A little bit about me, Renee Davis
I was mostly ‘dragged up’. After her own unhappy childhood, my mother had a baby (me) aged 18 because she wanted someone to love her. By the time she was 25, she had three kids. I had a different father to my siblings but she felt it was best to tell me their dad was also mine. The official lie was that he was in prison when I was born, explaining why he wasn’t on my birth certificate. Growing up, it was obvious that he didn’t love me as much as he did the other two, but I wasn’t told the truth until after I had left home. Turns out my biological father was engaged to his current wife when he got my mother pregnant. To this day his wife does not know I exist.
My step-father had a horrendous childhood. His mother died when he was two, and he was shown very little love when he was younger. It’s not surprising that he was a cold man. That he turned to crime. That he was an alcoholic, manic depressive and emotional bully. I remember being at my Grandma’s house one day when I was seven or eight years old, and having to go out to daddy’s car and say goodbye because he was going to kill himself. He had a massive gun in the passenger seat and had drank so much he was paralytic. Although he didn’t go through with it, that day haunted me for years.
He and my mother had a strange relationship. They only lived together as a couple for five years from when I was eleven, and split for good after that. I viewed him as a man of mystery throughout my entire childhood. We were not allowed to meet his family and I found out some years later it was because he’d had an affair with his sister-in-law and was the father of his brother’s son. Apparently this boy and my half-brother were close in age and looked so similar they could have been twins. He knew the secret would have destroyed his brother so he sacrificed us instead.
He was overly generous when it came to birthdays and at Christmas time, which upset my mother as she felt he was flashing his cash as a slight towards her. Day to day he provided extras which went some way towards supplementing our benefits income, but she was terrible with the little money she had. I witnessed her many times putting her last pound into a fruit machine, or going to bingo with it. She was always hoping for a big win that would change our lives. In reality, the phone and electricity were cut off more times than I care to remember, and the cupboards were often bare. It was a constant battle to make ends meet and I grew up thinking that her life must have been utterly miserable.
Being the eldest, I was regularly left alone to babysit my half siblings from a very young age. One distinct memory shines through the rest. The remains of a Guy Fawkes bonfire rekindled and the garden caught light one evening while she was out. I was nine years old and seeing fire through the living room doors was absolutely terrifying. Fortunately our neighbours across the road were home and came to our rescue. Shortly after this my mother took in a friend’s 16 year old son and he lived with us for a while.
He would take advantage of me when she wasn’t home which led to me having an unhealthy attitude towards men for many years afterwards.
My mother used to run up as much debt as she could get away with, and when it looked like it was catching up with her we would move house. Unbelievably, in the 80s the debt would mainly be attached to your house rather than your name. By the early 90s it was becoming harder to get away with but not impossible. If there was a scam to be had she would seek it out. We’d had over a dozen addresses by the time I left home, which meant going to eight different schools.
I often endured low level bullying for being the new girl and over the years I was spat at, sworn at, threatened with violence and routinely humiliated. The bullying I suffered in the last school I went to was significant, and led to a suicide attempt. I had gone to a sleepover and one of the boys molested me in my sleep. He then went into school and bragged about it. The police got involved and my so-called friends turned against me, saying it was all my fault. I found myself in the unfortunate position of being the most hated girl in the whole school. By then it was my final year and my self-esteem and confidence were at an all-time low. I loathed going in and would do anything for a day off which meant falling behind with my work.
My step-father was a permanent feature in our lives by then, and the best way to describe him was that he was a deeply unhappy, ‘functioning’ alcoholic. We got into a fight one morning about me not wanting to go to school and he punched me in the face. He was often harsh with his words but usually kept his fists to himself. He almost broke my nose, and this ended up being the catalyst for me leaving home. I was 15, had no qualifications and only £50 in my pocket. He said I’d be pregnant and living in a hovel within the year. I went to stay with an aunt in her tiny maisonette where I slept on the floor of my cousin’s bedroom between the cot and the bunk beds. It wasn’t ideal but at least I was safe.
No-one escapes the psychological fallout of a childhood like mine.
I went through major bouts of depression as a young adult, and lived life in self-destruct mode for many years to numb my pain. I spent my teens and early twenties going from one all-weekend bender to the next. I had a string of disastrous relationships early on, then spent a handful of years sleeping with just about anyone. I wouldn’t have even looked at half of them once, let alone twice when I was sober.
Eventually I had a breakdown aged 22 and sought professional help. My counsellor was an amazing women who had lots of experience dealing with family dramas. During the eighteen months that I saw her regularly she taught me that I needed distance from my family, that I deserved to be loved and how to respect myself. Although she tried her hardest she couldn’t get me to tackle my love of booze or partying. That would come later. Along with breakdown number two.
Even though my finger was firmly attached to the self-destruct button, I knew from day one that it was up to me to fend for myself and have always worked. My first few jobs were cash in hand affairs in grimy market caffs and pound shops. As soon as I had my National Insurance number I went searching for something that paid more money and offered more respect. After working in a couple of London department stores a friend suggested I learn some computer skills and try finding an office job. I took their advice and worked locally to gain some basic experience. I was the only non-family member in a small office and treated like a second class citizen, not exactly the step up I was hoping for. As soon as I felt competent enough around the computer I set my sights higher.
