Shani Taylor, 39, Sydney, NSW shares her remarkable real life story of recovery from addiction. As told to Natasha Todd
My eyes stung with tears as I looked up pleadingly at the man who'd just dumped me.
"But why?" I whimpered. "I love you."
I was 16, and I'd lost my virginity with this man only weeks before, convinced we'd be together forever.
When his reply came, he failed to hide the irritation in his voice.
"Look," he said. "I put needles in my arm, and I'd rather stay on drugs than be with you."
I was stunned. Naively, I'd had no idea.
I left his house, feeling heartbroken and deflated, but also curious as to what made drugs so much better than me.
It was the start of my six-year addiction.
By then, I was already used to rejection.
Growing up, I hadn't known my father, and when I finally did meet him, aged 11, he only stuck around for a couple of weeks before leaving again.
My mum's partner, who I'd thought was my dad, was the real father of my sisters, making me feel like an outsider at home.
At school, I towered over the other kids, and bullies teased me for being tall and for my bright red hair.
I felt like, no matter where I went, nobody wanted me around.
Feeling excited by the idea that drugs could make me happy, I started smoking marijuana.
Some of my friends already smoked it so it was easy to get hold of.
I loved the feeling of numbness it gave me, and soon moved on to harder drugs. Before I knew it, I was hooked.
I started hanging around with people who were also taking drugs all the time, which made it seem normal.
Shortly after, I fell out with my mum's partner, so I had to leave home.
I slept on friends' couches whenever I could, but there were times I had to sleep on the street, which was scary.
Not having any money and not knowing when I'd next eat was emotionally draining, too.
In time, I managed to pick up some casual shifts at a corner store and started sleeping with a dealer, so I could get some drugs for free.
At 18, things got mildly better when I landed a full-time job as an insurance sales representative.
I moved into a shared house and, although I was still drinking and taking drugs in the evening, I was functioning during the day.
It was during this time I met a man who, at 28, was 10 years older than me.
He lived in a house his mother owned and had a university education.
After a whirlwind six weeks of dating, I moved in with him.
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I'd always dreamt of a big family growing up, and I soon wanted to have his children.
"After feeling displaced from mine, I want to create my own," I told him.
"We'll have children," he promised. "Just not yet."
At age 20, I got a job in recruitment, and then two years after that I finally fell pregnant.
Determined to create a different life for my child than the one I was living, I stopped drinking and taking drugs straightaway.
In time, I had my son, Oscar. Unfortunately, my relationship with Oscar's dad didn't last, so when Oscar was 11 weeks old we moved into our own place, with the help of welfare.
So, at the age of 25 I was a single mother. But although I was financially worse off, I was finally living a clean lifestyle, giving me some much needed clarity.
When Oscar was nine months old, I went back to work full-time in recruitment.
Thankfully, my ex's parents were a great support and helped me when they could.
Then, at the age of 27, I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew, which left me traumatised.
For three years, I was rarely able to leave the house, out of fear of me or Oscar being attacked.
As I healed, I had a sudden desire to save the world from the injustice I felt, so I decided, at the age of 30, to study law at university.
I wanted to help other victims of crime like me.
It was tough studying full-time, while working and being a single mum, but I could do most at home, which helped me juggle.
I realised during my studies that being a lawyer wasn't for me, but I still finished my course.
Reconsidering my options, still wanting to work from home and protect Oscar, the idea of running an online business came to me.
I had no idea what sort of business I wanted to start, but I enrolled in a course hoping an idea would come, and it did.
At 35, I established my online business providing coaching and consultancy to brands and entrepreneurs, to help them expand and connect.
I drew on my previous experience in sales and managing recruitment businesses for other people, and poured everything I had into it, working 18 hours a day, seven days a week.In the end, it was worth it – during the first 30 days of business alone, I made five figures. Now, four years later, it's making millions.
Looking back, I can't believe how far I've come.
Oscar is now 16 and has chosen to leave school to work full-time in hospitality.
I'll always support him in whatever he wants to do.
I'm living proof you can be a success if you put your mind to it. If you're willing to make sacrifices and work hard, you can get there.
For support with addiction, call 1800 250 015 (Aust) or 0800 787 797 (NZ).