I have struggled with alcohol for over thirty years. I first started drinking at 17 but that was just socially and at weekends. At 21, I got into a relationship that became violent sexually and physically and I started to rely on alcohol for confidence to see him. We got engaged after six months, and as soon as I got the ring on my finger, I felt like I was his property and that’s when he severely changed. I got out of that relationship after nine months, but the drinking continued.

At 25, I had my first child, and went on to have two more children. Two of them are now in their 20’s and my youngest is 14. I found it easy to stay clean and sober while pregnant and breast-feeding, I didn’t even think of drinking at all, but I always went back to it.

I was a single mother for 19 odd years, drinking and doing a lot of drugs throughout that time, with a boyfriend of six years who was doing the same. From 2012, I did a diploma in counselling, completed a two-year Foundation Degree, and won a trophy for the most outstanding student on an access to higher education course. I was doing well considering I was in a bad place emotionally and mentally but became homeless and couldn’t finish the final year.

I stayed in a hostel, and with them I got a move-on place but soon after got assaulted by someone. I was put in a refuge because he threatened to throw acid over me, but I got chucked out because of my drink problems.

It was then I moved out of the town I had been in since I was 10 years old. I had so many memories there that I needed a fresh start and moved to Ipswich Action Housing Group in 2016. The staff and my support worker there were great, but the place was a renowned crack house full of drugs and alcohol. I was drinking a lot there too and selling my body to fund it. When I look back, I feel like the alcohol helped me get through those days.

After two years, I moved to Hope House just outside of Ipswich. It was a supported housing project in the countryside and was lovely. My support worker there was amazing, and after she had seen how much I enjoyed a project to restore an old greenhouse while at Hope House, and how it had helped me to not drink, she suggested I think about finding work.

I was terrified at the thought of going out in the big wide world to look for a ‘normal’ job. I have a history of being bullied in workplace environments, as well as in social situations and within my family. I wasn’t sure I could cope and didn’t have the confidence; it was then that I found out about Emmaus.

I came to Emmaus Norfolk & Waveney in March 2019. At first, I was a bit worried about living in the community as the only female companion out of 23 people, especially having been sexually abused as a child and an adult, but I’ve never felt safer or more secure and I know all the guys are looking out for me.

I’m enjoying all the different roles at Emmaus, doing a bit of everything. I mainly work in Emmaus House sorting clothing and bric-a-brac donations and talking to customers. The work that Emmaus provides makes me feel like I have a purpose, keeps me busy, and makes the day go quick. The best part is knowing that working isn’t just helping me – it helps the other companions and the community too, which is what makes it meaningful.

The environment of Emmaus is amazing too. The staff and other companions are extremely supportive and since being here, Emmaus has organised getting me on a drug and alcohol programme in Norwich. As of the beginning of August 2019, I am 82 days clean and sober. The extra support has been so good for me and every week I’m in an environment with other people trying to do the same as me, it feels safe, and everyone is honest and open. Of course, I do have cravings, several daily sometimes, or I might struggle when walking past a shop, but I just think of Emmaus and know I’ll be okay when I get back here. I have also been meeting with Stacey from Heart of the Matter, who visits the communities to have sessions with companions. She has been absolutely amazing and pivotal in helping me feel valued.

Emmaus is more than just a place to live. We all eat together, both staff and companions, and Eamon, who is another companion at Emmaus, cooks amazing food which really brings everyone together. Its not forced either, sometimes people take their plates to their room and that’s okay, but eating together feels nourishing, nurturing and healing. It really does make a difference to morale and I haven’t eaten this well since before I developed an eating disorder at the age of 10.

Now that I am settled in at Emmaus, I want to continue rebuilding trust with my children who put up with a lot over the years. There was never a big argument, but they were frustrated, upset and disappointed in what I was doing, and I understand that. I now have two grandchildren too and was so excited to buy them each a present instead of spending my money on alcohol. I know at Emmaus I will have the stability and the time to re-establish myself as a new person.