From as young as I can remember I was always a Daddy’s girl. He was always so gentle and soft spoken and never in my life did he ever raise a hand to me. He barely even raised his voice.

I recall the day he lost the custody case against my Mum for us. We had been with my auntie and he had come to pick up my sister, brother and me to go back to his house. While stopping off at the local chip shop to get us some sweets on the way, my mum and stepdad – I’ll refer to him as stepdad from here on as that is what he went on to be, had a kid with my mum and was with her for many years after – had followed us and while my dad was in the shop, they snatched us from his car and raced off up to their house. My dad was fast behind us and as we were being pulled out the car in a hurry, my brother just being barely a toddler was being held under my stepdads arm surfboard style while having my sister with his other hand pulling her along. My mum had a firm grip on my arm pulling me along too and i just remember the three of us screaming for our dad as he got out the car and tried to get to us before she got us in the house. It was awful!

The years that followed were filled with torment from her in her abuse and twisted games to hurt seemingly us as well as my dad. She would say we weren’t going back to see him and that we would never see him again. He wasn’t our dad anymore, blah, blah, blah. My stepdad had two kids too who were a bit older than us and I’m sure it was the strain of now having five kids under her feet that soon swayed her into letting us go back to see our dad just so she could get peace. It was all about what suited her at the time and less to do with just being a decent mother and letting her kids have a relationship with their dad.

I loved the weekends with dad. He would take us swimming, away on day trips or just taking us with him to see his friends. There was a Sunday market in the town and we always knew it would never just be a quick wander round. He knew so many people, being the local coal man and enjoying a pint in the local with the lads, that he would stop and speak to almost every second person. It would take sometimes hours to get round. I always enjoyed the time and it was always a bonus if we got to go to the pub with him. He would have his couple of pints after swimming or if we had been with him when he was playing football with his friends before going on to his for the rest of the day.

My dad was such a gentle man, a ladies man there’s no denying but a gentle man all the same. He would never really shout at us. His lectures made more impact than any beating my mother would give. As I got older and was clearly showing signs of being a troubled kid, I always remember dreading what my dad would say about whatever I had done rather than worrying about my mothers reaction. By that point I had realised that words leave a bigger impact while bruises always heal.

By the time I started college, I could hardly stand to be around my mum. My sister was constantly snooping through my stuff and trying to find ways of getting me into trouble and i just didn’t feel comfortable in that house. I sat with my best friend one day and we were talking about me wanting to go live with my dad. I had wanted to for some time but was always too frightened to ask my mum as I knew she wasn’t going to take that well at all.  It took all day to build up the courage but I finally went home that evening and came straight out with it. I tried to be as gentle as I could about it explaining that I wanted to spend more time with him as i had grown up only really seeing him at the weekend so wanted to be with him more and get to know him better. It went better than I thought, she just said “pack you’re fucking bags and phone him to come get you”….so I did.

I had already had a few warnings at college about my behaviour by this time but I tried to be better when I was staying with my dad. There was an incident in class where a girl had asked me what time the bus was and someone else answered. I replied to her with “Since when has your name been Sharon?” A simple statement but she went to one of the teachers and said i was bullying her so they took that as my last chance and kicked me for threatening behaviour. I dreaded telling dad as I knew how disappointed he would be but I was hoping that he would let me stay with him and i could get a job. He stayed out in the country and told me it would be best if I just go back to mums. I was devastated! There’s no doubt in my mind it was my step monster (my dad had married his 3rd wife by this point) who had pulled the strings there and in later conversations with my dad, I had told him that was such a pivotal moment for me as my life would have been very different if he had just let me stay with him instead of sending me back to mums.

I was only back at hers a few months before she kicked me out again. I stayed with a friend for a few days before getting a place at the homeless unit. My family relationships had all but broken down, the only time i really seen my dad would be when he would come meet me and we would talk in the car for a while before he went home after work. I felt so unwanted, it was at this point I really started indulging in drugs and partying just to block out the pain.

I decided I wanted to make a fresh start for myself. I met a woman in the homeless unit who still had her keys for a house in the city. There was still 2 weeks left on the tenancy so she gave me the keys and said i could stay there until I found somewhere else. I packed my stuff and left town with nothing more than my personal belongings, bus fair and £5 in my back pocket. I found the house and stayed there for the night but it was cold and empty so next day I called a youth hostel. They had a spare bed and said i could come straight away.

