My life changing recovery from OCD – I leave my home overnight for the first time in 5 years

I recover from my 10 hour a day OCD checking rituals with the help of fluoxetine, Prozac, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication

It was the day my anti-anxiety medication, fluoxetine, went up to the maximum dose, 60mg a day, that my recovery from OCD started. I immediately felt a reduction in the desire to check. I’d been on 40mg but it just wasn’t having enough effect. As all such medications can cause seizures I was nervous about upping the dose and only did it as a last resort after everything else had failed.  Convinced that the OCD was a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as it started when I thought I was going to be murdered in my mother’s house, I had tried EMDR, trauma therapy, to combat the OCD. But the session had been a disaster leaving me totally paranoid, with no trauma processed, and immediately increasing the OCD. After spending two days praying to calm me down I decided I could not do EMDR, with that therapist at least, and I would have to take the medication route.

I had had a nervous breakdown although I didn’t quite realise it at the time. I just knew that I couldn’t get up till 2pm and struggled to get out of bed.  All I could do was go to therapy and meetings in the evening, I had locked my rental property.  I had no income as I couldn’t complete the building project on my rental property as the OCD was so bad. I was haemorrhaging money, paying for two properties and risked losing both my home and my rental property.

I was doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at my local mental health unit, with a male therapist who was incredibly supportive. After all the noise nuisance complaints caused by my banging the doors at nights he’d written to my local authority saying the more they threatened me, the more anxious I would become and the more noise I would make.  This held them off for a while. Every week we would set “goals” for reduction in the OCD. I would write these goals down on my laptop, in documents that were 20 pages long. Every few days I would update the goals with what successes or failures I’d had and set new targets for reducing the checking.

I have always been goal orientated and an achiever. I decided I was going to Oxford University at the age of 8. And though my life was in chaos and the 10 hour checking was making me suicidal these OCD goals lists gave me a sense of achievement.  Thus, at the beginning, the goals were modest such as reducing checking the car doors from 1000 to 980 times. But then I got more ambitious like reducing the front door from 400 to 250 times.  I would share my checking goals for the day with my friend Susanna, who I was on the phone to two hours a day, as well as with Diane, my neighbour, a therapist. Just before doing the checking every night, I would ring my friend Ivor, a comedian, and the psychiatric crisis line. It was crucial that every time I tried to achieve a breakthrough I had loads of support from my friends. This gradual reduction in the OCD was the key to my recovery as, if I tried to cut down too rapidly, my anxiety would spike and I would not sleep that night. Not sleeping was disastrous as being tired doubled the length of time it took to do the OCD.

After being in bed for over two months, with steady improvements in the OCD, my therapist, Mei Fung Chung, helped get me ready to resume the building project.  So we would carefully plan every week so that I would do a day or two on the project. I couldn’t do very much as I was recovering from the breakdown and the checking still took many hours. With support from Mei, I gradually worked through the list of things I needed to do to finish the building project which included 50 pages of electrical checking to make the house safe again.

As I was now back to checking both my home and my rental property, the checking was still taking up to 7 hours a day.  But I’d had some crucial breakthroughs, stopping the repetitive photographing of the boiler at home, to prove it was switched off, and the half hour ritual of cleaning the stove every night. The medication was reducing my fear of fire. I had also gradually stopped texting myself about the checking at home, which had made the repetitions go up. But I still had to take dozens of photographs at my rental property as well as now emailing myself about the checking.

As part of my OCD checking rituals I have to photograph my extra key in the door lock at my rental property in Notting Hill and also the window locks to prove the tape is still on the window locks and they haven't been opened.

By the end of June 2014, I had completed the building project, as well as weeks of electrical testing, so I was ready to put the house on the lettings market. This was a major breakthrough as I’d had no income for almost a year.  The day the photographer came round to take the shots of the house was a low point in the OCD taking over 7 and a half hours. I was worried that the photographer, who unfortunately escaped from the lead I had put him on, would interfere with the windows and door locks. But I was in terrible fear that, when the viewings started and I had to do the checking on my home and rental property every day, I might have another breakdown.

As it was taking me three and a half hours to check my rental property every day they had viewings, I was extremely fortunate that the second person who saw the house took it after only 2 viewings. Thankfully I could lock the house again and go back home, although it looked so beautiful after the building project I really wanted to move in. The Notting Hill house didn’t have all the tortuous memories of my ex-boyfriend Fred of the house in Kensal Green.

