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.
Cathy Rentzenbrink’s incredible book “A Manual for Heartache” talks about the Japanese art of Kintsugi...repairing chips or cracks in objects with gold, so that they stand out and shine, themselves becoming things of beauty, rather than hidden flaws that fade back into the background.
Its a beautiful concept...and if I could offer you one piece of advice from me to you today, it would be this...take a good, long, hard look at yourself in the mirror as soon as you possibly can, and start painting over your own cracks with gold.
I promise that it will change the way you see yourself forever.
I bought the book for my boyfriend. He was grieving. I thought that it would help him, but as I read her story of loss, loneliness and spiralling mental health, I realised that it was me who needed to hear her message.
Because not all that long ago, I had a mental break-down.
Years of feeling “not quite good enough” combined with a horrific year caused me to lose sight of who I was, drove me to addiction, and left me an alcoholic, emaciated wreck, scared of her own shadow.
I looked and lived like a tramp, and had no self-respect or self-esteem.
I wanted to die, and to be fair, I very nearly did...it took a stay in hospital, followed by months in detox and finally rehab, to get me resembling anything near part-functioning human again.
My recovery was hard, involving much gritting of teeth, endless soul-searching and pretty much around the clock slaying of demons...but it worked, I saw myself in a whole new light, and as I walked out of rehab, I promised myself that I would never, ever, ever treat myself that badly again.
And I haven’t, I don’t.
I treat myself with respect, and give myself credit for the journey I have been on.
I even kind of like myself...
So this is my Kintsugi...every blog, every podcast, every film, discussion or magazine feature...these are my bits of gold...each portrays a scar, a flaw, a memory or whatever.
I wear them all with pride.
Every single one of them.
Addiction broke and disfigured me.
Kintsugi shows me that I’m beautiful...just the way I am.
So thank you Cathy. For your incredible book, and for showing me a different way of doing things...
Mental illness runs in my family.
Addiction and suicide are rife - My fathers side mainly.
I have his hair. And the same blue/grey eyes. I wonder if this counts? That one day this will be enough to tip me over - and I get to join the ranks of all of those who came before me.
They grew up in and out of care my fathers family...Seven institutionalised adults came churning out of the machine after my nan decided that she didn't much like children after all once they'd arrived. I can only imagine the damage that did to them all...I can't even begin to imagine how that must have felt.
See what people don't seem to get about doing Heroin is that you aren't chasing anything...
Not at first anyway.
You're just running.
Running from debt, running from relationships, running from just about everything once the shit hits the fan...
And when you're all out of running and you hit that brick wall, it's right there waiting for you.
Like an old friend...
The answer to everything.
And it's not a dragon at all.
It's the best thing ever.
And yes it wraps you in big fluffy blankets and the world's a marshmallow and all of that jazz.
But the absolute best thing? The thing that keeps you coming back for more? You get to be like Mr fucking Benn...and have the best adventures in the world.
So whatever you want from life, wherever you want to be in your head, you've got it and you go there...A hammock on the beach, a mansion with a swimming pool, hordes of adoring minions catering to your every whim...it's yours for the taking...you build it and they come...
Which means that there is no grotty bedsit, or shoplifting in Tesco or whatever it is that you do with your days in supposed real life. ..because that place in your head is the bollocks...which means that you never want to leave.
And then one day it stops.
The door in your head doesn't take you to Narnia like it used to...and it all starts to go horribly wrong...
Because the best anaesthetic in the world isn't working now, and that big, fluffy blanket of yours is gone...and in its place is the worst sickness ever.
And the Dragon in the corner is smiling...
Because you see, there always was a dragon...
He was hiding under the blanket.
And you call on Mr Benn, and you try to run away, but when you finally open your eyes, you haven't moved, and he's still in the room...and then that little penny drops and you know that you are fucked...
And right before he goes to leave he leans in to where you lie sweating and shaking on the floor...And he whispers these five horrendous little words...
"I'm hungry now. Feed me..."
To Whom It May Concern...
I don't really know "Just A Girl" very well.
This doesn't really sound the start of a particularly convincing reference, but allow me to qualify this.
