Recovering from addiction: A Conversation with Annie.

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A few days ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Annie in her home, to have an open discussion with her about her past struggles with drug addiction. Annie, who is a single mum of a little boy, aged 3, lives by herself and has volunteered as a mentor for recovering addicts after she became clean. Here is the conversation we had together.

TMY: “When did it all start?

ANNIE: About two years after I started taking drugs.

When did you start taking drugs, how old was you?

Eighteen.

Do you know why you started taking them?

Why I started taking drugs? Because I wanted to be the cool kid didn’t I?

*Laughs*

Yeah my Brother used to do it all the time so I thought, ‘Oh I want some of that’.

Do you think you was influenced by him?

Probably.

Yeah. I think you are at that age aren’t you?

Yeah, plus – I liked drinking a lot as well, and I could drink whilst I was on drugs.

Did you start out with… well, I know you’ve had a bit of a past with cocaine. Did you start out with anything else?

No, straight in to class A’s.

*nervous laugh*

Gosh. Is that the time when you was at the flat?

No, I started all that when I went in to my first ever house.

Okay…

But, when I was in that flat, I was taking it every single day. So when I first started it was once a week, just partying, then by the time I was 22 I was taking it every single day.

It’s quite a long time to be taking drugs, was it like the 4 year stint of it? You didn’t have a break or anything like that?

No. 6 years all together I was taking drugs.

That’s a long time.

Hmmm.

When did it start to become to the point where you feel like you needed to take them?

Err, probably when I was about 20, and I used to sniff coke in the toilets at work –

Did you?

– Yeah.

What was you working as at the time?

A receptionist. In a gym.

Did you have anything going on? Like, in the background, did anything trigger it?

I don’t think so? Not at that time no. Well – I had a bit of an eating disorder at the same time, so maybe that as well.

I think illnesses like that, eating disorders, depression and other things go quite hand in hand with addiction, it’s that whole idea of self-soothing….

Yeah

It was a similar situation with me when I started self harming, I started taking paracetamol and stuff, sounds really daft because you can’t really  get addicted to a substance thats not addictive – it’s not chemically addictive –

You can get mentally addicted.

 – Mentally you can, yeah. It’s just one of those. When did your eating disorder start?

Probably when I was about 20 – no not 20 – about 18 when I met D.

When you met D?

Yeah.

Do you think she kind of had an influence on you?

Yeah I think she was a bit of a bully really, she used to always call me fat.

Did she?

Yeah

Gosh.

I know. So…

I know there was a lot of stuff going on with her as well. So with this eating disorder, was there anything else? I remember when I was going through the whole diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder…

Oh they tried getting me with that as well. But it’s, completely wrong.

…Yeah. I think it’s one of those disorders that they kind of like label on people when they don’t know whats wrong with them…

Yeah. No, I never told the doctors that I was taking drugs or anything like that so they tried like, diagnosing me with everything. I even saw a psychiatrist once and he even thought that I was Autistic, until I told him that I was actually taking drugs! *Laughs`*

*Laughs* Right… did you go to the doctors for help with it?

No not with that, I just… my life was just falling apart, I thought my life was shit so I was at the doctors every week, telling him I couldn’t cope with my life.

Yeah. It’s intense, to go through something at such a young age.

Hmmm…

So when did you first reach out about the drug addition thing, when did you first admit it?

Erm, probably when I was about 24, after my ex, A, had been in rehab. And then I got homeless because I couldn’t pay my rent, I was buying too many drugs. All my friends fucked me off, and I though ‘Oh I think I’ve got a bit of a problem here…’ And then the doctors as well tried to get me sectioned, and involve social services in my life because I was that off the rails and mental, but instead of having that… because you can never get rid of a section or get rid of social services being on your file or on your life. So I thought I’d better…*laughs*…try and sort something out with my life eh? And I thought I was going to die as well.. But I don’t know if that was paranoia or not…

Did you have any friends at the time who you kind of, spoke up to about?

Not really, I told my mum that I had a problem with drugs…but, she could’t really do anything.

