Sexually abused as a child, bereaved and suicidal, Sharon Brand eventually turned to heroin to combat her deep depression.
She would go on to have her children taken from her as she embarked on a methadone programme in an attempt to beat the deadly addiction.
It was, by her own admission, “one of the most bleak and difficult periods” of her life.
It will be a story familiar to families from Dundee who have experience of heroin addiction – except this one has a much happier ending than most.
After beating her habit and getting her children back, Sharon went on to found Recovery Dundee, working with the city’s heroin users on a daily basis to help them combat their own addictions.
Now, for the first time, the 41-year-old mum of four has shared her personal story of addiction, abuse, recovery and redemption.
“It’s taken me a long time to be able to talk about my addiction to heroin and my recovery but I’m now ready to tell my story,” Sharon said.
“These were very dark and difficult days for me.
“It gives me a unique insight into what someone with a serious drug addiction has to go through on their road to recovery.”
Sharon said she didn’t begin taking heroin until the age of 27, by which time she was already a mum with young children.
She was born in Dundee, but moved with her mum to London as a small child.
It was there, between the ages of six and 13, she was sexually abused by a family member.
She moved back to Dundee to be with her dad, but after a year returned to London to share a flat with a friend.
Over the next few years she went to college and university, occasionally dabbling in light drugs but not to any serious or regular extent. When she was 21 she came back to Dundee.
Then the death of her gran and the emigration of her dad, combined with the traumas she suffered in childhood, led to her becoming seriously depressed.
She said: “I felt I couldn’t cope and contemplated suicide before turning to heroin.
“I began smoking it but I also injected.
“This went on for about two years and I realised I had to get help.
“I was put on a methadone programme that lasted three years and my children were taken away for six months.
“I was a good mum and my children always took priority.
“I would go without heroin for days but my partner at the time couldn’t do that.”
Both fathers of Sharon’s children have taken their own lives, leaving her to bring up her children on her own.
Sharon eventually weaned herself off methadone and, in 2016, helped grow the fledging Recovery charity.
The charity offers social events, meetings, fitness programmes and alternative therapies for people in recovery trying to turn their life around.
Sharon said: “In many ways I lived a privileged, middle-class childhood.
“My story shows that drug addiction can happen to anyone from any background.
“Stepping out on my recovery journey in August 2016, I never imagined my life would be consumed with the desire and passion to create the first independent recovery community in Scotland.
“Heroin had a major impact on my life and I never want to go back there.
“I never really wanted to tell my story. The recovery work I am involved in is not about me but I understand it might help others by speaking about it.”
‘My own recovery led me to Recovery Dundee’
Sharon explained it was her own recovery journey that began in August 2016 that led to the work she is doing now with addicts all over Dundee.
Sharon has the ear and the respect of many of those seeking help because they know she has walked in their shoes before them – and she understands exactly what they are going through.
It all started in the early days when Sharon began working as a volunteer with one of the city’s other leading drug charities, Addaction.
There she met Kevin Gardiner, who had set up a Facebook and Twitter page, Recovery Dundee.
The aim was to connect with people who were in recovery and share what services and help were available in Dundee.
Sharon said meeting with Kevin led to the setting up of Scotland’s first independent peer support group.
Then, in February 2017, Sharon and Kevin got involved with the Scottish Recovery Consortium.
They had been commissioned to support and advocate for those in recovery from problematic substance abuse.
In September of that same year they organised and held the first National Recovery Walk in Dundee.
From all over the UK, 2,000 people travelled to the city to take part in the event.
Sharon said: “That day, I spoke to my city and made a promise to make recovery visible and create a peer support that was valued the way it should be.
“That’s exactly what Recovery Dundee has done.
“I’m hopeful the influence and changes Recovery Dundee created mean great things are on the horizon, changing the value of peer support and giving people power over their own recovery.”