Title listing of my blogs
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...
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...
What if I told you that Hell not only exists, but that it's nothing like the place you've been bought up to imagine? That it isn't full of fire and brimstone or people weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth, but instead that it's empty, cold, and deathly quiet...apart that is from the whispering voices urging you incessantly to “reach out, take it – just have one more”...as you lie there retching and shaking on the ground.
This is what Hell is actually like...and I know because I've been there.
My name is Denise, and today I am an award-winning writer...which is all kinds of cool, because, not all that long ago, I could barely string a sentence together, let alone write one. I was far too busy drinking myself to death.
A relationship breakdown was the catalyst for a series of events that bought me to my knees. Within the space of a few months everything in my life as I'd known it was gone, and I started to drink to excess...initially to help me to cope, and then to try and fill up the void. Soon I needed it simply just to function.
My stress levels were through the roof and I rarely had an appetite, so I went from a size 8 to a 6 and eventually to a size zero. My hair fell out, my periods stopped, and even in my emaciated state, my legs struggled to support me. I looked and felt about a hundred years old.
My already spiralling mental health grew progressively worse as old demons resurfaced to have a party in my head, and this, coupled with an ever-growing addiction to alcohol turned me into a wrecking ball and an absolute danger and liability to myself. I either didn't see trouble or bad situations coming, or I was too depressed to care...either way, my judgement and intuition were often way off point, and every wrong turn or bad decision I made only succeeded in dragging me further down into the bottomless pit that used to be my life.
I went to my GP for help, but he was reluctant to dabble in an area he had very little knowledge about, so, in desperation, I turned to Google, found the medications I thought that I'd need, picked up a prescription, and attempted a home detox. I had no real idea of what I was doing or how much I should take, and so I guesstimated quantities and prayed for a miracle. The tablets took the edge off...but within hours I was drinking on top of them too. A lethal combination that potentially could have killed me. In my” wisdom” I carried on using both, and soon I was pretty much existing on alcohol and prescription meds, meaning that my already dire situation got a million times worse.
At this point I was both looking and living like a tramp. I was in a relationship with another alcoholic, who spent the time he wasn't drinking tearing me to shreds, my mental health was shot to pieces and my body was starting to shut itself down. I had two options open to me which were detox or die. Absolutely broken, and weighing a pitiful 6st I was admitted into treatment in 2016. A decision that I credit with saving my life.
For the next 4 months I lived and breathed recovery, and slowly the chaos in my mind started to subside, as my body adjusted to living without alcohol. I stuck to the programme religiously, did everything that I was asked to do to the absolute letter, and with every day that passed I felt myself get stronger.
4 months after I arrived, I left rehab, moved into a homeless hostel and tentatively started again.
I started to write initially as a way to distract myself from what was often a noisy, challenging, and ever changing environment. My stress levels were high and I needed an outlet, but soon what started as a hobby quickly became my ‘therapy' as I poured my innermost thoughts and feelings out onto the page and started to make sense of myself and my demons for the first time in years.
Writing became my ‘Raison d'etre' and I clung to it like a life raft. I started an online blog “Just A Girl-My life" (justagirl.emyspot.com) opened an account on twitter and started to upload my blogs to an audience I couldn't see and didn't know. The response to my work took my breath away, and my confidence grew as I realised that actually, not only were my words hitting home, they were having an impact, and encouraging others to open up and share their own stories of addiction and mental health battles with me.
Then in 2018 I pushed my boundaries even further and decided to turn a blog that I'd written called “This Is Depression" into a short, dark animated film, with the help from friends and followers I'd made on twitter. The film is a snapshot of my lowest point, and documents the overwhelming loss, loneliness, fear and confusion I was feeling at that time, living with the knowledge that I was dicing with death, but feeling that I didn't have the strength or the courage to keep on fighting unseen enemies that appeared to be so much bigger than me. It is incredibly raw, incredibly honest and everyone involved is incredibly proud...even more so because to date, she currently has 4 prestigious awards to her name.
