REAL LIFE: I did not want to tell anyone I had Hepatitis C
When Chris Payne was diagnosed with Hepatitis C following an addiction to heroin, he admits the overwhelming feeling he carried around with him was one of shame.
But instead of going further down that dark path of addiction, he has come out the other side, is completely clean of drugs and is now a volunteer for a charity supporting other people suffering in the way that he once did.
But it wasn’t easy for Chris, now 50.
He lives in Gosport having begun a new life in the town after he left behind his Scouse roots to give himself the best chance of breaking free of the cycle of addiction.
So, how did he end up becoming addicted to drugs?
‘When I was 16, Liverpool was flooded with heroin,’ he says.
‘I started off drinking alcohol and smoking drugs in the park, to feel a part of it. But I ended up getting into heroin.’
Chris did a bricklaying apprenticeship after leaving school and worked with his dad for a while.
But his addiction to drugs got in the way.
‘I was in and out of prison,’ he adds.
‘I was making bad choices. I didn’t know how to stop doing it.
‘People say just stop smoking or drinking – but it’s not that easy.
‘That went on for about 30 years. The people that I used to take drugs with are all dead now.
‘In the 1980s Liverpool wasn’t a very nice place to live. There were lots of drugs about and a lot of crime.
‘People didn’t have much money. I must have spent half my life in prison.’
Chris was convicted of various crimes including shoplifting, burglaries and drugs.
Then he found out he had Hepatitis C – a condition which can cause serious liver disease and even death.
‘In the 1990s there was a lot of Hepatitis C in Liverpool,’ he says.
‘There were tests in the prisons. I found out that I had contracted it in 1995 when I was 28.
‘I didn’t know anything about it. I just thought it was similar to AIDS. I just didn’t want to tell anyone about it. I was shocked but I thought, “At least I haven’t got HIV”.
‘There was a big stigma about it. But it wasn’t just drug users who got it – a lot of women got it after having blood transfusions when they were giving birth.’
Finally, Chris got to a point where he realised something needed to change.
‘I had had enough,’ he says.
‘I got out of prison in 2012. In 2013 I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was in a dark place. It was horrible.’
Chris ended up heading down south where he attended a rehabilitation centre in Droxford.
He had treatment for Hepatitis C at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, and has had several blood tests since which confirm the virus has cleared.
‘I didn’t get the all-clear for nearly a year. That was hard – the not knowing.
You always think you’re going to be one of the small percentage that doesn’t get the all-clear.
‘But when I was free of it, it was brilliant. It felt like freedom.
‘That started my journey. I started getting myself together. I started doing voluntary work.
‘I was in the rehab centre for seven months. It was the best thing I have ever done. (Before that) I never knew how to stop using drugs.
‘It changed my behaviour and it made me look at everything. I was advised to relocate and not to move back to Liverpool.’
Chris got a place in Portsmouth and then eventually moved again and settled in Gosport.
Chris now volunteers for Hepatitis C charity, Inclusion.
‘Now I do peer-to-peer work and I support people with Hepatitis C by taking them to hospital. When I was going through the treatment there was no support.’
Now, he wants to help raise the profile of the virus so more people are aware of it and know what it is.
‘People need educating but they aren’t interested.
‘They don’t know what it is. We are scared of what we don’t know and frightened of the unknown.
‘People don’t ask for help and don’t admit there’s a problem. They think that they can deal with it but they can’t.
‘People used to think you could catch it from sharing a cup but you can’t – it’s blood-to-blood. It’s through sharing needles.
‘A lot of people die from it. They call it the silent killer.
‘Often people don’t have any symptoms until it’s too late and they need a liver transplant.
‘But you have got to move forward and put the past behind you.’
Chris has a new partner who he lives with, and he has rebuilt his relationship with his daughter and two grandchildren.
‘I really enjoy life now,’ he says.
‘It’s hard to accept sometimes that it’s going so well. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
‘I never realised how much family meant. I lost my mother in 2015 and I’m glad that at least she had seen me clean.
‘I still keep in touch with my friends and family back home.
‘It’s been hard but I have built the relationship back up with my daughter. I chose drugs over my family. But things are great between us now – they couldn’t be better.’
To see a video of Chris go to portsmouth.co.uk./video.