Hi There, my name is Linda and I have been a BOB Manager for oven seven years running a full-time drop-in which opens at the weekends.  I am 63 years old and I just want to let people know that it is never too late to sort out your addiction and to get a life back.

I started using class A drugs when I was around 15 years of age.  I thought I was lucky at the time because due to the circles that I was mixing in I did not pay for my drugs for several years so when I did have to start paying it came as a shock.  Unlike a lot of people I did not have an unhappy child hood I just enjoyed being stoned and you don’t realise what the lifestyle of being in addiction will do to you until you have to get the money to pay for them that is when you realise that you are not using the drugs anymore in fact they are using you now.

I used Heroin for approximately 32 years and then I started to do crack as well for last 17 years of my using.  Due to my rather large habit I got arrested for dealing and at the age of 30 I did my first prison sentence.  Since then I stopped dealing as I was only prepared to sit in prison for short periods and had no intention of getting a sentence which could be for a number of years so I found other illegal ways to support my habit.

I had three children and I managed to control my habit for a time but like most parents’ social services got involved.  I tried treatment on many an occasion but found myself stuck in the revolving door of recovery.  Eventually my children were taken into care, the only thing that I was grateful for was the fact that they were all kept together and were living with someone that they had known from birth.

After my kids went into care I ended up on the streets and I was homeless for over twenty years.  I have slept in doorways, bin sheds, squats, and some very not nice hostels where I even chose to go back onto the streets.

I found that recovery was great in theory but in practise it just did not work for me so my habit would just go up and down.  I now feel on reflection where I am clean from illegal drugs that giving methadone may help with my physical addiction, but it nowhere came anywhere near to helping me change my lifestyle.  Being told to drop out people you have known for 30+ years is not an easy thing to do when they didn’t seem to have any ideas of how I could replace friends and acquaintances, as  all I knew what think about was 1. Making money 2. Find a dealer 3. Find somewhere to do my drugs then start the same cycle all over again.

Whilst I was on the streets towards the end I got so ill that I was in hospital for several months and had over three litres of infection removed from my lung with a chest drain.  When I got taken to hospital, I woke up 2 days later in a side ward where apparently, they had to titrate me whilst I was unconscious.  The Doctors then informed me that they were not even sure that I was going to wake up and that if I did not change my lifestyle I would be dead in 12 – 18 months tops and do you know what as frightened as I was  it still took me nearly a year to finally engage with the treatment beyond just picking up methadone.

I eventually went into supported housing and regularly had support workers coming to my home which at first I really did not like.   People younger than my kids telling me what I needed to do to the point I told them to leave my premises and never come back with that attitude as I had to keep reminding these youngsters that I was an addict and not an idiot.

After a while I had a support worker (who was still very young) who did not treat me like an idiot and actually asked my opinion on what drugs people were doing and asking me why we mixed certain drugs together and this gave me the confidence to not only engage with this worker but also to trust her.

When my support worker first put the idea of voluntary work to me I said you must be joking I ain’t gonna work for nothing, she then left it a little while and brought the idea up again and after a while I could see her point as boredom was one of my triggers.

The only knowledge that I had was being an addict and being homeless but I was on a script for 60-70mls methadone a day and whenever I went anywhere to enquire about volunteering all I got was come back when you have been off script for approximately 18 months, and when I asked what I should do in the meantime they had nothing for me in response. No options or willingness to help me explore any.

I went to my local voluntary service and explained my position and someone there very kindly went through all the drug and alcohol services that I had already been to then they spoke to me abut Build on Belief which was in its early days then, so I thought well nothing ventured nothing gained and I had absolutely nothing to lose.  They gave me the number to ring and I took the bull by the horns and rang.  I explained my position to the person on the phone and they assured me that this was not an issue for them, so I arranged to go along and see what they were about.

I cannot even tell you how shocked I was to know how close I lived to the service and had not even heard about it.  I went down for an interview and I was open and honest about my script and about the life that I had lived and was shocked when they said that was actually in my favour as they were a peer led service so I would understand where the clients were coming from.

I started the following week-end and I can tell you the thought of walking all the way up there on a Saturday was not very appealing but I said to myself well old girl this is what you wanted so pull your finger out and give it a go.

I know that I was hard work for the people running the service as I still lived and thought as I did when I lived on the streets to the point that if a client stated they would wait for me outside after work I would normally retort with why wait we can go outside now if you like  very unprofessional.

Tim Sampey really had his work cut out with me as I am not afraid to speak my mind regardless of who I am talking to, but with his patience and guidance I stuck with it and found that I really enjoyed what I was doing and I even loved attending all the training.  I loved it so much that when my depression was bad I had to just remind myself that if I force myself into going in and doing a shift that as soon as I saw the dark blue door my mood would instantly lift as I knew that whatever happened during the day I would definitely be leaving the building in a great mood and with a big smile on my face.

I eventually worked my way up to Team Leader which took me a bit longer than some others, but Tim helped to knock some of my street attitude into order (not all of it though).  After Team Leader I was also given the opportunity sometimes to run the service for a day or two which really empowered me to believe that I could have a life after drugs.

As Build on Belief started to grow job opportunities came up and I didn’t think much about it at first as I have a lot of previous convictions and believe me they wouldn’t employ me to stock shelves in a supermarket unless I had a security guard walking with me.  But an opportunity did arise, and Tim encouraged me to apply.  (he would later regret this decision) so I did and lo and behold I got the part time admin job so I would be working in the office with Tim.  I am tone deaf and listen to the same Pink Floyd songs repeatedly until it got to the point that Tim was begging me to stop singing.  After putting up with me in his office space for a year he then sent me to the furthest away drop – in we had at the time which was in Ealing and I have helped to not only deliver the service but also to develop into one of biggest services.

Without the support of Build on Belief and the patience (of a saint) from Tim and his guidance in giving me the confidence that even at the ripe old age of 55 I could start a career and when I tried to explain that I had no skills he showed me that my street survival skills could easily be adapted for work ie: being adaptable, coping in a crisis, understanding the clients and their lifestyles and coming from the same background it would be easier for me to get them to talk as they knew I came from the same place. 

When I got the job with Build on Belief that was the first time I had heard my children ever say that they were proud of me and after what I put them through due to my poor choices I was actually really overwhelmed by that.

What I want people to take from my story is that it is never to late to change your life you just need the right encouragement and be prepared to try opportunity when it comes knocking at your door.  Just remember all the chances you take in addiction so why not take a chance in recovery at least this time it would be for the right reason.