Title listing of my blogs
Relationships, Domestic Violence, Homelessness: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
DECEMBER 10, 2020 | DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
We all crave stability. Somewhere to call “home”…but what if “home” is anything but? What happens then?
“The Woman Who Walked Into Doors” is a novel by Roddy Doyle. It tells the story of Paula Spencer and her turbulent marriage to “Charlo” her violent, abusive husband. Charlo was “a catch, a ride” and Paula adored him. He was also an abusive arsehole who liked to push her around. In Paula’s words “He loved me and he beat me, I loved him and I took it…”
And she did, even when “it” put her in the hospital. Through missing teeth, broken bones and dislocated shoulders, she becomes his whipping boy, his punching bag, constantly hoping that this time will be the last, that Charlo will change and that things will go back to “normal” again.
Only this is her new normal now … And he’s just getting started.
At the minute I am not “The Woman Who Walked Into Doors”. Instead I am “The woman who covers her ears when he shouts”, “The woman who closes her eyes” and “The woman who sweeps up the broken things that he’s thrown at the wall when he loses his temper”. This is the woman I am at the minute although most days I don’t feel like a woman at all. I feel like a whipping boy, a scapegoat, a failure, a mess…
And before you ask me no, I didn’t want to be any of these things. I just wanted him to love me.
He did at first, I think … when we were good and new and shiny. He treated me like a princess and I was absolutely smitten. Until a few months down the line he called me a cunt, and laid the foundations for our future relationship.
His language took my breath away. I couldn’t believe that this guy, my guy, my best friend and my wingman could call me such a thing. Except that he did. And then he kept on doing it.
Things got worse.
The name-calling continued, along with slamming of doors, smashing of plates, and nasty, drunken shouting in my face. I was “Miserable”, “Moody”, a “Tramp and a whore”, a “Prostitute”. A nothing.
I talked too much, I was “giving him a headache”. I was selfish, self-centred, all about me. Spoiled, ungrateful, incompetent. I didn’t put the bins out right, fold the washing properly, I made the washing machine leak. I had rubbish taste in music. Any film I liked was terrible. I cooked dinner every evening too early or too late.
The list of my faults and flaws was endless.
And I couldn’t tell my friends because by now I had no friends. They’d all tried to warn me about him when we first started dating. But I was naive and I was blinkered and I thought that they were wrong. So when I had to choose between the two, I did … and I chose him.
And I look back now and all the signs were there, flashing, flashing, flashing, bright red neon at me. Except, I didn’t want to see them. Instead I took out all the bulbs, crossed my fingers a lot, kept my rose-tinted glasses on, and tried not to step on the cracks in the pavement.
And I learned to be quiet, and I learned to try harder. And every day I got smaller and smaller while he just grew and grew. I would sit inside this little box that he’d made for me, and I would wonder how the hell I got here. How I had become her … this un-opinionated, voice-less, sad, lonely woman who spent her days talking to herself and walking on eggshells?
I left him … several times.
Because my self-esteem was on the floor and I needed to be able just to breathe for a while. But there was this ridiculous pull towards him that I couldn’t quite explain, which meant that every time I left him, I gravitated back, no matter how badly he had treated me. In his eyes, this made him right. And so then “I” would be the naughty one and he would be the victim, and round and round and round we’d go.
Over and over and over again.
Until my head was spinning.
Then things would go quiet for a while. Almost kind of normal. I would tell myself that maybe things would be ok … one, because he’d stopped shouting. But two, because I really, really wanted them to be.
But then he’d get angry again, plates started to smash, and I would know in an instant, that I’d made a mistake. That it wasn’t going to be ok. That it was never going to be ok. Because this guy wasn’t changing for anyone. Not now, not in a month, not in six months or a year.
This was him. The “real” version of him, a man who liked to mistreat women. Because he thought that violence made him strong.
I’m sitting in the garden.
It’s a beautiful sunny day outside. The neighbours smile and wave at me. They don’t hear the shouting in the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom upstairs. Or, if they do, I think they must just cover their ears. Like me, like I do.
Tourists walk by.
They see, a happy, smiling woman in a garden filled with plants. She drinks a cup of coffee and she’s writing in her notebook, a happy cat purrs away at her feet. Everything looks peachy. Domestic violence doesn’t live on this street. Except that it does – you just don’t see my scars, or what I’m writing in my notebook.
Fast forward to today and I’m writing in my caravan. Because I left him again and I’m not going back. I’m starting again, with my books and my incense and the little voice in my head telling me I’m worth so much more than a drunk, angry, violent man who bends me out of shape and backs me into corners all the time.
It’s taken me a long, long time to write this piece.
Because I’m writing about domestic violence when this guy didn’t punch or kick me. I’ve never had a black eye, a broken nose, or a cut on my lip. I didn’t show any of the obvious, outward signs of abuse. But I was in that boxing ring with him every day until I left. And my head is still spinning from the fall-out of it all.
I have a trauma bond to this guy. A side effect of it all, which is the pull I feel towards him still, and which basically means that I minimise the damage, feel grateful for scraps, and wish even now, that any time my phone pings, that it’s an apology from him and that this time he means it.
That my “nice”, caring, boyfriend is back.
I really need to work on that.
Because it won’t be and he doesn’t, and I would be back where I started again in seconds. Worse, actually.
So I’d like to leave you with this if I may.
I don’t know a single woman who has ever actually “walked into a door”. But I do know a few who were pushed, slammed or thrown into one by someone who once claimed to “love” them.
