Tasmin's story

Tasmin lost her partner, and later her youngest daughter in tragic circumstances. Here she talks about grief, addiction and moving forwards.

I’m originally from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

I was brought up in a reasonably happy home, but my dad left when I was younger and that had an impact in terms of my emotional being. I had abandonment issues, self-esteem and self-worth issues, especially regarding men. It distorted the relationship between my mam and dad and that was the foundation in terms of my relationships with people in the future.

I was reasonably good at school – I went to private school actually, I got a scholarship. I‘ve got a pretty high IQ, apparently and I’ve got two degrees.

At the age of twelve I started to use alcohol as a form of social lubrication.

It used to help me with men… dealing with relationships, and again how I expressed earlier about the relationship with my dad.

I’m 39 now, but I used to be very attractive as a younger woman, but I didn’t know my self-worth. It’s not just about the outward, it’s about how you feel inside. I felt so lost, I felt so alone, so misunderstood, a teenager with these hormones and I started to hang-out with these older people – criminals. Got myself in a lot of trouble really.

I managed to get myself some GCSEs, then I left home at 16. I went to live in Cornwall, bummed around for about a year with a bunch of surfers and smoked a lot of weed. Then my dad said, ‘Don’t you think you should start going to college?’ and stuff like this, so I said, ‘Alright then’ and moved to London. I was 17, I went to college in Berkshire and I got a few A levels and that…

Then I met a man, a Scouse fella, funny, funny he was – he never drank really. I was with him for three year, we lived together. I just remember I got a phone call one day, he was working away and he’d died.

He died on me, I was engaged to him. It killed me, it did.

I was in and out of bars then, for about five/six year in Soho and did some pretty horrific things to myself. I did a lot of drugs. I did a lot of everything really. I was just completely lost again and that feeling of abandonment with my dad kind of manifested in the fact that he’d left me, you know and it was out of my control and I couldn’t do anything about it. So, I drank mostly, it was always the drink with me, possibly because it was more accessible.

I’ve never been very good at facing pain, I don’t think any of us are really as human beings, but for me especially as an alcoholic—now I can recognise I’m an alcoholic—because I’m super-sensitive. A lot of us addicts are, that’s why we turn to self-harm in terms of drugs, drink, any addiction really…

Death happens to everyone in life, but I, even now today I struggle with it, hugely. I loved him, I did love him you know. I remember I came off the bus, I was in Uxbridge in Middlesex and I’ve got a pretty bad memory really, but I remember that day. It was a cold January and he looked a bit like James Dean, he had his collar up, he had a long winter jacket on and I saw him across the street and honestly, I can tell you, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to marry you,’ and I don’t romanticise things, but I did feel that. You know, I did truly love him, we had that connection.

Anyway, time went on. I’ve always worked, I was a manager … I was catering in terms of the financial, but the emotional and spiritual side was just dead really. I was just existing, and I have done for many, many years really.

Then I had an experience in London where I was attacked when I was intoxicated. So, I said to myself, right this is it, I’m moving back to Newcastle. And then I met my ex-partner, who was from Yorkshire and of course I went straight into that – he was Mr Safe, Mr Secure and that’s what I thought I needed. So, I moved in with him as you do! We don’t do anything by halves us alcoholics!

I moved to Yorkshire, went back to university, got a degree in midwifery and then I was a midwife.

I had my first child and I still drank, but I kept it under wraps.

I was a typical working-class person, from the outside you’d look at us, two cars on the drive, brand new house, he’s an engineer, but it wasn’t… There was a lot of domestic abuse from his part, he’s six foot, five and I’m a little lass, but I’ll tell you something, I could kill with my tongue … it was very toxic the relationship, but I still functioned, I still got on with life. I was a mother, but I wasn’t really a mother, my purpose in life was just to get from one day to the next without feeling anything. I did feel something obviously, but I just used to mask it with the alcohol.

I drank at work, I had it in my bag, I drank at night, drink drove, just drank basically.

