When Rachel was born in 1983, in Milton Keynes, it would have been reasonable to have thought that her future was full of free choices. However, she became a link in a chain of family behaviours that set her on a tragic journey that was destined to lock her in for decades. She was helpless at such an early age.
She was born into an abusive household. Her Father who doted on her, was an alcoholic. Her Mother suffered at the hands of her Father becoming a nervous wreck and struggling with chronic lack of self-confidence. Her behaviour towards Rachel was very damaging. Rachel describes it as:
“Emotionally abusive and spiritually soul-destroying”.
Rachel loved her Father and was very close to him although she didn’t know that he was an alcoholic. She enjoyed their times together. She looked forward to going out in the park and just being part of the family. They were respites from the destructive atmosphere at home. Mental security was bad and Rachel sought solace, comfort and stability from familiar things; these were her first obsessions.
At primary school her packed lunches were the same every day – jam sandwiches, can of Lilt and a Kit-Kat. If there was anything different from it, she wouldn’t touch it. She was in control. For 2 years she used to wake up especially early, so she could watch one of her 3 favourite films ( Convoy , Every Which Way but Loose, and Any Which Way you Can) before going to school. They were familiar and comforting, and helped her escape from her reality.
When she was 9 years old the lack of communication in the house had reached rock-bottom:
“…no one told me that when I came back from dinner at a friend’s house that my Dad had packed his things and left for his sister’s (house) to go and die. No one told me my Dad was dying”
His death was devastating for Rachel, she lost the most important person in her life. Her Mother was wrapped up with her own problems and looking after her other daughter who had started taking drugs. Rachel was alone, no one was listening to her; she was an “invisible voice” – her life collapsing around her, unable to comprehend her feelings.
“I remember getting into fits of frustration when I would just start battering my own head as I couldn’t understand why I was getting angry in the first place, so I’d attack myself”
She got involved with many people at school, but didn’t make friends. She didn’t want them to get to know her; she was afraid that they would find the “real me”. She feared the rejection – and it was impossible for her to form normal relationships.
The cycle of deviant behaviour started as she cried out to be noticed. She ran away from home, and was thieving from shops. By the age of 12 she had had her first cigarette, by 13 she was smoking weed, by 14 completely truant from school, at 15 dabbling in ecstasy and got pregnant, and had her son a few months before her 16th birthday. Shortly after that she was on heroin, and then by 17, crack cocaine, and by 18 she received her first jail sentence for shop lifting. It was a rapid decline.
For a girl who felt she had no place in her family, and was beset by uncontrolled, conflicting and destructive emotions and behaviours, heroin seemed to be the answer:
“( When you take heroin) ..you get a Ready-Brek glow, you feel the warmth overtake you, straightaway all of your emotions go into a lockbox and you are just oblivious to the world. You can sit there, you can hear what’s going on, but you just don’t have to acknowledge it. It’s like an emotional and mental shut-down…and that’s why I fell in love with it. It took away all of the pain, I didn’t need to feel it anymore”
But with the high comes the withdrawal, the hot and cold sweats, the diarrhoea, and the yawning.
“When I’d yawn my eyes would water, and I’d know instantly it was wearing off. Even if I drank orange juice, the Vitamin C would break down the gear in my system and so it would be used quicker”
Without vitamin C, and a proper diet, she was constantly tired and fatigued. She would have cups of tea with 20 sugars to boost her energy.
There was only one way to combat it – more drugs.
“….despair starts seeping in because you need that drug so much, and you don’t have the money, so you have to commit another crime, or you have to hurt someone around you….as, with having no emotions, or mental ability, you are only focussed on the drug, you’re sapping every bit of energy out of anybody who gets involved with you.”
Her main source of money was through shoplifting as she felt that no one was really getting hurt.
During her early years of using drugs, she still had her son, but despite being high for much of the time she clung onto some sense of responsibility.
“It didn’t matter how much of the drugs I used, I tried to use it as a cautiously as possible. So, if I got a new batch from a dealer, instead of me whacking the normal amount in a syringe, I’d do about a pounds worth to see how strong it was so I’d know how much to do…because I couldn’t bear the thought of dying on my son. I knew one day I would get clean”
Ironically, having her son at such an early age probably saved her life. However, when he was nearly 3 years old, she wasn’t able to look after him anymore and so Rachel’s Mother became his carer.
“I do believe I had some kind of control in my drug use. I wouldn’t take stupid amounts where I’m likely to overdose because if I’m on my own… no one is there to save me. And sometimes, when you’re in a room full of addicts no one wants to save you….I’ve been in places where someone has overdosed and they’ve dragged them by the shoulders out onto the pavement and left them there and gone back inside to finish the drugs..because they knew the Police were going to turn up and that means everyone has to stop their drugs”
At the age of 19, the cycle of thieving and drug use became interminable, and she had to score more often. When she first started using, one high would last for 24 hours; eventually this reduced to just a few hours. This was due to a combination of her body becoming accustomed to the chemicals and the dilution of the heroin and cocaine with other drugs by the dealers; they were only interested in profits. This drove Rachel to increase her thieving to pay for more hits.