And believe me when I tell you that this isn’t love. It’s abuse.
It’s frightening, it’s demeaning and it will bring you to your knees.
So if this story resonates take a good long look at your own front door. And maybe start to picture how your life could be the other side of it, with someone who is actually nice to you for a change.
With grateful thanks to Roddy Doyle for allowing me to use his title/reference the book.
Denise Harrison is a writer, blogger and podcaster bourne out of her own personal experience of homelessness, addiction and poor mental health. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Big Issue, Metro, The Guardian and Happiful Magazine as well several not for profits. She is passionate about raising awareness and tackling stigma around addiction and mental health and recently wrote the film script for an educational film called This Is Depression.
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Not going to funerals...Someone I know died recently. The details are sketchy and from what I can gather, not very pleasant, so I won't elaborate too much right now, but what I will say is that the news absolutely floored me...mainly because someone else I know, (and thought the world of) is currently suspected of causing her death.I got a text.It was late at night and I’d just finished work, when a guy I know from rehab crept into my DM's and told me the news.It knocked for six.And if I'm absolutely honest, I'm still reeling.Because I can't quite get my head around the fact that yet again, someone I know is dead and that a guy who was like a brother to me, someone I looked up to, is thought to be responsible,We met in detox.Two lost souls in a room choc full of other lost souls, and within a matter of days we were friends.Because that's what you do when you are fighting an addiction that really wants to kill you. You form bonds, you support each other, and you cheer each other on...because there is strength in numbers and you know that if you try and deal with things by staying on your own, the bad thoughts will consume you and the chances are that you will break in there.So you get your little army together and you stand and you fight.And you get clean and you leave, and you try to navigate a world where the one thing you relied on more than anything else to help you to cope is off limits to you. And you baby step it, and you baby step it, and you risk assess everything...people, places, getting on a bus even, and you wobble around like a new-born lamb praying that at some point you will get your groove back, and recovery will start to make sense.But then life throws a grenade at you and catches you off guard...and old thought patterns scramble to the front of your mind, literally falling over themselves in their rush to “help" by offering their solution...which means that now you have two choices. Keep pushing forward with sobriety and trust that this will pass...or reach for the bottle, the needle, or whatever, and choose to drag yourself straight back to hell...Push or pull.Push or pull.Push or...I am very, very lucky.I chose to push forward.I pushed and I pushed and I keep fucking pushing, because I've been to hell already once and with every single breath in my body, I do everything in my power to never go back.For some of my friends this wasn't an option, and instead of pushing they pulled it towards them, and they took a swig or they chased or whatever...and now they are dead or they're dying, or they're facing fucking prison time.I'm not going to go to the funeral. Too many emotions in too small a space, with not enough healthy coping mechanisms to go around, means that the stage will be perfectly set for someone else to relapse, and I just can't bear to see another of my friends fall by the wayside, whilst the grim reaper sits there, quietly in the corner, looking like the cat who's got the cream.So instead I'll stay here and I'll sit and I'll write.Pin it all down, in black and white, so that anyone who reads this can see the true human cost that comes with addiction.It can join all the other pieces, here on my blog.Story after story of heartbreak, loss, and the ravenous, bottomless pit of addiction, written by a woman who is truly fucking sick to death of having to wear black and eating cheap sausage rolls .
My name is Denise and I am a writer. I write about "the darker stuff", homelessness, mental health, addiction and trauma, and I'm known by my followers for calling a spade a spade, and just “chucking it out there"...no fake fairydust, no candy coloured sugar-coating...just honest emotions mixed with cold, hard, facts. People call me "inspiring" and think that I'm brave.And yes, at times, I think I'm brave too. It takes guts to do the things that I do...to lay yourself bare and to leave yourself open, especially when you don't feel very brave because you secretly live like the cowardly lion from that epic movie The Wizard Of Oz.I'll let you into a secret...I live in a caravan that I share with my cat (who's not actually my cat but is convinced that he is, which is why he is now a permanant fixture)It's compact and cosy and a roof over my head. It's also my hiding place where I live like a recluse, and it shelters me from the outside world that just a few years ago was terrifying to me.I work, and I write and I talk to my cat, and very few people are allowed past my threshold. My firewalls are huge (but for very good reason). The chosen few who are allowed through clearly adore me and I adore them, and our interactions help keep me sane.I'm a huge, huge fan of “voice notes" now... they're my new bestest thing...(especially now that we are in lockdown again and most of my “ real” friends live hundreds of miles away) so our friendships rely on these interactions...it also helps to disguise the fact that I'm actually scared to answer my phone.If we do physically talk on the phone, you need to know this...you are very, very, high up in my world (Emma, Clare, Sally and Sarah, yes, I do mean you!)I have PTSD, in case you are wondering, on quite an epic scale. Mostly I manage, I have safeguards in place, and if I'm absolutely honest I choose not to talk about it much, but lockdown for me is “recovery time"... which basically means “not having to do things that freak me out or trigger me” - like going to work with people who think that I'm weird, because they don't have a clue about why I'm so guarded. It means that I get to spend more time inside, unravelling my head, in the hope that one day maybe I can fix myself.The journey that I went on has scarred me for life. I am never, ever going to be fully the woman that I was before, and sometimes I miss that person a ridiculous amount. I miss her sass and her bravery and her not being scared or intimidated by anyone...I miss the woman who gave precisely no fucks what people thought about her, and who was happy just being in her own skin and doing her own thing.My blog allows me to be that woman...to bring her out and dust her off, and show people just what I'm actually capable of, and I feel brave and resillient and everything I yearn to be again when I am her...And then I'll go to put the kettle on and my phone will ring, or there's a knock on my door, and I'm peeling myself off the ceiling again because hypervigilance kicks in, and in seconds I'm a hot mess of adrenaline and fear.Which brings me back to earth with a bump and reminds me once more that I've still got quite a big mountain to climb, and an awful lot more unravelling to do in order to get my bravery back... Something that sadly can't be fixed by a pair of ruby slippers and a journey down the yellow brick road...