There were some characters in there. We were all similar ages and from dysfunctional families so never a dull moment. I could handle myself well at this point so i was never too worried about any confrontation and to be fair, I didn’t really get any hassle. However, being in this environment and the people i was meeting soon took me onto a much darker path and before i knew it i was mixed up with some very shady people getting involved with some very shady activities. I had started smoking heroin and taking methadone and things were looking very grim indeed. I spent that Christmas by myself, now in my own flat with nothing more than a Fray Benson chicken pie and a tin of boiled potatoes. No invite to go to any family so needless to say i was feeling lower than i ever had.

There was a knock on the door one afternoon. I opened it to find my dad stood there. “I got your letter” he said.  “What letter?” I relied. Turns out, one night when I had been so low and full of whatever substance, I had wrote a letter to my dad telling him the mess I was in. I had told him how bad things were and clearly needed help. He took me for a pizza, chatted for a while and then off he went home and left me there. I was even more devastated that he could just turn away and leave me in that state. I was no angel but i was his daughter and desperately needed his help. I have no doubt in my mind that again, my step monster had more to do with that as she made it clear she didn’t like me and I was just a silly little girl in her eyes. The ironic thing there is she would look at me like scum for taking drugs yet there were times it was actually her son I was taking drugs with!  She wanted my dad to play happy families with her kids and grandchild and she clearly had the same opinion of me as my mother. I’m just Smithy’s little bastard, not worth the time of day.

By the time springtime set in, one friend who I had, seen how bad I was looking and felt responsible as he was the one who had first given me the methadone etc. We went on a two week camping trip in the Highlands where he shut me in a tent to go cold turkey. I will be forever grateful to him for that, as awful as it was it was necessary to get me back on a better track. I knew if i went back to the city it was very possible i would end up back in the same situation so i got myself a live-in waitress/housekeeper job in one of the hotels nearby. I only went back to the city to get my stuff and came straight back to start my new job.

I loved it in the Highlands. I really enjoyed my job and had made some new friends. Life was very much brighter there although i was still very much hurting and struggling with the rejection and lack of help or support from my family. I had my 18th birthday while I was there. My dad and step monster had come up to see me and we actually had a nice time. It was great to see my dad but i was struggling to be able to really talk to him properly by this point. I could feel there was such a void between us and it no longer felt like a father daughter relationship. The guy who id spent my life fighting my mother for, had left me on my own when i needed him most and I was beginning to think she had been right all along. He didn’t really care about me and keeping his woman happy was more important than looking after his own kids.

My relationship with my dad was ever strained after this. I was moving about a lot, in and out of trouble and burning the candle at both ends was starting to impact my jobs. I was always praised at how well i did my job so got more chances than i should have with them but my late timekeeping could only be tolerated so long before i was finally sacked.

Years were passing and i hardly seen or spoke to my dad very often. I had a missed miscarriage – missed miscarriage being when the baby dies but your body keeps going as if it were still pregnant – in my mid 20s and had phoned to speak to him. “As long as you are OK that’s all that matters” was the top and bottom of that conversation. No i wasn’t OK, far from it. But there was no point even asking if i could go to stay with him for a while because i couldn’t bare to hear what excuse he might have made. It was after the miscarriage i really started to crumble. I felt worthless, unloved, unwanted, rejected and hopeless. To be fair, i was getting on better with my mum at this point. I had gone through my pub management training and had settled into a good work life and i hadn’t really had much to do with drugs. Maybe a cheeky something when i was out clubbing but certainly not using them as my crutch like i had done. It was because of that, the miscarriage hit me harder. I was struggling to cope and had worked on building bridges with my mum so the last thing i wanted to do was turn to drugs and fuck it all up again. So instead i tried to take my own life.

I came home after a night out and just didn’t want to live anymore. I was tired of fighting, tired of hoping, tired of trying and just tired of pretending to be OK all the time. Working in the pub, i could hide behind the bar leaving my issues at the door, do my job, laugh and joke with the customers and as far as anyone was concerned, i was full of life, banter and fully loaded sarcasm. A completely different picture on the outside to what was really going on inside me. I had went into my flatmates room this night and asked for the medicine bag saying i had a bad head. She was half asleep so said to just take it…and i did…the whole damn bag and every tablet that was in it washed down with a bottle of sangria she had brought home from a holiday. I had left a note in the kitchen apologising for what i had done but explaining that i just couldn’t cope with life anymore. The next thing i knew, i woke up in bed in a pool of my own vomit with my flatmate and her mum beside me and paramedics to take me to hospital. I really had hit my all time low.

