A blog by RAPt Graduate, Spencer, 12 years clean
“I come from a close family of market traders, and grew up in a very loving home. However I was sexually abused by a male neighbour, which my parents didn’t know about for many years. My other problem was dyslexia, which nobody understood in those days. I just thought I was stupid, and my teachers thought I was stupid. It was a very painful time.
I was a loving child, but somehow I learned that whoever I loved either ended up dying or getting ill. My Nan had Parkinson’s disease and my uncle was crippled. So when I also watched my auntie die of cancer, it really affected me. She was like a big angel. And that’s when I learned to shut off from my feelings.
By 13 I was experimenting with cannabis and beer. It was the early 1980s and I liked the escapism of reggae, rock and punk. The older guys were experimenting with speed and LSD, and they were my role models. The men in my family were like Del Boy, Harrods coats falling off the back of lorries and stuff like that. There was also armed robbery and drug dealing around me, which I was drawn to. Before long, I was selling cannabis.
The beginning of real addiction came when I was 15. A friend said to me: “you always have to have your own lump of cannabis in your puff pocket”. I took other drugs, but puff was my security blanket.
At 15 I left school because I hated authority. I went to special classes because of my dyslexia; once a week I got picked up in a bus with big writing on the side about learning problems. I still remember the shame. Later, when dyslexia was explained to me, I realised I was different. Actually, I am far from stupid, I’m very good around money and figures, and I’m sharp.
Soon my drug taking went to a different level. Ecstasy was in, and there was a major heroin cult. It was instilled in us that heroin was a no-no, but I still took it, alongside ecstasy and cocaine. My dad was totally anti-drugs and, as I worked for him, drug taking was a big secret.
By 19 I was a full-blown heroin addict. Someone saw me coming out of the dealer’s and told my dad, and one night when I got home, all my uncles were waiting with the family. After a big fuss I promised them I would stop, and I believed it too. They locked me in and I went through withdrawals: shaking, vomiting, unable to hold my bowels. But I couldn’t stand it. I got out of the window and went to score, and within seconds of inhaling heroin I felt different. That was the moment when I realised that I was in a lot of trouble.
My dad drove me to a recovery place. Though he was a real man’s man, I can still remember seeing the tears in his eyes. I did the full 8 week treatment and although it was good to talk about the sexual abuse, the illness was still inside me, screaming, ‘keep them happy and you can go home’.
Then I went to secondary care. My girlfriend was expecting twins, so I left a week early to be at the birth. My mum moved my girlfriend into their home: they did everything to help as usual. After the birth my daughter was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, and we were in Great Ormond Street Hospital for a long time. Although I was meant to be clean, throughout this time I didn’t go to meetings or talk to my sponsor. So I was like a pressure cooker waiting to let off steam. Then an American surgeon did a pioneering operation and when he saved the baby’s life, the pressure cooker inside me exploded. I scored that day and I cried when I used. I knew the lunatic was awoken in me.
The next 12 years were absolute lunacy: saying I was going to meetings while secretly using; stealing my mum’s wedding ring and stuff off my sister. Heroin was everything; my children meant nothing. The only way to use was to steal. By 22 I had left the kids and moved to a gypsy site. It was like the Wild West: no rules, no laws, and the men were brutal. People died from violence or drug abuse. One guy there was honest, and said to me: “When I look at you there’s a little light that’s about to go out. You’re not meant to be here”. That haunted me.
My first prison sentence was for burglary. I went to Wandsworth and used drugs every day. It was as easy as clicking your fingers. I came out, carried on using, got arrested, got 18 months in prison, came out again, got arrested, and got four years. There was no bail, and I was remanded to High Down. The turning point was my grandmother visiting me. “You were meant to take your children on holiday” she said, crying. Then she turned her back on me and left.
It was a Friday night, and I opened up to a prison officer. He said, “I think you need some help”. I said, “Yeah I do. I’m beaten. I can’t do this anymore”. He said, “I will do everything I can to help you”. That Monday he got me on the drug recovery wing. The CARAT worker promised that when I was sentenced, she would get me into RAPt at HMP Coldingley.
That’s when the ball started rolling. I got a job as a cleaner and for the first time, I was trusted. When I went to court the judge said he would give me one chance, but that if I came in front of him again, I would get a life sentence. I am so grateful to those people. As I was waiting to go to Coldingley, I said to myself, “This is it”. I was 32 and had never spoken to myself like that before.
When I started the programme, a light went on in my head. I heard someone share about how they grew up, got abused, and their life went completely to pot with drug use. Then they shared how their life had changed and that was it. I got the programme.
What a lady my counsellor was. She believed in me from the word go. I shared stuff I had never talked about before. The bond with the other men was tight too. Although I was tempted, I didn’t use. I often cried over my kid’s pictures, thinking that I had to do this for me, and for them. Some days I hung on for dear life. But my behaviour was impeccable. Not to get brownie points, but because I had to change the whole lot of me, not one foot in and one foot out.
The hardest thing was talking to men in the mainstream prison. You come off the main part, get onto the RAPt wing, and they think you’re a grass. But my real friends round the prison were proud of me. Sitting in a room with 40 men, meditating to music. . . I sometimes thought, “What the eff is going on?” Yoga . . .?! There was a sign on the wall that said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes”. I used to wonder what that meant, but I get it now.
After prison I went to Latchmere House, where I got a job, carried on working the programme and found a sponsor, went to lots of meetings and started paying tax.
Getting back with my family has been a long uphill and downhill road, but I love it. I do lots of service, and do what I can for RAPt for giving me the chance to have a life and for saving my life. There have been births, deaths, marriages – all of the life stuff that comes at all of us.
I met a lovely woman, Mel, and we got married. We have a good friendship and a deep love. We both work hard, and we’ve bought a home together. We had three children, so now I have five children and a granddaughter. When I look at our life I have to take a deep breath. I never forget where I have come from.
Back when I started treatment, I started doing it out of fear. Then it became a habit, and I started to have a life. Now, I’ve been clean coming up to 12 years, and I still do the same. I know, that with friends, family and the programme, I can deal with anything.
To anyone reading this I wish you well and pray that if you are trying a different way, may God bless you. Thanks to RAPt for loving me when I could not love myself.