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Cora’s story

"As a human you crave for someone to know you exist.

That was the key to my recovery."

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Growing up

As an adult, when I first heard someone talking about boundaries I thought they meant fences. I didn’t know we had boundaries as people. I didn’t have a clue. I grew up believing it doesn’t matter what anyone does to you.

My dad was really violent. He would rape my mum and beat us. He didn’t treat us like children. My idea of a relationship was completely confused.

fence

Then my parents spilt up and mum was left with five kids on her own. She didn’t have time to worry about nurturing. We weren’t going to school, social services got involved and life began to unravel. Me and my brother began taking drugs, and that’s when it all started.

Spiralling out of control

At 21 I had a child. I was partying, but still managing life. And then my son’s dad died in a car accident. I didn’t realise how much grief affects people. But it spurred me into my addiction.

I started doing heroin, believing I could control my use of it. But I remember one hot, summer’s day I went to the beach and I was thinking ‘why am I so cold?’ It was then that I knew I was withdrawing from drugs and was addicted.

I got pregnant again, gave birth in addiction, had an abusive boyfriend, social services were on my case and my son was always an eyelash away from being taken off me. That bit of life between mid-twenties to thirty is a blur. Maybe I try and block it out cos it was so horrible.

I was stuck in that cycle of being around others in the same lifestyle and with that comes criminality. Once you’ve crossed a line and broken the law, it gets to the point where it doesn’t matter and nothing seems that big. I would go from shop-lifting to sex-working to fund the drugs. Dealers would give me so much that I’d end up in loads more debt.

I think I had some sort of mental break down. My kids were taken from me and it was then that I accepted this was me now, this was my life. Sex work and drugs.

Treated as less than human

It was a bit of a relief going to prison. I ended up doing 14 months and it was enough for me to reflect on my life. It was such a reality check. Some women I met there couldn’t read or write and really had nothing. I could understand how they could lose all hope. But I still had a bit in me to believe that things could be different.

It was summer, the prison wing was really full up, really noisy, really smelly and there were flies everywhere. Some of the staff treated us like we were less than human, which soon becomes normal and you can be desensitized to the whole situation. But I thought ‘no, I’m better than that.’

I managed to detox myself off the drugs and was able to move to a nicer wing. For the first time in a long time, I felt free and safe. Free of the drugs and free of the life that had become so unmanageable for me; being a single mum and being an addict.

I lost my zest

lemon

But after prison I had no direction. I wanted my son back, but it wasn’t possible.

I lost my zest. I felt I was left with nothing and my self-esteem started to plummet.

I was having a particularly down day when I bumped into someone I used to use with. We went to the pub and I thought ‘Oh I’ll be alright having a drink’. Within weeks we were snorting coke and smoking crack. I managed not to touch heroin because I knew if I did, that would be it.

Then another friend got in touch, invited me to move in with her in Bristol and it went downhill from there.

Life in Bristol went so fast

I moved in believing it would be alright, that we were different people, that we’d grown up. But before I knew it we were smoking heroin together. And that bit of my life went so fast. In the space of a few months I went from having a part-time job and a home, to sleeping on the streets with nothing.

I soon found a couple of bedsits where people were using and I would go there to stay out of the rain. But if I didn’t have any drugs on me I wouldn’t be welcome. If there were no drugs, everyone hated each other. So there was pressure all the time to earn money sex-working so I could go back there and come with gifts. They were like vultures.

Out there on the streets, I was like a little lost girl missing my mum, walking around pretending to be a woman. It’s really lonely. Sometimes I wouldn’t even get paid. I’d just get assaulted and raped and be at square one.

So my better option was to find bins and cupboards to use in. They felt like little safe spaces where I didn’t have to share anything or risk getting robbed. On my own. But what a horrendous way to be.

A couple of times people found me under some stairwell close to overdosing and they’d drag me to a random bedsit. I’d wake up there and my phone would be gone, everything would be gone. And blokes claiming to be my mate would abuse me. One guy was horrendous.

And yet there was still a part of me that thought they were trying to be helpful. Because I had no other choice but to trust, or pretend to trust these people. There was no one else.

A reality check

But sometimes I’d have moments of thinking ‘what am I doing?’ The abuse, the flashbacks, the worthless feelings – it’s so hard to shake that off. It’s so hard to be the person you want to be when you’ve got that constant reminder of how people see you.