Yes I had one of those.
It overlooked the beach and it had a tiny garden, and I filled every room with candles and Buddhas.
It smelt of oils and incense, and I would sit out on the balcony and drink my glass of wine and I would feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
And then someone pulled the rug from under me, and soon there was no flat or tiny garden, no buddhas, or incense anymore. In fact there wasn’t much of anything by the time I gave the keys back ...I had to sell all my things or give them away as there was nowhere else for them to go...because there are no drawers in homeless world, no shelves to hold your books, or wardrobes for your things...because there will be no books, and there will be no things.
And so you take yourself, some clothes and some shoes, maybe throw in a cat for good measure, and you become a homeless, rootless, petrified version of yourself, that either people pretend not to see, or that they don’t know what to do with...
And its sink or its swim, but it’s mostly a sink, because carrying all that fear and uncertainty around starts to get heavy...and you might start to drink a lot and you mostly dont eat much and everyday you sink further down, until you actually find yourself sitting in hell.
And then the devil says “ hi” and welcome to his pad, and to make yourself at home, oh and would you like a shot to take the edge off things? After all, it’s not like you’ve got a home to go back to...
And so he passes you a bottle and you take another swig and soon you give precisely no shits what happens to you as long as that drink is in your hand.
Years go by.
And you cry and you cry and you drink and you drink, and you grieve for what you lost...and then one day you come across some photographs... ones that the devil didn’t want you to see.. .Pictures that show you what you could have been, should have been, but never will be now unless you get your shit together.
And then the penny drops.
Right before the bottle does...as you finally realise that you’re in the last chance saloon here and that you really don’t want to die this way.
And the devil wants to keep you there, with his endless supply of booze and bad thoughts and absolutely no way out of this hell-hole unless you are literally willing to crawl over hot coals while his back is turned...and you are so emaciated and broken by now that he doesn’t think you have it in you and so he gets careless one day and forgets to lock the door...
You watch him leave...then start to crawl...
Bear is dead.
Bear is dead, and in an instant, the wobbly little scaffold that was keeping me together collapses and crashes in pieces all around me.
It's a week before my birthday and the only thing left in my life that I actually give two shits about is lying dead on a table in front of me.
I literally cannot bear it. I feel my head implode.
My phone starts to ring.
I ignore it.
It rings again... this time I answer, attempting to explain through my tsunami of tears to some poor, unsuspecting, faceless person on the other end, that “No, actually, I can’t talk right now, because my world is crashing down around me and so I really do not want to buy your life insurance, or phone contract, or whatever it is that you are trying to sell to me today”...
I hang up before they get a chance to draw breath.
I'm ushered into a side room. I’d like to think that it's because the staff care enough about me and Bear to want to make sure that I'm ok...but in reality, I think that they just don't want me scaring anyone else in here with my madness.
They make me cups of tea; a box of tissues appears. The staff tell me to stay as long as I like until I'm feeling better.
I can't bring myself to tell them that as of today hell will literally freeze over before that can happen now.
I stay for what feels like an eternity. I just can't bear to leave him here, in this place that he hated. It always used to scare him... His very own Room 101. I try to tell myself that at least he doesn't have to be scared anymore...although that's little consolation. None at all, actually.
The staff are getting twitchy now. They tell me that if I'm ready, they will take it from here.
Only I’m not ready. I'll never be ready for this day. So no, I don't want them “taking it" whatever that means, and I definitely don't want them taking him.
He's my friend, my wing-man, my everything right now; a furry, one-eyed ball of glue that was the only thing keeping me together and it's incomprehensible to me that the next time I see him he will be just ashes in a box. He doesn't belong in a box...He belongs here... with me.
I wish that I could tell them that, but I can't formulate the words, and anyway, I know that I don’t actually have a say in this now. He's dead and I'm grieving. I'm not thinking rationally. The staff have got a job to do. I need to let them do that.
I finally let them take him and then I'm shown out of the side door, and within seconds I'm alone and out on the street.
I cry all the way back to the caravan park, fully aware that I must look a bit deranged. I don't actually care if I'm honest, and so if anyone asks me I will say “Yes; yes, I am deranged actually, thank you for asking”... because as of this moment it's true.
Maybe they will console me, or take me somewhere warm, possibly give me a shot of something so that in my dreams this isn't actually happening... Then my life won't be a car-crash and Bear will not be dead.
Only no-one stops to console me. Or take me somewhere warm.
There will be no shot to take my mind off things. I simply walk on in the rain instead.
I literally cannot take this. It's too much. My heart was already broken...now it lies shattered, fragmented, in pieces.
An eternity later, I get back to my van and curl up on the sofa. It's raining outside. Floods, actually. My tears make it look like a drizzle.
I don't bother to change out of my clothes, I don't have it in me to care that I'm soaked. Instead, I cry and I cry and I rage and I rage... at the ceiling, a cushion, the walls and the sky. I tell God that he can stop now. That there's nothing left to take.
