vividly remember those early years of my recovery. Feeling fearful of the future, of the unknown, the uncertainty that kept creeping in, fuelling the fear. These memories are so strong right now because of the fear and uncertainty of the situation we are all facing today. The unknown.
In 2003 I was released from prison for the second time in six months (where lockdown and isolation means something totally different). I came out to nothing, no housing, no benefits, no possessions, no drug treatment, no support and no hope. I was homeless and sofa surfing and had been for years. I couldn’t find a way out, a way to escape. I had tried so many times for over a decade to overcome what I was facing. Each time I failed.
I hated everything about myself and what I had become. I hated every second of every day. I hated how I made money as a street prostitute to support my addiction. I hated that addiction had taken everything from me. I hated that I was hollowed out and the only emotions I felt were trauma, pain and crippling loss. I hated me.
I couldn’t see a future for myself that didn’t involve going back to prison, dying early because I was an addict or dying because I was a street prostitute.
I finally found a bed in a hostel with a locked women’s floor. I had my own room and for the first time in years I felt safe.
Maybe things could change.
‘I had to distance myself from everyone I knew, because everyone I knew was an addict’
I was refused a methadone course because my life was “too chaotic”. So I begged and pleaded and kept going back and I was finally put on methadone. I stayed at that hostel for nearly two years and these were my first few steps to recovery. And then I finally moved into my own flat and I remember feeling so desperately lonely. I had to distance myself from everyone I knew, because everyone I knew was an addict. I only went out if I had to and got there and back as fast as possible. I was struggling to trust myself to stay clean and keep strong. I was terrified I would bump into a dealer or another drug user and say yes instead of no. Then I’d go straight back to my flat.
Staying in my flat so much became a battle to try and beat the boredom. Where days merged into one another until they became “same shit, different day”, type of days, the days started to bleed into one another.
So I started to get creative with drawing, writing, sewing and knitting, anything to keep busy. I read more, listened to music and watched rubbish on the telly. I tried new foods and cooked cheap and cheerful recipes. I had found that if I didn’t keep my mind occupied, I’d get inside my own head and fear would begin its destructive cycle again.
I was just trying to survive each day the best way I could. And slowly I began to heal, both physically and emotionally. I became stronger than I ever thought possible. I became independent and drug free. These were dreams I never thought I could achieve and the first step was reaching out to people who had an understanding of what I was experiencing. My key workers.
My early years of recovery would not have been possible without my key workers;
Pam and Angie – at the hostel
Claire and Simon – at the Quays drug treatment centre
Graham – who helped me transition from a hostel to my own flat
Grace – my counsellor
I will always remember their help and support, their encouragement, for listening to me on the bad days, weeks, months. For helping me find strength and determination within myself. I will forever be grateful to these key workers for believing in me.
I never thought that I would use the lessons I learned in recovery 15 years later as we face the biggest health crisis this country has ever seen. With the vulnerable even more isolated and alone.
And like the past I am grateful to all the key workers who are helping and supporting us all through this time.
About the Author:
Amanda Hailes is a women’s rights campaigner, volunteer outreach worker and peer researcher for organisations including AVA and Agenda. She likes writing, drawing and spending time with those she loves. She is passionate about highlighting multiple disadvantage and championing those with lived experience.
Amanda featured on BBC Radio 4’s Unchained on short term prison sentences for women.
What Amanda’s Being the Story Talk ‘Sharing our Stories to the Streets and Back’
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