As I found a wonderful tenant who did not want to move into the house for another month, I decided I would exploit my desire to move into the house to break a major barrier with the OCD.  I hadn’t spent a single night out of my home for 5 years because I feared that, if I did, the house would be burgled or burn down. But now I decided that I would break this restriction on my life and spend some time at my rental property.

The preparations for this trip were extensive, I had to scan all 20,000 documents in my house, in case an armed robber partial to eating paper broke in and, when I didn’t have time to do them all, packed a suitcase of 5,000 papers to take with me.  I brought in a large team of electricians to check all the wiring and got all the plugged in items safety tested 15 times. Then I got 20 extra smoke detectors put in, linked to the fire station. And was ecstatic that, when I tested them, a fire engine turned up 30 seconds later.  This cost a fortune but there was no way I was leaving my house overnight if there was any risk of a fire.

I had a hundred locks put on the bedroom door of my rental property and on both the shutters. Then, after a wobble where my sponsor in “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” said she didn’t think I was ready to make the trip, I got ready to go. My neighbour Diane was on hand to answer the phone 24/7 if I had any worries about the house.

Before I left, I had to unplug everything in my home (for fear of fire) and check they were unplugged multiple times as well as repetitively checking the lights were off and all the locks were closed. It therefore took me four hours to check my home before the trip.  I decided that I’d better stay away a bit longer than I’d intended.

At my rental property, it was still taking me three and a half hours to check the house at night. And I had a major problem when I had to check the car. Because I couldn’t park it in front of the house, I had to leave it on a busy street. And when I was checking the locks hundreds of times with a torch, everyone thought I was trying to steal the car and threatened to call the police. “It’s my car!” I wailed as the mountain of suspicion overwhelmed me. “Well if it’s your car can you open it so we know you’ve got the key?” “No” I said as if I opened the car I would have to start the 45 minute process of checking again. I realised that the checking was taking much longer as I had to park the car so much further away than at home, increasing my fear it would be stolen. I decided I would investigate getting a disabled parking permit, because of the OCD, so I could always park in front of my house.

I was still very ill with the OCD but I had achieved a significant breakthrough with the trip. My CBT therapist was ecstatic – this had been a major goal of our work – and said we could start winding down the therapy.

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We had the inventory of my rental property and I had my final major check of the house which took almost 4 hours. But now I was free of the checking, or so I thought. In fact in the early stages of the tenancy, I still had to do a lot of checking every time I went round to the house shouting “off off off” at the lights multiple times. Luckily my tenant wasn’t around.

Because of the breakdown, I had abandoned my writing career. But now I had a tenant, my income restored, I plunged back into the novel again. I was doing a re-write so I could send it back to the Literary Consultancy to see what was wrong with the book why I hadn’t been able to get an agent.

I was still in the midst of a news blackout because of my paranoia. But I decided  I would turn on the news on 19 September 2014 to see whether Scotland had voted to become an independent country. I was pleased with the No vote as a lot of my father’s family was still in Scotland. It meant that my country, the United Kingdom, still actually existed. Although I recognised that Scotland with its left wing nationalist government and Tory England were politically incompatible.

Now my life was more settled, I decided I would renew my search for EMDR treatment for the OCD. I had not got on with my Aryan looking first EMDR therapist, who was very critical and reminded me of my step mother. I therefore decided I wanted a foreign therapist, like my main counsellor Mei Fung Chung, and found one called Raquel Corriea, a Portuguese clinical psychologist,  on the EMDR website.  She looked perfect, tall, very dark, almost Jamaican looking, with long ebony hair. Although she was slightly too perfect as I realised early on that I fancied the pants off her. As she was waving her fingers from side to side doing the EMDR I was imagining all kinds of kinky uses she could be putting her fingers too. I told her and she was phlegmatic, she was absolutely beautiful, and must have this problem all the time.

The EMDR had a dramatic impact on the OCD, reducing it massively.  I was now able to leave lights on in my house overnight and the car had been reduced to 5 minutes. By Christmas 2014 I had a major breakthrough. I went round to fix some window locks at my rental property before my tenant went away on holiday.  I stayed on the ground floor, not going upstairs to check if he had locked all the windows and doors. And when I left the property, shortly followed by him, I didn’t even turn back to check he had turned off the lights. As I’d been checking the property for half an hour every time I went round there this was a big achievement. I feared that I would break into my rental property over the Christmas period desperate to check the lights. But I didn’t go anywhere near it.