I don't think that he's listening. Or maybe, I tell myself, he just doesn't care...
I look at Bears bowls in the corner on the floor. I was hoping that he would be needing them tonight.
Only today has shown me that there is no hope now. There wasn't for him and there isn't for me.
And I realise with absolute conviction and clarity, that I literally give no fucks about anything now from here-on in.
I've had it with this shit.
I want out...
I'm back in St Ives, my absolute favourite place in all of Cornwall.
It's my 'go-to' place, my healing place - the place that I ran to when something bad happened, something so terrible, all of those years ago, that I couldn't bear to live in my own skin, let alone my own flat.
I blamed myself back then. Lots of 'could've, should've, would've' type conversations with my head, based on if only I could have known the outcome of that night. But the fact is, that I didn't know, and so I didn't do any of the things that I wish I'd done now.
Instead, I bought myself a train ticket and ran away here.
So first you take a pretty girl, and then you break her heart.
And as she lies there grieving, take away anything and everything that she ever cared about
Except for one last thing
The one thing you know she absolutely cannot live without... and then wait until she's sleeping, before taking that as well.
So now she has a broken heart, and has no things, and everything she ever cared about is gone.
Which means the timing's perfect.
It's time to make the scarecrow,
My name is Denise and I am a writer.I write about many things, but mainly I write about mental health.I write about this, because for a couple of years, not all that long ago, I was very unwell. Everything in my life had gone horribly wrong, and the resulting depression that came along for the ride with that absolutely floored me.I lost absolutely everything.I used alcohol as a way to escape my own head, and I drank myself unconscious more times than I care to remember. I found myself in some pretty horrendous situations, and was eventually hospitalised and subsequently admitted to detox.I started to write whilst living in a homeless hostel as a way to process my thoughts and also as a distraction from bad head days, to give me an alternative to scampering off to the nearest bar or off-licence for a few pints of lager and a one-way ticket back to hell.Fast forward to now, and today I am an award-winning writer.My on-line blog "Just A Girl - My life" has been read by thousands, and a tiny, award-winning film that I wrote about that time has inspired countless others to come forward and share their own stories.I have just written a play. A play that has taken me almost two years. A play that I started to write in early recovery as a way to take my mind off the fact that my day job involved scrubbing lots of toilets.The play is about a woman who slips through the cracks, and shows how one wrong move can drastically alter the course of your life. It's a play about money, and the "choices" that you make in life when you find that you don't actually have any.It is also a play about hope and resilience...because I needed those in spades whilst I was slaying my own demons for a while, and it is a play that I believe will impact many, sparking conversations and debates and shining a spotlight on serious topics that others tend to shy away from.A play that will provide paid employment to everyone involved in it.But if this is to happen, my play will need a stage, and an audience...two of the things that are gradually being whittled away because our theatres are closing at an alarming rate.Theatre doesn't “just happen”. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time...a lot of dedication and effort.Theatre "happens" because people like me strive for change and have hopes and dreams of better days and brighter futures...We want to share stories and go on adventures... to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves.We want to laugh, cry, right a few wrongs maybe, but most of all, we want to connect, both with ourselves and others...we simply want to "feel."Theatre gives us all of this and so much more.Writing bought me clarity at a time when I was struggling and needed it most, and finding my way onto this path has changed the course of my life entirely.The arts opened up a whole new world to me, and offered a healthier form of escapism, and watching live theatre for the first time in recovery created a spark, that resulted in me writing a play of my own further down the line that gave me hope and dreams for the future.So the next time you hear that a venue is closing its doors, imagine them closing on Narnia...and on people like me and our stories, and the plays that now may never be shown, because somebody somewhere would rather see a plane repainted than come up with a way to save an industry currently on its knees.
We’ve all been a little bit obsessed with something at least once in
our lives I’m sure...A favourite toy at Christmas, or a new puppy or a kitten maybe.
Because it’s what you do when you love something – you show it some affection.
Only some people don’t know when to stop.
The first time he called me it was almost 1-ooam. I didn’t know that it was a “he” then.
I had no idea who it was, but I didn't recognise the number and so I let it ring.
Only it rang and rang, and it was a video call, which I thought was
really weird, because anyone who knows me knows that I hate anything
that shows my face, and so I sent back a message saying that they had
a wrong number...and that’s when it started to all go a bit horribly wrong.
Because he sent back a text saying “Hi Denise”
And officially became “a bit of a stalker”...
You see the phone calls didn’t stop. In fact they got worse. And I got
video calls and text messages several times a day. Every. Single. Day.
And I needed my number for work at the time, and so I thought that if
I blocked him then that would be it, which in all fairness worked -
for about a day...then he went just out and got another phone.
And another one and another one.
Until I was absolutely petrified every time my phone rang.
Because this guy knew me. I mean he really knew me.
He knew my name, he knew my number and he knew exactly what I looked like.
And friends told me to tell the police…but what would I say? What
proof did I have? A steady stream of unanswered calls from several
different numbers? A series of non- verbal conversations?
I didn’t even know this person…
Except that I did.
You see my friend had an idea - she took the original number that
he called me from, and she ran it through facebook.
And there he was.
In all his glory.
With his trademark jogging bottoms and his goldie-looking chain, and
his history of obsession with women he can’t have.
You see I met him in a homeless hostel, when I had to live there briefly.