Was she there for you?

Not really. No. My mum’s got problems as well so I don’t think she finds it easy to see other people’s problems.

Yeah. Does mental illness or addiction or anything like that run in the family?

Erm, I don’t know, my mum has mental illness but I don’t think anyone else does. And my grandad was a gambling addict.

It’s… with my family, I see like a long line of it. And it’s all different things as well, it’s not just the bipolar thing, which is meant to be genetic – which is quite a scary thought really – Erm… but it was everything like S.A.D – seasonal affective disorder – addiction, alcoholism, and I didn’t know about all this until I started opening up about it.

Yeah, people don’t talk about it.

No.

I’m well paranoid about turning out like my mum.

Are you?

She’s well bad with it, yeah. Like any time I say something that sounds like my mum, I’ll like, shit myself.

*laughs*

I don’t want to turn out like that, I don’t want it to be genetic.

What’s she got in terms of mental illness?

She’s just got really bad anxiety and depression, like savage depression. But her anxiety, I can’t be around her when she’s like that, it annoys me.

*Seems agitated*

Like I said yesterday, when she was doing my head in because you can feel the nerves coming off her, like it comes off on you doesn’t it, people say that it does?

No, it definitely does.

It’s really irritating. It’s like having a child, it’s like a toddler, she’s like a toddler when she’s like that, I can’t handle her.

Has she always been like that?

No, she was like that since her mum died.

How long ago was that?

About 16 years ago.

Did you pick up on it when you was younger?

Yeah I think that’s where my panic attacks came from. From being around her too much.

*Nervous laughter*

Because you can feel it can’t you? But she would never go shopping on her own, and I went through a phase too where I couldn’t even leave the house, you know, I started getting the same things as she did.

Yeah. What about when you was a teenager? Did you feel like you was going through a lot with her, being the way that she is?

No, I didn’t even bother with my mum when she was a teenager, I rebelled against it all.

Did you?

Yeah. I hated my mum as a teenager. *Laughs*

Well that’s most teenagers really isn’t it? *Laughs*

Yeah, so I didn’t really speak to her, I don’t pick up on it.

You seem quite close now?

Yeah, we are now apart from when she’s like this. But that’s just part of growing up isn’t it?

Yeah I think so. Yeah, I had the same with mine, because my mum’s been ill since my dad left, she was fine before then, absolutely fine, and then I ended up leaving home when I was 13, because I just couldn’t be around her. And it seems daft –

It’s hard.

– It is hard. When you go through something yourself and you know you can justify it, and you know that you need people, but at the same time it’s a hard kind of ‘burden’ – if that’s even the right word – to take.

Yeah, it is. It’s well hard.

So did you tell your mum about the drugs?

Yeah. Erm, I think this was before… when was it? I sat my mum and dad down and said ‘I think I’ve got a problem’ and they was just like ‘Oh, right okay. Stop doing it then.’

*Laughs*

Do you know what I mean?

Did you tell them the full extent of it?

Yeah. I told them I just spent all my money on drugs and that I needed help and they was just like ‘Well just stop doing it then’. Which, didn’t help.

No.

But I think, after all that had happened with my ex, like he said my mum’s mum dying and your dad leaving your mum I think sometimes, it gets worse when something bad happened doesn’t it? So, like after that I started having hallucinations, like proper, and it didn’t get better until I stopped taking drugs.

That’s pretty bad.

Hmm. Yeah.

So was it the doctors decision to send you to rehab?

No, I did that on my own.

Did you? Like a self referral? Where did you go initially?

Erm, I started going to.. Well, my ex D told me about R.A.M.P – Reduction and Motivational Programme – and you went twice a week for two hours, and they just talked and did presentations about coming off drugs.

Did you feel like you fit in there, like –

No! *laughs

– Or was you completely in denial about it?

I was in denial about being in rehab, it took me about… even when I’d graduated from it, I thought I was alright, you know what I mean I just thought I’d got in to a bit of a shit with it. Even though I must have known in my heart that I was an addict, but I’d never admit it.

