My Friend Natalie

I first met Natalie in my early days of working in the addiction field in the community. I still remember clearly her telling me that when she was using heroin, she did not know how to stop. She could find no information about how to stop using heroin. She knew no one who had stopped using.

Fortunately, Natalie accessed a high-quality treatment agency (WGCADA) and she found recovery. When we met, she told me that there needed to be stories of people who had found recovery available so that people with a drug and/or alcohol problem could read and learn from them.  I asked her if we could write her Story. She agreed.

My Wired In colleague Becky Hancock, a former Psychology student of mine, first interviewed Natalie. The Story was written in various ways, including for the first two editions of the UK magazine Drink and Drugs News.

When I was living in Wales, I used to see Natalie quite often. I always found it amusing how shocked people were when they heard that the beautiful lady with whom they were conversing was a former heroin addict. Natalie was—and no doubt still is—such a caring and thoughtful person. She’s very special.

Twenty years on, I’ve been interviewing Natalie on Skype for the update of her Story. She’s still in recovery and really enjoying life. Her Story update, which you can read in my new eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction, is really quite amazing. Natalie’s Story turns out to be a story of trauma. And the healing from trauma.

I’m not going to give much away, but I will say this. How on earth does a young girl get over the fact that her father is sentenced to 22 years in jail for drug dealing? How does she survive attending school every day, worried that someone in her class will find out about her father? And how does she survive the regular process of visiting her father in a prison located on the other side of the country?

Is it any surprise that Natalie turned to heroin once she experienced the psychological pain-killing effects of the drug? Here are some excerpts from Natalie’s original Story, I Didn’t Plan To Be An Addict.

‘At this time, I was completely lost. I remember thinking, ‘I’m scared’, but I couldn’t see a way out. I felt completely trapped. I absolutely hated using gear because of what it was doing. I felt totally controlled by John and heroin. My heroin use was taking its toll on my body. I collapsed twice from using too much, once in front of Joshua [Natalie’s son]. I would be sick most days and it got to the point where I just used to vomit into a plastic bag in front of whoever was there, including my son. 

I was too afraid to go to the doctor for help because I thought they would take Joshua off me. Even though I was addicted to drugs and they were my priority, I still loved my son and no way did I want to lose him….’

‘… I was still using heroin when I first attended the agency. There were about fifteen other treatment agency clients in my first group session, one of whom was an ex-heroin user who had been clean for about 16 years. She came over to talk to me and I was in awe. She had done exactly what I was doing and she had gotten through it. It was a Light Bulb Moment. From that moment on, I didn’t feel so alone. For the first time, I was with a group of people who understood me and my addiction, and I understood and related to them and with what they were saying. 

You have to realise my state of thinking prior to that first group meeting in the treatment agency. Once I had become addicted to heroin, I did not see that there was any alternative to the life I was living. I didn’t know anyone who had overcome heroin addiction. I had never heard of anyone who had done so. I could find no information on the internet on how to give up using the drug. That was it! I just had to carry on doing what I was doing….’

‘… One of the hardest things to deal with was the mental frustration. I had so many things going around my head and I was really scared. I had tried to change so many times before and I was battling with thoughts that I was going to mess up again. I had all these feelings rushing around my head, but I didn’t realise what they were because I had suppressed them for so long with heroin.

I can remember not being able to distinguish between feelings of hurt and anger. My counsellor really helped me to re-learn what different feelings stood for, which really helped. The hardest thing was having to face up to my past problems and seeing the damage I had caused to myself and others by taking drugs. I didn’t want to face up to the bad things that had happened and that I’d done. It was so difficult trying to sort all of that out raw, without using drugs to cope.’

And today, I’ll let Natalie tell you:

‘I am now 20 years in recovery and very happy. I have been together with James for 18 years and we were married nine years ago. James has two sons from a previous marriage and they are both doing well in their lives. My son Joshua, who is now in his late-20s, is also doing well. He has his own successful business and lives locally. He does not take drugs and only drinks occasionally. I guess the cycle of addiction has been broken.’