I arrived at St Margaret’s, in South London, five weeks after I’d given up cocaine. But still tested off the scale for cocaine in a drugs test. I had come down on my own on the train, which raised suspicions that I might have scored en route. I vigorously denied this, I was now determined to get clean. It was explained to me that I must have had so much cocaine in my system that it hadn’t exited in 24 hours (as it usually does) but was still hanging around in quantities enough to supply an entire rock band the next month. Also the hole in my nose (from snorting cocaine) was so big that every time I breathed I made a loud whistling noise like a kettle when it was boiling. I had only had a tiny drug problem after all.
The counsellor who searched my suitcase said I couldn’t possibly go into the rehab with that much cleavage showing. As usual, I was wearing one of my ultra low cut tops which my nipples kept popping out of. I did not consider it embarrassing that my exceptionally skimpy tops would often fall off completely while I was dancing wildly in a club. Or that my nipples would pop out so frequently to say hello. This, I considered, was part of being an extrovert. I was handed a sack like top, rejected by a Ruritanian potato farmer, and told to put it on.
I was unimpressed when I walked into the sitting room at St Margaret’s (known by everyone else as the lounge) that everybody in there was smoking. I had given up smoking at the age of 25, substituting it for cocaine, and did not want to be exposed to other people’s second hand smoke. Although the threat of instant heart attack from my cocaine addiction and bulimia had lifted, the equally important threat of wrinkles remained. Arriving in designer shoes and a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, I noticed a distinct lack of designer gear and thought everyone looked pretty rough. Quite a few of the men looked like they could handle themselves in a fight and I was horrified to find out that a lot of them had criminal records. Some had actually arrived directly from an extended stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Hopefully they found the room service as good as my uncle did in Brixton prison which he announced was “the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in in my life.”
True I had done things that might have got me into trouble with the law. But there was no way I was a criminal: for a start, I hadn’t got caught. When I announced, in the newcomer group, that I was extremely frightened as so many people seemed to have criminal records as long as the M11, three piercing pairs of blue eyes glared daggers at me. “What’s wrong with that?” they said. “Absolutely nothing,” I stuttered, “I just haven’t met anyone, apart from my dealers, who’s had one before.” My father had been done multiple times for drink driving, leading to an ecstatically exciting trip in the back of a police van when I was 7 but, as everyone I knew was into drink driving, I thought this didn’t count. One of those pairs of piercing blue eyes would change the course of my life.
The lady from the Kensington Substance Abuse Team, which was paying for my treatment, was certainly right when she said St Margaret’s was hardcore. Many of the clients had gone so far with their using that they’d actually died – been brought back round by the doctors after being pronounced clinically dead. One of them had even been buried when she’d started shouting from the coffin that she was alive and needed a fix. Almost everyone in there had progressed onto a 24/7 crack and heroin habit, apart from some chronic alcoholics who were either part of the dead brigade or had wet brain syndrome. Almost all of the women had had their children taken away, one because she’s tried to exchange the child for a large bag of crack. I was very far from St Chillin’s (my previous, very exclusive rehab) and was absolutely terrified.
Not that this stopped me looking after my appearance. Absolutely not. I was still wearing the green contact lenses and, due to the lack of hairdressing facilities at the rehab, had concealed my hair under a massive extension ponytail. I still had all my designer clothes, real and fake designer bags, but I had left the designer underwear at my father’s house as there was no way I was going to pull on a council estate in South London. How little did I know.
The best thing about St Margaret’s was that Ama, the Nigerian woman who was in charge of the rehab, was my counsellor. Ama had long braids was quite tall and had a calm but very firm face. But she said I was walking around like a mental patient and that I might be too disturbed to stay. After investigating the situation with St Chillin’s, Ama obtained a psychiatric report saying I had borderline personality disorder. At least this was better than the psychiatrist in Jamaica who’d said I was bipolar because I was up and down like a yoyo with cocaine and alcohol.
It had caused a certain amount of resentment in the rehab, particularly among the women, when I had arrived with a fake designer bag that everyone thought cost a thousand pounds. When they found out that I had a house in Notting Hill that was, even then, worth over a million pounds, this resentment escalated sharply. Few people at St Margaret’s still had their house, most were barely clinging onto social housing. Unfortunately, though, the bank had launched repossession proceedings on my beloved house, because I had spent the mortgage money on a Dior bikini and 5 pairs of designer sunglasses. I tried to explain to the mortgage company that the bikini had been a life or death decision (in fashion terms at least) but they said I was a bad credit risk and wouldn’t budge. I was begging my aunt in Jamaica to pay off the mortgage arrears, but since they’d discovered the cocaine addiction their hand outs were a lot less forthcoming. Actually, I was the poorest person in the rehab as I was not entitled to benefits and had no income from my main rental property. I had to survive on £5 a week. Luckily I didn’t smoke. Almost all of my paltry pennies went on fake nails and industrial quantities of powdered sweetener which I was chronically addicted to. It did look like cocaine but unlike my previous behaviour with the anti-depressants, I wasn’t snorting it.