I had a magical birthday in 2014, for the first time in many years, inviting a large group of people into my house. I’d been unable to have anyone, apart from my cleaner, in the house for ages because of the OCD.

I overcome my OCD by having a large group of people in to my house for my birthday

The party was a celebration of my emergence from the nervous breakdown and everyone I invited turned up. We had a Caribbean evening with jerk chicken and rice and peas and I felt surrounded with love. Of course my father didn’t phone me on my birthday but I was looked after by my substitute family, my friends.

Just before Christmas in 2014, I’d received a hand written letter from Sarah, my estranged friend from “Divorced from My Drug Dealer Anonymous,” at my house. Worried about the potential roller coaster of resuming the friendship with her, I still hadn’t responded to her  email.  She said again in the letter that she wanted to make amends and that she was sorry that she had hurt me. I was touched by the letter and, as I was now emerging from from the nervous breakdown, I decided I would make contact with her sending her an email saying “Happy Christmas.”  We arranged to meet in the New Year and, full of trepidation, I turned up to meet her at a café in Kensal Green. She said she had not been able to handle the influx of money that I’d received in 2012 coming on top of her own financial crisis. She said she had needed some time away from the friendship to rebuild her life and that she’d been fed up with mothering me. She said she had done a lot of work on herself and that she thought the issues she’d had before could be resolved.  It was incredibly painful to see her, she’d almost broken my heart when she’d ended the friendship in 2012. But she was very receptive to listening to my pain and, after a couple of meetings, we started to re-build the friendship and meet more regularly. She had changed and the competitive dynamic that had existed between us no longer seemed to be there.

I celebrate my recovery of 10 years clean from alcohol and drugs at a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous in Notting Hill London

I celebrated 10 years clean at the beginning of 2015. This was pretty amazing as I’d only gone into rehab at the beginning of 2005 to have a couple of months off my using. Doing the first three Steps in treatment had changed my life.

I’d received the novel back from the Literary Consultancy in January recommending a further re-write. I edited the book showing it to my neighbour Diane and her daughter in law who used to work for publisher Random House. Both of them finished the 520 page book in a couple of days saying that it was “riveting” “so funny” and “completely unputdownable.” I started the quest for an agent again.  William my friend from Shagger and Lurve Addicts Anonymous, said I should be on Twitter promoting the book. I thought, I’ve got nothing to promote on Twitter so I’ll start to write a blog. The first four posts flowed swiftly off my pen and were pronounced to be “hilarious” “sad funny and shocking” and “like Lord Byron” by William and others who read them.  Bloginhotpants had begun.

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A Day in the life of someone with hurricane force OCD – 16th April 2014

I have a nervous breakdown because of financial problems at my house in Notting Hill and start doing crazy OCD checking rituals 10 hours a day

The first thing you have to realise about my OCD is that it involves more kung fu poses than a three hour Jackie Chan film. And more texting than a teenager with text-it is.

Thus checking the lights are off is impossible without shouting either “dark dark dark” (if the room is dark) or “off off off” (if the room is light) accompanied by a karate chop motion in the direction of the lights. And when I say “a” karate chop motion, I mean I have OCD so I have to repeat this fifty times. The volume of the utterance is important, if I don’t render myself slightly deaf it is not quite loud enough. Naturally this means that no checking can be done while anyone else is around. And that my neighbours absolutely love me and have complained to my local authority about noise multiple times. The reason for the light checking is that (obviously) if I left a single light on the whole house would burn down. Other reasons for kung fu are checking there is nothing plugged into the sockets and that all the sockets are switched off as, yes you guessed it, if this wasn’t the case the house would burn down again. This involves moving around the entire floor of the house making multiple karate chops towards each socket and shouting “checked off, checked off” in the direction of the socket. You might think doing this once would be enough, but a crucial fact about OCD is that people who have it do not believe what is in front of their eyes. So I have to go round each socket at least four times.

The weirdest use for a kung fu pose is when I set my burglar alarm at night. Firstly as I stand in front of the display saying “Night Set” I have to do umpteen karate chop movements to impress it on my mind that the alarm is actually set. And then it is vitally important that between my setting the alarm and the two beeps going off to confirm it is set that I have time to get up the stairs to the landing and leap into a kung fu pose. If there is not a sufficient gap between my assuming the pose and the beeps I have to set the alarm again. You will not be surprised to find out that the only difference between someone who has OCD and psychosis is that the OCD person realises they are irrational.