I got back home from the hospital. My flatmate had asked if she should call anyone but i said no. Who really cares is how i was thinking at that point. As it happens, she called my mum and stepdad while i was sleeping and i woke up with the two of them and my sister stood at the bottom of my bed. I was kind of pleased to see them but felt so so low. My mum actually stayed with me for a few days and we probably spoke more about her own past then than we ever had. She told me that she had to have a termination when she was 16 and my granny had never known about it. For the first time in my life i felt like i was actually connecting with my mum. It was of course a short lived pleasure…as it always was but for that short time, i felt close with my mum and i loved how it felt. It had come through the grapevine that my dad had said one of his kids could be dead and he wouldn’t know about it. I was really angry with him as he hadn’t even bothered to call me when he found out what had happened so to make a comment like that was just pitiful in my opinion. He walked away and left me in the city when i had written him that letter, he sent me back to my mums first chance when i lived with him for a very short time and was quite dismissive of how upset i as over the miscarriage so to make such a comment when i finally hit my lowest point was fucking insulting to say the least.

In all my layers of pain i just wanted to feel like i was living a normal life. I was looking for love so desperately i ignored red flags and warning signs. I was soon getting married to the completely wrong person – i had a pub, he had a drinking problem – and had decided that i wanted my youngest brother to give me away. I had been quite close to him for all he was the golden child but i seemed to have a better relationship with him than my other siblings. My stepdad had been the one calling regular over the years to see how i was and keeping me updated with family news so i didn’t want to chose between him and my dad. That was the last i heard from my dad until i was in hospital 3 years later pregnant with my son.

My marriage broke down…of course! I had tried to get back in touch with my dad and had phoned my brother for his number. I left a couple of messages saying i missed him and would love to hear his voice and he would have seen the missed calls but i never did get any response from him. More rejection and affirmation that he wanted nothing to do with me in my head. My self destruct button was activated. I screwed up my career and was back in the old familiar cycle of drug and alcohol abuse when i fell pregnant with my son. My stepdad had come to see me and told me there and then he was not going to leave me in the city on my own pregnant. It was music to my ears! Please just take me home! He had split with my mum not long before that as she had an affair with her best friends boyfriend. Just one of many she had over the years.

I had started bleeding at 32wks due to placenta previa – a condition where the placenta covers the cervix and generally results in a C-Section to get the baby out. I spent 16 days in hospital and it was in this time my brother had said my dad wanted to come and see me if that was OK. Of course it was OK! It was an awkward meeting but it was small steps back to building a relationship with him again. I had been out of hospital 4 days when my waters broke and i was back in hospital for an emergency c-section 5 weeks early. My dad had come to see me in the hospital but i was using my stepdads surname then and so he didn’t bother coming in because he was upset at the surname i was using. When it came to registering the birth though, my brother had had a chat with me about not passing this generations issues into the next one and he as right. My son was registered Smith and from there i was slowly rebuilding bridges with my dad.

In 2015 my stepdad was diagnosed with cancer and after spending 6 months back and forward from his house, i held his hand while he took his last breath in the hospice at 11pm on 17th May 2016. It was from this point my entire life as i knew it came crashing down around me. My step brother and sister wrote me off after the funeral as if i never existed and to this day i don’t know what ever happened to his ashes. I had taken my youngest brother in in his time of need. He had issues with drink so was warned he would only get one chance which he blew when he started waving a knife and shouting he was going to stab me if i didn’t let him in the house. He was steaming drunk and we had kids in the house so he was told he wasn’t coming in and the police ended up lifting him. This was the final straw in my relationship (i had been with my partner for over 3 years and he adopted my son so for a short while i had been quite settled and living a normal life) which also broke down for various other reasons but my brother being there was the final nail in the coffin.