As I still had cocaine in my system it perhaps wasn’t surprising that I had an elaborate, euphoric dream about doing cocaine in a million pound yacht. The glamorous associations of cocaine had clearly not been dented by my arrest at Heathrow, where I’d been covered in cocaine and charged with “Impersonating Scarface.” Or by the fact that I’d been buying it in a ghetto in Jamaica where I was lucky not to have my throat cut.
As soon as I’d arrived at St Margaret’s, I realised it was in a shitty area. I mean this literally as I noticed dog shit all over the place. I couldn’t remember this quantity of dog shit in West London but South London was covered in it. It was like a bacteria that I was suddenly noticing, unpleasant but everywhere. Little did I know there was no difference in the quantities of dog shit in South and West London but that my perception of the dog shit was the OCD rearing its ugly head again. Fear of dog shit would later become a defining feature in my life as I developed a fixation that the dog shit would leap off the pavement and jump into my mouth.
I got into serious hot water when I said to my mentor at the rehab, a girl who’d been there slightly longer than me, “I can’t believe you were actually a crack whore.” The reason I couldn’t believe it was because she was incredibly beautiful. I had never spoken to or met a crack whore before although my friends in Notting Hill had said that my skimpy clothing gave me “a crack whore look.” This faux pas caused a massive feud in the rehab in which everyone took sides, some saying it was outrageous that I had referred to her in this way, others saying it was true. After my former mentor threatened me in a group the situation was escalated for the staff to sort out. Ama said I had been “naïve” and another staff member said that although it was very offensive it was true. This polarized the rehab and almost caused me to be thrown out. But I hung on in there wanting to stay close to Ama.
As my mother was in crisis with the mental age of a one year old, I embarked on the project which has dominated my time being clean: to find a replacement mother. Ama looked identical to my mother (well she had a similar nose) so I decided she was my perfect mother substitute. I had always been on the waiting list for a parent transplant. But now decided I couldn’t just wait for a new parent to arrive: I had to pursue them more aggressively. Every day we had to fill out a sheet saying “what are your cravings today?” Everyone else said “I could really do with a lump of gear or some crack,” I said, “I want Ama to breast feed me.” In my therapy sessions with her, I would push my chair so close to her that I was practically sitting in her lap. When she went unexpectedly on holiday, I burst into tears and asked if I could come too. I just didn’t want to leave her side. For the first time with a therapist I told her everything about me, that I had thought I was the ugliest person in the world and had always been trying to improve myself. There were some things that had happened in my childhood, which I’d always been puzzled by. She said they were sexual abuse. Sign up for updates on this blog
In the meantime, fights would break out between some of the men at St Margaret’s who had to be separated repeatedly by the staff. Amazingly a girl, Sharon, got pregnant, apparently in the TV lounge in front of all the CCTV cameras. Unbeknownst to me, as I had no access to the internet, YouTube was launched. But there was so much drama around me I stopped watching soap operas as I felt like I was living in one.
When I arrived, Ama told me I would have to leave if I made myself sick as, she said, they could not treat bulimia at St Margaret’s. So I developed a fixation with the exercise bike in the gym. I would leap from my dinner and jump onto the exercise bike to burn 5000 calories. I was on the exercise bike for so long I was consuming as many calories as Neanderthal Man at the darkest point of the Ice Age. One of the counsellors said I was very thin and getting thinner every day while everyone else was getting fat. I said I was allergic to the food and had “no issue” with the exercise bike. Despite this when someone broke it, I tried to put a contract out on them. But alas the would be assassins said half a packet of fake nail glue – which was all I had to offer – just wasn’t enough.
A massive drama occurred when our bedrooms were searched for drugs and no drugs but a mobile phone was found in mine (concealed inside a designer shoe). The clients, or rather inmates, at St Margaret’s were banned from having mobile phones so they could “focus on themselves.” I said I had never used the mobile phone, which was true. But Sharon said she had heard me talking in my room as well as making choking noises that sounded like I was being sick. I was outraged by this as I hadn’t been sick at all, switching to exercise bulimia instead, and had not used the mobile phone as I thought I’d get caught.
When I wanted to leave as people were bullying me, my friend Teresa said, “how can you leave – you have no money?” I was forced to stay at St Margaret’s as I couldn’t afford to leave but complained to the Kensington Substance Abuse Team that the confrontational style of the rehab amounted to bullying.
