My parents met while serving in the air force. After marriage my mother left her job to focus on raising five children, including myself – the youngest bar one. All was fine until the untimely diagnosis of an eyesight condition put an end to my father’s military career.
Undeterred, and knowing he needed to provide for his family, he became a black cab driver until his condition worsened and put paid to that job too. For such a proud man it was a bitter pill to swallow. Aged forty-four he suffered a heart attack and sadly died – I was only eight.
It was really tough; my mother was torn between consoling me (a bit of a daddy’s girl) and my siblings while struggling to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. With immediate family living outside of Harlow, neighbours and friends rallied round to offer help. And with my father being ex-Forces, the Harlow division of the British Legion offered support, on one occasion funding a much-needed holiday for us all. Only when we became older and more independent did my mother seek anything other than jobs which ensured she was back in time to greet us home from school. Sure, I wanted what my mates had, but I knew and respected the situation we were in.
Instead I was grateful for the things money can’t buy – love and support. I look back now, as a mother of three, with empathy for how tough those years must have been for my mother. That’s why it seems all the more unfair that my mother (who died from cancer aged fifty-five) and father were never rewarded by seeing any of my children.
Anyhow, aside from a few bumpy romances, I made it through my teenage years unscathed. At the age of twenty-six I was in a relationship and three years later we’d a son. Unfortunately that relationship didn’t work out, but – as is often the case – we now get along better as friends. I started dating again and met a new fella. Life was good; we settled down and after a ‘respectable’ duration I became pregnant; this time with twins! Aware of the extra financial implications twins brought I worked right up until they were born.
However, on Christmas Eve 2005, five weeks into maternity leave, I got word that the off-licence I was working for had gone bust and that no redundancy money was forthcoming. It was like a scene from a film, but without the scripted happy ending. Everything was ready for Christmas; with the twins’ father being in far from regular work all the presents and food were charged to credit cards in my name. The day itself (in fact the whole duration of the festive break) was a combination of being happy for the kids’ sake while pushing aside nagging doubts of what lay ahead. Worse still, the government support (which I’m not knocking) fell short of what was needed to make up the shortfall – especially when bills rolled in with late charges and interest applied. It was short-sighted, but soon the only way of coping was to stuff the unpaid bills in a drawer.
The situation was bleak, with no easy way out. Yes, I could’ve looked for a job. But with my relationship faltering (and later ending) I couldn’t rely on my partner nor afford childcare costs. I began to draw parallels between myself and my mother – wondering what she would have done in such a situation. Lacking in self-esteem, I became very insular, where possible avoiding contact with friends and family. I only wanted to socialise when my life was in a good place – I didn’t want to be that person who just moaned about their life.
I got stuck in a rut; seldom did I answer the door and often the only time I left home was to take my son to school. Even a quick trip out with three young children became a mammoth task. I became depressed and anxious; situations I’d normally take in my stride put me into panic mode. To mask my problems and give me a boost of confidence to face the world I started drinking. I’d always been a social drinker – a good one at that. But I knew – well, at least I thought I knew – how to control it. However, as my financial troubles worsened, so the regularity of my drinking increased.
Although I’d given up on myself, that never applied to my children, who were clean, fed and in school on time, but I must admit that at the height of my troubles I struggled to put food on the table. Some will question how I always had money for drink. That’s true; but if only it were that simple. When it came to alcohol I’d lost that all-important off button, without which all rational thinking was pushed aside – my brain kept giving me the green light to keep on drinking. Often while drinking I acted irrationally, and those actions filled me with remorse which I suppressed with yet more drink – I was trapped in a vicious circle.
Finally, with all options exhausted I had to rely on the Harlow Foodbank for help. Any feelings of insecurity dissipated the moment I set foot in the building. After some words of reassurance I was handed bags and bags of food – the generosity was astounding. What’s more, concerned over my welfare, they gave me a voucher and invited me to pop downstairs to the Maybury Centre (a community drop-in centre for adults) for a drink, sandwich and a chat. I was overwhelmed. In reality I was a stranger, but rather than judging me they offered me nothing but kindness.
After years of abuse my body had started to suffer. It was a wake-up call – I knew I needed to do something. When the advice from my first counsellor amounted to nothing, it was suggested I attend the Harlow branch of Cocaine Anonymous – a group which helps those struggling with all mind-altering substances. Progress was good; however, once I stopped drinking the root cause of my problems was easier to see – namely me. Next I needed to address the inner voice that had robbed me of my confidence and self-respect. In all it took several years, with the help of an amazing support group, to get me back on track. Technically I’m in recovery and always will be. But thankfully I’m now armed with the coping mechanisms should the need ever arise.
As part of my twelve-step recovery programme (focused around inner peace) I had to confront those I’d hurt as well as give back to those who’d helped me during my time of need. Therefore, I volunteered at the Maybury Centre. It felt good to be doing something so simple yet so worthwhile. The upshot was I built up the confidence to apply for a job as a carer – no one was more shocked than myself when I was offered the job!
I’m pleased to say that next month it’ll be two years without a drink. Now, aside from my job, my primary focus is being the best person I can – especially towards my children. The time I spend with them now is all the more special, because in all honestly if I hadn’t changed I don’t think I’d be here now. Relationships and trust with friends and family have been rebuilt. I’ve never been so happy and content with my life. My journey isn’t over – it’s just started.