I had moved into a flat, was hanging around the very people who could supply my old reliable crutch and was very much heading back to the same dark place i was all too familiar with. My relationship with my dad had been going well though so i was hanging onto that and my son was oblivious to what was happening with me until one day i finally snapped. I had a full on emotional breakdown in September of ’17 and it was pretty monumental to say the least. It finished up with me up in court for 4 assault charges, one vandalism and a good ol breach of the peace. I came up from the holding cells into the courtroom and the first face i saw was my dad! I felt so ashamed. I was so angry with myself for what i had done and so ashamed of myself. My son had been out playing and thankfully missed the whole ordeal thanks to a neighbour who had taken him into her house when she seen what was happening but the street was out gossiping about it and so he was hearing the she’s crazy, she’s nuts, blah blah blah. I asked his dad to take him for a couple of weeks until i started getting help for myself.

It was then i was sent for a psychiatric evaluation and diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. My doctor put me onto anti psychotics. I told the doctor i didn’t want to keep taking tablets. I had been on probably every anti depressant going throughout my adult life and was sick of it. I didn’t want to keep taking them, i wanted to know WHY i needed them so started engaging in talking therapies for the next year. I cannot emphasise enough the difference this made. I had also started going to a womans group Reconnect, once as a court order and one off my own back to make sure i was really helping myself this time. While there, i applied to Citizens Advice to train as an adviser and it took a few months but i finally got a start date in September ’18. By this point, my dad had been my absolute rock. He helped me a lot and we spoke so much about past issues. He told me he had heard this, that and the next thing about me and as i said to him, “why did you never come to talk to me about any of it. Why just believe what you heard without giving me any chance to defend myself?” There was no real response to that other than “i thought best just to leave you to it”. We settled our differences anyway and were really starting to get back to the father daughter feeling again. I finally had my dad back!

I started at Citizens Advice on 5th September ’18 after a great weekend at Lindisfarne Festival and was ready to take life by the horns again. My future was looking bright again. I finally started understanding myself and understanding why I was the way i was and therefore could start working on myself to turn it all around and finally get the peace I had craved my whole life. Having my dad there too, everything seemed to be coming together so well. I got back to my friends house after my first shift to a call from my brother. His wife had heard through the grapevine at work that my mum was dead! She had died of cancer. We spoke for a while on the phone about how we felt about it and wither or not we would go to the funeral as he hadn’t seen her in years and again I hadn’t spoke to her for over a year as she fell out with me after the incident with my youngest brother and the knife. God forbid I didn’t put up with the golden boys drink problem! Anyway, i called her husband and it turns out she was actually cremated the day before. The golden child had decided the rest of us didn’t need to know she was dead so that was that. I have no idea where her ashes ended up either.

My dad seemed more upset than we were as we didn’t grieve for our mother the way kids should but how can you grieve for someone you have grieved your whole life for? To be honest, this is where my inner peace started coming through. It was like all my anger, all my resentment, confusion and bitterness just died with her. I had said many times through my life it would be easier if she was dead, at least then she wouldn’t be around because she was dead rather than just not giving a damn about her kids. It was the most bizarre feeling but a life you have to have lived to understand. It was the fact the golden child didn’t tell us that i was more upset about. No matter what any of our relationships with her were like, he had no right to keep that from us. Taking away our choice of how to say our goodbye and given the life we had with her, it was our right to have that choice. As my brother said, that was probably her last “fuck Yous” to us. Not to let us know she was dying was one thing but to have the funeral without us knowing was just a very spiteful act indeed. We had our dad though and he was really supportive.

I got a call on the Saturday afternoon of the following week. I had been sitting at a friends house talking to her mum who was telling me about her dads passing when the phone rang. My dad was always big on his football, devout Celtic man and had coached local teams for a good few years. It was DAD that flashed up on the screen and as i answered it wasn’t the familiar voice i was expecting but one of the lads from the football team. “Your dads collapsed on the football field and is being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, you need to get there quick” was pretty much the top and bottom of how the conversation went.I was numb! No! No! No! Please don’t do this to me universe! PLEASE! I arranged for my son to stay with my friend until his dad could come get him and i took off to the hospital. I got there and the couple of lads who had followed my dad with the ambulance had just came to speak to me when the doctor came through and asked me to come into another room. I knew what was coming.