Then I became pregnant again. We went through the full pregnancy with not knowing that she was going to be severely disabled. I never drank in my pregnancies, because alcohol for me was more of a self-harm.

I gave birth to her and she had pfeiffer syndrome.

It’s a German doctor that diagnosed it in the sixties. It’s extremely rare. There’s not many of them in the world. It’s a mutation a of a gene, it could happen to anybody – it wasn’t anything I had done.

She looked visibly very unusual, which frightened me if I’m honest with you. I know it sounds shallow, but aesthetically my family have always looked very presentable and in this kind of world to have a child that was very unusual was a hard pill for me to swallow.

I’d had no preparation, I mean, how do you have preparation for that?

But anyway, on that particular day, he left me. He got up and walked out the hospital. He said: ‘I can’t deal with this. I can’t have a disabled child.’ I de-catheterised myself and I walked out of the hospital. My daughter was in intensive care and my other daughter was with his mam and I sat in my room and drank for two days. 

Then he phoned social services because he wanted to get her adopted, she was only about four or five days old at the time. The social worker came, but she knew that I didn’t want her to be adopted.

She said, ‘Please can I speak to you on your own, Tanya?’

And I said, ‘Yes,’ and she went, ‘You know, you don’t have to do this.’

So that day in January I walked all the way from my house to the hospital – it was a really bad winter in Yorkshire and the snow was too thick I couldn’t use my car.

I picked my daughter up for the first time and I never left her – not for two and a half years, until she died…

God, I went through hell with her, she had nearly 30 operations. She had tracheostomy, she was PEG fed, she had a nasopharyngeal airway, she had a mal-rotated bowel, she had her skull took off three times…

I lived in Alder Hay in Liverpool for a year and half with her and her sister Charlotte, in the Ronald McDonald House and I’m ashamed to say I still drank. It was the only comfort I could find.

My family couldn’t help with my daughter because she was on the neurology ward at Alder Hay Children’s Hospital. She died quite a few times as well. She was in intensive care, I don’t know how many times…

I’m very much a realist me. I don’t have a god, I don’t have anything really. I even used to get down on my knees and say why give all of these things to me? You know? I lost my partner who was the love of my life and then having a child with disabilities is another form of grief.

She lived and she fought, and my god did she fight. She fought so much… strongest person I know, that lass.

She was such a beautiful child. 

I never heard her say mam, and you know the sad thing about it – with her disabilities, neurologically her brain was sound, so she was just like me and you. In fact, I can honestly say she was more advanced than her sister. So that made it equally hard, because she was so self-aware of what was happening to her and I felt helpless, I felt out of control and just there for the ride, you know…

On Sunday 19th July 2015 I made me mam, me step-dad and Charlotte a Sunday lunch, and Evie, she was fab, she was the best I’d ever seen her… The next day I got up, I went down stairs and I didn’t look in her cot… Evie was in the cot next to me with her machines and everything. I don’t know why I didn’t look that morning, I just didn’t.

I went downstairs for a cigarette, at the backdoor. I think I was down there for about half an hour, then I came back up and she’d died. She was dead. She was grey.

I started screaming and then Charlotte started screaming and she was saying, ‘Not my Evie, not my Evie…’ Because Charlotte was like her mam as well, she was so protective.

I rang 999, the ambulance came, tried to do CPR and that but it didn’t… she had sepsis and she’d just given up. I think her little body had just took so much, but do you know what right? We all have our parts to play in this world and she had such an impact on so many people, everybody that she met, she was so charismatic, never cried, she was such a happy child. She walked through life so broken physically, but my god she was such an enlightened human being.

After that I drank, like really bad. I tried to work, I tried to do community nursing. I was drinking in my car… Eventually after about a year of struggling with my mortgage and Charlotte and trying, I just had a break-down basically.

I had to give Charlotte to her dad.

And then I lost my mortgage, lost my car, got done for drink driving. I’d never had a conviction in my life, lost my job, lost everything.

