I knew I didn’t want this life, but really could not see any way out of it

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Guest blog post written by Adellah Snape, ex-service user at Anawim, Birmingham

My name is Adellah Snape – I am 34 years young and the mother of four children, when I think about my life it seems as though it’s a story that I have read about or a film that I have watched, but nonetheless this is my story and this is my lived experience. I have four full biological brothers and sisters and my father had six children and one adopted child from his marriage prior to meeting my mother.

I grew up in the Handsworth area of Birmingham with my mother and father, my mum was white British and my father came to England from Jamaica when he was 21 years old. My early memories are very vague but I do recall my parents living together for a short period of time, at the age of 7 they parted, at that time I didn’t know why, but I know now. My mother was imprisoned and me and my four siblings were received into Local Authority Care, due to lack of extended family support and my father not having a fixed abode. Myself and my sister were placed together, two of my brothers were placed together and my younger brother was placed alone, he became mute, a condition which lasted for two years. We were fortunate enough to have decent and loving foster parents who cared for us very well and my father religiously collected all of us for contact every Saturday. Me and my sister would wait anxiously at the front door for him each week and looked forward to visiting other family members and doing various activities. Upon return from our days out with our father we would run into the house and up the stairs until we reached our attic bedroom and we would go straight to the window and wave him off, then counted the days until we saw him again. School life was positive and supportive and life continued. It had its moments but I feel we were very, very fortunate to have been placed where we were.

My mum was released from prison, after serving 9 months and giving birth to twins whilst incarcerated from her relationship with another partner, now I understand this to be the reason that my parents split up. By now my father had gained accommodation and me and my four immediate siblings went to live with him.

My dad was a polio victim from when he was 27 or thereabouts, and endured physical impairments and was unable to walk at all spritely. Life at dads was strictly disciplined and came with many chores as he was physically unable to undertake them himself. At the time I felt rebellious and felt angry towards my parents and I could not understand why my mum didn’t want us to live with her. We were forbidden from seeing our mum, her relationship with her partner deteriorated drastically and became un-manageable due to the domestic violence she suffered at the hands of her partner. There were occasions when my father did allow us to see our mum and during those visits, we witnessed her plight and the violence she was suffering. In my adult life I have come to see that her behaviour and tolerance was absorbed by me.

So life continued and we were disciplined from time to time, I was disciplined quite a lot as I was boisterous and of a mischievous nature, quite simply I am a rebel at heart. I really was not naughty, I am good natured and good humoured but I was just very mischievous. My father, then in his fifties was, I now realise, quite old to be caring and managing five lively children between the ages of 4 and 12 years old. He looked after us well; we were always well fed with nutritious food, my dad being a very good cook, and clothed in clean and appropriate clothing, we did receive a lot of provisions from charities or the Local Authority. Our house was maintained to a high standard and we were taught high morals and that we came from a divine source, i.e. God, which is now one of my core beliefs. We also had the influence of the Rastafarian culture and its music which played a big part in our life.

When I reached the age of 10 or 11 I started to become aware of myself and how I fitted in with my peers at school and this is where I started to feel that I didn’t belong in groups at school and I stood out prominently. I still stand out in a crowd, I accept this and I embrace it about myself today. I started to experience racist bullying at school and more prominently the local park due to my duel heritage. People had come to know about my mums domestic violence suffering and alcoholism and the fact that I lived with my elderly and disabled father, it was evident that we were quite poor as a family compared to a lot of those children in school. I was very tall and very boy like, in the clothes that I wore, the fact that I had dreadlocks, and the way I used to like to play i.e. with boys. That made me feel very sad about myself and I recall wanting to change everything about me, my looks, my nose, which played a very big part in my demeanour. I dreamed of having a nose job. I used to measure my nose and hope that it would shrink; now I embrace my profile. I was a confident person in groups and crowds, I enjoyed acting and physical activities, I would be the risk taker in the group as if I needed the approval of others. I had a very low self esteem and just wanted to be like the other girls, girlie and to be fancied by the boys.