He was in the room next door. Only I had to report him to staff
because he didn’t like the word “No”
And so I sent him a message with a screenshot of his face…and I told
him about the cosy chat that I’d had with his probation officer…
And this time, when I blocked him again, he didn’t call back…
My days become Groundhog Day.
I wake up, worry, drink and pass out. Wake up, worry, repeat… Everything else is a blur.
I no longer have “good” days. Now that Bear is gone they range from “numb”, “repetitive” to “really, truly, awfully shit.”
I’m struggling to function. Getting out of my head is all that I care about now, and it’s starting to take its toll on me.
My hair is matted and is starting to break. I run my fingers through to comb it but then start to pull it out instead. It’s not intentional; I was trying to make it look better. Instead I make myself look a million times worse.
I rarely eat.
I don’t have an appetite, and the more that I drink, the less able I am to keep anything down anyway. My clothes fall off me. I go from size 8 to size zero in weeks, barely noticing … getting drunk is all that I care about.
I check my reflection in the ladies. A hollow-eyed tramp stares back at me. For a second I think that there’s someone behind me, until finally I realise … the hollow-eyed tramp is me.
I head back into the bar and drink until I’m asked to leave. I should be embarrassed by this but I’m not. It happens a lot. I’m used to it now. I fall down the stairs as I try to leave. I don’t remember where I sleep.
The days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months.
I collect bruises and breaks like old ladies collect china. My head is full of white noise and a million shitty encounters.
“Friends” start to avoid me. I see one cross the street – pretend to be engrossed in some tatty old window display, blatantly willing me not to see her. It’s fine. She was never truly my friend anyway, but that’s another story…
I resist the urge to go over and tap her on the shoulder, just to see the look on her face. But I’m starting to withdraw. I don’t have those 30 seconds to spare. The off-licence beckons. She gets a reprieve.
I wonder what they think of me. The guys behind the counter, as I hand over some small change and head back out with my booty. The thought lingers for a second, but then I crack open a can and forget what I was thinking about.
I start to fall down a lot damaging my ribs, my face, my coccyx and my knee. I tell myself that I really need to steer clear of stairs. But then I fall off a kerb and hit my face on the pavement. I can’t steer clear of pavements, too. How would I get to the pub?
I tell myself to be more careful and nurse a black eye for weeks.
I go to my doctor and ask him for help. He tells me that he’s unsure as to what to do. That he took an oath to “do no harm” and that addiction is not a field that he’s familiar with. He doesn’t want to make things worse, he says. What he is telling me basically, is that he is not the guy to help me today.
I thank him for his time, Google the medications that I think I might need, go back to the doctors and get a prescription. Then I pick up my meds, attempt to guess the quantities and I try to do a home detox.
The tablets calm me. I think that this might work. But then I crack open a can and drink that as well swiftly followed by another, then another, until all of my cans are gone.
I morph into a zombie.
This is not going to work.
My life is a car-crash. I’m now running solely on alcohol and prescription drugs.
The man that I am involved with is vile.
He’s an alcoholic, too. One who doesn’t like women very much, as I quickly find out to my cost.
Our “relationship” involves him shouting, me crying, constant gas-lighting, total head-fuckery, and more than a smattering of cruelty and violence.
I hate him.
But I have nowhere else to go by now. My head is full of alphabet-spaghetti and I am totally reliant on him.
The penny starts to drop as he attempts to drag me up the stairs by my neck. As I manage to break free and make my escape, the thought crosses my mind that I really can’t keep living like this.
If the alcohol doesn’t kill me, then maybe this guy will. I think that he’d enjoy it.
The thought terrifies me.
It’s the wake-up call I need.
I pluck up some courage, walk shakily into a meeting and I beg the staff there to help me.
They take one look at my broken, emaciated frame and start the paperwork immediately.
They are throwing me a life-line.
I’m going into detox …
There are four main colours of people in here...Ashen, grey, yellow and orange. I'm one of the grey ones. Which means, that in the big scheme of things, I am luckier than most.
My friends Karl and Sam are variations of yellow. Both still in their twenties, their livers wrecked in a couple of years by drinking too much cheap sherry and cider. Sam is in a wheelchair when we meet. Liver failure is taking its toll...
Detox is harrowing, humbling and an absolute Godsend. In here I am cushioned from the madness outside that used to be my life. In here I can breathe. I feel safe.
I do everything the staff tell me to do to the absolute letter. I want to get well again as quickly as possible and I will do anything to achieve that. Obeying rules and sticking to the program comes before anything. I keep my head down and my nose clean, making sure that nothing and nobody sways me.
I take my meds, go to classes and try and learn new things. The girls in here help me to comb out my dreadlocks. I get my appetite back, endure vitamin injections and gradually I begin to put on some weight.
I read, pray, meditate. Sleep, do yoga, make jewellery. I make two tiny little figures out of clay and put them on my windowsill. They cheer me up when I see them.
There are 24 hours in my days these days. Without alcohol to blur the edges, I have a lot of time to fill. I make sure that I use it wisely.
I am focussed. Determined. “A woman on a mission”. Completely unrecognisable from the dishevelled, 6 stone scrap of nothing that was me when I got here barely two weeks ago. I am starting to look like a human again.
The other guys look up to me. They ask me what my secret is. I tell them that there is no secret. I just don't want to die.
It's a good motivation to get well. Several others follow my lead. A couple more make a break for it and climb over the wall. It hits us all hard when we realise that they've gone.