Finally, just before Christmas I found myself homeless, drinking, lost. I hadn’t had my daughter for seven months, I’d been in rehab and obviously lost my Evie two years before that. I was completely disconnected, suicidal, mentally drained, beaten and financially crippled. I lost my job, my house, I lost everything. My relationship with the person I was with had broken down as well. I was very alone.

I came to P3 with two bags—bin liners—containing all my worldly goods.

I was so frightened, the concept of living on the streets… I’ve been to university, I’ve always had a job, a house, I’ve always had a car and I lost everything through circumstance… This kind of life changing stuff could happen to anybody really… I had to roll with the punches really, shit happens…

I was actually pregnant at the time, I’d only found that out the week before, but subsequently I had a miscarriage, but I was pregnant. It is what it is…

P3 were my guardian angels.

It was a Friday and they were able to give me resources financially to accommodate me in a hotel for three days: Friday Saturday and Sunday, until I could get temporary accommodation on the Monday. They also gave me a food parcel, because I didn’t have any money, not a penny.

Next, I managed to get temporary accommodation and P3 continued to call me to make sure I was OK, the support was always there.

Now I’ve managed to source a really lovely flat, I’m going to AA and I’ve got clean and sober friends. I’m going out, doing wonderful things and life’s really good.

I’ve started to live with the pain without a substance to diffuse it. We’re only here once in this world and I don’t want to live my life diffused, keeping everything at a distance. It’s when you start to face the pain right in the mirror and you say: ‘do you know what, I’ve been through that, but that ain’t gonna kill me today.’ – It’s when you start to push things down it’s not healthy really, you drink on that or you’ll take drugs on that.

I’m on the right path now and I think I’m on the right path to get my other daughter back in my life, it’s huge because I feel doubly bereft if you like, because I lost Evie when she was two and a half and I feel like I’ve also lost Charlotte. I have to remind myself daily she’s still alive and she wants and needs her mam. She’s been through so much, so as she goes through life, I am going to be there for her.

She’s my best friend, Charlotte. We’ve been through such an extraordinary experience me and her, with her sister, that from a mother and daughter point of view we’d experienced a lifetime together, in just a few years. I’m very grateful for that actually. Evie gave me that.

… Charlotte sent me a birthday card a couple of weeks ago. She’s only seven and her dad is very dubious about me coming back into her life, which is understandable, because of my mental health issues, my grief and whatnot…

Hopefully in the next few months, I’ll be able to start to reconnect and get that relationship back. I want to do that properly and that’s why I’ve deliberately not pushed … because I want to get myself better and because as an addict if you’re not well, nobody else is going to be well around you.

I need to get myself well so I can be the bestest mam I can be to my daughter and that’s what I’m doing now…

My recovery is the most important thing to me … because if I don’t have my recovery I don’t have my daughter, I don’t have my mam, I don’t have my dad, I don’t have anything.

I miss my daughter Charlotte so much, she’s the most important person in this world, apart from Evie … she is my higher power, I believe that she came into my life to save me and who knows, maybe someone might hear my story and think, I recognise that … Life has a domino effect, you don’t realise what impact you have on other people … but it’s still a bitter pill. I struggle with my emotions daily and I still talk to my Evie every morning and every night.

I was so lost … I’m just one person that’s gone through a lot of shit, but so are a lot of other people, we’re all just works in progress …

This is real life, addiction, it kills people, every single minute of the day it kills people, all around the world. It doesn’t discriminate, addiction, it can happen to anybody. If hadn’t of been for P3 I really do not know where I would have ended up, anything could have happened to me on the streets …

It’s just I’ve always worked, I’ve always had a job. I felt so ashamed that this had happened to me. I didn’t want to phone my mam, I didn’t want to phone my dad. I couldn’t go there. I felt so ashamed that I had gone down this road of self-destruction. The only people that were there for me at my lowest ebb, at my rock bottom were P3.

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*Names changed to preserve anonymity. Tasmin was supported by P3's Wolverhampton Homelessness Service.