Things started to change for me when I got into senior school. I started to imitate the behaviour of the older girls and eventually was initiated into their gang, the circumstances that followed were from poor choice making and the fact that I sold myself out to fit in with the crowd. I became very sexually active in a short space of time and engaged in what I now realise was child sexual exploitation. I won’t go into detail about how horrific it was except to say that I was gang raped and felt at the time that there was no one available to talk to about it – going to the police was not an option. At the age of 14 I got into a relationship in a very short space of time with a man who was 10 years older than me and I kept this a secret until the day came when I found I was 4 ½ months pregnant. When my father found out he was very hurt, disappointed and angry, and he went to the police as the man was so much older, however, due to the circumstances and my consent to sexual intercourse with this man, there was little they could do by way of retribution. There was quite a bit of pressure from a certain family member to have a termination but I had made up my mind that in my heart I wanted to keep my baby, which I did. I had a beautiful baby girl who is now 19 years old, and I continued in that relationship with the guy who I now considered as my partner. It started out quite loving and supportive and I lived in supported accommodation, having the support of the local authority. I signed myself out of the care system at the age of 16. I moved into my first accommodation at the age of 16 and that’s when things changed for me. My partner at the time became very violent and his drinking escalated from 1-2 cans per day to excessive and constant drinking. The violence started on a small scale which was an occasional slap, escalating into mental abuse and unfaithfulness. I became very isolated. I do have some good memories with that person and I know that he endured his own mental torture, and today I forgive him. In the circumstances he did try his best to be a good father to our daughter.

At the age of 17 after a very aggressive argument he was in the kitchen absolutely drunk doing something with his empty beer can, I was interested to know what he was doing and I looked through the door which was ajar and noticed that he was putting a lighter to this can and saw that he inhaled smoke which disconcerted me, he emerged from the kitchen absolutely sober which blew me away because I couldn’t understand what he had done. I asked him what he had done as he appeared to be as loving and kind as at the start of our relationship and he told me he was smoking ‘stone’ and from that point on I would encourage him to smoke stone after a drinking session as if he smoked stone after drinking he would then not be drunk and violent and abusive to me. Little did I know what was to follow.

In the coming weeks this evolved into him smoking a lot more stone which I learned was crack cocaine that decreased the drinking intake which in turn lessened the physical abuse, however, it turned into him asking me for money to fund this addiction which I learned he had had since the early days of our relationship, but I was unaware of this as I was only 14 years old and innocent to this kind of practice. One particular day, after waiting around for hours on the street for a person to come to him, such person I now know to be a dealer, he asked me if I wanted to try it, and as usual I went along with anything he requested of me. He put the can to my lips and assisted me in consuming it as I had no knowledge of what to do. As it was my first time I didn’t get it right and the stone ended up falling on to the floor, he went berserk, the second time round I got it right and I inhaled the smoke and felt the effects immediately, my senses were heightened and my heartbeat increased, something happened to my mind that day and as soon as the initial buzz wore off after a couple of minutes I immediately wanted another try. In hindsight that was the day I became addicted to crack cocaine.

The violence almost came to a complete stop although the mental abuse continued, but what increased was my crack cocaine intake. As my behaviour changed the level of care towards my child decreased. I still managed to get some part time work which increased my income but also funded our continuing crack cocaine use, after a short period of time an incident involving a gun took place at our property and I was forced to move home to a more deprived area where crack cocaine was readily available and so my addiction escalated.

I then found out I was pregnant with my second child, but I did not stop using crack cocaine. I used to wake angry every morning, guilty and upset, I was ashamed of myself and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop using but that didn’t stop me from using whilst I was pregnant. I became violent and aggressive towards my partner and hated him for giving me such a substance in the knowledge of what it does to people and what it might do to me. When I gave birth we managed to regain some control over our using and we brought some level of stability into our home but it soon caught up with us again. The violence started again, this time it was both of us and the situation was incredibly volatile. The police were called on a number of occasions.

Throughout this time my dad was always there supporting me, giving me guidance and listening and as poor as he was, he would financially support me in times of crisis. We would escape from my partner at times and stay with my dad for days on end but I had to return due to the children’s schooling and other activities. Life was mundane and lonely and I always felt like a 14 yr old even though I had reached 20 yrs old. At the age of 21 my partner at the time was killed in a road accident which had both a positive and negative effect on me. Positive in the sense that I was now free from the mental and physical abuse and I had a chance to break away from the crack cocaine addiction, but negative in the sense that my children are now without a father and I was isolated, alone, and deeply unhappy.

I moved to a new property, joined Birmingham Theatre School, got myself onto a good position with the children and built bridges with family, and my dad. On occasions I would still use crack cocaine, but on the whole things were good for me. I felt that I abused crack cocaine spontaneously as a coping mechanism for when things overwhelmed me.

In 2005 I began another relationship which again started out really loving and affectionate, affection such as I had not experienced before, I kept my addiction secret, but there were signs in the behaviour of this partner that I recognized to be like mine but said nothing as I thought it was my mental health and paranoia. The relationship soon became unhealthy because he was incarcerated and he started to abuse crack cocaine also, which rekindled my cravings.

My mother died in 2007.

