As a young girl, I used to escape to try find solace within a dysfunctional and toxic family environment. I would run into my grandparents backyard which I called the ‘fairy garden’ and created an imaginary magical world where I was happy and free. I would read fairy tales and pretend that it was my life. I would make up stories in my head where I was a princess locked in a tower and prince charming would show up on a white horse to save me. We would live happily ever after.

This was far from my reality. I grew up in an emotionally and physically abusive home which did not feel loving and safe. I lived in terror and fear most days, just waiting. Waiting for my Mum and Dad to begin screaming at one another which would always end up in my Dad leaving never knowing when he would return. My mother was very unwell and unhappy in her own self which was sadly projected onto me for as long as I can remember. To cope and survive, I learnt to escape through imagination. When I would put my head on the pillow at night and begin to imagine an alternate reality, everything seemed to be alright.

I grew up. Instead I turned to drugs, alcohol, sex and other means to escape from a young age. I found oblivion and the world felt like not such a scary place anymore. I found comfort in the soothing sensation of becoming intoxicated and falling into someone’s arms even if only for one night. As I continued to age, the ways I used to find ease and comfort, did not work anymore. I would need to drink to black out or put myself in destructive situations to fully get out of my head. As we all know, this did not end well. I was depressed, lonely, isolated and wanted to take my own life – if this was life, I did not want to do it anymore. All I wanted was to be loved and respected – but was so afraid of abandonment and rejection – that I did the complete opposite ensuring that myself fulfilling prophecy of being worthless and unlovable became true.

I hit rockbottom. It was a strange and almost surreal moment. I remember driving down a freeway without a will to live or go on. But at that moment I had a thought. A thought of my godfather whom I had always idolised and loved dearly. I knew he had struggled with similar battles and feelings of inferiority in his life. But that he had turned it around. The last time I had seen him was at a party. I was an embarrassing mess that evening and made a complete fool out myself. He looked the same as I remembered, but at the same time an entirely different man stood in front of me. His energy and charisma was magnetic. Everyone wanted to be his friend. I thought for a split moment, that if he could do it then so could I.

I followed his path. I walked the road he had before me. This was my first experience of peer support. The power of one human connecting with another and sharing their lived experience. It was not the words that my god father said but instead the actions he was taking and the way he was living his life. I was in awe. I found many people whom had similar challenges as I had and began to ask them what it was that had helped them through. At the time, I could not see the way out of the black hole alone, but instead was able to lean onto others for inspiration knowing there was hope for a brighter future.

Today I no longer need to escape into substances, other people or made up stories to find happiness. Reality is far better than anything I could have imagined. Most days I wake up with gratitude and amazement for the beautiful life I am blessed to live. And what my god father was to me, I now am able to be that guiding light for others. The biggest gift I was ever given was knowing that I need never walk alone.

This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.

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