She was having to resort to more extreme measures
“I remember with the shoplifting it got to the point when I would just get my bag and empty the whole shelf into it and I didn’t care, and if anyone would come, they were going to get the bag swung at them, so they’re getting hurt! And I thought “No!”, I’m now taking this to the next level and its getting out of control. When I came to Derby, someone said to me – just do hand-jobs for a fiver each.”
It wasn’t long before she saw that she could make more money by selling sex, but the depravation that it caused added to the turmoil. So by the age of 20 she was working the streets of Normanton, to pay for her drug addiction.
“If it’s possible to feel even more dead inside – you’re mentally and emotionally absent. You got to the point that you felt that your body was no longer yours. You’d need more drugs to get rid of the memories of what you’ve just had to do. It’s like a justification of going round in this circle. Easy money, stand on the street, 20 minutes, I’m picked up, made £50, off I go and use, come back out….”
Being a prostitute in Derby is a lonely , isolating and dangerous experience.
“I’ve seen girls snapped off the street by someone who they owe money to, or they ripped off, I’ve seen girls get battered by dealers…and its right in front of you on the street. I’ve seen girls have their clothes ripped off and she’s had to run home in her underwear…and this is in the middle of the afternoon….and no one does anything”
For years, the cycle of drug taking and prostitution was unrelenting. Rachel felt trapped and locked in by the addiction. She was “fighting” herself. The “love” for heroin was becoming truly toxic.
“I was using against my own will. I didn’t want to use, but I didn’t know how to break it either. “
She got involved with a man, who was a drug dealer himself, but they were not self-sufficient from the income of the dealing – so she had to continue to work on the streets to support both of their habits.
“ I remember crying my heart out because I had to go and score again, I remember crying my heart out when I had to go to work when all I wanted to do was stay in and watch TV in front of my fire, and I can remember all of the nights in winter when I’d see all of these houses – they all look cosy, and tucked in…and it used to rage me that I couldn’t do this, and why was my addiction so controlling”
Despite being safe and careful when working on the streets for nearly 10 years, in one week, she had three split condoms. This resulted in a pregnancy.
“the thought of having a punter’s baby scared the hell out of me because it was guaranteed I was going to be a single mother because I didn’t know who they were”
She couldn’t risk her partner finding out as he would assume that she was having an affair, so she had an abortion behind his back. At this time she was helped a lot by the support of Women’s Work, particularly as the abortion was happening very late.
Unfortunately, her partner did find out, and this started the cycle of domestic abuse. The shouting and rowing resulted in complaints and they were banned from the Housing association. This continued for 2 years during which she stopped working on the streets as her partner’s drug dealing had become profitable. She eventually got to the point when she could take it no more; she gave him an ultimatum. He didn’t stop, and so she left him. Within 3 weeks she found out that she was pregnant by her partner. When the baby was born, her life changed.
“The minute I saw her, I knew I would never use again, I don’t remember de-toxing, I don’t remember feeling anything in that hospital. …In the first 3 weeks she ( baby) was in the hospital, she was really ill. She had to withdraw off gear and methadone so she was admitted to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit and then I went to my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting”
“On the 3rd meeting I shared with them….”Today, I’ve had to give my baby up because of the cost of what addiction has done to me, but I’m not giving up, I just need to get fixed so I can get her back”
That was December 2013. 14 years of drug usage had come to an abrupt end with the birth of her daughter.
In addition to attending Narcotics Anonymous, she had been going to Women’s Work for 10 years. They had helped her with the basics of how to talk, how to listen, how to interact, and how to manage herself. She had also been involved in the Freedom Programme which had helped her understand more about her past relationships and how they had affected her. At times she was visiting them every day – it was a critical part of her maintaining some sanity during those difficult years.
On the face of it, Rachel seems to have come a long way, she is very self-aware and able to reflect with clarity on the impact of her upbringing, and family history, on her addiction. But life is still very difficult as she lives with many legacies and problems from her former life.
Although being clean for a year, the paradox of addiction remains with her.
“I’m still in love with it. What I would give to get high. I’d really love to get high especially with the stress and pressures I’m feeling but I also know that the first time I allow myself to take that drug, I’m back there, and I’ll be using against my own will and I will lose everything I’ve gained today. ….but I will always love that feeling. I don’t know a recovering addict that can tell me that they don’t love that feeling.”
“I think for anybody who is able to break the cycle – it is a miracle. “
With tremendous support from Narcotics Anonymous and Women’s Work, Rachel has a foothold on the road of continuing recovery. She remains incredibly vulnerable but at the same time she is an inspiration. She is adamant that she will unlock the chains of behaviour that flowed from her Mother, and Grandparents and, once and for all, end the interminable, destructive cycle of abuse and addiction that she has struggled with in her short life. She is determined that her baby will not suffer in the way that she did, and she knows that the best place for her daughter is with her – in the warm, comforting arms of her Mum.
“I wouldn’t say I love myself as I am, but I accept who I am. I accept that I am my Mother’s daughter, I have some issues. There is nothing that I can change about my drug addiction and I’m hoping that I can use my experience to help others. I’d like to do something to help children of addicts. That would be my dream job”
Rachel’s story is painful but it provides hope. At 31 she is trying to start her life again and make up for the lost years of the young girl with the “invisible voice”.