Upon my partners release he asked me if I could ‘score’ which means to buy him some heroin when I bought crack cocaine. Heroin is something which I had sworn never to do; I have seen things that I could not believe when it comes to heroin. I still bought it for him and watched him consume it, I was extremely high one evening and I witnessed how lethargic, sleepy and calm he looked after smoking large amounts of crack cocaine. He offered me some heroin and told me it would ‘bring me down’ and so I tried it, and it took away that highness and slowed my heart rate down. It made me feel warm and safe, and for the next couple of hours I didn’t have to feel or think, and so it continued, after every use of crack cocaine, which quickly became frequent, again I would use heroin. After about a week of using heroin consecutively I woke up feeling like I had the flu, his words to me were ‘you’re rattling’ and he told me the only way to stop that flu feeling was to smoke more heroin. I knew at that point that was not the only option but felt powerless in making the right choice, and that was the day I embraced heroin addiction. In a very short space of time everything deteriorated and gradually got worse, so much so that I would borrow money from my father, lying as to the reasons why I wanted the money, I would steal little things and pawn them. I started to pawn my children’s things, e.g. electronic games and consoles, my benefits were not enough to fund my addiction and run a household so my partner at the time entered into a life of crime. I became pregnant and found out at 18 weeks, I really could not bring myself to have a termination at that stage in the pregnancy, but that didn’t stop me from using heroin and crack cocaine.

Violence had started in our relationship and we started to argue over the consumption of drugs, who was paying for it, me not managing my household and feeling guilty and angry towards him. He was abusing me and my children and taking advantage of our kindness and our home. This is not to say that we don’t still have some good memories, even though the majority of them are really sad.

As my benefits weren’t covering the costs of living expenses and enough to fund my addiction, I started to commit crime myself, i.e. shoplifting.

In the eighth month of my pregnancy I was remanded into Peterborough custody for three weeks, that’s where I experienced my first cold turkey, I was advised not to do this as it was considered dangerous for the baby, but I rejected that advice because it didn’t make sense to me. I clearly want to clean myself and my baby from these substances, so why would I then take another substance to counteract the withdrawal symptoms. That other substance was also a very addictive substance (methadone). By the grace of my understanding of God, my baby was born drug free. I had to stay in hospital for two weeks as the Local Authority had been informed of my circumstances, but was released back into the community with very little support. Home life continued and things continued to deteriorate slowly but dramatically.

In 2010 I was under pressure to go into a rehab unit, but whilst I was in there, a family member who was looking after my two eldest children could no longer support them and they were received into voluntary local authority care. My youngest child was placed with his paternal grandmother. After six weeks of being in a rehab I was ejected from the house and released into the community with only my derelict home, which had been previously burned down by my ex partner and £25.00. What do you think was the first thing I was going to do?

This is where my homelessness began.

I believe in my heart that my children were gone forever, that was the impression I was given, I received only judgemental rejection from agencies that were involved with me and my family also rejected me. My father remained steadfastly by my side, although there was very little that he could do for me at that time. I had no direction in life and I felt worthless. I felt I had given up on my children just as my mother had given up on me. I was living with constant guilt and kept re-living in my memories all of the unspeakable things I had put them through, and for the next three years I was sofa surfing, committing crime, there are some things that have happened in my life in that space of time that I have yet to disclose to anyone.

I felt I had nothing left to live for.

I accumulated 64 arrests, 32 convictions and had been imprisoned 10 times.

Sometimes I would purposely get myself locked up just for respite purposes, I knew I didn’t want this life, but really could not see any way out of it.

I was constantly running away from myself and would very rarely look in the mirror but every time I went to prison I re-discovered who I was, something sub consciously kicked in. I had received a number of drug support orders, probation orders, community sentences and probably three per cent of the people I encountered had a positive impact on me, the problem was a lot of people had no real understanding of my situation and didn’t know how to ask the right questions. I always remained in contact with my children, although sometimes this would be quite sporadic. I have always been, as much as possible, direct, open and honest with my children, although a little bit too frank. I talk to them about life, what substances do to people, the fact I didn’t know how to stop, and I have told them that my mistakes are not their mistakes, and that they should never give up hope, that one day I will change. I told them to always remain in contact with their granddad and stay strong in school, I told them “if people make fun of you about me just be strong and rise above it, the people just don’t understand”.

2012 was my last prison sentence and I think that was because it was the longest sentence I had ever been handed, 12 months. Something happened during this time that helped to transform my life. I came across a book ‘The power of positive thinking’ by Dr Vincent Norman Peel.