Yeah

And then obviously I relapsed, I went a bit off the rails again, I relapsed for about 6 months, and then I genuinely thought I was going to die from it, then I just stopped myself.

How long, so your first attempt to get off them. Did you have support there?

Well I was in rehab wasn’t I?

I mean with anyone outside, like family, friends? Did they kind of take it seriously then?

Not really, no I don’t think they did to be honest, at first. But, I think when I graduated, they were all happy for me and glad, but I don’t think they understood. I don’t think many people understood, they were all like ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, you just like partying and having fun’. But, they only see the partying and having fun bit, they don’t see the… –

The aftermath?

– … Yeah.

Behind the scenes.

Exactly. And the only reason I was partying and having fun was because my life was shit all the rest of the time, you know what I mean?

Yes. What do you feel was missing from your life at the time?

Honestly I think self-love. Because, I didn’t hate myself, but I din’t like myself. And I had no self esteem, and I think just knowing and accepting that people care about you, instead of pushing everyone away.

Yeah.

Definitely.

It’s easy to feel like when you are in a situation like that.

Yeah, if you see yourself as a bad person or not good enough, you are going to expect that everyone else thinks that about you.

Yeah.

And in the end they will think that about you because they cant be arsed trying with you, you know.

Tell me a bit more about this eating disorder, how extreme was that?

Oh.

*Thinks back*

I think I got addicted to exercising first, thats how it started, I would do this exercise DVD like twice a day, every single day, and then it started to cutting down food. And at first it was sort of funny, because me and a friend was just licking the flavour off crisps and putting them back in to the bag so we had the flavour but you know, not having the calories. And then I started taking laxatives every single day, so if I did eat anything, I didn’t have to worry about it. It would just go straight through.

Okay…

My lowest weight was about 6 stone 10, erm, I looked like a lollipop, but like I just thought I was fat all the time.

Yeah.

But I though if I was skinny, then I’ll be pretty, then people will like me. But that didn’t happen. *Laughs*

Do you feel like you have recovered from that? Or is there still something there?

Yeah, definitely. I still always see myself as bigger than what I am probably. Like I see people wearing dresses, and they are quite big and I think, ‘Oh they look so lovely, you can’t even see they are a little bit overweight’, but if I have anything on, if I wear something and I can see that theres like an inch sticking out on my belly, I cannot wear it.

Yeah.

Like.. I just cannot wear that outside because I look too fat. Do you know what I mean?

I don’t think anyone can truly be that comfortable, well – comfortable yes, they can be comfortable with themselves – but 100% happy? I don’t, even when they are dieting – ‘Oh, I’ll be happy when I get to 9 stone…’, and then when they get to 9 stone…

Hmm, I think it’s when people compliment you though when you have lost weight, it’s an ego boost. You think if I lose more I will get more compliments.

Yeah.

But yeah, I am happy with myself but at the same time I’m not. I don’t think I ever will be with weight.

No.

This is the fattest I have ever been, and this is because of the pill, but like I always say, I would rather be pregnant than fat – I hate – like I actually hate being chubby. I can’t stand it. I feel disgusting. But what can you do?

It’s just one of those things, I think its a but part of being female as well, it’s media pressures and you know, some men who have these ideas that they need a pretty woman on their arm and not an intelligent woman on they arm… they are very physical aren’t they?

Do you know what though, sticking up for men, I think a lot of men don’t care as much as women do about the woman weight, or women think they care more than what they actually do.

Yeah.

You know. But some of them do, and some men are like proper up their own arses and expect that of women, but I think most normal men don’t really care a bit about belly fat.

I think it’s very magnetised in our eyes isn’t it?

Yeah.

It’s a bigger deal to us.

Yeah, and you want to be perfect when you have got a boyfriend don’t you, you want to be perfect for them? But, that’s never going to happen.

I wonder if men are the same?

I think they are, yes. Men don’t talk about it though do they?

No, no they don’t.

I know a lot of men who don’t like certain parts of their body. But they aren’t as bad as women.

