A former drug addict has spoken about how her recovery journey led her to helping addicts in Scottish prisons, as it’s revealed Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe.
According to official statistics, the number of drug deaths soared to 1,187 last year, something Natalie knows only too well after losing six family members to addiction.
The Glasgow-native came from a loving family home, was provided for financially and received a good education, but from a young age, she always felt there was a darkness and impending fear inside of her.
Looking back, Natalie says she always had quite extreme behaviours, which would see her buying twice as many cigarettes and bottles of cider as her friends as a teen.
She told UNILAD:
Now I can see I had really addictive behaviours and it was a way of escaping from an early age, it was a way for me to get rid of the fear and it would give me a false sense of security.
Despite describing herself as ‘quite courageous’ on the outside, Natalie admitted being ‘quite broken’ inside, as a result of unresolved trauma she experienced as a child. By the age of 18, she’d experimented with all kinds of drugs and was a functioning alcoholic. Her cocaine use became more and more frequent, until it got to the point she was unable to go to work on a Monday after a heavy weekend of alcohol and drug abuse, meaning she was unable to hold down a job.
Natalie recalled going from toxic relationship to toxic relationship, but one thing she never lost was her friends, who looked out for her throughout her dysfunctional teenage years. One night, when Natalie was 17, she didn’t turn up to the pub for her weekly Thursday night piss up with her mates, prompting them to think something must be seriously wrong.
At the time, Natalie’s great grandmother, who she described as her best friend, had just passed away, and she found herself in a very, very dark place. Natalie’s friends rushed to her house to discover she’d taken all her grandmother’s cancer medication in a desperate attempt to take her own life.
I didn’t leave a note, it wasn’t a cry for help, I took all my nana’s cancer medication, and I wanted to die. There was just a feeling of emptiness within me, and it’s really hard to explain when you’re so surrounded by love. It’s like being in a nightclub full of people but you’re the loneliest person.
Fortunately, Natalie’s friends reached her in time and were able to call for an ambulance, which took her to hospital where she had her stomach pumped. However, things continued to spiral out of control for Natalie, to the point her mum suggested she go travelling in a bid to find herself and find peace.
She left home at the age of 22 and spent several years travelling and working before visiting America, where her sister was living at the time. While away from home, Natalie found herself in another toxic relationship which led her to becoming addicted to crystal meth.
‘That took me to a really, really dark place, a lonely place, just existing on my own,’ she said. ‘I didn’t have anything, no morals, no integrity, no values, I kind of lost all sense of purpose of anything, I didn’t know who I wanted to be to begin with, but I certainly became absolutely lost, I kind of had no desire to live or die, you’re just existing.’
Trying to explain the internal torment that comes with addiction, Natalie said, ‘When you’re in the darkest place of your life consumed by addiction, it’s hard to describe that complete emptiness, like waking up every day, not caring if you die that night, not thinking about how devastated my family would be, not thinking about anything else other than a desire to no longer exist.’
It wasn’t until Natalie returned home and fell pregnant that everything changed for her. She got clean of crystal meth, she stopped using drugs and alcohol, she returned to her native Glasgow and became an amazing mum to a happy and healthy baby boy.
Unfortunately, after the birth of Natalie’s second child, she suffered from severe post-natal depression and began using drugs chaotically again. Eventually, Natalie suffered a nervous breakdown. She separated from her boyfriend at the time, and her two children were removed from her care.
‘That’s the most difficult time in my life, when you’re a mother and you can’t look after your own children,’ she said. ‘That’s still one of the hardest things that can come out my mouth, that I gave birth to two children and there was a period in my life that I wasn’t able to be a mother.’
‘They don’t deserve that they had to go through shit because I was going through shit, it’s unfair and I’m eternally sorry and I always will be and I try and make it up to them to this day.’
Natalie was sectioned for 28 days under the mental health act and as soon as she was released she began drinking again. There was no aftercare, Natalie was still without her kids, and for about a year, she had given up on life.
Just when the mum-of-two had hit rock bottom, she met an incredible community psychiatric nurse, who fought for her to get a place in rehab. ‘She was caring, she was compassionate, she saw something in me that I didn’t see,’ Natalie said.
Soon, Natalie was taken out of Glasgow, and to a residential rehabilitation centre in the middle of the country, where she received ‘outstanding’ care from people who knew how to get her well.
Looking back, Natalie says she was extremely fortunate to get treatment, particularly residential treatment, citing the lack of funding currently available for rehabilitation in Glasgow.
Now, Natalie works in prisons in Scotland setting up recovery cafes for inmates with addictions – something which she describes as ‘an absolute privilege and a pleasure to be able to share with these guys my pains and my heartaches.’
She added, ‘They can look at me and say “if you done it, I can do it.”‘
In July it was revealed that Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and shortly afterwards, Natalie lost her sixth family member to addiction. Since then, she’s hosted events, vigils and gatherings, advocating these deaths and dedicating herself to becoming a microphone for the voiceless.
‘One of my amendments is working in the prison service but my biggest amendment was and always will be to my mum and my sister and to my kids, and I would say to anyone once you get into recovery, make right all the wrongs that you’ve done because it’s the most uplifting feeling to know that you no longer harm anybody, intentionally or non-intentionally,’ Natalie said.
Although Natalie still struggles with her own demons, which often tell her she’s not worthy of going into prisons to help recovering addicts, every morning she wakes up and tells herself, ‘My intentions are good and I mean no harm to myself or others.’
Natalie’s message for anyone with an addiction, who is seeking recovery, is: ‘It’s about believing in yourself, and not believing the lies that your head tells you. Because people like me, our heads lie to us, so it’s about not believing that and knowing you’re worth it. It’s an opportunity for you to get a better life.’
Although Natalie admits she put her family ‘through so much hell’ through her using, the courage she’s shown through overcoming her addictions and using her experiences to better herself and society should be used as a beacon of hope for those who are still battling with addiction.
This month marks National Recovery Month, in which SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration campaign to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people like Natalie, who have successfully recovered.
On August 31, it was International Overdose Awareness Day, which aimed to inform people around the world about the risk of overdose, stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy, and send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued.
If you want friendly, confidential advice about drugs you can talk to FRANK. You can call 0300 123 6600, text 82111 or email via http://www.talktofrank.com/contact 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Or Live Chat at http://www.talktofrank.com/livechat from 2pm-6pm any day of the week.
Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the LADbible Group team in 2017.