At that time, I didn’t think it would have such an impact on my life as it clearly did, but the book resonated with me as I read through it, the true accounts that Dr Peel encountered, had an impact on me and the stories he told of how you can change your perspective on your situation and your attitude towards it made me look at my own. It opened my mind and set the course to my recovery. I worked on my physical health in prison; I interacted with the prison officers and chose my peers carefully. I conversed with a Mr N, an officer in my wing, and I feel that his stature, his intellect and the fact that he was the closest thing I had to a father at that time, had a huge and positive impact on me. Some of my fellow inmates who were serving very long sentences gave me massive amounts of support and belief in me, and these were complete strangers.

On 17 September 2012 I was released from HMP Foston Hall, homeless, drug free, healthy in mind and body but back into the same situation. On that day I met a man who I had known before but had never given a second thought to, we ended up staying in a hotel together. I reluctantly used crack cocaine on that day and for the next few days. I justified it at the time as crack hadn’t destroyed my life in the same way as heroin did, and I saw it as a treat. After a week of being with this man I knew I didn’t want to be in a relationship so I got myself into a women’s hostel which was one of the worst hostel’s I had been in, it was riddled with drug users and sex workers. This was where my battle began. I was ordered by the court to attend Anawim women’s centre for probation and specified activities. I wasn’t convinced that this was place would work for me, but after I decided to commit to going there I realised that this place was something different. The staff, particularly my mental health worker and probation officer showed me compassion and empathy, encouragement, space, knowledge, direction, they believed in me, supported me and made me feel loved and over the next couple of months things went really well. I relapsed once or twice, but nothing dramatic.

In March 2013 I discovered I was 20 weeks pregnant with my fourth child and so the battle had just got more difficult. To cut a long story short I managed to get myself a property and managed to convince, along with the support of Anawim, the Local Authority to give me a chance at continuing to demonstrate that I was capable of change and so they granted me my wish with conditions. Nine weeks later my son was born. I relapsed but was honest about it to my support agencies as this was encouraged at the beginning. There was an interim hearing at court on 17 September 2013, a year to the date of my release. At that court hearing, unexpectedly my child was ripped from my arms at that hearing, they pulled him from my arms as I refused to hand him over. At the time it felt as though my whole world had been smashed to pieces, and it was. I was absolutely, weak, empty, and numb. In the space of me being pregnant to having my child taken at 9 weeks old, my eldest son was placed back into my care because of the good progress I was making. I was at a crossroads and I knew I faced the ultimate choice. On one side it was almost as if the gates of hell had opened with hands reaching out to get me, as I was craving that bad. On the other side was the light that I knew I needed to follow, I now faced the most difficult challenge of my life.

I drank myself silly, I really wanted to use so bad that day but I decided to get absolutely wasted instead, my son stayed at my sisters, morning broke and reality slapped me in the face, this was day 1.

I was back to feeling lonely, isolated, disappointed, ashamed, and a whole range of other feelings, I knew I had to stay in control. Anawim were very supportive and helped me to get the backbone I needed. Anawim now became my second home. I quickly got fed up of the information that had been fed to me, so I started to look elsewhere for knowledge in terms of understanding and defeating the disease of addiction. I then discovered Narcotics Anonymous, there I consumed a whole lot of knowledge and applied it to my life, my progress increased in leaps and bounds. I was still faced with the challenges of addiction but now had a new attitude and understanding towards it. During my time at Anawim I underwent intensive counselling around my past, and engaged in a number of courses. I was hair strand tested by the Courts and I maintained consistency in visitations with my child. My eldest son’s school attendance was 100%, yes 100% – I can’t believe it myself!

After a year of being at Anawim, I started to volunteer at another organisation that supported people in similar circumstances to me and gained a lot of experience, and offered my life experience as a means of support. I also volunteered for an organisation in London in a similar way which then broadened my scope and opened doors to endless possibilities. My son came home on 14 April 2014, my father’s birthday; my father had passed on the 24 January 2013.

I am currently two years and eight months into recovery. My daughter is currently at university, living independently and has just passed her theory part of the driving test. My son Shane has achieved success in his GCSE’s and is waiting to start a multi skills construction course in September 2016. My eight year old continues to live with his paternal grandmother as this is the best choice for his development.

Currently I am employed as a Service User Involvement Worker at the most loving community women centred charity I was fortunate enough to be ‘sentenced’ to, Anawim. In September 2016 I am scheduled to embark upon study at the Newman University in a B.A. Honours Degree in Youth and Community Work.

I have written a rap type song and poetry about my life, where I have told my story. I also deliver workshops to young people in and around the West Midlands area raising awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation, Domestic Violence, and substance abuse and have most recently completed a training course to expand my workshops.

I have yet to write my book…!

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