Paul's reflection on how he got into drugs, and what got him out, is a reminder that sometimes a single event or encounter can be the impetus for lasting change.

My name is Paul, I'm 43 years old, and this is my story

I was born in Liverpool - not far from Liverpool football ground - and had a fantastic childhood growing up. My parents done everything they could for me and my older brother, numerous school and family holidays, nice clothes and like I said, a fantastic childhood. I was football mad and also girl mad in my early teens. Growing up then was the best days of my life looking back, always out with my mates playing football on the field hanging round with groups of girls and going youth club discos and all was great.

I started experimenting with drink and drugs then, probably around the age of 13. Cannabis and special brew was a great buzz and that became a weekend thing. Friday - finish school, home, changed clothes, out the door with my pocket money and my brother to go meet all our friends and we would all chip in together to buy cannabis and alcohol. Even though we was kids some adult would always go the shop for us to purchase what we wanted - how crazy, looking back! The girls would turn up with their alcohol and we would sit on the local playing field and get drunk and high off the cannabis. Next drug I took was LSD which I thought was amazing at first because it just had us in fits of laughter and it was something that with mates, created a night of madness. Laughing at crazy things, hallucinating and totally uncontrollable. However, the come down with paranoia I didn’t like so much, so I stopped taking LSD.

At the age of 15 I was now taking ecstasy and amphetamines and going to raves when the club scene came into my life. The drugs was amazing and me and my mates were out every weekend going to different night clubs getting high on cocktails of ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis and alcohol. School work had now gone out the window and I left with not one qualification. Then at about age 17, slowly one by one your mates start to do their own things and you end up alone with no work no school and sleeping all day doing nothing. Life then was still okay, I had few girlfriends in them early years and now was with a girl who I'd been with about two years from 16 to 18. At 18 I was still at home - my parents both was in work and my brother had left home so now I really was on my own in the world and then my mum and dad split up. That, looking back, was the point where my life changed for ever. I was introduced to heroin by an older man I'd befriended who lived minutes from my house. I had seen on Grange Hill when I was a kid - Zammo I think his name was - and him taking heroin and the song came out “Just Say No.” I didn't say no, I said yes and that then took me to a world which was... well, read on, to find out.

I was smoking heroin daily for about a month and then one day I couldn't get any money and I'd never heard of withdrawal symptoms or turkeying as it's called. I had little knowledge about this new drug I loved and craved so much. I started being sick and I asked the man who introduced me to it why am I feeling like this? And that's when he said you are turkeying and the only way to stop it is to get more heroin. So I went and found the money from somewhere and bought some and all my symptoms diminished in a second as I smoked the heroin. I was back on Cloud Nine and feeling amazing. Now it had me. My beautiful brown powder had me in a position where now it was in control, not me. My father had come back and Mum was happy, but they had no clue what I was doing neither did they know the pain I would inflict in their lives and my own. I started to steal little things from them to fund my secret addiction. My girl found out what I was doing and asked me why I was taking it as she had no knowledge too about it. She ended up taking it with me. She also became addicted and she also worked, so was bringing money in to fund our now joint addiction and I had no problem with that as I was getting my beloved brown powder.

One early morning I decided to tell my mum about my addiction and it broke her heart. I remember that day looking at her, but not really feeling sadness because I needed money for heroin. She ended up paying for some for me. I put my parents on a path for the next few years of heartbreak and pain where I'd robbed them blind and everything was becoming bad. I’d now by the age of 22 also started smoking crack cocaine and the life I was living was just a case of getting money off my girl and parents to fund my habits. My parents thought they were helping me because they didn't want me out stealing or getting killed from the drugs so for the next few years that became my life - living in my room taking drugs. And then my girl left, she went back to her parents, got clean and got her life back and now I had no income for my beloved brown powder. I robbed off my parents and in the end they kicked me out and I was on my own with two addictions to feed. I was staying on other friends' – also addicts - sofas and always got money without stealing to get my drugs. I’d emotionally blackmail my mum on a daily basis and manipulate her into giving me money still and continued to take drugs this way. I had broken into my parent’s home to steal a few times and this time my dad decided to have me charged.

Around this time for the very first time I went shop lifting in the town centre and was caught and they let me go. I then got caught 20 mins later in another shop and they let me go too. I couldn't believe my luck! So I went home and found money somewhere else to make this horrible turkeying go away. I’d never shop lifted before and good job really as I was caught twice in a day! The third time I’d done it I was caught and arrested and charged and put into the probation system. That was a good thing looking back for it got me into rehab and got me clean but then when I got back to Liverpool, I started using again. I survived all these years in addiction without having a shop lifting career nor did I steal off anyone other than my parents and family. I ended up back in a rehab down in Bristol where I lived for over 10 years. I now had a life in a different city with friends I'd met through rehab and had a good solid network of friends who had gone through their own addiction nightmares.

