I was born into a privileged family that was respected in the community. There was a lot of heavy drinking. While the parents got drunk us kids were put in a room to entertain ourselves. At the time, I thought it was very normal. My parents split when I was eight years old. My dad moved out, leaving my mum, my sisters and me. That’s when mum’s alcoholism became obvious, and so did her addiction to Valium. Some days she wouldn’t get out of bed. I often found myself confiscating my mum’s tablets because she would take too many and collapse.
Mum went back to work because she didn’t have any more money. She worked quite long shifts, so we were left to our own devices. When she was home, she was drunk. I was twelve when my mum went into rehab. So, I went to live with my dad. I was already smoking cannabis and found gas. When my mum came back from rehab, suddenly she was sober, and I had to be in by 8 o’clock. I wasn’t allowed to do the stuff that I was doing. She tried to do a lot of interventions to stop me from sniffing gas and taking drugs, but it was all a bit too late. At thirteen I had a drug and alcohol worker. They told me that I was an addict and that if I didn’t die, in ten years I would end up in rehab myself.
My teenage years were the rave scene. I left home at sixteen, lived in squats, and got pregnant with a lad much older than me. After an abortion I moved to Bristol. I got paid to dance at raves and major festivals, featuring in magazines. At seventeen I thought I was very cool. I started hanging out with people who took heroin and smoked crack. I had my daughter with a man I met drinking at pubs. I was reasonably stable for a time but drank a lot. When she was four months old, I moved back in with my mum and started going to parties again. We did heavy drugs on the weekends and soon Mondays, Tuesdays, then every day.
I started shoplifting. I got caught and was eventually banned from all the supermarkets around. I knew sex workers existed. I knew women who were doing it. Then one day I decided, “I can’t go shoplifting anymore because I’m banned from everywhere and I need the money”. So, I went up on the one street and waited for what felt like a week, nervous, not knowing what to expect. I started walking away and a car pulled up. I got in the car, did what I needed to do, and got the money. I thought, “this feels a lot easier than going shoplifting”. That’s how it started.
It makes perfect sense to me why. What made me different to other girls was being groomed and exposed to sexual behaviour at a young age, losing my virginity young, having self-esteem issues, and believing that sex was what I had to offer. There was nothing to stop me.
It was never an aspiration or a dream for me. It was literally a means to an end.
I thought I had control. I had my own money and didn’t have to sit around begging other people. And, to begin with, there was a sense of power that came with it.
I street sex-worked every day for two years. I was outside more than anything. If I had a step monitor, I would have gotten my steps in each day for sure. I must have walked miles. Rain and cold was a pain but the summer was worse for me. In winter I could cover up and nobody saw what I looked like.
The voice in my head that went, “that person’s not quite right, don’t get into their car”, changed and it just didn’t seem to matter. I took more and more risks and got myself into situations where I’d either get taken to a house and they wouldn’t let me leave or I was attacked on the road.
My drug and alcohol worker warned me at thirteen I would end up in rehab and eleven years later I did. I was in and out of rehab. My daughter was taken off me, I lost my home, and I was living in squats with people using drugs. There was no enjoyment in taking them anymore. I was now in a situation where, without them, I felt physically unwell. It was a constant cycle of trying to feel better.
It felt so desperate, having to get myself together enough to be able to go out and earn money.
There was a small community of us: us girls, the men that we used with and the dealers. We’d all mix, and it was horrific. Everybody was robbing everybody, and we were all massively vulnerable. People would see me get into a car and would wait, knowing I would be back, then rob me. It happened all the time.
Out of all the places that I sex-worked, Bristol was the most terrifying place. I remember when one woman was murdered, I bumped into the girls the next day and our conversation wasn’t about this poor woman but the fact that we couldn’t go out and work now because there were too many police. That shows how it was. There wasn’t a second thought for our safety. Our main problem was that we couldn’t earn money.
The only respite I had was the One25 van. I was at my worst – the worst it’s ever been in my entire life – and not having anywhere to go, One25 was the only bit of normality and safety. When I came to drop-in, I literally used to take my clothes off, throw them in a bin, and put clean clothes on.
The yellow van was access to food and drink. I wouldn’t have eaten as much food as I did without it. I could get condoms, a little bag with sandwiches, a packet of crisps, and a hot chocolate. Some nights I would sit there for as long as I possibly could. It didn’t matter what was going on, One25 met me where I was at, regardless.
They got me in touch with Bristol Drugs Project. I also had sexual health testing and found out that I had Hep C. One25 asked me if I wanted a test and supported me to get treatment.
I wouldn’t have asked or even have thought of it. Health wasn’t very high in my thoughts.
One25 was saving my life, as far as I was concerned. I wouldn’t even like to think what would have happened if they hadn’t intervened when they did. I think there’s a lot of us that would say the same.
The end of my last relapse was different to the many ones before. I had spent eight years bouncing in and out of rehabs, recovery, and sex work. I completed an access to university course but by the time I started university I was stressed out and using again. I was, for the first time in my life, having to get up every day, use, street sex work, and go to uni. It was the weirdest thing, having to look normal every day, and it was painful.
At the end of that first term, I’d been out and scored, got back to my flat in London and thought, “what am I going to do? I can’t tell my family that I’ve relapsed again. I can’t keep going to this course. 12 Step recovery clearly doesn’t work for me”. So, I tried to end my life. Thankfully, it didn’t work and that was enough for me to go, “OK, now is different”. The choice was removed, and I was going to have to stay clean. In the twelve years since, I’ve not wanted to use drugs once.
If One25 hadn’t existed…I would probably not be alive.
What does my life look like now? Really normal! Full time work. Full time children. I have a home and a nice car. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that stuff is important. I work in a job that I love and now support women with their health. I am doing what somebody did for me years ago.
If I could meet the girl I was twenty years ago, standing on a corner of the road, and told her that I would be where I am now, I would never have quite believed her. The positive of what happened in my life is that I have amazing resilience. I feel really proud of the fact that I survived.