You get attached in here, form bonds, try and be strong for each other. Days like today are grim and a stark reminder that this could be any one of us if we take our eye off the ball for a second.
We are all new to this. Fragile. We need to remember that we are all in here for a reason...mainly because we have an addiction that wants us all dead. Going over the wall will speed up that process. I stay where I am... I am choosing to live.
A new girl is admitted. She OD's that night in her room. We all look on in horror as staff try to resuscitate her whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
They bang on a door that no-one can open because the staff with the lanyards are desperately trying to save her life. I run into her room and announce that they are here. I try not to look at her face.
They wheel her away on a stretcher. There is a coat over her head. It's a horrible night for us all and a stark reminder of what we are up against.
I take this as a warning and work as hard as I can every day. When it's an uphill struggle I think about Bear. When I start to lose focus, thinking of him keeps me going and I get myself back on track again.
I go to meetings twice a week. AA and NA. Although not compulsory, the staff encourage us to go. I give them a try, but they don't really resonate. I prefer to tackle this in my own way. I'm determined to get my normality back the best way I know how and meetings on the outside are not part of my plan. I prefer to push my way forward alone. When I finally get out of treatment, it will be down to me anyway to keep myself on track. I'm fully aware of that...I'm just starting early.
In treatment I am picked apart, broken down, and then finally rebuilt. When I emerge from rehab 4 months later, I am older, wiser and, most importantly, sober.
There is no doubt in my mind that this has saved my life. I feel cleansed, renewed, reborn...I never want to drink again.
I move into a homeless hostel.
The walls are like rice paper, there are holes in the wall and the door has clearly come away from the doorframe on more than one occasion, but it's a roof over my head and somewhere to sleep. I am grateful that I have this much. There are people in this town with nothing.
I feel wobbly. Vulnerable. Out of my depth. I don't have any friends here, and the others in the hostel have their own demons to slay. I choose not to get drawn into conversation or ask too many probing questions. “Good morning” and “Goodnight” are the extent of my repertoire, unless I am speaking to staff.
The house is oppressive. The staff seem indifferent. I try not to spend too much time here and so I spend most of my days outside by myself.
My friend Sam dies.
It hits me hard. We went into detox on the same day but only one of us got to get our life back on track. He had a little girl. His family are broken...
There are pubs and clubs on every corner here. I can't afford to let my guard down. After everything I've been through, failure is really not an option. I've come too far and worked too hard to let this news break me.
I grieve for him without reaching for a drink. I know that I can do this, I just need a different kind of coping mechanism. One that doesn't involve dragging myself straight back to hell via the nearest bar as soon as I have a bad day.
Something easy, something healthy, something portable, something cheap. Something that I can turn to 24/7 when I need a distraction from my head and this shitty set of circumstances.
Nothing springs to mind.
Until I pick up a pen and then I start to write...
I write and I write and I write. About nothing, about everything...because once that pen is in my hand and I start to really focus, I don't stop writing until the noise in my head goes away and my soul is laid bare on the pages before me.
It saves me.
Because, although detox got me sober, writing keeps me sober.
At 3.00am in the hostel when the guy in the room next to me is losing his mind and shouting at no-one in particular through the walls, I write. At 5.00am when finally he sleeps, but there isn't a hope in hells chance that I can, because his outbursts have gone on for most of the night and I'm hiding in my room not daring to use the bathroom in case I run into him on the landing, I write.
When I too, start bouncing off the walls and getting cabin fever in here, or I'm particularly hard on myself for making such a mess of things and depression starts to threaten me again, I write.
I write as if my life depends on it; because to be fair, right now it really does. It's the only thing I have that stands between me and the nearest pub or off-licence and a complimentary one-way ticket to hell, and so I cling to this outlet like a life-raft.
Sobriety and my sanity are pretty much all that I have left at the minute and I'm not giving them up for anything.
I live in a hostel in a town where addiction and homelessness are rife.
It's on every street corner, down every alleyway and in every subway here. I am confronted with it on a daily basis.
Two more people that I was friends with in detox die. Several more of my friends from rehab sit begging or drinking on pavements. It kills me to see them ending up this way and I am reminded again just how lucky I have been, and how fortunate I am to have not become a statistic.
I have good friends and a healthy way to deal with my shit. These guys have nothing...unless you count cardboard flooring and cheap cider.
There is nothing I can do for them right now except to be kind and to write more.
Maybe, this way I think, I can start to change things...if nothing else, maybe one persons perspective.
I create an account on twitter and start to bare my soul on social media to an audience that I can't see. I pour my heart out about homelessness and addiction and how it feels to have poor mental health. How it feels to know that you are alive but at the same time, alone and invisible once the shit hits the fan and no-one wants to know you.
People start to follow me, to like and share my work, and their support and encouragement spurs me on and gives me purpose.
I realise that there are people out there looking for answers... who actually want to understand how that feels, told in a way that's honest and open, not sugar-coated or dressed up to fit expectations.
I write more. My work is hitting home.
I'm offered a magazine column, write for tabloids, other magazines, non-profits and for causes I believe in.
I find my voice and in turn ignite a passion in myself for education that I didn't know existed.
I start to talk.
I do radio shows and make podcasts. I talk about my battles with my head and about trying to fight an addiction that nearly killed me, my horrible, horrible journey and the strength and determination that I needed to find to enable me claw my way back from the brink of death and detox, to some kind of normality. I talk about nights on borrowed sofas and curled up on floors, nights running from horrible men who just wanted to hurt me and I talk about those days and nights where I was so lost and alone and terrified of what my future held that I just didn't want one anymore. That I wanted to end my own life just to make the madness stop.