It's true, I don't know Just A Girl very well at all. Yet I know her very well through her writings.
We 'met' through a friend of a friend. You know how it is with social media. I'm browsing. Checking trends with friends. Then I found her. Then I read my first blog. Then I stopped in my tracks. Rarely have I come across such brutal honesty. The heartbreaking truth of addiction. The despair. The cycle of chaos, lies, self-destruction, confusion and helplessness that grips, holds and threatens to kill. A joyless whirlwind of loss. Loss of self-esteem, confidence, looks, weight, family and home.
And when all is lost and the bottom of the abyss has been reached? No, there's still a little bit more you can lose.
All this catalogued in black and white. No glamour, no fluffiness. No romantic vision of utter despair to dress up in. No pity party to attend. All cried out, all fucked up. At the end. And if she had had the strength to knock at heavens gate? No one would have been listening.
But folks like me are listening now.
The stories resonate deep. Stories that can only be told by someone who has been there, done that and puked on the t-shirt. I've been there myself and I'm encouraged through Denise's writing, to tell my own story.
There are many stories to be told, and Denise has the elusive gift to inspire, to encourage, to lift up those in pain, those who are in the thick of it, with her stories.
I cannot recommend Denise highly enough. If you have your doubts then let me use an analogy I often use. Yup, t'is my own.
You may own a stable. You may own horses. You may watch and learn from horses. On your shelves you may have many books about horses. You may know people who ride horses, gamble on horses, trade horses.
But if you've never ridden a horse then how do you know what it's really like?
We all have them.
Swinging merrily away in the closet. Not posing a threat or a danger to anyone in any way, shape or form...just as long as they stay in there, obviously.
Only they don't tend to do that do they, skeletons?..., it seems that they don't like being hidden away back there in the dark, with only each other and the occasional moth-ball for company. They tend to get bored, restless, and start looking for the exit.
And that's when the fun starts...
I don't know what day it is.
I do know however that I really need a shower.
I needed one days ago actually but I'm too ill and too traumatised to take off my clothes in a virtual strangers bathroom. The thought of him knowing that I'm naked behind the bathroom door is too much for me to handle right now, even though I'm sure that his intentions towards me are good. My clothes are my armour, which is probably just as well...I don't have any other defence mechanisms left.
Once upon a time there was a lost little girl...who didnt have any grown-ups to look after her, and so her world was all scary and dark as she tried to be a grown-up and look after herself.
She was shy and unsure and frightened of everything, and so in order to cope, she pretended that she had wings made of steel like "Batfink" and then anytime she felt scared or alone, or lost or afraid, she imagined those wings of hers wrapping themselves around her, and she wouldn't feel afraid anymore.
And she grew and she grew, and her wings made her invincible, and gave her the confidence to overcome anything that she was unsure of, and people all around her wondered what her secret was...
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.
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...
So this is a story about a man.
A funny, intelligent and articulate man who has recently snowballed into my day to day life. Out of the blue. From Nowhere. Completely unexpectedly, and completely unannounced. I'm still attempting to process it all. It's kind of a complicated story. Involving an extremely complicated man.
We crossed paths via social media. He'd followed me on twitter. I checked his profile and clicked onto one of his blogs. And time kind of stopped for me. Literally. As I re-read his words and struggled to take in exactly what this guy was telling me.
Because as I read this blog it was clear that this guy had had a plan. Which didn't involve following me (or anyone else for that matter) on twitter if it had worked. He wouldn't have had time to sit about surfing the internet and making new aquaintences. He would have been way too busy being dead. Which is kind of a full time job once you've comitted to it. And from what I could see he was pretty comitted. Up to his neck in it actually.
Anyway. Long story short.
Despite his well thought out and carefully articulated plan, involving ingesting enough prescription medicine to knock out a small country, washed down with copious amounts of tepid white wine, coupled with the fact that nobody actually knew quite where to find him whilst all of this topping himself on social media business was going on, (which didn't help the emergency services who were at this point frantically attempting to locate him), for some unknown reason, somewhere along the lines that night it didn't quite work out.
