I'm never sure whether the abuse I endured from a young age catapulted me into a world of mental illness and addiction issues, or whether it would have happened anyway.
Alcohol has always been there ever since I was tiny and licking my parent's glass "just to try it". As I got older, my drinking got more frequent. By my 2nd year of secondary school, I enjoyed it. It presented me with a different world. A world that didn't hurt quite so much.
By that point, I was already self-harming and arguing with suicidal thoughts. School was horrendous and my home life wasn't much better. Alcohol and self-harm became my hiding hole. Crippled by anxiety and self-loathing, I just didn't care.
The events of almost the next 10 years, however, were where most of my gremlins came from.
I met a boy and I fell for him. Hard. He well and truly had me hooked. He was 'cool'. He was my drug and I adored him. He had his own demons however in the form of a drug habit and a money addiction. I became his money.
There's an area of my hometown of Stockton-on-Tees that is known for prostitution. He lived nearby. It started with his 'friends' coming round and if I gave them my body he would get his drugs. Some of them were violent. Some too high on drugs to care.
Vodka became my poison of choice. I absolutely hated what he was doing but I didn't feel like I had a choice. The reality was that, unless I'd been physically and emotionally strong enough to get away from him, there was no choice.
He became a predator. He morphed from the 'cool' boy that took me out for a couple of alco-pops into the catalyst for me destroying myself.
I drank every day. Without fail. When I wasn't squirrelling away the alcohol, I was self-harming up to 10 times a day. I couldn't face another night of either the beatings or the abuse I faced getting his money for his drugs. I needed that escape.
I'd long since stopped looking like a child, but that was exactly what I was. I was below the age of sexual consent in the UK. Even now I barely acknowledge the fact he groomed me into prostitution. Even those who know he raped me aren't always aware as to the extent he took things.
He liked taking me to the pub, it probably looked good to his big, hard DJ mates. He liked that "I'm so normal with a girlfriend" persona. It took me a while to realise he didn't just have me. When I wasn't there, another girl was.
By the time I'd left school, I was a party girl by night and a workaholic by day. I was still self-harming. This escalated reasonably quickly into suicide attempts and social services involvement. Still, I was silent. I brushed it off. Child & Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) got involved and though my psychologist was lovely, I knew if I told, my world would shatter. My safety nets would be taken from me and I'd be even more alone. I still childishly believed he loved me.
My home life wasn't so great either, and I ended up in a hostel over the road from where he who remains nameless lived. Which says it all. What kind of boyfriend lets his girlfriend live in a hostel!
I reached adulthood and discovered a different way to use my body. I discovered dancing. Yes, in a strip club, but this time it was my choice and on my terms. I told him I was out with friends. For every ounce of confidence, I found on stage, he took pleasure in taking it away again. The stage was somewhere I could just be. Nobody could touch me up there. Even the dark thoughts left me alone....for a while.
Life was getting to me. Really getting to me. I'd long since stopped caring about how much I was drinking. Nobody else cared or said anything. I needed change. I needed some freedom.
I moved to a city where I was accepted for a degree course. I found a job, followed by 2 more. A cute little flat. I had my sidekick of a dog with me. I could have cut my losses and had a clean break. Needless to say, I didn't.
He visited me and I visited him. He was still controlling. Still violent. For some reason, I felt that I could handle it as we no longer lived close by but, if anything, the abuse got worse, not better. Texts, calls, angry voicemails when he wasn't with me and when he was, the sexual violence had reached heights I won't even try and describe in print.
I threw myself into studying, work, my animals and a limited social life. I hid my "flaws" from everyone. I was going for small periods of time without self-harm by now. Though I was still misusing alcohol, I found a small spark of hope that one day, things would get better.
Passing my degree with a 2:1 from an amazing place should have changed my life. I had glowing references. I'd done things nobody thought I ever could. I was on cloud nine. I landed a job I adored, in a field I was passionate about. He wasn't happy.
Things progressed from very bad to even worse. I couldn't take anymore. He repeatedly raped me, tore me to absolute pieces. I left. I told him in no uncertain terms not to contact me. My phone was turned off. Emails unanswered. No contact with my home country. I couldn't handle it. Within 24 hours of that attack, I was on a plane to a country I felt safe in. A country he didn't know.
I eventually landed back in North East England about a month later. Little did I know the horrors of what was to come. I worked, partied, worked some more, but I was tired for no obvious reason. I was also pregnant. With no idea.
A few months after the assault that caused me to leave, I discovered the truth. I was months pregnant. I'd not been anywhere near another bloke in the time since we split. I was pregnant, by rape.
He'd been texting me threats, which I'd ignored. Now I had to act. This was a person who had tortured me. This was a person who sure as hell wasn't getting near my unborn child.
