Sam spent more than 20 years as an addict, battling to get clean and sober. But she didn’t want the methadone she was repeatedly prescribed by her local drugs service – she wanted to be abstinent. She tells Milly Chowles how she overcame a cycle of trauma and abusive relationships to beat her addictions by herself.

My husband didn’t tell me it was heroin when he gave it to me to smoke. He told me it was cannabis resin. And then after about a week I really started to feel unwell.

There was a programme on the telly about a boy who had a habit and was withdrawing and I linked it to what I was experiencing. I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and absolutely went ballistic.

We had two children by then. I can remember saying: “I don’t want to do this no more, I don’t want to go further,” and begging him not to go and score. And he just didn’t listen to me.

I remember just sitting in that front room watching him smoking, and feeling defeated.

The crack came in about a week later. I can remember watching him smoking it and he was going: “Just try one, just try one,” and I was like: “No, no, I will never ever smoke that stuff,” and I’d believe it when I was saying that.

But in the end I gave in, and I didn’t stop for the best part of the next two decades.

It is a phenomenal force. It just takes over you.

I’d started shoplifting and offending, minor offences. I got arrested quite quickly and I went to prison.

My first sentence was only eight weeks, of which I served four. While I was there the children went into care for a little while. I managed to get them back when I came out, but two months later I’d been sectioned.

So I rang up social services from the psychiatric hospital and said: “You need to go round to my house and take my children.” They’d been left with my husband who was using drugs – I knew they weren’t safe. And they came, they took them, and they were adopted within a year. They never returned to my care again.

The adoption papers were signed while I was in prison. I’d gone from psychiatric hospital back on to the streets, back into prison. And that’s how my life was for 15 years – in and out of psychiatric hospitals and in and out of prisons.

Find out more

  • Sam (not her real name) was speaking to The Fix, a series for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 about women and addiction
  • You can listen again to Milly Chowles’ reports for The Fix here

I can remember my last visit with my children and the obsession to use drugs was so strong that even as I took them down to the car, I was texting my dealer.

People say: “Oh you’ll find acceptance around it.” I accept that I was ill. And I can honestly say that would not have happened if I didn’t have the substance in me. But it’s something that I still haven’t forgiven myself for. I don’t know if I ever will.

I take full responsibility for my using and I don’t blame my husband. I have an illness.

But addiction all comes down to relationships and being hurt again and again, and being left with no trust. I was always in a relationship and every relationship was dysfunctional. Every single one.

The really sad part of it is that I really thought these men loved me. When I began doing sex work they would sit and wait for me to get home and then they’d go to score with the money I’d just earned. Looking back now I really kick myself that I allowed that to happen – that I’d go out and let that stuff happen to me, and then give over my money and share what I’d just earned with somebody who didn’t value me whatsoever.

How could they watch me go out there night after night, somebody who they’re supposed to love and care about? I don’t know how they could touch me after I’d gone and done that stuff.

One night I had a really bad experience. A punter raped me in his car. I just got out of that car. I didn’t go home, I didn’t tell my husband. I went back out and I found another punter. I don’t remember much of the night but I remember those two punters.

I went straight back out again because of the obsession to use more drugs. I needed the money. It’s that powerful. That’s the control drugs had over me.

In the end I met somebody else while my husband was in prison, serving a long sentence. I went from this co-dependent using relationship to a very violent abusive relationship. The progression with each relationship, it just got worse. And again I stayed.

Once he headbutted me, to the point that I passed out. When I came round the first thing I said was, “Oh, give me a cuddle please.” And I’m the one saying sorry for something I haven’t done. Absolutely nuts.

I stayed in that relationship for about eight years.

It wasn’t the heroin or crack that brought me to my knees in the end, it was the alcohol.

The two children from my second relationship had gone off to live with family. I was isolated in a flat on my own and my life for 18 months was waking up, and getting as much Tennent’s Super in me as I could. Some days I was too frightened to go out the door and get my methadone script – I would rather sit there and withdraw as long as I had the Tennent’s.

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I couldn’t even open the curtains in the end. Couldn’t take sunlight on my face. I did not want to be in any type of reality at all.

I despised myself, absolutely despised myself.

My friend Pat died six days before I was due to go into rehab. I can remember just smashing my flat up. I must have been screaming so loudly that my neighbours rang the police and the police kicked my door in.

I was on my front-room floor, screaming that I didn’t want to die. I’d never had a policeman hug me, but one of them hugged me. I must have looked such a mess.

I think it was in that moment I knew I’d had enough, I’d really had enough of it.

I’d been fighting to get into recovery for a long time. There were three different treatment centres and numerous detoxes along the way. But in May 2014 I went off to a treatment centre in Weston-super-Mare. I was so angry when I got there that they put me on a behavioural contract almost immediately. They said if I didn’t conform to it and stop arguing with everyone, that I would be discharged. I looked at this contract one night and thought: “I’m not going to be able to do this.” And I knew if I got discharged I’d use. So I decided to take control and made a decision to leave of my own accord.

I was still heavily scripted on methadone and valium, I hadn’t finished my alcohol detox. And I told them I was going. And they said: “Where are you going?” And I said I was going to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London. And they looked at me like I was an absolute lunatic. And I probably was, a bit.

It was a big leap of faith. I was homeless because I couldn’t go back to my flat because of bail conditions. I went to a meeting in Soho in London. And I sat in that meeting and I asked for help and that’s what I got.

Three people in that meeting aren’t with us any more, they’re dead. I really do grasp how lucky I am.

After nearly 20 years of addiction and in drugs and alcohol services, the services didn’t help me stop using. In fact, if anything I feel they kept me using longer with methadone prescriptions. They never once mentioned mutual aid groups. Their answer every time was more medication, never abstinence.

I stopped my script dead and I got clean in the meetings. And I am proud of that.

This month I will have been clean for three-and-a-half years.

Help with addiction

It’s not been easy. I got made homeless six months ago which was really frightening, really scary. It was an on-the-spot eviction, I was asked to leave straight away. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I got through it and I stayed clean.

I have complex PTSD, which I put down to to the sex working I did during my addiction. It affects every area of my life because I am so easily triggered. But I’m determined to recover from it. I didn’t come into recovery to be like this. But it’s manageable. I manage it, to get by.

I’m rebuilding a relationship with my oldest two children, and this Christmas was the first time I’ve had my daughter with me since 2012.

I now run women’s recovery groups in a day centre and I’m doing well at college – I left school when I was 13.

No, I don’t have a flat. No, I’m not in full-time employment. I’m living in a hostel, which is challenging at times, very challenging. But every time I look out my window and it’s raining, gratitude just comes over me that I haven’t got to go out in that rain and wait for a punter to come and pick me up.

It’s not perfect at the minute, it’s not great. But… it’s all right. Life’s all right.

Illustrations by Emma Russell.

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