I mentioned texting, nothing in OCD terms can be done without a text and in most cases a photograph. Thus in order to go to bed at night at my home (a four hour ritual) the following needs to happen. I lock the front door (in case invisible people might come in while I’m checking and disturb the house). I check the garden doors by banging on each of the three locks 300 times (as this often happens after midnight I’ve been reported to my local authority more times than the noisiest ghetto blasting crack house) The reason I can’t stop is because if I don’t check the doors 900 times a serial killer could get in and rape and murder me. I then text myself about the doors, then move onto the kitchen. I have to have positive evidence that the boiler is switched off as if the central heating was left on overnight obviously the house would burn down. I therefore have to photograph the boiler at least 15 times in order to get at least 10 clear shots that the boiler is off. If the photos aren’t completely clear I have to start again. I fear a fault with the boiler as much as being run over by a bus.

As part of the 10 hour a day OCD rituals I have to photograph my Vaillant boiler at my house in Kensal Green multiple times a night to prove it is switched off. Otherwise my OCD tells me the house will burn down.

I then have to check that the washing machine is switched off (multiple times) and that the kettle is unplugged. The kettle makes funny noises from time to time so obviously if it wasn’t unplugged overnight I would be burnt alive in my bed. Then the nightmare of the stove begins. It was at a 12 step meeting for OCD that I learned about checking the stove – I wasn’t previously checking it but when everyone at the meeting said they were checking the stove I thought, my God, there’s a gap in my checking, I must add it to my ritual right away. While realising this is irrational, I think that if there is a single speck of dust on the stove obviously, you guessed it, the entire house will burn down. I therefore have to spend at least half an hour cleaning the stove praying that motes of dust from the air don’t fall on it to spoil my work. I then send myself a fifty line text to confirm that everything in the kitchen has been checked.

The front door is another ordeal. Although it is locked, I need to unlock and lock it again (so I can see myself locking it) making sure that the bolt on the top is undone (if not everything has to be done again). I turn the key in the lock 400 times (to make sure it is locked) I then pull the handle of the door to check it is locked 400 times then (in case this pulling has dislodged the lock and unlocked the door) push it in 400 times. I then check each bolt is locked, you guessed it, 400 times, then I have to text myself about each individual lock and the number of repetitions. Then I have to shine the torch on the lock for about 15 minutes while texting myself “checked bottom lock is locked def locked def locked def locked shining in torchlight def locked shining in torchlight…” This text goes on saying the same thing 50 times. I have to stick to a certain amount of times to check everything as there are “good numbers” and “bad numbers” a problem common for people with OCD. Even numbers are “good” while odd numbers are “bad” unless, of course, they are multiples of 3 or 5.

I haven’t mentioned the windows. It is clear to me that anyone who sets foot in my house has a sinister urge to open all my locked windows, thus exposing me to rape and attack by serial killers. If anyone has been in the house, even if I’ve concealed all the keys in my pocket while they’ve been there, I have to check all the locks on the downstairs windows at least 400 times. In case you wonder how I have time for this, I have no social life, cannot answer the phone for the 10 hours a day I’m checking and have had to stop going to recovery meetings as I’m checking instead.

Then comes the ritual of the loft door. All the furniture from my rental property is stored in the loft, so it’s impossible to walk around. This didn’t stop me climbing over all the furniture for months to check that invisible people hadn’t opened all the windows, naturally because of the infestation of serial killers in my local neighbourhood. Unfortunately, my entry into the loft meant I had to do the dark dark dark thing with the lights 50 times, and the whole thing brought back painful memories of the violent row I’d had with Fred at 6am in the loft when he’d hit me and smashed up the house. So I decided I would lock the loft door. But that doesn’t stop the invisible people from getting busy with my locks. So every night I have to OPEN the loft door to check that no marauding serial killers have opened the door leading from my house to my gorgeous roof terrace. This involves not touching the lock (as it sets the burglar alarm off) but using a torch to forensically inspect the frame and glass of the door to prove it is closed and that I’m not under imminent attack. Of course for a normal person it might be possible to just look at the door but, for someone with OCD, I have to shine the torch slowly and carefully on every inch of the door. Then repeat that process 10 times.

Then there are the lights on the roof terrace which I fear would cause annoyance to my neighbours if they were left on at night. That requires a karate chop motion round every light 50 times. Then I have to lock the loft door and check it 400 times. You can see why I have no life. And why I kept phoning my social worker at the psychiatric crisis unit saying I wanted to cut my throat.

