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picture of joanne with text "joanne's story in her own words"

The need to escape my own reality started at eight or nine years old. I was using aerosols, Tippex, thinners, poppers. Drug use was rampant in the area where I grew up. Every second person you looked at was using drugs in one form or another, even within my own family.

I was using aerosols, Tippex, thinners, poppers. Drug use was rampant in the area where I grew up.

 

By the time I was eleven, I was trying all sorts of things. I never liked being sky high, because then you’re aware. I liked to be comatose. When I started taking hard drugs, I would tell myself “I will never do what my older brothers and sister are doing.” But what I realised was that all the ‘nevers’ came to pass.

My older brother Sean was knocked down and killed by a drunk driver when he was ten. My parents were never the same after that. My da was a functioning alcoholic, he would work all day and be in the pub all evening. My ma was busy running around after my older brothers and sisters. Sean’s death obviously had an effect on her mental health.

Sean was a loveable kid. I can still see his smile. He was always getting up to mischief, always in trouble, so my ma used to always say “If you keep it up now, I’m going to be sending you off to the bold school.” I’d say for about two years, I just thought Sean had been sent away to school. I didn’t know that he was dead. Nobody told me.

For two years, I just thought my brother had been sent away to school. I didn’t know that he was dead. Nobody told me.

 

Sometimes my ma would be sitting there at the kitchen table in our flat, and every now and again she’d shout out ‘Sean!’ and I’d be looking all around the room thinking “Where is he?” But she was just calling out to him. I had no clue what was going on, I thought he was standing behind me or walking in the door based on how she was calling out to him.

picture of joanne on a bench

School was really difficult for me, I was using substances but it wasn’t being picked up on. I hated school because I felt so stupid. I was often told “You’re good for nothing. You’re stupid. You’re not going to amount to anything.” Those words stopped me from trying many things because I felt I was going to fail before I even started. It felt safer to just believe that I was stupid, and protect myself by not trying to go against it.

It felt safer to just believe that I was stupid, and protect myself by not trying to go against it.

 

Drugs gave me the confidence to be a certain way, whereas I wouldn’t have been before. It gave me a voice. I was so driven by the feelings and the effects that I got from it; I didn’t care about anything else.

For that short space of time, addiction stopped me from thinking about the trauma I endured at a young age. I was terrified to tell anybody about the sexual abuse I experienced. I should have never carried that shame over something I had no control over, but I held on to it for well over thirty years. I would say coping with childhood trauma is one of the biggest things that drives women into addiction. I bet a really high percentage of women in addiction have experienced sexual abuse and have hidden it because of stigma and shame.

I would say coping with childhood trauma is one of the biggest things that drives women into addiction.

 

My head was absolutely tortured with the memories of stuff that happened to me, the abuse. I couldn’t sustain being drug-free. Before the most difficult point in my life, I was bouncing around hostels with my sons. One morning I woke up and the kids had the place destroyed, and I knew I couldn’t take care of them anymore. So I asked my ma to take them and she did. I spent the next ten years on the streets, deliberately getting arrested just to get a break from sleeping rough.

My real wake up call happened when I was in the ICU for several weeks. My lungs failed, my liver failed, my kidneys failed, and my heart started to give way. It wasn’t until I got to a stage in my life that I had absolutely nothing, that I had burned every single bridge that I was able to get into recovery properly and face all the things that had driven me to addiction in the first place. That’s when I got into the St. Francis Farm detox programme at Merchants Quay.

It wasn’t until I got to a stage in my life that I had absolutely nothing, that I was able to get into recovery properly.

 

I did find mixed treatment difficult. There was stuff that was coming up for me that at first I wouldn’t dare share in a room full of men. Women in addiction suffer serious shame. Shame for having had kids while using drugs, for having their kids taken off them. There is so much expected of women that isn’t expected of men, and when you’re in addiction you can’t fulfil those expectations, so it’s just complete and utter shame.

I avoided services most of the time for the simple reason that they were full of men. Men have ways to fund their habits as well that women don’t have. Men can rob, they can fight for what they need, whereas women end up working the streets, which is seen as more shameful than robbing or violent crime. Without a shadow of a doubt, I would have 100% used a women’s only centre if there had been one in Dublin. Even the sound of it just makes me feel safe, gives me a sense of comfort.

Women in addiction suffer serious shame. There is so much expected of women that isn’t expected of men.

 

After treatment, it took me awhile to repair the relationships with my kids and my da, but we’re all in a good place now. My ma passed away several years ago. It’s my biggest regret that she didn’t get to see me get better. I would have loved her to get to see how I am now, because she lost me at a very young age. Even though I was still alive, I was gone really. She lost all of her children, in one way or another. But I have to just keep reminding myself that in some way, she’s still with me, and she’s been my strength on many a day.

I have plans to work in a recovery centre now. The whole reason why I want to work with people in addiction is to be able to show them that there is a way out of the horrible hell that they’ve been living in for years. I want them to know that you can come out of it and you can be successful, you can live a normal, happy, content life and you can heal.

The whole reason why I want to work with people in addiction is to be able to show them that there is a way out of the horrible hell that they’ve been living in for years.

 

I want more people to be able to have the same thing that I have today, and that’s absolute freedom from drug addiction and the stigma and the trauma of it. I want to be that guide. I want to just offer a little hope to people and show them that there is actually light at the end of the tunnel. My desire is just to keep giving back what was so freely given to me.

Thank you Joanne for sharing your story with us.

Joanne’s recovery could have begun long before her situation became so extreme, if only the support she needed had been there. Sadly, the shame and stigma they experience means that many women do not reach out for help until their situation has become unmanageable. Research shows that for women to have the best chance of healing from trauma, they need the safety and security of a female-only space.

Today, if you’re kind enough to give, you can help build that safe haven for vulnerable women. Please Donate Now if you can.

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