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survivors manchester

First Chance to Escape


by Daniel

For me personally I’m not going to go in to gross specifics about my abuse as I don’t think it’s personally relevant for this piece of ‘sense’ I’m trying to make about my life. Also I don’t see the benefit of disclosing the gory details as I feel it’s giving my power away which I’ve struggled to reclaim and I’m not a victim anymore!

I also don’t subscribe to glamorising my drug use or criminal activity, there’s nothing worse than someone boring you with ‘jail talk’, I’ve grown up since then.

For me the following stuff I’m going to discuss is about the epiphany about why I took drugs, mainly heroin and crack in a needle at the same time (speed balling), but my drug of choice was normally “more”.

Its still all quite fresh for me, the unpicking, as its only been 11 months now that I realised that I took drugs as a survival method to cope with the abuse. I call it survival method because if I’d actually sat with myself and accepted what had happened I wouldn’t have been able to cope with it all and would of certainly ended it once and for all. Fortunately things aren’t like that today, I’m sat here writing this comfortable in my own skin and not off my face. I’m not sat here with the music on, T.V on, computer on, my jacket zipped up with my hood up whilst smoking drugs.

Just to paint a picture, I was like a washing machine on spin cycle with my head always racing, terrified of sitting with myself and being alone. I can only tell this small part of my story as I have a certain level of self acceptance of myself and my past life through good, unconditional support, from genuine people in my life who have stuck by me whilst I’ve unpicked my past.

I was sexually abused on numerous occasions by three different people: a male family member, a female babysitter and a so called male friend, all this happened from the ages of 7 to 22. I believe this, without doubt, has led to a life of drug abuse which needless to say has had a negative impact on my life as you can imagine. At the first given opportunity “for me to escape” from my own thoughts and feelings, I did. This may sound strange but I was in total denial that any abuse had occurred up until 11 months ago.

The drugs started at 15. I was always looking, up until this point, of a way to escape from me, and the day the police came into school with a drug box was the happiest day of my teenage life. They talked about what the drugs were how they worked what they looked like and the effects they had on the mind and body I heard nothing about any consequences. This also came accompanied with a booklet called “the score” which had in everything you needed to know about drugs. “BINGO!” I thought and ran home from school. I lay in bed that night studying the leaflet and decided to work my way through the book and tick each one off as I worked my way through then stop when I’ve done them, all.

Unfortunately, heroin is physically addictive and I ended up getting dependent on this, and also on the crack, for many years to come. It ended up with me on a methadone prescription at 16. Yes my life was miserable before but I thought I’d found the answer to quietening my head down. Yes it was good for years, but ended up in total misery. But it served a purpose, it was a distraction from my thoughts. I no longer had to think or worry about the abuse… the drugs put it into a little compartment which I thought I’d closed for good. The abuse was now in my subconscious waiting to pounce like a silent assassin, this wasn’t to last long.

I’ve heard it said that taking drugs “isn’t big or clever”, but for me it certainly was, that was my truth at the time. Yes it was unhealthy and destroying my life and everything in it, but for me from being a young teenager it was the only way I knew how to survive and quieten the noise and guess what… it worked well. This survival skill of taking drugs to live with myself worked for many years and I believe saved me from committing suicide. It was the only distraction I knew but at some point it had to stop because ironically I was slowly committing suicide and destroying my mental health, the very thing I was avoiding by taking heroin and crack.

At 26 after numerous failed attempts to detox and rehabilitate in different institutions and prisons, I hadn’t had longer than 6 months break in 11 years, I eventually got clean, through one particular rehab in the Wirral – purely just through huge amounts of will power as I didn’t learn anything in there, it was more of a break. I thought I needed in a different environment away from Manchester. I was still on probation when I came out and got the opportunity to do voluntary work, which led to me doing a Uni course and other training and got a job as a youth worker, then drug worker. I eventually got a partner, baby and house.

I managed to stay clean for 5 years but guess what… I relapsed!

I never once looked at or spoke about the childhood abuse issues. My behaviour in all that time had hardly changed and I was constantly externally trying to fix myself. They call it a clean junkie.

I’d done no work on myself, regarding my issues, just basic ‘relapse avoidance’ stuff. I couldn’t sit still for 5 mins, like I said I was like a washing machine on spin cycle always trying to help and fix other people, but not daring to look at myself. I’d turned in to the wounded healer.

Eventually it came to a head. Life got too much and I burned myself out. I got really depressed, took time off work and hit the ‘fuck it’ button big-time, worse this time than I’d ever been previously, in terms of my drug use. I had loads of self awareness, I needed to quieten down. I managed to get into detox after another 2 years of heroin and crack use and had a nervous breakdown towards the end of my detox, which resulted in psychiatric assessments and numerous visits from the crisis team – a total mental breakdown which left me with a stutter for 6 weeks. I believe now that it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was through years of bottling the abuse up with drugs, self medicating and keeping it all to my self.

I specifically remember what triggered the breakdown off. I started getting flashbacks of the abuse I went through as a child and my system just shut down. I couldn’t speak, was having a panic attacks and massive anxiety issues. I reverted mentally back to a child. I thought Id genuinely lost it and was cabbaged for the rest of my life.

A few months later fortunately for me a met a therapist who specialised in providing support for males who suffered abuse and also ran a group he’d started called We Are Survivors.

After discovering I wasn’t on my own and working through things at my own pace, through disclosure, I’ve started the healing process.

This is where I got the revelation that I took drugs as a survival mechanism, which took away my reasons for using. It also helped me because I always thought I took drugs because I was a total fuck up and waste of space. It gave me clarity and understanding why I did it. I told myself so many lies over the years that I’d convinced myself the abuse didn’t happen, after all I’d had years to minimise it.

Me taking the drugs at the time, I feel wasn’t a conscious decision to block out the abuse, it was kind of subconscious – if you can understand. It was like autopilot/survival mode. I now know why I used and dealing with the abuse ruined my drug use. But it also stripped me bare of my identity as being a ‘junkie’ and ‘victim’ was my character make up. Who am I now?!?

Rebuilding and discovering myself has been a rocky road and has been hard to get my head around. But for me dealing with my issues is the best thing and hardest thing I’ve ever done. It has given me and my daughter a life.

So the key thing I’ve come up with is, “using” to cover up abuse is understandable but not acceptable to us.

You can take the power back like me now, by dealing with our issues together and with help from skilled professionals and the right timing.

There are lot of drug workers that when you mention ‘abuse’ just swerve the issue: through fear of not knowing what to do with it; laziness because it means doing a bit of work; or because they haven’t got the skills to deal with it and don’t want to open a can of worms, so rather than admit that, it just gets swept under the carpet to manifest itself and grow.

It’s easier to just script someone and go, even though it just perpetuates the problem. Surely its not rocket science to refer someone on to an appropriate agency and get to the bottom of why we are using drugs in the first place, than to paper over the cracks with a ‘patronising’ relapse avoidance groups.

Ethically and financially surely that makes sense.

There are also a lot of good competent professionals out there who do know what they are doing so have faith, but be careful who you disclose to make sure you’ve got a good support network around you, timing is key.

Be strong. Take heart from my positive experiences, it gets better if you take the brave step to get help…


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