woman walking on the shore at sunset

Zara’s story

I spent most of my life looking at the world and thinking “I don’t want a part of that…”

Since I was fourteen, sex and my drug habit went hand in hand. But it was later, when I picked up heroin and crack, that everything changed.

When you get that far into addiction, even the people that love you most can’t help anymore.

I came to Bristol in my twenties and fell in love with my partner. We became friends with another couple who were using too; the woman said, ‘come out on the street with me’. It was a freezing cold November, I was ill and I was desperate.

I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute horror when I realised girls were selling themselves for so little money.

My reality was dawning on me. I continued on and off for about six months. I’d be affected for days, not being able to tell anyone, and the men just, uh, just made my skin crawl.

I saw the One25 outreach van a couple of times. I was in such a dark place and ashamed of what I was doing to survive but I remember how lovely the women were. When I first went to the drop-in one afternoon, I was greeted with the most friendly, lovely, warm smile. A worker there saw something in me that I didn’t feel or see at the time.

She never judged me and very quickly I got the funding to go to rehab.

I couldn’t stick to it and my relapse was horrific. I left town, my partner was sent to prison and after nine months relying on sex work to live, I was really unwell. When I visited my sister after she had her first baby my Mum just burst into tears when she saw me.

The using was getting really dangerous. I was badly raped and robbed by a dealer. I phoned my Mum just after my birthday and just said “I can’t do this, I don’t know what to do.” She took me in, I got 41 days clean, started doing recovery meetings in another city but started using again. I lived in a hotel for a couple of weeks with these two drug dealers, sleeping with both of them for my drugs.

A friend helped me into a dry-house – that lasted a week. I went to another friend, detoxed, used again. I was using, street-working, using, street-working… I went back and did another detox at Mum’s: two weeks, felt better, craved, went back to Bristol.

Then I moved in with Lee, an old friend who said I could stay with him and I’d never have to work again. It’s insane to think of all the withdrawing I’ve done to try to get well, only to use again. Again, I detoxed at my mum’s but used again pretty much straight away. Lee was really trying not to use. We tried together in a hotel out of town but we used on the way back home. So we tried a specialist detox abroad.

I never accounted for the depression and the continual cravings and my mental health fell apart. Then Lee was dead.

I was sex-working heavily but I’d got back in touch with One25. I remember my caseworker Jane would phone me all the time and wouldn’t let me go. I knew something was really wrong with my health. I was at a client’s house when I woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and teeth chattering with him trying to have sex with me.

I was in hospital for three weeks, using the whole time. By that time I’d given up on recovery. My mum wrote to me via One25; I’ve still got that letter and I cry whenever I read it. My sister rang and I remember her words really clearly. She was so consumed by fear she’d had to accept that I was going to die. She begged me to go to rehab and it was like I heard someone else’s voice just saying “Yes I’ll go.” It wasn’t my voice, but I said it.

I’d agreed but two months later I was worse than before. I was really trying to get better even though I couldn’t. I was too ill to jump through the hoops for treatment. I was too ill to even come and get my script. If it wasn’t for One25’s support I wouldn’t be sat here.

Without them, there’s no way I would have got to treatment.

And look how its been. I’ve stayed and I’ve done it! This time I had so much support behind me. Jane would send me cards and chocolate, she’d phone me and any time I needed anything she was there.

It’s taken a long time to get to the point where I am even able to cry. Stuff only comes out when it’s ready. In rehab I started to look at the childhood sexual abuse with my dad. As the drugs left me, my mind cleared. I knew this time if I didn’t beat this it’d kill me pretty quickly.

There were loads of times when I wanted to run but instead I faced it; every time I got a craving; every time I worked through something really painful. Then it’s like after a storm, the way the air feels after it’s rained, quieter, crisper.

The other day I sat on the beach with friends. We listened to music, we put the world to rights, we swam in the sea. You know when you just float, totally let go and let the sea carry you? I’d been trying and failing for so long – part of me thought I was too broken.

One25 gives with such love: you just kept trying and you wouldn’t let go. When no one else could deal with me I had you.


You saved my life.

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