Nonetheless, I formed a strange bond with Fred, an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail. We were in the same therapy group, were the only clients in the rehab who had Ama as a counsellor and bonded over the fact that we had both been sexually abused. We couldn’t have been more different: I grew up in what’s now a 10 million pound house in Kensington (which just shows that money can’t buy you love. Or not from your parents at least.) He grew up on what he called “one of the worst sink estates in Britain” which was featured with all the washing flapping in the breeze in Channel 4’s “urban nightmare” promos.
While my school report at the age of 7 said “Caroline has a Mastermind like knowledge of Greek myths,” he’d already dropped out of school at the age of 7 and started shoplifting. I later found out this was because he’d been bullied for being top of the class. When I was fifteen and about to do my Oxbridge exams he was just starting his first stint in jail. It’s a massive failure of the British education system that someone as bright as him and brilliant with words was not allowed to flourish at school and turned to a life of crime. If he’d had an education I’d always said he’d have ended up as the Editor of the News of the World which would have combined his interest in words and criminality. His father had been an armed robber as well, I found out. And when he was sentenced, his mother had told all the children that the police had fitted their father up. He’d developed a hatred of the police and authority from then on, which was only just shifting now he was clean.
He told Ama he fancied me. She said I wasn’t well. I told her I fancied him too. He was incredibly hot and looked just like Daniel Craig. Everyone wanted him. I had rejected many a man in Jamaica as unsuitable because of unacceptable deformities such as piddlingly small toes. But Fred had the most gorgeous feet that he would wiggle tantalisingly in front of me. He was not the only man at the rehab who was interested in me, there was an entire football team. Another was Neal, middle class and highly intelligent who I tried to stick to like glue. But Ama put us both on “behavioural contracts” saying we couldn’t be in the same room at the same time. I was outraged by this, as he was one of the few people in the rehab who was quite like me and even lived in Notting Hill. But Ama, knowing something I did not, said he was bad for me and did her utmost to keep us apart. Neal, who was slightly too intellectual to accept the 12 step approach, never really stayed clean and later died of alcoholism.
We were forced, some very reluctantly, to go to 12 Step meetings. But “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous,” in that enclave of South London, was extremely rough. It was full of ex-cons and people who were missing various body parts after a fight – the lucky ones just an ear the unlucky ones their appendix or a pancreas. The only meeting I liked was a women’s “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” group where everyone had their full complement of ears, organs and even, amazingly, teeth.
Ama launched a plan to overcome my Body Dysmorphic Disorder, where I thought that, without the green contact lenses and other accoutrements, I looked like the Elephant Man. She said I needed to take out the green contact lenses, ditch the high heels and tight clothes and wear flat trainers, the Ruritanian farmer shirt and some baggy tracksuit bottoms that belonged to a lesbian.
I was astonished when I transformed into this supremely dowdy state that all the men who had fancied me before still fancied me now I looked like a lesbian potato farmer. This led to a massive improvement in the Body Dysmorphic Disorder, making me think I didn’t look too bad at all. I started walking around with a positive skip in my step.
I had also come in to the rehab with 5 different ages, ranging from 25 to 32, depending on who I was speaking to. I now told everyone my actual age, 35, and when they questioned how I’d aged so quickly explained that along with the mobile phone I’d concealed a time machine in my room.
While keeping me away from all the other men, Ama encouraged me to get close to Fred saying we were “brother and sister” and should “look after each other.” She sent us to a Codependents Anonymous meeting together. I had now realised that there was a 12 step fellowship for absolutely everything; including people addicted to knitting replica dinosaur wings. When we got back from the Coda meeting, everyone said we looked like we’d been on a date. And that was exactly what it had turned into as our feelings for each other became clear and we started holding hands.
As he left, Ama warned him to “stay away from women.” But not listening to this at all, he told me he had feelings for me. For some reason which is unclear (as I was back on the anti-depressants) I had developed a raging horn. An older woman in the rehab (one of those who’d “died”) said I looked like I wanted “to fuck every man in the room.” My first experience of being rejected by a substitute mother came when Ama threw me out as I was parading around in an over sexed way as if I wanted to shag everyone. As my father picked me up from the rehab, I had tears in my eyes at the thought of leaving Ama and was straight on the phone to Fred. I ended up in my house in Notting Hill which had been empty for almost six months leaving me without an income. Fred came straight round to the house saying he would “look after me” until I got into another rehab. And look after me he did….
Next week: being hated at rehab Hope House before I even arrive, orgasms and the wrong pair of knickers in the ex-armed robber’s car.