I was forced to move out of the main bedroom after I kept being woken up by a car alarm at 3am. As I was (literally) having a nervous breakdown trying to manage the building project at my rental property these 3am wakeups could not be endured. I first tried to board up the windows with sound proof boards, leading everyone in the street to assume that I had died. But when this was ineffective moved into the tiny back bedroom of my house. There was nothing in the main bedroom I’d moved it all out with me. But that didn’t stop me checking the locked door 200 times every night. Then I had to do the karate chop ritual with all the first floor lights. Then lie on my stomach (on top of a special towel to prevent germs) and hang over the top of the stairs and do (a slightly different) karate chop ritual with the downstairs lights.

Then I had to lock the door of the back bedroom turning the key in the lock 400 times, try to pull the door open (to prove it was locked) 400 times. Then close the bolts and check they were closed 400 times. As this back bedroom had no ensuite bathroom I would have to go through this half hour ritual every time I went to the loo, which clearly wasn’t possible so I was back on the bucket instead. But every time I did a wee in the bucket I had to do about half the door check again. Then I would check the chest of drawers and cupboards for miniature serial killers. Although the room was locked all day and so no one could get in those pesky invisible people who could get through locked doors forced me to check all the locks and bolts on the French doors at least 200 times. I say “French doors” due to my fear that an agile serial killer could put a ladder up to the 1st floor window I had had my builder board up the French doors with ply. I never saw daylight in that room.

Then finally before going to bed I would have to set all three alarms – and check they were set at least 50 times. And then because of my pathological phobia of being woken up in the night check my mobile phone and alarm clocks were switched off at least 300 times.

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Believe it or not this exhausting list I’ve gone through is less than half of the total checking I had to do. I should point out that every time I left my home for my rental property in the morning a frenzy of checking erupted. Although I had checked the house for four hours the night before and no one had been in the house, there is always the chance that those pesky invisible people will have interfered with the locks.

Thus on 16th April 2014, the nadir of my checking, apart from everything I’ve gone through above this is what I had to do at my rental property. The fear of fire at my rental property is even greater than at home as most of my capital in invested in my rental property and it forms the basis of my financial security. The reason the checking took so long on April 16th is because I hadn’t been in my rental property for a while. I was nervous at resuming the building project and therefore had only 3 hours sleep. As I’ve said before, if I’m tired I need to check more. I should also say with my rental property that the builders had drilled through a load of electricity cables, knocking out most of the lights on the ground floor. Although my electrician had repaired the cables, and the lights were fine, there was in my mind still a dangerous electrical fault.

The Roof Terrace

1) Repetitive checking – with a frenzy of karate chop moves – that the builders have left nothing plugged into the sockets and that the lights are all off. My neighbours think I am doing a new form of feng shui gardening.
2) Forensically check every inch of the roof terrace to confirm the builders have left nothing behind that would fall onto the heads of my very expensive neighbours in Notting hill. This would (obviously) lead to a massive lawsuit against me which would mean I would be out on the street.

The Top Floor
3) Photographing the switches of the boiler, immersion heater and the boiler display to prove both are turned off. As I fear the builders have done something to the boiler if it was left on overnight the house would burn down.

As part of my four hour OCD ritual at my house in Notting Hill I have to photograph the Keston boiler and the switches for the boiler and Megaflo immersion heater to prove both are switched off. Otherwise my OCD tells me the house will burn down.

4) Checking the French doors and windows.
5) Checking the sockets (“checked off” with a karate chop move).
6) Forensically checking every inch of the floor to see I have left nothing behind. If I left behind a wrapper of empty chewing gum the builders could obviously clone me and steal my identity.
7) Going back to the bathroom velux to check the self closer was on. Unfortunately when I closed the window again I did not hear it click shut and therefore had to go back to it and check it 50 times.
8) Lights

Middle floor

9) Check all the doors and windows.
10) Unplug the kettle, microwave and toaster then photograph them with the plugs on the counter so I have a record they are unplugged. If plugged in, obviously, the house would burn down.
11) Check the sockets and switches.
12) Check all the appliances are switched off (4 times).
13) Repeatedly twist the knobs on the gas stove to make sure they are in the maximum off position. Then photograph them multiple times.
14) Forensically check the floor for nothing left behind.

In the kitchen at my house in Notting hill as part of my four hour OCD ritual I have to photograph the Cookworks kettle, toaster and Daewoo microwave to show they are unplugged and also photograph the Neff gas stove to prove that all the knobs are in the maximum off position.

