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The aim of the blog has always been to provide a forum where a wide range of topics can be explored, issues raised, and voices heard. So far, we have published pieces from eight contributors representing every facet of Red Rose Recovery, including staff, volunteers, service users and family members.

This week we hear from another member of the ever-growing Red Rose family who, like many of us, has endured harrowing experiences which she is now drawing on in order to help those who are struggling. Sarah – who you will surely agree is a wonderful writer as well as a fantastic Mental Health Peer Support Worker – shares her story here in the hope that it may inspire others.

CONTENT WARNING: This article addresses mental health difficulties, trauma, substance use and child abuse, including a brief reference to child sexual abuse.

By Sarah Nicol

My name is Sarah, and I am a 28-year-old woman on the brink of having the life for which I have always wished. I own a home with my partner, my dream job and I am a dog mum to the most beautiful girl in the world. I am surrounded by people who provide me with safety, comfort and support and I am at present in control of my mental health. I am happy, healthy, and intellectually nourished, but the journey to here was a difficult one and I would like to share my story.

I grew up in a small town in Scotland below the poverty line – to a mother suffering several mental health issues and a penchant for abusive, narcissistic men. And so, when I was four, I found myself standing in front of a man who told me if I called him ‘Brian’ instead of ‘Dad’ again, I would be in for it. For ten years, I lived in a cycle of beatings, neglect, and fear. School was a safe escape because I was guaranteed to be able to eat – breakfast and lunch were not recognised meals in our house. Alas, most evenings after bedtime, I would end up at the bathroom sink with my older sister trying to fill ourselves up with toothpaste.

When I was six or seven years old, I went to bed with white pyjamas on with little brown horses on beside my sister, and I was awoken through the night by another member of my family who sexually assaulted me whilst my sister lay asleep beside me. I have never told anyone about this, because the person who abused me is a big part of the family who is loved by many. I always believed no one would believe me.

When I was fourteen, things came to a head when my mother whipped me in the face with a dishtowel. I remember being stood in a phone box with my sister, calling for help. My sister and I wound up in a children’s home, and eventually, I ended up being sent to school with a suitcase every day; because every day, my social worker had to try to find somewhere to put me. In my experience, there are plenty of foster carers out there, but very few of them want to host a young teenager.

My longest spell in foster care was one year and it was a year of wonderful stability, but still, I carry trauma from it to adulthood. My foster carer’s family referred to me as an orphan for a year and I still feel sick when I hear that word spoken.

At the age of sixteen, social services supported me into my first flat. I was completely unprepared to deal with the things I faced – I had not an idea how to pay bills and budget or cook or look after a property. It was then I met a group of people who introduced me to drugs. I started drinking every day to cope and taking class As. Eventually I had a mental breakdown – I locked myself in my flat for six months and did not see anyone because I had squandered away all my possessions. I had no phone, my siblings had frozen me out because of my binges, I could not maintain friendships because of (what I did not know at the time was) trauma. I thought my life had ended by the time I was 18 years old.

Eventually I came out the other side. It took a lot of support from my youth worker, Linda – I still credit her today to getting me through everything I faced growing up. She was my guardian angel, and I still love her dearly and stay in touch with her.

Life started to pick up and move at a steady pace. I made new connections, maintained jobs and relationships, and strengthened bonds with my family.

When I was twenty-five, I went through a traumatic experience in which I thought I was going to lose my life and I was left with a panic disorder. I had so many panic attacks in a short span of time I ended up in the emergency room having an ECG, because I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I did not understand at the time, or for the two years that followed, that my psychological symptoms of anxiety were my body’s rational response of thinking something bad is going to happen and putting up defences to fight it. It has been a long journey: at my worst, I was too scared to leave the house and continue to live my life like normal because everything was controlled by my anxiety, its triggers, and what could go wrong. But I soldiered through, experienced all of the things that would test me, and came out of the other side every time. Every night I spent too scared to sleep in case I died, I woke up the following morning. Every single time.

My anxiety is not gone, but I have so much control over it now. I am kinder to myself, and I try to take care of myself. I feel blessed that I am now in a place to help people going through similar things that I have. I am excited for the future, and my career with Red Rose Recovery, on this life journey.