Like when these two guys treated me like s**t all night and I put up with it because they had loads of drugs and I could shelter from the rain in their car. They kicked me out of the car because I refused to do something.  And the next day they saw me and shouted out of the window as I tried not to cry.

Another time I was robbing with a young girl, we were running away from a security guard and this guy she knew let us into his home. We’d been trekking around for days, stinking, so we took a bath. Afterwards we went into the front room to find loads of guys there. Straight away I felt really anxious and wondered what the hell was going on. But the girl seemed to accept this was normal.

I offered to get us some alcohol and managed to escape. But I ran away from there fearing this was going to be a regular thing now. It was a wake-up call.

At this point every day was a matter of surviving. I felt defeated and I’d lost sight of who I was or what I deserved.  Days were spent going to the chemist, bumping into everybody and then no-one’s in control of what happens – everything’s at the hands of the day. I started to feel so desperate it didn’t matter if I lived or died.

Then I heard about One25…

hear

Remembering who I really am

I didn’t really know what to expect at first. One25 seemed like another place to go to stop you wandering around aimlessly. You get fed, you get some clean clothes. That was enough to begin with.

Then the trust at One25 started building up. And I started to think I could be helped, that things could improve, that it didn’t have to be this bad. The ladies were really nurturing and they would listen to me describing what had been happening. This would make it more real and I’d realise it was actually happening to me. Then one day my caseworker asked me if I wanted to think about rehab.

Things started falling into place. I had a roof over my head, started doing meetings and I changed my circle a little bit. Even enrolled in college. Because my routine was changing, my life was changing. And so the drugs were becoming less and less of a highlight in my day.

It was a really fun time, I used to really look forward to going to One25’s Peony project. Even a few hours there – it boosts you and builds you up.  It’s all about you.

If it wasn’t for One25 I wouldn’t have remembered who I really am. That was the key for me. Remembering that I was this person that enjoyed things in life, that deserved to be treated a certain way. That was the key of going ‘right, I’m gonna do what is asked of me, go to treatment, do all the work, go full steam ahead’.

peony in hair

Finally accepting help

I don’t remember much about the week before rehab. But I remember crying tears of relief on the train journey there. Crying for the unknown. Crying with gratitude. Still doubting why people wanted to help and feeling undeserving.

It’s a weird feeling being helped when you’ve never really been helped before. As a child, when my dad took off it was a relief because that abuse would stop, the suffering had stopped. But we were still helpless. It was the same feeling letting go of the drugs – the suffering stops but you still feel helpless.

And so when you reach out for help you think ‘do I really want this? Do I really deserve it? Is something bad gonna come of this?’

But I had a great time at rehab. Every time I thought about leaving I thought of all the stuff that happened in Bristol – like traipsing around, being invisible and leading a horrible life.

Because it was an all women rehab, it reminded me of being a teenager, hanging out with my girl friends and having a laugh. No blokes and no drugs. Feeling like sisters looking after each other. You could get more personal and more vulnerable if you wanted to, and a lot of therapy went on in the smoking shelter, or in the garden.

wall

Three months of treatment and I was flying. I had no cravings, nothing. And I had all these little plans in my head of what was going to happen when I got out.

Feeling part of a family

After rehab I got housed and then as time went on a room came up in a Christian place which is where I’ve been living these last few months. We have a mixed bag of people, some in recovery and some from the Christian community. It’s like a nice little family and we bring out the best in each other.

We have dinner together every night. I never really had that in my family because of all that we went through, there was no room for pleasantries or anything. Instinctively as a human being you crave for someone to know you exist, know who you are and what you’re about. Just another person knowing that is priceless.

This house is run with compassion and love. It inspires me to want the good in my life rather than being afraid of failing. This is how I’m sticking to my recovery.

eating

Never looking back

Now I’m feeling driven. Things are really happening. For the first time in ages I’ve got goals. And they’re not anyone else’s goals but mine.

I’m enrolled for a TEFL course to teach English and I can get funding for it. I’m volunteering at a charity shop where we laugh a lot and I feel part of something that’s good for the community. I’m embracing this new identity and it doesn’t feel fake.

I wouldn’t be where I am now if One25 hadn’t scooped me up. You got me at the time where I was nearly losing all hope. All of a sudden I got a glimmer of a better way of living. And I’ve never really looked back.

heart world

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