The real success stories in life aren’t about the millionaires or the people who’ve had their life together the whole time. They’re about the people who have dealt with terrible things but are still building a future; the people who had no direction but have now found it; or the people finally realising they can be someone in this world.

All my life, I felt as though I was in the trenches and now, at 30 years of age, I have my whole life ahead of me, and I hope the next 30 years are going to be better than the first.

I was born in 1989 and grew up in quite a dysfunctional family. It was just my mum, me and my older brother. My mum was an alcoholic and we lived in a very hostile environment. My dad left before I was born, when my brother was a year old. He couldn’t cope with my mum’s drinking, but it wasn’t all him as my mum was telling him to leave too.

My childhood wasn’t the best, and it didn’t improve as I grew up. I can remember that my mum was looked down on quite a lot because of her drinking. There would be times she would be outside and drunk, and a group of nasty lads around the area used to chuck cups of piss all over her. We had all sorts of different men in and out of our house too. It was hard, as you can imagine, for a child growing up in that.

From a young age, I started to build up so many walls so that nobody could hurt me. For a child I think that was wrong to do because that became who I was as an adult – very guarded and hostile, and I lacked empathy towards people. I really wanted them to feel what I felt.

At 14, my mum died. One day, I came downstairs, and she was there, very skinny and drunk. She had skin peeling off her knees and blood running down her legs. She didn’t know who I was and was calling me by my friend’s name, shouting for me to get out of the house. I went next door and they called an ambulance. She had multiple types of cancer and died 10 days later in the hospital. Social services decided that my brother and I should live with my uncle rather than go into care.

Growing up I questioned whether I could have done more to help her. I beat myself up about it and got lost in that for many years. I wish there had been more help. The only people I started to relate to were horrible people. I felt like I could have a relationship with them more than anyone who had a plan for their life, had family support, or knew what they wanted to do after school. My life was never like theirs, I was always a hurt kid without any direction and a lack of love from anybody. I can remember going to mate’s houses and hearing their mum tell them that its cold and to put a coat on. That stuff really hurt me. Or if someone said they were going home for dinner, I would think about how I had none of that, so I always felt like I had nothing at all.

I started to hang around with bad people and began drinking a lot. I had already been using drugs before my mum died, but I got into selling them too. The drugs became everything to me. I felt good and as though I was in a family environment with other violent riff raff. I started to smash up shops and steal cars – that was my playground and I felt alive there when I hadn’t felt accepted anywhere else.

My uncle couldn’t cope with it and looking back I feel for him. He had young kids, and then suddenly took on a 14 and 15-year-old. Within a year of living with him, my brother was kicked out. I stayed on and off, but always lied about where I was and stole from them for drugs. Eventually, he kicked me out too, so from the age of 17 I was living in hostels and in the woods.

When I was 21, I tried to sort my life out. I had met someone, and we were together for a while before having a kid when I was 23. But by this point, I was in the drug game and honestly, that’s where I wanted to be. I always called it the dark side, where I shared a pain relationship with other people and they were like my family. Then there was the light side, which I could never quite get accepted into. I thought having a kid would change me, but it didn’t for some time. At 24, my dad contacted me for the first time. He sent me a letter and I flew abroad to meet him. I thought that might finally kill the demons inside me, but it never did either.

It was when I was 25 that I really wanted to change my life and get help. I went to rehab for 10 months and did well. I put on a lot of weight, left thinking I was okay, and went back to my old area. I was doing alright for a little while, but I think I had only fixed myself physically. About three months after, I fell again. I came back from a holiday and my kid and her mum had left me. I lost all friendships, lost my self-respect, and it was even worse this time because I thought I’d sorted myself out.

I went back to rehab for another 10 months, only this time I knew that I really needed to deal with what was inside – with my childhood and everything that happened throughout, my mum dying, all of the walls I had put up, and the persona I had created to deal with the pain. It was hard the second time, because I was now dealing with my life.

I found out about Emmaus while in rehab and applied in October 2018. I found community living very easy because I came from a residential rehab with 45 guys. It was the freedom that Emmaus gives compared to rehab that was the real test though. In rehab, you have no access to money, no phone, and all your spare time is filled with work and chores. Here, I could suddenly go out when I wanted in my free time, have a phone, and get a bit of money every week.

A year on, and I am still doing well. I am the team leader of the Emmaus shop and spend a lot of my spare time reading. When I first arrived, I set myself three things to aim for; the first was to get in contact with my daughter, the second was to sort something substantial as a career for when I do leave Emmaus, and the third was to get my driving license.

I’m currently trying to get in contact with my daughter through the courts and have been doing so since I arrived. I would like it to be right now, but I know these things take time and I feel as though I am growing because of it and becoming a better person for her.

To sort something substantial for when I leave Emmaus, I have enrolled in college to do an electrician’s course. This is funded by the Emmaus UK companion training fund and I will be doing this alongside my Maths and English three days a week. Emmaus has been so flexible in helping me manage my responsibilities within the community with my new timetable for the course and my support worker will review it monthly to see how I am managing.

Now that I am enrolled in college, I want to give it a few months before starting my driving lessons, so I don’t overload myself, but I feel as though the future is bright. I also have a good relationship with my dad now too. He is very supportive of me, we have so much in common it’s unreal, and I visit him twice a year.

I think for most of my life I was in survival mode, but now I’m thriving, and I really can’t believe who I am today.