My friend Sarah from “Divorced from My Drug Dealer Anonymous” came to the rescue after the break up with Fred. “You can’t sleep in that house,” she said, “come and stay in my flat.” I slept on the floor of her warm cosy sitting room for three months, barely able to set foot in my house as I was so upset. The house was even more of a ruin as the builders had knocked down a load of walls and then, annoyed they weren’t making enough money from the job, walked off. I scudded round the shell of the building that used to be a house wondering what I’d done, the wreckage of the house mirroring my life.
Fred, who’d moved into a pub in nearby Ladbroke Grove, was desperate to get me back saying he loved me more than life itself. But he stopped short of apologizing and taking responsibility for hitting me saying he “was just trying to calm me down.” Apparently the whole incident was my fault as I’d been screaming abuse at him. I recognised this argument as typical of men who engage in domestic violence – a situation I hadn’t realised I was in until he actually hit me. But still I loved him, was dependent on him and couldn’t let him go. Every time he came round to collect his mail at the building site, (he was stubbornly refusing to change his address), we would fall into each others’ arms tortured and crying, saying “I will always love you.” We spent one night together in the ruin that had been our home but I was too frightened to sleep in the same bed as him and slept upstairs in the loft. I had a dream that he had killed me and that, as I lay dying, I was writing his name in blood on the kitchen cupboards. I never spent another night with him in the house again.
Now that Fred, my “perfect mummy,” had turned out to be as bad if not worse than my real mother (who I thought was going to kill me as well) I transferred my mummy addiction from him to Sarah and her mother. Because of financial problems, Sarah had to move out of her flat so we both ended up in her parents’ house in Willesden Green, in North London.
This was a huge, fabulous Edwardian red bricked house with beautiful white wooden ornamental balconies and woodwork on the front, an original mosaic tiled floor that dated back to 1913 and a fourteen foot high stained glass window on the stairs. The garden was huge, teeming with flowers and had a hundred year old apple tree that Sarah’s parents would sit under, holding hands. But Sarah’s parents, a homeopath and a Porsche garage owner, could not really afford to live in the house and were renting out the rooms to lodgers. I was given a tiny room above the kitchen, which had a wonderful view of the garden and apple tree. The scent of home made biscuits, cakes and bread filled the kitchen every day – unfortunately I could not eat them because of my eating disorder. The vegetable patch was heaving with potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries – all the vegetables in the house were home grown with love.
I spent ages talking to Sarah and her mother in the kitchen. After 39 years of searching, I had found what I’d been missing all my life, my perfect family and my perfect home. “You’re like my daughter,” said Sarah’s mother, fanning the flames of the mummy obsession with just what I wanted to hear. “You can stay as long as you like.” But the psychiatrist at the Prison View psychiatric unit warned me against this path. “You will never replace the mother you never had,” he said. “You should stop trying to do it or you’re going to get hurt.” “That’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to me,” I said and burst into tears. Of course I could replace the mother I’d never had, I was doing it with my new perfect family.
Although it was agony for me to go to the house in Kensal Green, I had to continue with the building project to finish the house. In fact I hardly went there, mentally broken by the break with Fred. Why I chose this intensely difficult period to start messing around with my psychiatric medication is a testament to the strength of my eating disorder. I was in pieces, and under 8 stone but decided I needed to lose weight, so started cutting back on the anti-psychotics.
