My name is May, may I say that it is truly an honour and a privilege that Steps2Recovery have asked me to speak here to The All-Party Parliamentary Group and share my story with you all, I feel truly humbled and very nervous.

I am a qualified integrative therapist and member of the British Association for counselling and psychotherapy, I work specifically with childhood trauma, and I live in London in a beautiful flat, my daughters come and stay with me periodically, and I have hobbies that bring me joy like singing, dancing, and producing music. If you told me this was going to be me or my life 9 years ago, I would have asked you to pass me what you had been smoking or tell me where I could go and buy it.

It all began for me at birth, I was abandoned by my birth parents due to cultural issues and ended up in care system, in the form of different foster homes, where I experienced sexual/emotional and physical abuse. At the age of 13 I ran away from the home I was placed in and ended up back in the care system this time in children’s homes where I started to drink Alcohol and smoke marijuana, which led me on a path of crime, destruction, and loss.

By the time I was 27 years old I had been a resident of many prisons around the UK, was street homeless and was serving another prison sentence for crimes I had committed. At this point I was addicted to Crack and Heroin. Each child I had given birth to ended up under the local authorities care due to the severity of my addiction and by this time, I had given up on any hope for a life/self-worth or value, I hated myself, hated the world and wanted to die.

Social services and the courts had sent me to substance misuse services to try and help me, however, sitting in groups talking about harm minimisation, or tick box exercises of drug and alcohol diaries, or methadone scripts only put a plaster on the deep wound I had that needed healing, and it didn’t help me. I had visited the doctor on many occasions, and they would say just stop using, which was my problem I just couldn’t stop, believe me I wanted to stop I just didn’t know how.

During the final prison sentence, I served in 2014, I attended the Rapt treatment programme which was at the time a 12 step recovery programme which lasted for five months, It was the first time I was given the solution to my problem, I met people who had been where I had been and had found a way out, and they helped me to understand that I was suffering with a disease. A disease that makes it impossible to stop once I had the first one, because it was a disease of more but most importantly, they showed me how to ‘just stop using’ by giving me the tools I needed. On completing the program, with the help of the support workers in the prison I was referred to Steps2Recovery, and on my release from the prison I attended their day programme for 3 months whilst living in Kairos community trust, who are a 12-step supported housing service.

Whilst attending the programme at Steps2Recovery I started to re learn basic social and living skills through the intensive groups we had, and interactions with Trustees and staff members. We had cooking groups, outings to theatres and museums and attended events focused on addiction. But most importantly the therapeutic work is what has changed my life, it turns out the reason I used drugs went deeper than having a disease, I was full of shame about the abuse from my childhood and the things I did in order to fund my drug habit, I had abandonment issues and layers of buried unprocessed trauma that needed to be healed and processed.  Steps2Recovery and the therapists that worked there at the time gave me a safe space to begin this process and held me metaphorically whilst embarking on the journey into healing myself.

The set-up at Steps is family like, in that the support structure they give continues even when you have left. For example, education, funding for education and any legal issues and housing needs, and because the trustees and staff members are all in recovery themselves, they understand and do not judge you for where you have been, addiction is a disease that does not discriminate no matter where you come from or what class you are.  As part of the intensive programme at Steps, we attended three 12 step fellowship meetings per week, which has stood me in good stead and prepared me for when my time there came to an end.

Since moving on from Steps2Recovery I have built relationships with my daughters and am a big part in their lives, and I also have ongoing relationships with my birth family because I did the 12-step work to learn how to come to terms with my pain, whilst addressing the resentments I had, learning how to forgive them for their failings as human beings.

Did I mention I am a therapist now?

After doing voluntary work at Steps2Recovery for under a year, I had developed enough self-esteem to return to college, I studied for 4 years, and I now run a successful and thriving private practice.

That all sounds great and it really is, but what means the most to me is that I no longer feel that shame for my past or for even existing. I didn’t wake up one day and just decide to become  “An addict or a criminal or a waste” It wasn’t a life I had chosen, Steps2Recovery and a 12-step programme equipped me with the tools I needed in order to live.

I am a woman full of love and self-respect today because others have helped me to find her, it is an honour to now be in the position to be that person for others.

Thank you Steps2Recovery and thank you for hearing my story.