Neil lived with his parents up till the age of 13 when his mother died from lung cancer.
“They both had good jobs, we had a nice home, two cars it was a normal upbringing. School was ok up till then, but I had 18 months out of school after my mum died. I was a mess, devastated lying in bed all day crying.”
Neil moved into his grandmother’s as his father did not take over after the death of his mother. He met another woman and moved to Blackpool.
“My grandmother died when I was 16, but by then I had returned to school and done well in my exams. I got 7 GCSEs including a 97% grade in Maths. I’m not stupid you know. When my grandmother died my father turned up next day and wanted me out of the house so he could sell it. I was 16 and he was trying to make me homeless. I barricaded myself in for 2 weeks. My grandmother had left my father the house but me enough money to get somewhere to live. I started to work at Ford. I used to have a children’s social worker, who I didn’t treat well. When I was older she came into Ford with damage to her car and I paid for it to be fixed and put some flowers in it, she burst into tears when she saw it.”
Neil stayed at Ford for 9 years until he was 25. He was also studying for City of Guilds parts 1, 2 and 3. He wanted to make a success of his life on his own.
“I was made redundant at 25 along with 400 others and got a big pay off and spent 6 months doing whatever I wanted. This was the start of my heroin use for the next 20 years. Initially on and off for blocks of time, 2 years on, time off, 6 months on. I have extreme black and white behaviour, I’m not an easily led person and make decisions at the time that are very thought out, but in hindsight of course may not have been right. After 6 months I got cash in hand work and eventually started my own business, that way I thought I couldn’t be made redundant again.”
Unfortunately, Neil lost his own business. At this point he also went through a relationship breakdown. Neil found himself homeless.
“I was on the streets, begging every day, no benefits and using a lot of heroin, but wasn’t offending. I was street homeless for a long time (I think nearly two years), no one would accept me with my dog. We had been together for 9 years, he was the only thing I had, there was no way I was going to leave him. You want to take the one thing in the world I’ve got. I still had some contact with my ex-partner who, I had been in a relationship with for 9 years, and my daughter. I used to have to hide as I didn’t want to embarrass her, but she knew I was homeless. She once told me that she didn’t care about being given money by me, she just wanted me to be ok again. That made me cry, you know!”
Neil struggled to work with services to receive help. His health suffered from being on the streets, and he spent time in hospital.
“There is a lot of frustration. It felt like constantly banging your head against a brick wall. The services could bend the rules, but they won’t. They did in the end because I wouldn’t budge, but it took me 2 years to do it and nearly dying of sepsis in the street until they housed me. People judge you as not helping yourself unless you are willing to comply to their rules.”
Neil has been receiving support from Fulfilling Lives to help in his recovery.
“What I liked about Fulfilling Lives, was that there are less clients, so you could spend more time with each person. Even when I messed about and wasn’t ready, we never cut each other out. They didn’t go away, and they helped a lot. I’m not there yet, but what gets me now is, if I can battle and beat a heroin addiction, why can’t I sort out the other things in my life now?”