Written by Standard Issue

Voices

A heroin-free Christmas

Charity Changing Lives helps thousands of troubled women every year, and looks to employ ex-service users where possible. Mary, 37, is one such example: she is looking forward to Christmas for the first time since she was a teenager after struggling with long-term heroin addiction.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Heroin addiction is a subculture. Like Harry Potter and the Muggles – two different worlds going on in the same street.

Christmas Day is a really rubbish day when you’re a heroin addict. You see everyone else preparing for Christmas and see the twinkly lights and crave for the normal life you once had. You wish you were part of it but all you really want to do is find your next fix – and there aren’t that many people around to supply you with the heroin.

Christmas was irrelevant to me. I was incapable of looking forward to something in the future – I was addicted to instant gratification. Trouble was, the physical effect of heroin would last a few hours but the psychological effects would last just a few minutes, a few minutes when I would feel calm, relaxed, content, happy and feel brief relief from the depression and worry that plagued me day and night. I was self-medicating against stress and anxiety.

A heroin addict from the age of 19, I would spend Christmas Day in a squat with fellow addicts – off my face if I was lucky. I wouldn’t dream of going home for Christmas. To the people I hung out with, Christmas wasn’t a ‘thing’.

There’s no partying, no fun, when you’re taking heroin. I saw my boyfriend stabbed in the street by a fellow alcoholic. One day I came home to the squat from my job at a factory to be met by my boyfriend and his friend. They were waiting for me to get cash. I went to the cashpoint and they beat me up for my money.

I couldn’t go to work the next day because of my bruises so I never bothered to go back. My boyfriend’s uncle worked there and I didn’t want to drop him in it.

“I was so depressed I didn’t care what happened to me. I put myself in dangerous situations time and time again.”

I had loving parents and a lovely childhood in the north-east. The trouble was, I struggled at school with undiagnosed dyslexia and I was labelled thick. My sister was a high achiever so I thought I might as well be the bad one.

My mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was 18 and my parents thought it would be better for me not to have to live at home. So I got a job in Scotland and hopes were high. I thought it was a great opportunity and a chance for a new start.

I started taking heroin at 19 while I was working in a hotel. The funny thing about hotels is you’ll find a lot of the staff are running away from stuff – and a lot of hotel staff take drugs. We all stayed in hotel accommodation and I was persuaded to take heroin for the first time. To be honest they didn’t have to persuade me much. I loved it the first time.

You can work when you’re on heroin – I was much nicer to the guests when I was! Trouble was, my main objective for any given day was when and how I could get drugs, not going to work. When I wasn’t taking heroin I struggled to go to work. Eventually the chaos caught up with me and I got sacked.

Everything revolves around money to buy drugs – that and the opportunity to score. I was so depressed I didn’t care what happened to me. I put myself in dangerous situations time and time again. I wasn’t bothered: ‘if it’s the end, it’s the end’ was my philosophy.

I visited my parents every few months and they knew little or nothing of my situation; their own situation was so sad and difficult it didn’t really register.

Eventually I secured rehab with my doctor back at home as I could get no help in Glasgow. To cut a very long story short, I was back living with Mum and Dad aged 22, with a new baby.

“This is the first Christmas I’ve really been able to afford. It’ll be me, the two boys and some really lovely friends enjoying Christmas and each other’s company.”

I had quit drugs as soon as I realised I was pregnant, but then I moved in with his father and wouldn’t you know that a heroin dealer was a close neighbour. My baby was six months old when I took up heroin again.

In the space of six months I lost both parents. My dad died of cancer six months after my mum died and I had looked after my mum as her main carer.

I used the money I inherited from selling their house to buy a house for me and my baby. I was terrified I would spend it on drugs if I didn’t and I was determined he was not going to grow up with a heroin addict mother.

I didn’t have anything left. I was scared social services would take him away if I got back on the drugs. I couldn’t bear to have him taken away from me. I went back to rehab.

Two years later I got pregnant again. I was living alone with two children in quite a remote part of the north-east struggling with relentless severe depression. I literally had to drag myself out of the house to take the kids to nursery. I rang every agency to get help to address my mental health but to no avail.

One year I took the kids camping to Scotland. I drove to the street where I lived in the squat with my ex-boyfriend. I couldn’t stop shaking. Just for a second I wanted to go back to my old life, to remember what it felt like. I took some pictures just to have my memories. They’re all horrible memories but they are MY horrible memories.

“Christmas was irrelevant to me. I was incapable of looking forward to something in the future – I was addicted to instant gratification.”

Then a neighbour mentioned a college course and on a whim I signed up for an employability course. They diagnosed my dyslexia – at long last! And then the best thing happened: I heard about Changing Lives.

I started volunteering in various projects and then underwent their employability training. I loved it and I have never looked back. I did a placement at an IT company and they kept me on in a temporary role. Then I heard about a permanent job at the charity and I applied for that.

I’ve been at Changing Lives for over a year now and love being part of a team, having something to do every day. The kids are proud of me. I really enjoy being a normal member of society. I was so embarrassed to be on the dole.

This is the first Christmas I’ve really been able to afford. It’ll be me, the two boys and some really lovely friends enjoying Christmas and each other’s company. I have a warm house, full of love and am looking forward to the festive season, a time I previously hated.

My boys haven’t been spoilt with material things but they appreciate all that they have been given. I have done a good job with my boys and love spending time with them. My hope for them is that they settle down and have normal lives – I hope I’ve made all the mistakes for all of us. It’s the kids who saved my life and it’s Changing Lives that changed and improved my life no end.

@ChangingLives__

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Written by Standard Issue