Colette describes her childhood as good. Her parents divorced when she was five but she had a healthy relationship with both of them and was a real ‘daddy’s girl’. But just before Christmas when she was just nine-years-old her father went out in the car and never came back. Killed in a smash on a nearby bypass, she remembers the police knocking on the door, his heavily pregnant girlfriend screaming and her first taste of brandy.
By the time she was a teenager, Colette’s mother’s own mental health struggles meant she ended up going into care, but unlike recent high profile cases to the contrary, she says she loved it – the home, the company and her new found friends. At 16, living at a foster home, she enjoyed her first ever holiday abroad.
But the young Colette is already drinking alcohol. A staff member in the home even suggested she might be an alcoholic when she smells her breath one morning after a drinking session with ‘one of the lads’.
The turning point for Colette was turning 18. Now an adult, she is sent to live in a hostel near Chester where she finds herself the only women amongst a group of older men.
“I hated it,” she said.
Keen to progress in life, Colette joined a 1980s YTS (Youth Training scheme) and found a good job in a hotel where she excelled in Silver Service.
At 19 she became pregnant and gave birth to her first son. When he was about three months old she started going out again with friends, leaving the baby with her mum.
Alcohol again raised its ugly head and she started dabbling in pills like ecstasy and speed.
Colette says: “I realised things were not right when I was at work and I thought ‘I really need some more speed’.” A second baby – a daughter- soon followed.
Colette’s 20s then spun out of control and are a blur of drug taking, dealing, arrests, court appearances and domestic abuse. One partner hit her with a hammer and forced her to drink cleaning fluid before locking her in a flat when she was nine months pregnant.
She escaped by jumping out of a first floor window and broke her coccyx. Social services were alerted and her third child, a daughter, was put up for adoption.
Whether it was her father’s death, her time in care, the alcohol or the drug taking that set her on this path to destruction, it was her baby being taken that was the catalyst for change.
Falling pregnant with her fourth child was when Colette began her long road to recovery.
She said: “I thought ‘they’re not taking this baby away’. Working with NACRO – the social justice charity, Colette stopped drinking, started seeing her first two children again and grew stronger.
With the help of her step dad, a former senior Navy officer, she fought to keep her baby. She offered to have a hair strand test to show she was clean, undergo psychological assessment and attend courses on domestic abuse. She says proudly: “I didn’t ever have to do a parenting assessment because my parenting was never in doubt.” She won and her son is now 11. She speaks proudly of her second daughter who has just finished her first year of a psychology degree, the first in the family to go to university.
It was the opening of Storyhouse in 2017 that was another turning point for Colette. Lauded for its community support, she joined their Friday ‘uplift class’, helping build confidence and general wellbeing.
She was then offered a taster session with Fallen Angels but was doubtful.
“I thought: ‘I’m not doing dancing, it’s not for me,” she said.
Eventually persuaded to give it a go, Colette, who uses a walking aid because of the injuries sustained after the abuse and the fall, joined a session.
Claire says: “I remember that she had left her walker at the side for one exercise and she suddenly raised up on her toes. She collapsed in tears. She never thought she would be able to dance.”
Colette has gone from strength to strength and says with emotion: “I have found a family.” She has since performed a solo at Chester Cathedral for International Women’s Day, an anniversary not lost on Colette, and worked as a mentor on a project at HMP Berwyn in Wrexham. She is now a peer mentor for the uplift class.
“I lose myself in Fallen Angels without being conscious of it. I have improved so much and it has empowered me. It’s scary but exhilarating.”
Asked what she would advise anyone else with doubts, she says: “It’s a life-changer. It is a real-life high, not a chemical thing.
“You can’t buy it but it can save your life.”
Written by: Jo Henwood – September 2021
Image: for illustration purposes only
This story first appeared in Cheshire Life Magazine in September 2021