How I made my life-changing decision

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
My education came to an abrupt end a few months before my 15th birthday. I was already a serial truant, and my 19-year-old boyfriend was fed up with his friends laughing at him whenever I turned up in my school uniform. With few attractions left in school anyway, a heated ultimatum from my boyfriend made my choice an easy one.

But opting out of school was just the start of a series of impulsive choices that took my life from one crisis to the next. From teenage pregnancy to the chaos of drug dependency, I made one bad decision after another in those turbulent years.

By my early twenties, the situation was becoming desperate. Already at rock bottom, instead of climbing out of my pit, I had grabbed a shovel and started to dig. My "occasional" crack cocaine habit had gradually become my whole life and, with two young children depending on me, I knew I had to take some responsibility.

So, for the first time I made the right decision and sacrificed everything around me - my security, my home, even my children - to go into a residential rehabilitation centre. This was no holiday camp, but next month I will have been free of cocaine for seven years.

After treatment, I went back into education because that seemed to be the norm for recovering addicts. However, at first I approached my studies as an end result only, and without any real interest in what I was learning, I would always drop out for more immediately rewarding ventures.

It was one such venture that led me to apply for work at the Immigration Authority as an audio typist, transcribing asylum case appeals. One of the first cases I worked on was an account of a 28-year-old Somalian woman who had fled to Britain to escape the war in her country. The tape was a revelation to me. As her story of conflict and suffering went on, I was simultaneously gripped by sympathy and shame. Until now, I had thought my life was a tragedy and I'd had it bad. Later I found myself typing the rejection of her appeal - on the grounds that the war had now ended. I can remember that moment as if I were experiencing it now, because suddenly all my problems and the injustices I had suffered were insignificant; worse, they were downright indulgent.

This stranger's story became another life-changing event for me, because it sparked an interest that quickly grew into a passion. I realised I knew so little about the world in which I lived, and I wanted to learn about the lives and conditions of people around the world.

So once again I turned to education in a quest to change my life. But this time my focus was different, with my mind fixed on the process rather than the outcome. I didn't have a particular goal in mind, but now I was driven by the desire to learn. And having successfully completed my access course and the first year of a degree in human rights and social policy at Roehampton university, I am at last doing just that.

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