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 Film stories magazine as well as 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 the award-winning short film 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 cocktail 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...
People say that I'm cold at times.
At work, I'm known as "The Ice Queen".
I turn up, do my job well (which is probably why I still have one) and quietly count down the hours until I can get the fuck out of dodge and make my way back home.
I speak if I'm spoken to, but most of my conversations these days I have with my cat...I don't mind, and he seems to like it, so it's an arrangement that suits us both it would seem.
But here's the thing that people don't realise; I didn't ever plan to be
"Cold", it wasn't something I aimed for or ever aspired to - back in the day, before PTSD hit, I was funny and witty and clever and kind, it's just that somehow, somewhere along the way, after one too many kicks in the teeth, sometimes you just " get" cold …and then you find you can't warm up.
You get spiky, angry, protective, defensive...you forget how to just "be" with people, and so you in the end you just don't mix.
And people around you call you weird, or think that you're a witch because all you seem to do these days is stay at home with your cat (because that's where you feel safe, and anyway, that cat is all you have)
They don't know the half of it.
Because weeks, months, and years of total headfuckery is enough to freeze even the warmest of hearts, so its hardly surprising then that one day " Poof!"...before you know it, old happy, carefree you is gone, and suddenly you're standing in a garden with a scarf around your neck, waiting for someone to stick a carrot on your face…
I remember our first conversation with absolute clarity.
We'd seen each other around for months, always saying "Hi"... only I was always sat with my friends while he would be sat alone in the corner and so we never quite got around to having a conversation.
Until then one day we did...
I was by myself for once, sat outside a bar, consumed in whatever trivia it was that I was wrestling with that day, kicking my converse back against the table leg while he stood over in the doorway, smoking his cigarette and watching me. He caught my eye, asked me if I was ok, then he bought me a drink and came over to join me...and the rest, as they say, is history.
From day one I was absolutely, hand-on-heart, head-over-heels besotted.
I adored him and he adored me and I thought that I'd found the love of my life.
And now, nearly two years down the line I would still love to think that...because way back there in the beginning, just for a little while, he was, and so it just doesn't seem right that this story ends any other way than with a happy ending.
Only it does and it did.
You see a lot of water has gone under the bridge since he sat with me that day, and I'm a little bit older and wiser now...which means that I can't keep on lying to myself and everyone around me.
I don't want to keep on lying to myself.
Its time to face the facts...every shitty, single last one of them.
And the truth is going to hurt.
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.