Then I made what I considered to be a “mistake” with the building project by getting the plumber to do something that I thought had caused a leak. Mistakes were a loaded word in my world as remember my mother had died, tortured for her last years, because she made the wrong decision on an operation. The response to this mistake was of course completely normal (for someone in a psychiatric unit with 5 spare personalities) I attacked my arms with a carving knife cutting them to shreds. The voice inside that had made me self-harm then said: “for a fuck up as bad as this, cutting your arms isn’t enough, you’re such a failure and a joke you need to kill yourself. “ So overwhelming was the compulsion to kill myself, I felt like a demon had possessed my brain forcing me to die. Every time I left the house in my car, the demon started whispering to me, crash the car, end it all your worthless can’t you see. I recovered briefly, getting rid of the lethal voice inside my head. But then made another “mistake” on the building project and hacked away at my arms again. “This is really bad,” said Fred, looking at my arms criss crossed with scars, “you’ve never done anything like this before. The demon’s voice came back again, “you’re a pathetic worthless piece of shit stop fiddling around with cutting your arms you need to cut your throat.” I was about to go back to St Chillin’s, the psychiatric hospital where I’d detoxed, to try to sort out my head. But instead I was looked after by Sarah and her mother in their gorgeous Edwardian house. Terrified by my reaction, I have never self-harmed since then.
Sarah had introduced me to the food programmes of Eating Disorders Anonymous. I started to follow one of their food plans, which basically involved cutting out sugar and high fat food. This had a dramatic effect, ending the bulimia that had plagued me since I was 13, as the trigger foods that I had binged and purged on were now eliminated from my diet. The last time I made myself sick was the end of July 2009. I have never made myself sick since then.
Despite my increasing recovery around food, I still could not let go of Fred and we limped on, basically together. But with the support of Sarah and her mother, I gradually moved towards leaving him. I felt I could never really trust him again. I asked him to move all his stuff out of the house in Kensal Green, which he said was “devastating.” I then rented the whole house out, moving all my things into Sarah’s parents’ house where it was impossible for him to stay. Despite this he kept hanging on desperate for us to get back together.
In the meantime, I went abroad for the first time since my mother’s funeral. The OCD had reared its ugly head again so, terrified of a fire in Sarah’s parents’ house, I spent six weeks scanning 20,000 documents. I then bought 15 fire proof chests which were also guaranteed against storm, lightening and alien attack, putting my papers in the chests. As there were nine people living in the house the chances of a fire taking hold were infinitesimally small. But as a further precaution I gave a copy of all my most important documents to Fred. This was slightly unwise given his 500 a day fag habit.
After I got back from the holiday, to the “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” convention in Barcelona, Fred and I drove down to the country side to buy my first car. I decided that the Mini Cooper, white with black stripes, was an even better accessory than the Chanel bag I’d picked up at Heathrow on the way to Barcelona. Over excited by the car purchase, (only a house was a bigger shopping hit), I shagged Fred enthusiastically in a four poster bed in our hotel. This convinced him that we had a future together, and he said we should get married and have kids, although I did not really think we did. I was keeping him hanging on too fearful to be alone.
As soon as I got back from buying the car, I started working full time on my novel about addiction, which had a drug dealing “hero” inspired by Fred. The central character was based on myself, a journalist who had crashed out of her career because of her cocaine and alcohol addiction. I had written a couple of pages of the novel in 2007 but now started on it in earnest, deciding I would complete the first 100 pages by Christmas.
Sarah had been urging me to go into therapy, saying I had too much childhood trauma for the AA 12 Step programme on its own to work. Sarah had become something of a mentor for me in recovery and I tended to follow her advice. I started looking for a therapist but was turned down by the first two therapists I approached who said I had “too many problems” for them to treat. I was sponsoring a woman in “Divorced from My Drug Dealer Anonymous” who also had borderline personality disorder and was very disturbed. The whole thrust of the sponsorship was to try to keep her out of hospital as she had regular suicide attempts and self-harm. My sponsee told me about the Bowlby Centre in London, where they practised attachment therapy, re-parenting the client and said they were treating her successfully. I thought, well if they can treat her they can definitely treat me, and gave them a call. After an initial assessment, I was referred to a half Chinese therapist, called Mei Fung Chung in December 2009. We bonded immediately and the therapy I had with her would totally transform my life. Sign up for updates on this blog
With the increased support from her, at the beginning of the next year, I was finally able to end things with Fred as he kept shouting at me and slamming down the phone. I realised he hadn’t dealt with his anger issues at all and that, until he did, I couldn’t trust him not to hit me again. But I still carried on with the novel which Sarah and another friend said was “wonderful.”