The film has been viewed by thousands, either on-line or in Cinemas, museums, workshops and festivals around the world, and gradually this tiny story of a lost, lonely woman in a bar has become so much bigger than the sum of her parts.
Writing, narrating and bringing this tiny film to life has definitely been my proudest achievement to date, second only to achieving and maintaining my sobriety.
I have been in recovery now for almost 4 years. Today I am happy, healthy and I live a relatively normal life. To look at me you would never know or even suspect the horrors that I've been through and I take great pride in that, given the way that I was living back then.I spend my days writing, my nights listening to Ted Talks, or reading in my caravan and I share my life with a borrowed cat called “Mr Happy"
I continue to aim high and to constantly push my own boundaries.I also continue to tell my story in the hope that it helps someone who maybe needs to hear it...
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,
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.
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 sugar-coating...just honest emotions mixed with hard, cold 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...
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, 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...
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…
The first time he called me a C**t, we were on holiday. I’d caught my foot on a tree stump as we walked back to our beach hut one night in the dark.
It hurt like hell. He told me to “shut up whining and stop being annoying”.
We'd been together for 4 months.
The second time he called me a C**t, we were in bed. I wasn’t really in the mood for sex, but instead of understanding, he lost his temper with me. He called me a bitch, a tramp and a prostitute and made me spend the night in the spare room.
The third time he called me a C**t we were watching TV. I wasn’t feeling well. He lost his temper and called me a bitch. For “being a moody cow and becoming hard work"
The fourth time, I’d cooked him Crab. It's his favourite. Except, well, on that particular night it wasn’t and so he picked up the plate and launched it across the room where it smashed against the wall, and ended up in pieces in the sink and on the floor.
The fifth time he called me a “c**t" he'd had a row with his daughter and was turning that anger on me, meaning a quick grab of some things while he was out, and a trek into town to find an emergency hotel room in the middle of the night.
The sixth time it happened I'd been for reflexology. I’d been feeling tatty and tired and needed a pick me up...only it took longer than I thought, and when I got back he accused me of cheating, took the house keys off me and made me leave, less than a week after I’d given him my half of the rent.
I moved into a rented room for somewhere stable to stay, except that that made things worse...because now I wasn't by his side all the time and his jealous streak came out.
I’d message to tell him that I was in bed, but he would drive into town anyway, past the bar where we met, in case I was lying and was out with my friends...hoping to catch me, oh I don't know, maybe enjoying myself and having fun and stuff...like I used to back in the days before I was stupid enough to fall in love with him.
But it's ok finally because I get it now...you see the penny may be slow but finally it dropped...and I see it for what it is, instead of what I really wanted it to be...and it's all a bit shit if I'm honest.
Because this "boyfriend" of mine never wanted a girlfriend...What he actually wants is a puppet..,One who just lives to have her strings pulled, so that she can dance just the way he likes it, before getting quietly back in her box like a good girl and leaving him in peace.
I don’t like puppets.
I never have.
They make me cringe. So "Punch and Judy" was never going to be my idea of fun.
It didn't end well for her if I remember rightly...She got all bashed up and stuff.
So the next chance that I get I'm leaving him...
I doubt that I'll be missed; I'm waaay too opinionated (apparantly) - but if he does happen to crave some company, well, then the toy shop should be open...puppets are ten a penny in there I believe.
He can buy himself a couple.
I've never been maternal. It's just not in my nature...I've never felt the urge to throw caution to the wind and turn my life upside down completely, just so that I can be at someone elses beck and call for the rest of my days.
I can barely take care of myself, let alone anyone else.
So becoming a mum has always been out of the question.
Until out of the blue, one day it happened...Completely by accident, completely unexpectedly, at the ripe old age of fourty, I looked into those eyes, and fell absolutely head over heels.
And I became a bit besotted.