I realise that people are listening.
And then I wrote a piece about my journey called “This is Depression”
A piece that becomes a film.
A piece that changes everything...
It's 3.00am and I'm struggling to sleep.
So I lie here in bed and toss and turn for a bit before deciding just to roll with it, heading downstairs and flicking the kettle on. I'll make a cup of tea I think... a good cup of tea solves everything.
I decide against some biscuits - I can probably do without the added sugar rush I'm guessing, and then I head into the living room where he's sat watching TV. He has a cup of tea in front of him...great minds and all that.
"I can't sleep" he says, giving me a sheepish grin, as I slide in next to him on the sofa.
I resist the urge to say to him that maybe the two bottles of wine that he drank before bed have got something to do with his insomnia, but I bite my tongue instead, and the words are left unsaid.
He has a drink problem, my boyfriend, in case you were wondering. Two bottles of wine before bed is not out of the ordinary...there are two bottles of wine before bed most evenings, as well as the pints and the brandys he drinks while he sits in the bar after work. "Unwinding".
Still, the New Year is coming he tells me. He'll stop in the New Year...
I just smile and I nod and I squeeze his hand, and I try not to worry about how old and ill he is looking, and then we both sit there in silence staring at the TV, because, well, really there is nothing left to say after that if I'm honest.
Nothing that I haven't heard before, anyway...
He's a painter, my boyfriend. He paints peoples houses.
He gets out his brushes and lays down some dust sheets and he glosses over stuff...
And then he comes back home to me, opens the obligatory bottle of wine, sidesteps the massive elephant in the room that has recently come to stay with us, and then we both do the same in our own house...
We are in the midst of a pandemic.
A lung-fucking virus is sweeping its way half-way across the world and people are starting to panic.
"Don't leave the house. Avoid public transport, stay away from your friends, don't go to work", scream the newspaper headlines, as shops are being looted and normally civilised people start fighting in the aisles over a 4 pack of bog-roll.
It's all a little bit terrifying.
I never planned to be an alcoholic. It was never a goal of mine, “something to aspire to” or “one off the bucket list", and with my family background you would think that I’d have known better than to chance it, but the truth was that I didn’t know better, I needed the oblivion at the time and so it kind of just sneaked up on me. Within the space of around about two years, I’d gone from a fairly heavy drinker to an end-stage, totally addicted, alcoholic mess.
I ended up in hospital to “dry out" which rid my body of the alcohol that was slowly killing me, but not the demons and insecurities that plagued my head. I had no real support system in place, I had an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend who wanted me sick because then he could control me, and so, within a week I was back on the booze and the descent into hell began all over again.
Three months later weighing a tiny six stone, I was rushed into detox, and this time, finally away from him and the subsequent carnage and chaos that was surrounding me, I knew that I had a fighting chance of getting well.
For the first time in years I could breathe.
My days consisted of check-ins, group meetings, various classes and activities and three calorie laden meals a day to help me recover from malnutrition. I had structure and order and crucially no madness to deal with for the first time in years. I had a room of my own with my own bed and a bath, and for the first time in ages I actually felt safe.
I spent 6 weeks in detox, followed immediately by 3 months in rehab. I worked my arse off every single day to get better, and when I left I promised myself that I would never pick up a drink again.
3 and a half years down the line I’ve managed to keep that promise.
I started an on-line blog as therapy for myself whilst living in a homeless hostel, as a way to keep myself focussed and sober…and pouring my heart out on paper has helped me make sense of myself and my new sober life.
Instead of picking up a drink to obliterate myself, these days I write my way out of trouble. I blog and I podcast and I fill my time with healthier things and surround myself with healthier people. I limit negativity and my time on social media. I try to eat well and look after myself as best I can…and I share my story in the hope that it will inspire, educate and maybe give hope to others who find themselves staring into the abyss.
Three years ago I weighed 6stone 4 and looked like a tramp.
My hair was falling out and my periods had stopped. My body was shutting itself down in a desperate attempt to keep me alive. My clothes were size 0.
Today I’m 9 stone ish and a healthy size ten. My hair is thick and bouncy and my body functions normally again. To look at me today you would never guess the trials I had to overcome to get myself back to some kind of normality…I’m proud of the fact that you would never guess.
