Welsh Lives: How one woman overcame her own 'heavy' drug addiction and now helps others suffering

Yaina described herself as a "greedy" user after overcoming a 15-year long drug addiction. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

This week's Welsh Lives looks into the story of one woman who overcame a 15-year drug addiction and now works to help others struggling.

Yaina Samuels, from Cardiff, battled a heroin addiction, describing herself as a "greedy" user.

It was during one of Yaina's lowest points that she decided to change her life before completely losing herself to drugs.

Looking back at her childhood, Yaina took on the "class clown" role in school, but one prank in particular led to some ultimately life-changing consequences.

"I loved school but because of the dysfunction going on at home and also the poverty as well, it affected me pretty bad," she said.

"So I started, not playing up, but I wasn't settled in class. Put it this way, I was the class clown."

Yaina and her friend climbed into the roof space in an attempt to ditch school for the day, but her leg fell through the ceiling into a class of pupils.

She explained: "All you could see was a black leg flapping, the class was laughing. And I got expelled for that!

"It's a funny story but then that meant that I'd left my friends and I went to a new school and then I started running away from home.

"I was 14. I mean now I shudder at the thought, but when you are young and you go through so much difficulty in life, you have no fear."

Yaina decided to change her life before it was too late. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Eventually, Yaina turned to drugs and for 15 years, heroin became her world.

"I used a lot of drugs at the time, it was a kind of escapism. If I could get off my face I didn't have to think about my life, which I didn't like.

"I didn’t like me, and mixing with people who had similar issues to myself made me feel not so alone because I was a heavy user. I couldn’t just do a little bit. I was heavy. Greedy."

Yaina believes it was the support from her key worker, Mike McCandless, that brought her the successes she saw after deciding to change her life.

Assigned by social services, Mike explained: "She said to me 'Mike I just want to be normal. I want to have a house, I want to have a car and I want to have a job'.

"And part of my work with Yaina was to help her to develop that journey to see a way forward from fifteen years of drug dependence to a more sort of what she would describe as a normal life."

Having overcome his own addiction with the help of Yaina, Tim hopes to help others suffering. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Soon after, Yaina took a job as a housing officer with Cardiff Council, dedicating her time to helping others with their drug and alcohol problems. 

With her help, Tim overcame his own addiction to alcohol and now hopes to help others suffering.

"As I got to know her story and how she got to where she is, I could see how far she has come.

"And I thought, I want some of that."

Tim added: "I got from Yaina that I'm not alone. There are people who have been abstinent for a long time, who have gone through life and found their niche in what they wanted to do and what they are good at. And Yaina is a shining example of that.

"She’s enabled me to be supportive to other people. To be grateful. Gratitude. I am grateful that I met her."

One of Yaina's happiest memories was winning a St David Award in 2014 for her work with people living with addiction.

She was recognised for putting her own experience to positive use, winning that year’s citizenship award.

Despite the shock she felt when her name was called, Yaina described it as "the most amazing moment ever".

"For somebody to recognise me for the things that I have done in my life when all I had been used to was people just saying 'you will never achieve anything, you will never amount to anything'.

"So then to be awarded this prestigious award, I was absolutely over the moon. That really boosted my confidence and reinforced my belief that I do have something to offer."

Yaina now works as a charity worker and entrepreneur in residence at Cardiff University.

She also spends a lot of time in her garden, admiring the little things in life.

"This garden, well this really is my sanctuary. I am a social person but I also like my own space, hence the oasis of garden.

"I made a point of focussing on the garden because of how it made me feel inside. Nature is amazing - listen to the birds - the sky its blue, you look up, it's blue!"

When asked why the small things are so important, Yaina explained: "I suppose if you dig deep its because when I was a youngster going through all that difficulty, I was told that I'd never amount to anything, I'd never achieve anything, so it's very important to me.

"After what we’ve all been through, throughout the world, it kinda makes you take a step back and think of what’s really important."

Welsh Lives is broadcast on ITV Cymru Wales on Tuesdays at 7.30pm. The programme will also be available online at itv.com/walesprogrammes.