Mainly because he found himself very much "Not Dead" . When he woke up very much alive on an acute psychiatric ward. From an induced coma. With tubes going into places that really should only allow for stuff coming out. Along with various other pleasantries that had been carried out in a desperate attempt to save his life.
And that's how the weirdest friendship in the world began. I sent him a message. He messaged me back. The rest is history.
He's bringing out stuff in me that I can't describe.
I feel an incredible protectiveness towards him. We are similar in lots of ways and share the same history. I'm hearing my story but told by a man and from a mans perspective. We are both alive when we didn't actually want or plan to be. And dealing with the implications of that. Our similarities are beyond weird.
We talk every day.
I try and walk the line between keeping him cheerful and making conversation that isn't going to be too overwhelming. There's a lot going on in that head of his right now what with him still being alive and all....
I take the piss a lot. There is no elephant in the room during our conversations. It's how it should be. And I send him stuff. Snapchats. A song from the movie "Suicide Squad". I call it "My cheer up song." It's a private joke. Thankfully, he thought it was funny too when I explained. We share the same dark humour at times.
He has an adopted sunflower.
He didn't get a say in it really. I just gave it to him. It lives in my bathroom where it gets plenty of sun. He gets regular updates and photo's - as though he's signed up for some random charity or other off the TV. "Look Nick - here's "Sunflower" chilling out on my windowsill." ( He doesn't have a name. He's just "Sunflower"), or "Nick, check out Sunflower and his brother in this pic. Your's is kicking ass. He's grown loads"....
Although obviously Sunflower is a metaphor, Sunflower is real. He is growing. Every day I see tiny changes in him. My friend is growing too. He might not always think so but he is.
I've known him no time at all, but I have the greatest respect for this guy and I wish that I could do more to help. I want him to be well. And far away from a psych ward. Being comfortable in his skin. Being happy. But that's not my job to do and not my thing to wish for. It's his. It has to be his.
I don't have a magic wand. I can't just wave something and make him better. It's not that simple. Only he can decide where he goes from here. To a Penthouse or a Park bench. It's a 50/50. It's going to be a long haul. But if this guy is half the guy I think he is, he'll do it. With bells on. He just needs to cut himself some slack.
In the meantime, I'm honoured to know him. It's like I see into his soul. And hopefully my chit chat helps. So for now the songs, the snapchats and the crazy Sunflower photos are staying on the menu. To try to compensate for the terrible hospital food. While he puts himself back together however he sees fit. Until he doesn't need them anymore. Maybe because he'll have his own garden again and can grow his own Sunflowers. No internet intervention necessary.... Or no garden at all. It's up to him. It's his life. And gardens are over-rated anyway.
Basically, what I'm trying to say to this man is this. That the past is the past. It's happened. It's gone. Nothing and no-one can change that. And despite his best laid plans for his life at that point, fate appeared to have a different agenda when the shit hit the fan for him that night. And maybe there's a reason for that.
So he's alive. With a fresh clean slate. If nothing else resonates right now, it's a start.
Also known as a beginning.
But if I did have a wish for this friend of mine, it would be this.....That you would choose to begin Nick.
I’m black and I’m blue, I’m feeling degraded,
My hair is a mess, my make-up is faded
I look in the mirror, despise what I see, then I look at this man who means nothing to me
I creep out the door before he awakes,
I’m tired and I’m ill…there is nothing to take
I don’t leave my number, I don’t know his name,
I’m tired and hungover and burning with shame
I creep down the backstreets, avoid being seen, and I long for a shower, or just to feel clean
There’s no-one to turn to, there’s nowhere to go,
It’s just me and my head in this shit horror show
So I head for the basement and open a can,
And I drink to get shit-faced as fast as I can
I’m all out of options, I’m running on empty, I have nothing left now, I’m just how he left me
I’m counting the days now, I’m counting the hours,
Because soon I’ll be dead and be pushing up flowers
And I’m ok with that, I’m resigned to my fate, because I’ve tried and I’ve failed to keep spinning these plates
It’s too much too deal with, it’s too much to take, and I’ll tell that to God when I’m stood at his gate
And I hope that he gets it…that he sees that I’ve tried, as I drown in the river of tears that I cried
Because I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to stay, in this horrible head funk of “Alcohol Day”
So somebody help me, or let’s get it over, I’m all out of hope, I can’t deal with life sober
So this is my story, and this is my shame,
Written here on my face and beside my real name...