No. It all comes back to that self-loving thing I suppose as well.

 

*Silence*

 

Did you get help for the eating disorder? Or did that all kind of dissolve when everything started getting a bit easier with the drugs?

No, that was the main goal in rehab, to learn to love yourself and learn to respect yourself. Because if you learn to love yourself you wouldn’t want to disrespect yourself by fucking your life up and putting drugs in to your body, *Laughs* so because the main reason most people take drugs is to cover up stuff. And it was about uncovering all that, and realising that whatever has happened to you, you are still a good person, you deserve a decent life, so most of the rehab was learning to love yourself. And empowering you and that. So that just came naturally.

So after the programme that you talked about, was there anything else involved in your recovery?

Just meetings.

Like AA meetings? NA? (Narcotics anonymous).

NA, yes, but after rehab, because I got kicked out of rehab for having a relationship with someone, even though I graduated, erm… it was with someone who was in there as well, like all the help was cut off. And the only help that there was the AA/NA meetings, but, because I didn’t have to go to them, I just didn’t. Because I was pissed off that they kicked me out.

Did you fall back in to drugs after that?

Yeah, erm, I got kicked out of that, and then it was like two days later when I started drinking again. And I thought, well I will just drink, I won’t take drugs – because I know that I don’t have a problem with alcohol – and then about a month – probably not even a month after that – I thought ‘I’ll just have one line, just one little line’ and then I was straight back bang on it.

Do you feel like they failed you a bit with your aftercare? Do you feel like they could have done something better?

Erm. I don’t know, looking back maybe because I was really angry but… I did break the rules. There wasn’t much else they could have done. But, I think a lot of the clients, they’ve all got this sort of like, complex, this ‘Oh, I’m clean so I’m better than everybody’ and if you relapse they all look down on you, so none of the other clients spoke to me either. So, all that unity which was apparent, that was there, went.

That’s a big thing isn’t it?

Yeah, going from feeling in a bubble, because I lived in rehab didn’t I?

Yeah.

And I had everyone around me, like, who constantly lived there; went to meetings with them, spent all my time with them, all of a sudden all that to go,  it was not nice.

No.

It was like being booed out of your mums house, you know? But yeah, because it was a bubble, and then when that popped it was back to reality.

Yeah. How long was you back on the drinking and the drugs after that?

About 7 months. But yeah one day, I think I just took too much drugs and I genuinely thought I was going to die. I thought, if I ever manage to sleep tonight, I’m not going to wait up. And then the next day I was like that’s it, I cannot do it any more. I cannot do it.

Where did you go for help after that?

Nowhere, I just did it on my own.

Did you?

Yeah. Because I’d learnt all the stuff when I was in rehab, but because I didn’t really believe it… I think the next couple of days I had a few drinks, and that was it, no drugs and I just thought, why am I doing this as well? So, I just cut it all off.

That’s big. That’s such a huge commitment to just decide by yourself. And in recovery, I think you need so many people to just cheer you on, but for you to actually say and make that decision yourself… it’s huge.

Yeah. I had to do it though. It’s jails, institution or death isn’t it?

*Laughs*

Well, I would have ended up being sectioned if I didn’t die.

Yeah. Have you, do you still talk to the people from rehab? Anyone?

I still speak to my counsellor a couple of times per week. After I got kicked out, he rang me a few months after, just to see how I was and I lied to him and told him I wasn’t drinking and that. But then when I got clean, I spoke to him a few times, went to see him, had a few meetings with him and then obviously I started volunteering there myself, and I saw him every single day. But we still met for counselling like a couple of times a week. He’s not my counsellor now I’d say we are more friends, but if I ever do need help I will say to him ‘Can we just go and sit down togged and sort my head out?’

 

 *Giggles*

So.. I was well angry at him though for kicking me out, but like, I understand now.

Yeah. It’s good that you have someone there, and after so long as well, how long is it that you have been clean?

4 and a half years now.

Wow.

Yeah. But I went in rehab nearly 6 years ago, but I’m 4 and a half years clean.