Just as the final break with Fred came, a snake in the grass emerged in my perfect family. Their heavy drinking son, jealous of my relationship with his mother, tried to have me thrown out saying “it’s me or her!” Battered and broken by the break with Fred, if they’d thrown me out, I would have had a breakdown. They didn’t which I was eternally grateful for. They’d also, very kindly, removed all alcohol from their house, which had been stuffed with bottles of champagne, after I had a wobble in my sobriety and was worried I would pick up and said I couldn’t live in a house with alcohol.
I upped my therapy to three times a week but there was a major problem with this: I had to travel on the Tube in the rush hour which, after the 7/7 bombings, was incredibly traumatic for me. At least once on my way to therapy, I would have to leap out of the tube as I received a “Sign from God” that someone was going to blow up the tube. These signs were subtle and seemed to be noticed by only me: a sneeze, muttering, reading, someone wiping their nose, I was convinced the tissue was a detonator. I would first make my way to the end of the carriage (thinking that getting as far away from the bomber as possible would enhance my survival rate) then would swap carriage at the first opportunity. The fact that none of these suspected bombs actually went off in no way dented by belief in the efficacy of these “Signs from God.” My therapist said I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the meantime, my battle with my family in Jamaica to get the loans my mother had made them repaid had entered a whole new level. I now appointed lawyers in the BVI to pressurize the Trustees to recover the loans. It was vital that the loans were judged to have been made by the Trust rather than my mother personally, as I was not entitled to any money from her estate until I was 45. The Trustees rejected the idea that the most of the loans had been made by the Trust and said they would pursue only one small loan. However, my family in Jamaica refused to repay them this loan saying it had already been re-paid.
I was struck by the terrible earthquake in Haiti that killed over 300,000 people. Surrounded by people in 12 Step Fellowships saying they were being looked after by their Higher Powers, I wondered what had happened to the Haitian people’s Higher Power. He seemed to have nodded off on the job.
Nonetheless, I was somehow being looked after in recovery. Fred had helped me through my mother’s death and now Sarah was by my side. She also spoke fluent Spanish, loved Spain and Latin America and had felt out of place in the UK as a child growing up. We became incredibly close, she kept saying I was her family. That summer was a long slow idyllic bath of mumminess as I spent endless hours in the kitchen with Sarah and her mother.
But when their son was around I would wake up at 4am shaking and terrified that I was going to be thrown out. I thought I felt unsafe because he was drinking in the house. But actually it was a throwback to the terrible childhood fear of being cast out by my mother.
As the Trustees in the BVI had been unsuccessful in their attempt to recover the loan from my mother’s family, I had appointed lawyers in Jamaica to try to get the loans repaid. My mother’s family said they were poised to sell the house in the development they had built and could therefore settle the loans. But the sale fell threw at the last minute and they withdrew from the settlement. I wondered if I would ever get the money.
That wasn’t my only problem. Having said that I could stay in their home “forever” Sarah’s mother suddenly decided she wanted to sell the house. At first she said I could come with them to their new home, but then, anxious of the potential conflict between their son and me, said I would have to leave. I had rented my own house out for a year, so was scrabbling around homeless, desperate to find a place. Eventually, I persuaded my tenants to move out. But although I had my house back I was devastated, my perfect mother had thrown me out.
As I left the house, I took a last look at the rhododendron bush in the front garden, laden with giant scarlet flowers. A pair of wild parakeets, their bodies radiant blue, their combs and tails yellow as daffodils, had landed on the ornamental balcony on the first floor. My perfect family and my perfect home had gone.
Next week: I have a catastrophic break up with Sarah, my best friend in recovery, and turn my love addiction to God and the local Vicar instead.