I was living in a dry house when I first met Mike, who lived downstairs from me. The building we lived in had eight bedrooms, each with an individual lock and electric meter, and a shared kitchen and bathroom.
The inhabitants had all spent time in rehabilitation centres for drug and alcohol dependency and weren’t quite ready or able to start a full independent existence, thus our being in supported housing where we pledged to consume no drink or drugs and to attend one personal counselling session and one house meeting per week.
I lived there for a year or so until I was rehoused and in that time there was a constant stream of arrivals and departures.
There was however a core group of residents which consisted of Tristram, Yinke, Welsh Mike, Welsh Glen and Welsh Steve (institutionalisation tends to be very limited in the way those with more common names are categorised; for example, at that time I knew an Eton John, a Big John, a 70’s John, and a New Zealand John).
Yinke was the only woman aside from myself, a pretty accurate indication statistically of the amount of women in supported recovery.
We were all on minimal income (except for Tristram who came from a wealthier background) as we weren’t physically or emotionally capable of starting full-time work, so our lives revolved around therapy, meetings, and coffee bars where we discussed recovery. However as we all smoked continuously, drank copious amounts of coffee and had very greedy electric meters in our respective rooms, we needed to boost our incomes, which most of us did by menial labouring and dish washing in various local Italian restaurants.
I worked at one of these restaurants with Welsh Mike, often until two or three in the morning scrapping a particularly adhesive like cheese off dishes, wading through tomato based residue on everything, and talking continuously.
Mike had been a street alcoholic and after a stint in a treatment centre was trying to rebuild a life, and a relationship with his seven-year old daughter who lived with her mother. He was studying to be a personal trainer, and as with many people in early recovery, was working on creating a spectacular (or at least vastly improved) physique through diet and an obsessive fitness regime.
I’d see him flit in and out of our shared kitchen with his daily 12 raw egg drink and a variety of snacks and bowls of pasta. Although I did notice an improvement in his body shape, he was a very large man, and sad to say, his over enthusiastic consumption of carbs led to a certain lumpiness rather than the desired ripped effect.
Despite his beefy bloke exterior he was gentle and open-minded, with a huge and knowledgeable love of Wales. His years of living on the streets had given him a more accepting view of human nature and behaviour than perhaps he would have had if he’d continued his life in small town Wales.
Meanwhile I worked out obsessively myself, my downstairs house mates were rarely seen as their kick was watching soft porn now they were no longer tranquilising themselves and their libido, Yinke was involved in a destructive relationship that would lead her to grant CODA (Co dependants Anonymous) meetings priority over NA, and Welsh Steve spent all his time in his room studying Mayan teachings and trying not to set off the smoke alarm again as he burnt vast quantities of sage sticks.
Twenty years on, I’d lost touch with most of these people although I still continued to have lackadaisical, occasional contact with Mike, who was now a Drugs and Alcohol Councillor.
I recently found out he had started drinking again, and killed himself.
I feel as if the world has lost another patch of unconditional warmth, and writing today’s blog, is a small way of acknowledging that.