Do you ever think you will be tempted, or have you been tempted in the past four years?

Erm, no not by drugs. Only because it scares me so much, I’m scared of drugs. So… I remember once, speaking to my old counsellor on the phone, and I was saying – ‘Do you know what, Im really struggling with my life blah blah blah’-  and he said, ‘Well what would you do if you ever went back to it all?’ and I said ‘Well I would have my son would I?’ I wouldn’t have him any more. And he said to me ‘No, your son wouldn’t have you.’ And I just thought, no I can’t do it, the fact that my child wouldn’t have me in his life? It scares the shit out of me.

He is very lucky.

What my son?

Yeah.

You think?

*Laughs*

Oh I’m not sure about that!

No, he is. He is lucky.

I’m glad I got clean before I had kids. Because a lot of people when they are using and they already have kids, the kids don’t matter.

Yeah.

Because of the drugs, not because they are horrible people.

Do you feel like your mental health has improved since?

Yeah, well loads.

Do you feel like you have still got anything there at all?

Yeah I have some days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I have panic attacks still. I’m still on medication for it. I tried coming off my medication, I tried lowering it a bit but I just couldn’t cope with my life again.

What medication?

Paroxitine. But erm, I know it’s really hard to come off. Like, when I come off that, when I lowered it I just, I just couldn’t… I just got depressed again. The medication is helping. But I started having panic attacks again. Some days I’m alright, most days, 6 out of 7 days I’m alright, but even with like my child, sometimes I just want to give him away to someone who can look after him better. But then a few days later I’m like ‘I can’t believe I was thinking that!’

Yeah.

But sometimes when I’m like that, I just want everyone to leave me alone, and I don’t want any responsibility, I just want to, you know…. I just want to have nothing.

*Silence*

Yeah, I erm, I think thats hit home that for me. Because I think exactly the same thing sometimes. Because I just love my daughter so much, but when it gets hard, it erm…. I just want to look after myself.

Yeah. Sometimes its hard enough just to look after yourself.

Yeah.

*Silence*

Do you worry about your son going through anything like this?

Yeah I think when my mum, and sometimes my dad can be quite anxious as well, and when they are being like that I say to they you know, can you stop around my child because I don’t want you picking up on anything. I want him to be happy all the time and not like, worry about things, because they sort of pick up on little things and you know, express them, which is probably fine, but when my son is running around and my dad is like – ‘Be careful with this, watch you head, don’t do this! He’s going to fall, he’s going to do this!’ – Because I don’t want him to have all this anxiety around him.

They are very intuitive aren’t they kids?

Yeah. So yeah, I don’t want him to… because he’s a natural worrier anyway, you know, he’s a really sensitive boy, and I was like that as a child, I was so sensitive. So I am worried he is going to turn out like me. But, at the same time every night I will sit down and I’ll tell him at least 5 things that I love about him, you know to try and bring out the positives. Because I never had that as a child. And I think this is where the self esteem issues have come from, it’s just trying to prevent it you know, because if you are happy with yourself, not much can get to you can it? Even though I know mental health can’t be stopped, but it’s just trying to not let him see it, because it can rub off on people.

Yeah, of course it can. Course it can. I feel quite grateful sometimes when I think about some of the things I have be through, because I know I have got the tools to share with her, like she will always have someone. Like, when I was younger, I couldn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone. It’s not going to be the same with her.

I know what you mean.

And it’s erm, it makes me feel quite safe. I was the same with my mum, my mum was ill when I was growing up as well, and the only thing I didn’t want was to turn out like her. And I, well, I kind of did a little bit too much, and I ended up going crazy in my own way I suppose. *Laughs*

Yeah. Whatever is going to happen with your kids is going to happen anyway really, whatever happens, happens, but you can try an give them tools like you say. To be happy. That’s all it’s about really isn’t it? You just want them to be happy.

Have you ever thought about when he grows up, and when he starts going out drinking and partying for the first time, does that ever like, scare you?