Read my story here justagirl.emyspot.com or watch a tiny film about that time @IsDepression_
Beautiful. Thought-provoking. Absolutely mesmerising… You know how sometimes we choose not to see things? A couple making a scene in a restaurant say, or some guy in the street maybe, asking for change; only we turn a blind eye because it makes us uncomfortable. We become engrossed in our phones, look down at the pavement, maybe even cross the street for good measure, quietly humming away to ourselves “la,la,la - sorry can’t see you…” as we quickly bolt and make our escape. Well you can’t do that here… because Vicky Moran’s incredible play “No Sweat” shines a spotlight so brightly on the subject matter that there is literally nowhere to hide from the truth. Which is that there is a LGBTQ+homelessness crisis…and it’s getting worse. No Sweat tells the stories of three, young, gay, homeless men, “Tristan”” Alf “and “Charlie”, who randomly cross paths whilst seeking solace in a sauna. It explores and exposes the underlying bigotry, bullying and relationship breakdowns that they face, whilst highlighting a series of hopeless faults and flaws in our called “support” system that not only throws them together, but also, without exception, manages to throw them under the bus. Denholm Spurr shines as “Tristan”, a relative newcomer to the dark streets of London. Lost, lonely, and completely out of his depth, he sleeps with strangers he meets at the spar or on Grindr for free in order to put a roof over his head. James Haymer is incredible as “ Alf”, a street-wise but self-destructive wrecking-ball, fuelled by suspicion, pent-up emotion, and liberal helpings of GHB as he spends his days and nights getting paid by the hour… but it is “Charlie” ( played by Manish Gandhi) who is, without a shadow of a doubt, the absolute shining star of the show. Forced to flee his native Pakistan because he is gay, his heart-breaking story of beatings and brutality, coupled with his fathers twisted attempts to make him “Un-gay”, made me want to cry. Broken-hearted and destitute, he hides himself away in the sauna whilst attempting to seek asylum here, only to be told through a series of increasingly ridiculous interrogations by the Home Office that actually he is “not gay enough” to be allowed to stay. Produced by Reece McMahon, No Sweat is an absolute triumph, managing to be both harrowing and enthralling at the same time. No easy task, when you consider the subject matter. The tiny, yet incredibly intimate venue, means that the audience is seated mere feet away from the cast, and this, coupled with Alex Berry’s ingenuitive portable set design, and genius finishing touches such as the scented “steam” from the sauna that gently wafts through the audience at times, is what helps give the play its eerie, immersive feel. But the thing that really sets this play apart, the thing that sits at the heart of it all, is the fact that all of the stories featured in this play are true. Transcribed by Moran from real interviews, given by real people hoping to expose the plight facing a forgotten generation of homeless gay youth. And they have done this in spades. So, go see this play…and then when you have seen it, go tell all your friends. So that they can tell theirs and then hopefully this play can get the recognition it deserves. Because it’s absolutely beautiful. 4 Stars.
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I'm sat in the sunshine with an old friend.
And so I don't see that he's walking through town until he's right at my table, telling me that he's had a drink.
And those words cut through me like knives and everything changes in an instant, as the grim reaper himself takes a seat right in front of me, grinning like a cheshire cat, pointing at his scythe and mouthing the words "I've got another one..."
It's hard, being a writer. Because everything you see, do or hear potentially has a story behind it. One that, if shared with the world, would resonate with somebody, somewhere...maybe give them some hope, or an idea or bring clarity or whatever.
There are 200 odd blogs on my website. There could easily be triple that number if I didn't have to filter things. But I do, I do filter. I have to. To spare feelings, to stop secrets spilling out, to keep up appearances. There are a million and one reasons why I can't always write the things that I want to write and every time it kills me.
Because I'm a writer. I need to write... It's how I make sense of things, put some order in my world, keep everything peachy. It's my outlet, my off switch...it's how I convey to the world "enough...I've had enough now...just let me be for a while, tap tap tapping away while I make sense of of this and then i'll be back, just as soon as I've got this thing out of my head and onto this page"...
If I didn't have to filter I could tell people that recently I moved away for a while. Made a fresh start. Pushed my own boundaries, ventured out on my own...because things were unstable where I was and I was desperately unhappy.
But then I came back, because I really missed my boyfriend and I wanted things to work, even though present circumstances mean that he is far from being my Mr Right, right now.
If I didn't have to filter I could tell people that I think I have bi-polar. That at times it scares the shit out of me. That it sends me into panic, meaning that I do odd, spontaneous, off the wall things...like moving hundreds of miles away on a whim to make a fresh start. To wipe my slate clean...to become someone new. Someone with a better, maybe more reliable head than mine...only to find that when I get there, that I still have my own head, only now I have a greatly reduced social circle and a lot less money because I spent it all on train tickets.
If I didn't have to filter I could tell people that I'm sick of my boyfriend giving me false hope. Telling me that he is cutting down his alcohol consumption...me believing him, and then sitting here like an idiot with only a burnt chicken for dinner because he's still sat in a bar somewhere drinking with his mates.
If I didn't have to filter I could just tell it like it is...just for once.
I think that maybe, just maybe I'm all done filtering...
This is a blog about my mum.
I don't write about her very often. Our relationship is complex and mostly non-existent. Which I hate... but that's how it's always been so now I just get on with it.
As a child, living with my mum was like trying to balance a handgrenade.
On a see-saw.
With no hands.
My little brother perched on one end, me on the other, and my mum the un-exploded bomb in the middle, in all of her unpredicable, chaotic glory rolling around between us, the pin constantly working loose but never quite coming out completely.
The fear of that pin coming out caused me to live my life in a constant state of high alert and high anxiety, which now I mostly manage, but back then was horrendous, because I never knew for sure if my day was going to be a near miss, or a series of expertly timed explosions.
It was excrutiating.
So he's coming to see me. This amazing "blast from the past" super-cool person of mine.
Because it's going to be amazing.
Me and him. A hotel room somewhere. And an absolute whale of a time guaranteed. All arranged lastminute.com which is always how we roll...
A "Hey _____ I've been thinking. I've missed your face. And I'd really love to come see you again ...are you gonna be free between ____ and _____? (Him)
(Me) "What's there to even think about? Do it. Come see me. Get in the car and get down here...will be amazing. So yes. I'll make sure that I'm free...'cos I've missed your face too..." kind of conversation.
And so he's coming. To see me. In two weeks. I'm turning cartwheels.
Fuck...I'm turning cartwheels.
I need to do a risk assesment...