He became my stalker. Even when I was 9 months pregnant, he was still trying to grab me in the street. This didn't change after the birth. In fact, he got worse.
He attacked me verbally and physically again. Making demands. Making threats. Not just against me, but against an innocent child. I made the most heartbreaking decision of my life; my baby was to be adopted. Authorities were approached and the ball set in motion.
Needless to say, he found out. I lived a cloak and dagger existence for months. I couldn't talk about it with anyone other than the professionals involved for fear that he would do my little one harm. I had to be brave and be strong. Meeting after meeting was held behind closed doors.
If I wasn't in a meeting, in court sorting out the legal side of adoption or with my little one, I was drunk. Absolutely out of my head drunk. I had 6 months of only working 12 hours a week because I actually couldn't be sober for any longer than that. Vodka and razors became my safety net again. I clung to them. If they weren't available I was throwing tramadol down my neck like they were sweeties. Anything to block the pain out. And it was pain, it still is pain, real physical pain that doesn't go away.
In adoption proceedings, regardless of future contact agreements, birth mother and child have the option of a formal goodbye held in a safe mutual venue. I took it with both hands. That hour changed me. Not physically, but mentally. I knew I had to fight to be ok again, to be alive as they grew up and reached adulthood so I could answer their questions. To prove I hadn't completely abandoned them.
I knew then that I had to live. Whatever their biological father did, I had to be here when they reached adulthood. They deserve the opportunity to look me in the eye and ask me why.
Slowly I started to rebuild my life. At first, it was just work, but it was a start. I was still drinking heavily to escape, but I was trying to bring it to a more manageable, less destructive level. I was still self-harming, but no longer to the point of almost passing out. Very slowly I reached out; sometimes to friends, sometimes to professionals, sometimes to both.
Things improved slightly, but even my closest friends were actually too close to reach me. To emotionally strip me of the silence and build me up again. I distrusted professionals and other than them helping me understand my addiction issues better, I never really addressed my child's adoption or their father's treatment of me. It was like cat and mouse, they'd catch me for a bit but I'd run again.
By now I'd met my little one's mum. The court process drew to a close and the supportive world of professional involvement all but evaporated overnight. My little one was no longer my little one. They were legally someone elses. Emotional ties don't break; I know they live with me each day. There is not a day that goes by when my heart doesn't find them.
I crashed. Dramatically. At work, I was all out smiley, happy girl. I was masking a world of hurt, shame, fear, pain, hatred and more. My real friends tried to help. They stood by me through the impossible.
I lied. I hid. I lashed out. I drank to the point where I blacked out. If the shop or the pub was open and work didn't need me, I was drinking. It was a vicious cycle. Every time someone got close, I'd do something dramatic to either prove everyone would hate me and leave (thus enforcing how worthless I felt) or that I thought would make people love me. I was an idiot.
I can't go into details of specifics without the risk of revealing my identity (and thus my little ones) but I can say that when I was drunk, I was very drunk. And when I was sober I felt like I had to make excuses to both hide the real issues and to excuse my ridiculous behaviour. Anything so people didn't know the truth. The truth that I'd placed a child for adoption. It failed.
I made a new friend. One who was to see through the utter bullshit, the drunken shit I did and said and made me face reality. A friend that I really hurt, but a friend who kept pushing me back on track. That friend became a group of friends, some animals and an extended family. They joined 2 of my closest and oldest friends in saving me from myself. That group of extended family have supported me in going to the police about the abuse and picked up the pieces when the police dropped the case. They've given me opportunities I never thought I'd get again. They've taught me how to be around people without alcohol in my hand or running off home to cut myself. They've seen me triggered badly and still believed I could bounce back. They've let me just be. The good, the bad and the extremely ugly.
I live with PTSD and depression but they live within me and are not all of me. I am in recovery from alcohol and self-harm, a journey that will last a lifetime. I am the person who greets those around her with a smile and a hug when needed. I was a damaged, abusive, hateful drunk. I was a reclusive, hostile and frightened self-harmer. But I am making progress towards a happier future. I am a birth mother forever changed by her experiences. I am a survivour and I am alive.
In writing my story I'd like to thank a few people without identifying myself or my birth child; so to little blonde, Dragon & Wolf, Katz, the boys & the good girl, the Disney Princess & Prince, the guy who gets an early presence alarm & others who I can't describe without naming them outright; thank you. Every single one of you has been touched by my selfish issues, but every single one of you has stood by me and supported my recovery.
Many of us would have caved if life through half of this stuff at us, so it's all credit to this incredible lady for coming through it. Not only did she come through, she's using her own experiences to help others. She runs her own recovery group to help anyone with any sort of addiction find their own recovery path. Take that life!