It’s not supposed to be like this…
I’m supposed to be a Princess…
It’s all the books talked about when I was a little girl growing up and I still believed in fairytales
”You’ll meet a handsome prince” they said…
”Live in a fairytale castle” they said…
”You'll ride around on sparkling unicorns all day and everything will be all fluffy and nice” they said…
Well the books can fuck right off…because there is no fairytale - not for me; not now…and as I look around at this whacking great pile of shit that used to be my life, I doubt that there ever will be…
I didnt really talk much as a child.
Our house was always filled with a dark sense of oppression...old, messy arguments mixed in with the anticipation of new, even messier ones which always ended badly, and so in order to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing and getting drawn into the chaos caused by my parents, I made like a mouse and tried to keep quiet.
Then my dad died suddenly and overnight the house we lived in became a coffin for all of us...filled with this suffocating blackness that enveloped my mum, swirled around my brother and I, and never quite went away.
I didn't talk much then either, mainly because there was no one to talk back to me...we were all locked seperately inside our own little world's and so it was easier to just stay quiet.
Then, throughout school, (which I hated...mainly because I was scared that my mum would die too if I wasn't there to look after her), I starved and self-harmed and I carried the world around on my not quite yet teenage shoulders...and the teachers saw that things "weren't quite right" but it was a Catholic school where everything you did or said was a potential sin and so they were all far too caught up in saying their own "Hail Mary's" and keeping in with God to worry about a quiet, sad girl who clearly "had issues"...not when they all had issues of their own...
So no one asked if I was ok...and I stayed quiet because I wasn't ...
As I grew older, when bad things happened...the violence, the sexual assaults, the things that can happen to young girls who don't have a support network, I turned it inside and I punished myself for not being stronger or harder or more resilient to the world... and then years later, when my depression kicked in, I chose drinking over talking and spent the next couple of years in and out of homelessness, too comatose to speak...
Until I ended up in rehab.
And then I did try to speak...but the staff there didn't listen, and so I reverted back to type and simply stayed quiet.
Until I realised that I could write my thoughts even when situations prevented me from vocalising them.
It's taken three long years and a whole lot of headfuck to get me to this point...the point where I have found my voice...and the need to explain to you that homelessness is a journey and not a final destination
And now I need to speak.
So no more quiet girl, no more silence... Just a story from the heart from a woman who's been there.
Because as of now, there is no "Shush"...
Imagine watching a car with no brakes about to hit a brick wall. At 100 mph.
Now imagine that behind the wheel is your best friend. No seatbelt, and seemingly oblivious to the danger in front of her and literally a split second away from self- destruction unless you can do something.....like stop the car.
Which is impossible.
And so all you can do is wait for the inevitable. And hope that she gets out alive....
I was driving that car. And I wanted it to crash. Because it had to. I needed all of the craziness to stop. And so I put my foot down. And kind of closed my eyes....
So I'm sat in Wetherspoons. My weapon of choice in my self destructive days. An ally I could rely on when the chips were down to help me on my way to oblivion. But today I'm sat here with purpose. One that doesn't involve dragging myself to hell.
I'm people watching. Looking for the broken ones. Like I used to be. And inspiration. Because every cloud has a silver lining if you bother to look for it. Mine was my second chance. A fresh start and a new path to follow.
I used to feel so smug when I was sat here with my pint. Looking at the latte drinkers and the soft drink crowd. I told myself I'd got it sussed. That somehow I looked cool and mysterious.... my way of coping as my life was imploding around me. In reality I just looked like a sad girl getting slowly wasted.
Now I'm the one with the latte. And I don't feel smug at all. I feel humble and grateful and ready to start a new chapter.
It's starting with this blog. It's my life story and my journey. I'm older and wiser and grateful for my lessons. I got out of this relatively unscathed. I'm lucky I got out at all.
So I'm writing my story. As therapy for me. A way to get all of the madness I went through out of my head so that I can move on. To pastures new, and maybe to inspire others who take the time to read it x