Yeah! Because, I know what it’s like. Even though he’s a boy and it’s meant to be more different for boys isn’t it, you know, like ‘Boys can look after themselves..’ And you know, I know what it’s like. Because everyone does drugs, you know, everyone does them. I don’t know one person that hasn’t took drugs in their life. And obviously, because he’s not coming from me, got that genetic as well. That he might pick up on. But, I never want to really drink around him, or do anything like that around him. Because my mum and dad used to drink every night so I thought it was normal.

Yeah.

So.. I mean you can prevent it, you can try an prevent it as much as you wan’t cant you?

It’s that question of nature or nurture.

Yeah. I think he’s got the nature of the personality side. Definitely. Because I was so sensitive everything just got to me a lot, and when I was upset thats when I wanted to use or drink.

Yeah. So with your career you have volunteered and done the same thing, talking to people who are recovering addicts. When did you decide to go down that route?

I don’t know, I just noticed that they were opening a Women’s Only housing, and I thought I might as well give it a go, because it’s only women and I sort of know what I’m talking about. So I give it a go, I did the training and that, and I’d not been around recovery for years, like I don’t do this anymore, I don’t do that, and just being around it – I felt safe again. And I liked it, so it was good for me as well.

Yeah. A bit of a reminder about what you have done, and how far you have come.

Yeah, erm… it was like being back in that bubble again but not as… well, I was smarter about it this time, it’s not actually a ‘bubble’ it just feels like one. But erm, and then seeing other people happy as well, it makes you happy. Because I know now that I have a good life now, you know, I’ve got my child, I have everything I need in life, I’ve got my friends, and its just showing other people that they can have all that as well.

That’s really good. It’s really nice. I bet it feel liberating as well because it feels like – it sounds like – you are quite open about what you have been through, where as once before you may have been quit closed about it.

Yeah, I feel like I probably wanted to talk about it but I never did.

How open are you about it now? Like, new people in your life who are quite new and don’t really know what you have been through, do you ever say….

Yeah, I’ll always say it, I will always get it out of the way. When I met ‘him’ a few weeks ago, he was asking me why I didn’t drink hardly, and I said ‘To be honest, I had a bit of a problem a few years ago, I took too many drugs and ended up in rehab!’ And that, you either like it or you don’t.

That’s good.

I think it would be better telling someone at the beginning, than waiting 6 months and then saying ‘Oh by the way…’, because they would be like, why did you hide it?

Yeah. Do you feel more ashamed or do you feel proud that you can say that?

I’m proud that I have turned my life around yeah, I’m not ashamed of it because it made me who I am. I’m probably ashamed of some of the things that I did…

*nervous laughter*

…You know, but I don’t need to tell anybody that because the people who need to know, and the people I have had to apologise to know, but not everybody needs to know what I got up to. To be honest when you say that you seem quite open, this has felt quite awkward at times for me.

Has it?

Yeah.

It’s putting it out there I think as well isn’t it.

Yeah.

How do you feel now you have talked about it?

I feel alright yeah, because it’s not anything that most people don’t know.

Yeah. It’s a nice sorry to hear, I know there was a lot of bad things at the beginning, and how it all started off but… it’s a long way to come….”

RAMP (Reduction and Motivation programme) is a 12 week motivational programme aiming to help people recover from drug and alcohol addiction. The programme is held by ACORN Treatment and Housing, a community recovery treatment centre in the North West, UK. Their contact details can be found at;

Web: https://acorntreatment.org

Tel: 0161 622 1577

Narcotics Anonymous (N.A) is a global organisation which aims to offer recovery through a 12-step programme and group meetings. They focus on recovery from the addition of both drugs and alcohol. To find more information of N.A or A.A. (alcoholics anonymous) in you area, this can be found the link below;

Web: https://www.na.org

Talk to Frank is a great resource for information and support on drug and alcohol addiction. They also offer a confidential support helpline, email/text and live chat support. Information can be found at;

Web: http://www.talktofrank.com

Helpline: 0300 123 6600

To take part in The Conversations, please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com.

Megan x

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