So I stayed away from drugs for about 3 years and I met a girl called Nancy. Life was great and all was well until one day that little brown powder that was still in my head craved my attention. So I decided to listen to it and that's when my life once again changed. I was back to living my nightmare I'd lived before. My using got worse I'd started injecting but then I’d stop after a week. Even though I loved the feeling, I had something in my brain that would stop me continuing to inject so I'd go back to smoking it again. I’d inject heroin and crack together and it was the greatest feeling I'd ever felt but still that something in me would stop me from continuing that too. I was on benefits and living on my own and my girl Nancy found out what I was doing. Unlike my previous girl all them years ago she didn't ask to have a go, she knew about addiction unlike me at the start of it all. So her mission now was to help me and get me off the heroin and crack. I was at the lowest point I'd ever been in my life, I was away from my parents and my family and living alone and it was absolute hell on earth.

This phase lasted about 7 years where I put myself through mental and physical torture. I didn't want to use no more so I would do a cold turkey with no medication and get clean, stay that way for a week or two or three, then use again then stop and do another cold turkey and repeat the same process over a hundred times in 7 yrs. I done that and put myself my girl and my parents through a mental anguish of their own minds. I was getting tested, I had all the help in the world but still that little brown powder would always have me back telling me it was okay and all will be okay once I took it. That urge to use was too strong, I couldn't stay clean. I decided to take my own life so I threw myself off the second floor of my flats and landed on a skip and was found by my caretaker at 6 in the morning almost dead with an inch slice through the top of my head where I'd hit the skip. I woke up in hospital in a very, very bad way and I could see it was only a matter of time now before this little bit of brown powder was gonna take my life for good. I got out of hospital still in a bad way and had to return to Liverpool for the first time in 10 years and I had to get support off my parents and family because that suicide attempt shook the whole family. I think they knew if I don't get help now I'll be dead next time. I stayed clean for about a year in Liverpool and then one day that little brown powder had me again and so I was back using and now it had started all over again, back at my parents house doing what I was doing all them years ago and I started to manipulate and steal off my parents again which ended up me then going back to Bristol. My parents had had enough and were moving to Spain because it was all getting too much for them here and with what I'd done to their lives. I ended up in Bristol again and started back on the cycle of using and stopping and more punishment for my physical wellness and state of mind to go through. 

Once again I hadn't learned from all the years of abuse and this little bit of brown powder was again controlling and killing me slowly. I had all the love in the world and yet still I'd always be back here again and again. Nancy had took me back once more knowing everything the past bad done to her too. She was my rock, but I abused her mentally too. We ended up having a little girl beautiful but still that wasn't enough and I used again only this time Nancy decided the baby was more important than me and by right, so we split up and I continued to use. Now I'd lost all -  my parents had left the country, my rock had gone and my baby girl too.

Desperate, I went to Spain to do another cold turkey and met a man there and told him about my life. He had had a life of addiction too and he told me he had a book for me and I could borrow it to read. He said read until you go back to Bristol and then leave it in the cafe where you met me. I took that book to my parent’s house and I read the back cover and I felt this absolutely amazing feeling run through me. Ever since that day nearly nine years ago I've not touched heroin or crack again, not even been tempted. I had found my saviour. Reading that book saved my life - it done what no rehab or probation or self help groups could do. It done what my loved ones couldn't: it changed how I thought. That book is called The Secret.

I escaped from hell. I ended up on an adventure which took me to Norway for 2 years and Spain for 7 years learning to live again and I had the most amazing time in this period meeting people and making friends from all over the world. I've travelled all over Europe and done some great things - learnt to speak Spanish and had some terrific jobs to along the way.

I will be 10 years clean next year and I'm now back in Liverpool with my parents after all that time and journey and my life is amazing. I'm healthy and I have a job. I study and I do voluntary work helping homeless people and I'm so happy to be alive today. If you’re in a time of despair or living a life of hell like I did then remember never give up even though you want to, don't! Because you too can change your life around just like I did. I was so lucky looking back that in all those years I never once went to prison and something out there didn't want me to die either I believe now that it was the power of thought and that the power of thought can change any circumstances you have so that's my belief today. I want the whole world to hear my story so people can change their lives just like I have. So keep strong and never ever give up and you can achieve anything you want in life.

My journey was a very long and painful one, not just for me but for all the loved ones I hurt along the way. I can only say I'm sorry to those people for putting them through what I did. I was sick then, very sick, and today I'm alive and grateful to the Universe for making me who I am now.