You see on movies and programs the painful cries when someone is told there loved one had died and i never thought i would ever make that same sound but when the words came out her mouth, that same painful cry came out mine. It was almost like i just felt my heart shatter into tiny pieces and my soul just collapsed. The first thing through my head was i needed to call my brother. How the hell do i tell him this? My brother and dad had always been the best of friends. They had such a strong relationship, this was going to destroy him! I could barely get the words out. I had never seen or heard my brother cry all our adult life but when i told him dad was gone, he broke down on the phone. It was devastating. He said he would get to the hospital as soon as he could. He lives a good few miles away and with traffic, it could take a bit longer to get there. I spent the next couple of hours waiting for them. I sat at my dads bedside, holding his hand with my head resting on his chest and just sobbed my heart out on his lifeless body.

The days and weeks to follow were just a blur. We gave dad the best send off he could have had with the lads from the football team doing their part and had the Champions League theme tune playing in the church…what an amazing sound that was! My dad would have loved it. There was an awesome turn out and the support we received from family and his friends was overwhelming.

I had a choice here, i could either go back to what i knew and fall into a pool of self pity or i could pick myself up and fulfil the promise i made to dad about sorting my life out once and for all. I made the choice to stick to my promise! I was going to make my dad proud even if he wasn’t here to see it. I stuck in with my CAB training and seen it right through to the end. I got my Generalist Adviser badge and went on to get a paid position within the Bureau. It probably took me the best part of a year to stop crying. Id hold myself together when i was out an about or at work but once i got home there was just no controlling the tears.

The thing with death is, there are many revelations that come to light when someone dies. It was then i started hearing that the one who was running back to my dad with all sorts of nonsense was in fact my sister! And she had been doing this our entire life! The things she had said about me over the years was just vile. She said i had kicked a baby out of her. She accused me of breaking into her house. Any time i was back on the scene she was saying i was doing this, that and the next thing. She reported me to social services for neglecting my son. She got her boyfriend to call my work saying i was the biggest coke dealer in the area. She had just constantly lied and lied about me over the years and purposely made me out to be something terrible. Its no wonder my dad didn’t know what to do with me. I just wish he had spoke to me about what he was hearing and i could have proved on every accusation that it was all wrong.

My sister had a nervous breakdown in her early 20s and never recovered. In fact, she went from bad to worse with her mental health  over the years. I was always the target of her spite and i can only assume, among other reasons, that there had always been the sibling rivalry between us. My very existence just bothered her. My confidence, resilience, strength of character and ability to get up after every fall was intimidating to her. She despised me for not ending up with the same issues she had and as a result, made it her life’s work to put as big a wedge between me and my family as she possibly could with her stories and lies. And it worked!

We had fallen out in the summer after dad died as i had finally confronted her about something and she didn’t like what i had to say at all. But from that…everything fell into place and suddenly my entire life started making sense.

It was 2 weeks before the Christmas of that same year when I read a local news report. A 41 year old woman had been found dead in her flat. I just knew in the pit of my stomach it was her! I called the police and gave my details asking if it was my sister. They confirmed on the phone that yes, it was her. She had always been mixed up with even worse sorts than i had been involved with over the years and had died from mixed drug intoxication. Spent her life pointing dirty fingers at me when she was doing much worse than i was and had used me to hide behind.

It was a kick in the gut that i had to clear her flat out and sort her crap, a week before Christmas, still very much grieving for my dd and trying to hold myself together for my son. Sadly, the family support we got for my dad was pretty much non existent for my sister. We were left to deal with that ourselves. I went into auto pilot in that time. Did what needed done and when Christmas day came, i only just managed to keep myself together until my sons dad came to pick him up. As soon as they left, i crumbled. Spent the day in a cycle of crying, drinking and sleeping. It was strange though, because just like my mum, it was almost a relief that she was gone. I no longer had the worry of what shit was going to come out her mouth about me next.

With all this trauma came a sense of freedom. I had just turned 40 and i always remember my dad saying “the first 40 years of your child’s life are the hardest”…and i felt that! The first 40 years of my life had definitely been the hardest so i made the choice that life would begin at 40. I have stuck to my promise i made to dad that i would sort my life out. I pulled away from all the influences that did me no favours. I have worked so hard on improving myself and continue to do so and instead of playing the victim in it all. I want to use my experiences to support and guide others to their better days.

No matter how dark anyone’s days get…with the right guidance and support…there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel if you don’t let the darkness consume you. Find your strength, know your worth and hustle like a mf until you get the life you deserve because no matter where you came from, where you go with it is what counts.