After drug addiction left her homeless and isolated, Mary Parkinson finally got clean 26 years ago. She has learned how to befriend the most difficult aspects of her personality – and to treat herself with compassion
My ‘active addiction’ was a long time ago, but a big part of my recovery was realising I couldn’t act as if my past hadn’t happened. I spent a huge part of my early 20s trying to do just that, and it really didn’t work. I ended up back on drugs for about four years.
At the end of my using, my possessions were in black plastic bags; barely anyone in my family was talking to me, I was homeless, completely unemployable and I could barely string two sentences together. My life had narrowed down to drugs. If I had £20 in my pocket, I would buy drugs rather than anything else. My sole focus was the next ‘high’. Where I slept and if I ate or not were all incidental. Happily, I didn’t do it for very long but it was long enough.
Most drug users are not kind – we would all throw each other over the cliff for a bag of drugs. I was so lonely. I think isolation is the worst thing about addiction. Going to Clouds House [a recovery centre in Wiltshire run by the charity Action on Addiction] opened up a world of empathy and of understanding. The kindness was so important, and feeling like I was part of something. Some people with addictive tendencies respond well to being in a community and thankfully I am one of them. I need to feel as though I belong somewhere and that my life is truly meaningful.
I was 30 years old when I finally stopped using drugs and was given a second shot at life which I have grasped with both hands. At Clouds, I started to learn to live one day at a time, take responsibility for myself and to do the next right thing – which is what I still do today. At Clouds, they talked about ‘a life beyond your wildest dreams’. Mine is certainly that.
I’ve learned to befriend the most difficult parts of myself, the things that really trip me up
I am a yoga teacher, a fundraiser and an active member of a recovery community. I am completely reconciled with my family and have many friends and other interests. Helping others trying to stop or stay stopped is a big part of the community I belong to. Yoga works for me too. It is a daily spiritual practice and has enabled me to get ‘connected’ – mind, body and heart. I teach all sorts of people including in a couple of drug rehabs. One of the men I teach, who comes from a particularly tough background, said to me after a class that it had been one of the best hours of his life. I felt like crying.
My mother is one of the co-founders of part of Action on Addiction so fundraising for the charity completes the circle for me. It is a relatively new job and I love it.
I’m still an ‘extreme’ person and that’s something I’ve learned to accept. I’ve learned to befriend the most difficult parts of myself, the things that really trip me up.
I try not to take my life for granted or myself too seriously. Addiction is horrible but it is definitely possible to stop and turn your life around if you are prepared to work at it.
Mary now works as a yoga teacher, and as a fundraiser for Action on Addiction
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