I spent a month in a detox unit in Dartford, followed by seven months in a women’s only treatment centre in Kent. I was then transferred to a secondary treatment centre, again only for women, in Bristol.
The focus in this final facility wasn’t actually on addiction per se but on other issues resulting from rape and abuse such as eating disorders and self harm. This centre attempted to teach us how to cope with these things and learn to live safely in a wider world.
After leaving there, I spent a year in a dry house before I was allocated a council flat.
Why am I writing about this? It was all so long ago, nearly twenty years now and surely the past is another country?
Today finds me as a published author, a woman who is strong and independent. A woman who travels alone to venues both nationally and internationally to present her art and ideas. I’m not well off but I am warm, fed and live a happy and fulfilling life.
I don’t drink or take drugs, and although I work hard at maintaining my friendships I just can’t seem to maintain a long term intimate relationship nor manage to stay off anti depressants for long before the demons come roaring back into my life.
I was talking to a friend recently and telling her about some of the tragic, broken women I met in the treatment centres I was in (all of which only accepted women they felt had completely bottomed and burned out) and I found myself thinking that I must have been in a terrible state to be considered to fit into these environments.
I decided to remember the person I was when I first emerged from these facilities, maybe give myself a little break from self castigations about what I haven’t managed to do in my life and affirmation for what I have done.
Perhaps I may give others a bit of hope too.
Moving from my room in the dry house with its own electric metre and communal kitchen and bathroom but no living room, into a flat, was incredibly difficult to adjust to.
I was so used to a tiny allotted sleeping area, generally shared, that having more than one room of my own was an anomaly that took a very long time to adapt to.
I was organised and regimented in my life. Lists and order seemed to be a way of trying to hold it everything together.
I worked all the time and was fanatical about attending meetings because I simply did not know what else to do.
Basic personal care was difficult and an ongoing battle. Learning to cook for myself and eat well was a long long process and I think for my first three years in recovery I lived off caffeine and sugar.
So I didn’t eat, exercised constantly and worked incessantly.
In most respects life was all new and often full of great adventures and joy. I’d never had sex with someone straight before, didn’t know how to dance without being inebriated and although I had always loved clothes I had no sense of personal style or awareness how I looked.
I was also terrified nearly all of the time.
I would duck or flinch when a person moved too quickly and had great anxiety in social situations, often to the point I would have ‘fear sweats’ which is a stress related, prolific and very pungent form of perspiration.
I went on my first holiday in sobriety with a boyfriend, another recovering addict, and handed over my spending money to him as I couldn’t trust myself with any amount of cash in case I spent it on drugs.
I was passive,vulnerable and prone to panic attacks and bouts of self harming.
Gradually I took some risks and started growing into myself. As I learned to channel creatively I became messy and more chaotic (I think that’s the real me, truth to tell).
I learned to nurture myself, stopped self harming, started operating as one with my poor battered body.
Writing this now I realise that I fitted in all too well with the other patients at the facilities I was in. Needing the occasional course of anti depressants or not being able to cope with a long term relationship isn’t such an awful thing perhaps, in the grand scheme of my life.
I’m doing just fine.