I’m 52 years old now, but my journey started when I was young. At the age of 14 I was placed in care. I’d been running away from home, getting into trouble with the police and self-harming. There were some things that happened to me when I was younger, some abuse at the hands of a teacher, and I never addressed the trauma of that. As a result, I was introduced to the judicial system and psychiatric services at a young age.

I seemed to thrive on attention, but the only time I felt like I got that attention was when I was doing bad things. I left school young without very much in terms of qualifications. A few job opportunities came my way, but I was never able to sustain them or see them through. I ended up in a really bad cycle of prison, rehab or in a psychiatric unit, but never really knew what was wrong with me.

My substance abuse had started at a young age with aerosols, and then as I got older it got more serious. I started smoking weed and drinking alcohol, and alcohol really changed me as a person.  I did things under the influence of alcohol that I would never, ever normally do.  The consequences of this substance abuse started to pile up and I ended up homeless. I travelled around the country, just trying to escape from myself, looking for external things to fix me. As the years went on things got worse and worse and I ended up doing drugs I never thought I would do in ways I never thought I would do them.

I ended up living in a tent, I weighed eight stone, I was sticking needles in my groin and eating out of bins.

I ended up living in a tent, I weighed eight stone, I was sticking needles in my groin and eating out of bins. At times I didn’t even have a tent, I was just sleeping in doorways. There were times when I would be able to get off the streets but then I would spiral again and find myself back there. The substance addiction was overwhelming. I couldn’t seem to break the cycle. It was bleak, I was dying.

Things got very desperate and I knew I had to try again to get into recovery. I managed to get funding and for the sixth time went off to rehab. I spent four months in there and came to realise that I wasn’t a bad person trying to be good, I was an ill person trying to get well. I was given hope that there was a solution. There was a way out of it.

I spent four months in that treatment centre, and when I came out I moved to Ipswich where I embarked on a twelve-step recovery programme. I got myself a sponsor and went through the twelve steps. I basically turned my life around. Because of my life up until then I found it very hard to find work. I had lots of lived experience but I had no qualifications, and trying to put together a CV was really hard.

Eventually, I asked if I could come and volunteer at Emmaus Suffolk. In November 2019 I started to volunteer at the Dales Road shop and really enjoyed it. I liked the atmosphere; everyone was really welcoming.

Within a few weeks I heard that Emmaus Suffolk was looking for a new Support Worker and I thought that I would apply for it. I knew I didn’t have the right qualifications and didn’t think I would get the role, but I thought it would be useful to go through the process and get the experience of applying for work to help me in the future. I was interviewed and was really honest about myself and explained that I was just looking for someone to give me a chance.  I felt I had a lot to offer, if only they could see me as more than just my past, take me as I am now rather than how I had been in the past.

I promised I would be reliable and honest, I was passionate about homelessness as I had the lived experience.

I know what it’s like to sleep in doorways and go around to soup kitchens to ask for food. I hoped to use that life experience as an asset, rather than something to shy away from.

Thankfully I was given that opportunity, and I have been able to turn all of the things I have experienced into a positive and use them to help other people.  It helps me to understand people who are in that space, offer them some inspiration that if I can come through that and live my life the way I am now, they can too.

I still work really hard on my recovery. I do four or five meetings a week and I sponsor other people through the 12 step program. Working with others is an essential part of my recovery it keeps me well, it keeps the demons away from my head. By working with others I never forget where I come from or how bad it was.

I am currently doing a substance misuse training course that will help me in my job role at Emmaus Suffolk.  While I have the lived experience, I don’t have the qualifications, so I am trying to get that balance right now and get the qualifications needed.

I started my job at Emmaus Suffolk in January 2020, just a couple of months before we went into COVID-19 lockdown. That was very challenging, both in terms of being able to do my job but also on a personal level. The Mental Health Packs we distributed throughout the first lockdown gave me a real focus. To be asked to take that project on and manage it was a challenge in itself, but I really enjoyed it, I embraced the challenge and felt I thrived on it. I put my heart and soul into it and the packs made a real difference to people across Suffolk.

I was later furloughed and being at home by myself for long periods of time was hard, but no harder for me than it was for other people. I used that time to stay in contact with other people who I knew were isolating alone to make sure they were OK. Those calls helped me as much as they helped the people I was speaking to. They had a really positive effect on me, as I live alone, but the calls made me feel a lot more connected.

People seem to want to talk to me because they know I have been where they are. When someone can talk to you from that place, from personal experience, it makes you want to open up more.

It was really great to get back into the Emmaus Suffolk office after lockdown. Everyone really welcoming. Things are changing really rapidly here, with new staff and volunteers coming in, new hubs and premises on the cards. I feel a valued part of the Emmaus Suffolk team, I feel really appreciated , and I appreciate the chance I have been given. There are lots of exciting things planned for the future here and I am really proud to be a part of that.