Lorna Higgs (51) understands that you’re not born with mental health problems – she knows from experience that trauma causes them. Lorna now lives contentedly in the very road in Oxford where her mother and grandmother grew up. At the age of 11, she won a scholarship to a private school, but drink ruined her life. Read her story to find out how change is possible:
I was 13 when I had my first drink. By the time I was 15, I knew how to party and drink hard. I worked at the greyhound stadium. People would reward my tips with vodka and lime when they won. I was a very shy and anxious as a girl. Drink gave me the Dutch courage to socialise and party in my teens. When I was just thirteen, I was sexually assaulted and the panic attacks came thick and fast. I dealt with the pain by drinking. By the time I was 16, I was getting drunk regularly, haunted by anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
Unfortunately I got into a violent long-term relationship. I guess I should have realised there was something wrong right from the start. On one of our first dates, he poured beer all over my head. I was stalked, beaten, head-butted and sometimes locked up for days. We went to Canada so that he could escape the law. I was really scared and isolated. Sometimes he would hit me out of the blue. I had two miscarriages because of the violence. I kept thinking it was a one-off because he’d convince me that he’d change. But we’d soon be back to where we started. Eight months pregnant with a black eye, I returned to England in 1984 to have my first child. My son meant everything to me. I did go back to Canada to try and sort it out, but the violence escalated. I got home, but he followed me. The fear of seeing him again made me agoraphobic. If someone you love does that kind of thing to you, you wonder what others are going to do…. I felt so unsafe and could never relax. I started to drink brandy to get through the day. I tried to rebuild my life with a new man. In 2001 I had a beautiful daughter.
Bringing a child into the world is a big thing. When my kids were really little, I was so careful about drinking - I didn’t want to harm them at all. My family means everything to me. I have had to deal with so many tragedies. It was such a shock when my Dad died of cancer at the age of 56. One after another, the men in my family went down like flies.
Things started to look up when a neighbour became the love of my life. But Toby had a serious drink problem and was a real danger to himself. It all came to a head when he fell on some fencing. His neck started to swell and he ended up in a comma in intensive care. I was rushing around trying to help everyone, praying in the church eight times a day. I was accused of assault and given very limited access as he lay dying of what turned out to be blood poisoning from his bad teeth. I was completely devastated. Drink became a real problem again. I felt so ill if I had it and so ill if I didn’t. I was going the same way as Toby and everything was crashing in around me. I was so scared that my kids would be taken away from me. Sleep, sickness and shaking became the norm. There was nothing of me and I was in debt. All I could think about was where I would get my next drink. I had hit rock bottom and I was petrified.
My doctor sent me for a week’s detox. I was given Librium and hospitalised with the shakes. Once through the detox, I was offered rehab - something I thought was only for the very rich. I was at the bottom of a dark well. It was as though someone was offering me a ladder. Despite leaving the kids with Grandma, I knew I’d be mad not to take the lifeline.
Alcohol makes you feel as though you can cope, but it just makes it so much worse. It’s like a living death. In July 2012, I went to The Nelson Trust. It was wonderful to be able to concentrate on myself. I felt so safe in the women-only house. I learnt how to deal with the stresses of life. My counsellors made me feel that it was me helping myself. Little by little my confidence grew. I took the bus and then the train. My counsellor would meet me at the other end. Each little step was acknowledged and I felt stronger and stronger. I even climbed a rock face! Activities like art, sewing, card-making and gardening helped me to open up and I began to feel human. I started to get insight into my behaviour and found new ways of dealing with my problems. Many of the counsellors are in recovery themselves. If it wasn’t for them, there’d be no hope at all. It worries me that there must be so many people out there who don’t know about this treatment.
One very special moment was when I dealt with the grief of losing Toby. I imagined he was there with me in the room and I told him all the special things I wanted to say. In the women’s trauma recovery group I learnt so many ways to soothe my emotions, deal with triggers and manage stress. I found visualisation really helpful. If I feel any stress, I put my feet flat on the floor, control my breathing and imagine the powerful Queen Boadicea commanding me to be strong, or the words PEACE in a beautiful glowing purple. It works every time. Another treatment method that worked for me was EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).
The Nelson Trust has given me my life back. I wanted to die and couldn’t see a way out. This was the way. I couldn’t do it on my own. This was what I needed. Although three months rehab seemed a long time to leave my kids, it was worth every second because it worked. I say to anyone, if you need help and it’s offered, take it - it will save your life. Trust them to help you. Trust the process. It has worked for so many people.
It seems a life time since Toby passed away four years ago. So much has happened. I miss him every day. I have done this for Toby. Something really good has come out of all this tragedy. You have to confront your pain and get rid of it. If you have a cut, you need to clean it out with disinfectant. If you leave it festering, it doesn’t get better. I’m so grateful to The Nelson Trust. I felt free to be myself when I was with them. They gave me a framework. Now that I’m sober I enjoy so many things - sewing, puzzles, walking and gardening. I’m back on track. I’ve been concentrating on my kids and I’m looking forward to the future. I hope to go to college soon. I would so love to do some social work or counselling to help others who have been in my shoes.
Caption: ©Tessa Webb/The Nelson Trust
It seems like a lifetime since Toby died. So much has changed for Lorna. She no longer needs drink to cope and enjoys tending this special garden she has created in memory of the love of her life.
If you have been touched by this story and wish to support the Nelson Trust you can donate £5 via text by texting NELS30 £5 to 70070