So at first I didn't mind the fact that my life was suddenly a merry go round of sleepless nights, washing his clothes and attempting to keep with his never-ending demands for bottles.
I did it because he was mine and I loved him.
And if ever I felt as though it was all getting a little bit much, he would just flash me that smile and give me those big, blue puppy dog eyes again and I would remember again just how much he needs me and I would feel terrible for wanting to leave.
Only reality is kicking in now.
I'm absolutely shattered, and It's only been six months.
I can't imagine doing this for the next 18 years...
Or the next twelve months if I'm honest.
Because not only am I running on empty...I'm also running out of cash.
Keeping him topped up with bottles is expensive...plus I'm obviously the one who has to fetch them.
It's not like he can go to the shop by himself is it? He'd be bound to have an accident...wander off into the road or fall off the kerb and hit his head or something.
I'd be worried sick.
Anyway, it's fine, the shop's only down the road.
The guys behind the counter greet me like an old friend. They always ask me how he is...and of course I say "fine" and then I pay for the bottles that tell them he's not and then I hurry back home before he starts crying for me again.
God I wish he'd stop that...it's not like he's a baby for Christ's sakeHe's not a fucking baby......he's fourty-fucking one.
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.
My boyfriend loves me very much...except for on Mondays
Because he's had a bad day today and he doesnt want to talk much and can I please just be quiet now, because I'm giving him a headache?
My boyfriend loves me very much...except for on Tuesdays.
Because he's overslept this morning and now he has to rush around, so can I please just fill his flask up and get out of his way.
My boyfriend loves me very much...except for on Wednesdays. Because he's had trouble with his van again and of course that's down to me, and can I just get on with dinner now while he lies on the sofa...
I never thought, not even for one second that I would become an alcoholic. I drank to relax, to unwind, to help me to “cope” if things got too much after a hard day at the office.
Of course, I drank more than I should… oh God yes, definitely. Guilty as charged your honour, but a full-blown alcoholic?” No way, not me.
Never in a million years.
Until the day I woke up with the shakes and realised that I was starting to feel like one.
But that was ok, it wasn’t that bad... I was still going to work, meeting my deadlines, keeping up appearances and all of that jazz. It’s not like I was starting to drink in the mornings.
Until the day that every cell in my body woke up screaming for a drink.
But hey, that was ok, because it was all under control.
I was doing fine. It’s just that, well my job was stressful and so drinking took the edge off things. It wasn’t as though I looked ill or anything.
Until people started asking, was I ok?
And I would say “yes, thank you, yes thanks, I’m fine”, as I prayed, they wouldn’t notice just how badly I was shaking. Or hear the vodka bottles clink together in my bag.
But still, absolutely, with my hand on my heart, in the big, grand scheme of things I was doing ok.
I was going to work, paying the bills.
Until I lost my job one day... for drinking in the toilets.
But hey that’s ok, because my job was crappy anyway.
I didn’t need the pressure.
I’d just get another job...it’s not like I was out on the streets.
Until the day I was.
So now I’m sleeping in a doorway and I’m asking for spare change.
But hey, that’s ok - because at least I’ve got a sleeping bag.
And It only gets wet when it rains or some bloke pisses on me in the night.
But hey that’s not too bad, because at least I’ve got my 6 pack, and my trusty piece of cardboard…
No way… Never in a million years…
I used to be in love with him.
I still have every one of the letters and the cards that he made me...along with the jar full of folded bits of paper, all with random but beautiful things that he loved about me written on them...the jar with the million dollar, burning question tucked away right at the very bottom of it that I finally got to open the night before my birthday.
And I would have...I would have married this guy.
But that was then...and hindsight is a wonderful thing.
It's 3.00am and I'm struggling to sleep.
I lie here in bed tossing and turning 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, and the words go 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 now...there are two bottles of wine before bed most evenings, as well as the pints and the brandys 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 at stupid o clock in the morning, 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 a 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...