When Deborah had her first fix of heroin, she says it made her feel whole, secure and safe. She was 15 years old. Prior to that she’d used softer drugs, like uppers and downers, and says that the drugs she used were very popular around this time in the 1960s.
It was heroin though that became Deborah’s main drug. She says it made her feel opposite to the negative feelings she felt because of bad things she’d experienced in life. Growing up in her family had been an unhappy experience. Her dad was Jewish and had had a lot of his family killed in the war, so there was a lot of sadness. Then Deborah was sexually abused by another family member when she was a young teenager. Heroin temporarily helped her to forget those painful experiences and made her feel good.
Because it made her feel so good, Deborah says, “I stole to get drugs. I sold myself to get drugs. I did lots of things. But interestingly I never got caught by the police. I never had a criminal record, which stood me in good favour later on. But it was a very tough time and I didn’t really appreciate what it was going to do to me mentally or physically.”
Deborah said that she later met a man who became her partner and they became very close and would take drugs together, but then he died and was found beside a road with his motorbike.
“Then it came to me,” said Deborah, “That drugs could kill you. I’d never thought of it that way before. It frightened me to death and I decided to come off, just like that. I was going to stop taking drugs, which of course was very stupid, because it actually sent me into a psychosis and I was admitted to a mental hospital and I was ill for quite a long time.”
While Deborah was in the hospital, one of the chaplains would often come and sit beside her bed. He never preached to her or talked about God. He would just be there to keep her company, even if they often just sat in silence and Deborah wondered what his motives were; but it intrigued her and when she got discharged it made her want to examine and find out more about Christianity.
Deborah says, “I didn’t know much about the Christian faith, but I decided to go to an Anglican church, because that is what I though Christianity was all about. And I gradually started to discover more about Christianity. I didn’t make a commitment, but I discovered more.”
Deborah added, “About the same time as this I met my second partner and we got married. Unbeknown to me he was a manic depressive and became very ill, especially after we had our first child, then we had another one, and life became quite difficult again.”
Deborah says that her husbands illness put a lot of pressure on her, but she never turned back to drugs, and while her children were very small she met up with a group of ladies who had bible study in their homes and she discovered what a relationship with Jesus was all about and she made a commitment of faith. Her spiritual life started there when she was in her mid twenties.
Deborah says, “We carried on going, Eric and I, for a long time. But it got more and more difficult to be married to him and when the children were in their teens we split up.”
Deborah felt very bad about this, as she felt that as a Christian, marriage should be for life and she shouldn’t be divorcing. So she felt like she was going against her Christianity. She also felt the pressure of being on her own bringing up two children. She then relapsed and started using heroin again, but only for a short time. She says that during this time she was in a fellowship who were very supportive, and she says, “Thank God I was able to stop quickly.”
As Deborah continued to grow in her Christian faith she says she got stronger and it became easier to resist drugs. And drugs were no longer important in her life. Though she adds that she still has to be careful, as drugs could still be a temptation.
Deborah then moved to an area in South London and started attending a lively church that she still attends. As time went on she found herself serving and doing more and more for the church. She says, “I now lead services at our little sister church up the road. I occasionally preach and I’ve got very much involved in the pastoral side of the church, caring for people.”
As this all gradually happened, Deborah also went back to work, working full time for the civil service. And she felt that she’d became what people thought was a normal person, and Deborah says, “That really its been God that held me and kept me going all these years. And without the knowledge of him I don’t think I’d have stayed clean.”
Deborah met her current husband for the first time when he blocked her in the church car park. They’ve now been married 25 years. Deborah laughed as she said to me, “We got married on the 5th of November, because we knew in our marriage there would be fireworks.”
Deborah retired from her job 12 years ago at the age of 60, to care for her husband full time after he had a stroke.
When talking about Deborah’s previous addiction and now having faith, she says, “I want people to know that you can have a life without drugs, even if you’ve used drugs. But having a life without Jesus is really not on for me now. I need my faith and I need my love of Jesus to keep me going. And I want to say to people, find out about Christianity. Find out about Jesus. If you don’t go to church, try a church. If you don’t read your bible, try reading a little bit. Learn more about this Jesus who cares about you, and he’s prepared to forgive you for anything if you turn to him. He’s prepared to help you lead a new life. And I would say, yes my life hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learnt an awful lot from it.”