Slogging around the 26-mile Virgin Money London Marathon 2016 route may sound like hell but Amelia Barber says running helps her find peace from her former demons.
The 31-year-old struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for more than a decade and lost her family, friends, home, several jobs and self respect.
She was left suicidal and believes she would be dead by now if it had not been for the support of the Island Day Programme in Tower Hamlets run by the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt).
The Peckham resident said: “They genuinely cared. I wasn’t treated as a textbook diagnosis, but rather as an individual deserving of compassion.”
Amelia now works as a nurse taking care of cancer patients in the oncology department of Guy’s Hospital and is taking part in this year’s London Marathon on Sunday to raise funds for RAPt so it can help others like her.
She said: “Running has really helped my recovery. When I feel really tired I have to mentally push through it and I have used that in my recovery to think ‘I can do this’. The peace and quiet out on the road is like my meditation.”
Raised in rural Somerset, she arrived in London aged 17 with teenage dreams of being a pop star but already had a habit for binge drinking and first entered rehab aged 18 for anorexia and alcohol addiction.
On release she got caught up in the party lifestyle of the capital and when a six-year relationship ended in 2010 she entered a downward spiral of drink and drugs that left her homeless, friendless and estranged from family.
She said: “Drinking became a daily thing. When I started taking coke I would need more alcohol to help even me out. I was isolated and low and that is what I turned to and it escalated really quickly.”
She still bears the scar on her shoulder from when she tried to commit suicide by taking a mix of Tramadol, cocaine and heroine and had a seizure at work in the West End on a make-up counter.
She said: “I knew I needed to stop but I couldn’t. I felt possessed by my behaviour. There was no mental defence there or any fear of the consequences.”
She lost her job and flat and moved back in with her parents but would “drink at any opportunity” and when they kicked her out after a few weeks it was a wake-up call. A friend told her about the Island Day Programme and she joined in 2011 and started going to Cocaine Anonymous meetings, undergoing drug testing twice a week and found a place to live in a women’s hostel.
Amelia said the programme’s network of counsellors gave her an insight into her behaviour.
“They showed me that I wasn’t a complete lunatic and that addiction is a disease that controls you. I lost some of the shame.”
But she still struggled, relapsing twice, and finally hitting rock bottom in 2012 when she went on a week-long “bender” and ended up spending her 28th birthday in a psychiatric unit.
“I was in there – no presents, no cards, no-one wanted to know me and I had a moment of clarity.
I thought ‘If I drink and use this is how it’s going to be’. Something just snapped and I knew I couldn’t do it any more. I knew my choices were die or get better.”
Amelia has now been clean for three and a half years and is back in contact with her family who will be cheering her on at the marathon on Sunday, April 24.
She said: “My journey into recovery wasn’t easy and I didn’t get clean straight away but I will always be grateful to RAPt for helping me when I couldn’t help myself.”
Donate to Amelia's fundraising campaign here