One sunny day armed only with a flimsy CV and the ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, I ventured into the City of London and went door knocking on recruitment agencies. After a lot of rejection someone offered me a temp job on the reception desk of a major financial corporation. I knew it was a huge opportunity, and I worked my socks off to ensure that my initial two weeks led to a permanent role. I was given an administration role and stayed for three years, after which I moved to a company around the corner for a decent pay bump.
When I was made redundant after two and a half years I was given a £10,000 pay out. It was the most money I’d ever had and I decided to book myself an around the world ticket and go travelling. I had so much fun and met lots of interesting people, a good handful of them are still a part of my life. The trip was the best decision I ever made because it was where I met the man I now call my husband. I’d been on the road for almost six months at that point and in South East Asia for two.
Andy and I met on Serendipity Beach in Cambodia.
It was supposed to be my last night in the town before heading to Laos, and it was his first night there. I had been out to dinner with some friends and we went to our favourite bar afterwards for a nightcap. I spotted him as soon as I walked in and introduced myself right away. Sparks flew and if this doesn’t qualify as ‘love at first sight’ then I have no idea what does. We stayed up talking all night and the next morning had breakfast together and chatted away for over four hours. We clearly had a connection. Not only was he handsome and my type but he was down to earth and easy company. He was just what I needed and I decided to get an extension on my Cambodian visa and travel the country some more with him.
We spent six blissful weeks together and each day was an adventure. When we went our separate ways (him to Australia and me home) it was awful, we missed each other so much. After just three days in the UK I realised I was making a huge mistake, and within a fortnight I was on a flight heading to Melbourne. My future was uncertain and funds were fast running out but I knew I would regret not going and seeing what could have been. We spent our first six months together living and working in Australia, then went back to Asia for a little holiday before returning to the UK. Neither of us could properly settle at home because Cambodia had gotten well and truly under our skin.
We headed back out there longer-term around our first anniversary. The original plan was to find English teaching jobs, but we were given the opportunity to set up a shop above an established charity. By day we sold clothes and other tourist trinkets then four nights a week we became the Revelation Vodka Bar, specialising in different flavoured vodkas that I had created. The paint had barely dried when a spiral of events caused me to reach boiling point with my mother, and I made the tough decision to cut ties with her. I will tell you more about this later in the chapter Calling Time on a Toxic Relationship.
Although I now view it as one of the best decisions I have ever made, at the time it sent me to a very dark place. I pushed Andy away and crossed the line to the wrong side of partying. I was completely out of control. I was hardly eating and existed mainly on iced coffee during the day, then I’d drink vodka all evening and well into the early hours. I wasn’t averse to hanging out in undesirable places either, getting wasted with the wasters. I had a sizeable valium addiction by this stage, and would regularly take other powerful pharmaceutical drugs. My sense of what was normal and acceptable became more and more skewed each and every day. I honestly feel that had we stayed in Cambodia any longer I would have ended up dead.
When Andy and I returned home almost a year to the day after we left, it was separately. We then had an on/off relationship for months which must have driven our friends crazy. During this time I worked for a small company with high expectations of me, both professionally and socially. I used to work 12 hour days, then go out drinking until the early morning at least three times a week. After living like this for about six months I ended things with Andy ‘for good this time’. A few weeks after we split I went on the quarterly work social weekend. An all-expenses paid trip to Reykjavik. After parting non-stop for 36 hours and being so wasted I picked a fight with my boss, I took a taxi alone from the bar to my hotel on the other side of town.
When I woke up the next morning I was utterly appalled with myself.
I had gone too far this time. I’d argued with my boss, shown myself up in front of my colleagues and put myself in unnecessary danger once again. I looked in the mirror and told myself that enough was enough. This nonsense had to stop right here and right now. It was my rock bottom. The penny had finally dropped. This is when I woke up to myself and my addictions and decided to get clean. Rock bottom came with the epiphany that I was in great danger of losing the best thing that had ever happened to me. The gravity of my foolishness hit me like a whack in the face, and for the first time in a very long time I did something right.
I worked incredibly hard to become a better person than the one I was perhaps ‘destined’ to be given my background and start in life.
I didn’t so much as sniff an alcoholic drink for three months then I learnt self-control, something that had been absent until that point. I disassociated myself from bad influences and stopped partying. I knuckled down at work. I read lots of self-help books and developed a truly positive mental attitude. Above all else, I became happy with what I saw in the mirror and started enjoying my own company.
After three months of no contact I got in touch with my then ex and told him about the new me. Fortunately he gave me one last chance, and we headed into a fresh year under very different circumstances. I was no longer unable to have a glass of wine without finishing the bottle. I didn’t want to go out partying all night anymore. Fast forward to today, who is Renee Davis? I am a happily married mum of three. I’m highly regarded among my peers and considered to be well-rounded and dependable: a good mama, wife and friend.
There are people who you meet who seem to easily breeze through life. It’s as if they were born under a lucky star and it follows them everywhere. On the flip side, other poor souls get the rawest end of the bargain. For most of us though, how we deal with the hand we are dealt determines our fortune. The way I see it is this: we all have control over our own destiny. It is up to each of us to ensure that we live our lives being the best we can possibly be.
I truly believe anyone can change their ways – no matter how naughty or wicked. Anyone is capable of breaking the cycle of dysfunction as I did. You just have to want to badly enough.