Bottom floor

15) Check all the sockets (the builders do often leave things plugged in downstairs so this takes about quarter of an hour).
16) Check the rear windows which, although screwed shut and impossible to open, could obviously be opened by the invisible serial killers.
17) Check the uplighters in the floor under the stairs and in the hall are switched off (4 times).
18) Because I’ve blinded myself looking at the very bright hall lights I cannot see when checking the front ground floor windows so check these 400 times. The insurance company specifies that the house is not insured unless these are locked. I fear not being insured more than being run over by a bus.
19) Turn off half the breakers on the fuseboard as I fear the builders have interfered with the circuits with their drilling frenzy and that, if they are left on overnight, obviously the house will burn down.
20) Photograph the fuseboard at least 20 times to prove that the breakers have been left in the off position. Examine the photographs and if they are not clear enough do again.

As part of my four hour OCD ritual at my house in Notting Hill I have to photograph the two fuseboards multiple times to prove certain breakers are switched off. Otherwise my OCD tells me the house will burn down.
21) Set the alarm.
22) Unfortunately as I am leaving the house and trying to send the text about the alarm, my mobile screen goes blank. This is obviously totally unacceptable so I have to set the alarm again.
23) On leaving the house for the fifteenth time, following various texting problems, the two beeps that confirm the alarm is set are not quite loud enough. This obviously means the alarm may not be correctly set and that there will be a burglary overnight and it will all be my fault. So I set the alarm again.
24) I lock the door, texting myself. But unfortunately I haven’t texted myself that I have locked the door to the right. Without that crucial qualification I may not have locked the door at all so have to lock it again. After re-locking the door, turning the key in the lock 400 times and completing the checking ritual 400 times, I then stand out in the street for 15 minutes staring at the house, saying “dark dark dark” with a karate chop move in the direction of all the lights. And then forensically check in front of the house that I have left nothing behind. My neighbours witnessing this obviously think I am insane and that care in the community is not working for me.

25) As I drive off one of the weirdest elements of the OCD takes place. Every time I leave a parking space I have to stop my car in the middle of the street, leaving the engine running and the doors unlocked, and leap out of the car into a karate pose. I then stare fixedly at the parking space, doing a karate chop movement and shouting “nothing left behind.” Obviously motorists stuck behind my car don’t seem to understand. But if I didn’t do this obviously I could leave something crucial like a credit card or key behind and my identity would be cloned and I would be raped and attacked by serial killers.

26) When I get home I have to undertake the ordeal of checking the car. The crucial fear with the car is that the car will be broken into or stolen because I’ve left something valuable in it or haven’t locked the doors or shut the windows. This would obviously be my fault and, as the car is irreplaceable as it is no longer manufactured, I would torture myself for years. This fear of making mistakes (remember the demon possessing my brain when I made a mistake on the building project) is behind the car checking.

1) I spend 15 minutes parking the car as it has to be precisely aligned to avoid a lawsuit. The wing mirrors cannot be over or anywhere near the pavement or some trigger happy claimant could trip on them and sue. The car wheels cannot be on or outside the lines marking the parking space or someone could crash into my car and sue me for parking it wrong.
2) While the engine is running, I push the buttons to raise the windows 50 times on each side. Even if the windows have not been opened those pesky invisible people could have tampered with them again.
3) Repetitively photograph the cigarette lighter to prove that I haven’t left
the cord for my Iphone plugged in. This would mean the car would be broken into and it would be my fault.
4) Using the brightest torch available, I have to forensically check every inch of the inside of the car to check nothing has been left behind while chanting loudly “nothing left behind.” I then repeat this 5 times.
5) I then lock the doors and (as there is a small gap at the top of the window that terrifies me) run my finger along the top of the window, lighted by the torch, at least 50 times on both sides while repeating “closed closed closed.”
6) I check the doors on both sides, luckily there are only two, at least 500 times.
7) I check the boot 100 times.
8) I have a great fear that I will have dropped a key in the street around the car. So I spend at least quarter of an hour looking underneath the car with the torch, then circle around the car with the torch at least five times saying “nothing left behind.”
9) I send a 50 line text about the car.
The car takes about 45 minutes, the whole checking ritual doesn’t finish till 5am when I collapse into bed exhausted, not knowing how I’m going to go on.

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Next week: my life changing recovery from OCD – I leave my house overnight for the first time in 5 years and reduce the checking from 10 hours a day to half an hour.

During a building works crisis in which my head feels like a bomb has gone off inside, the ex-armed robber comes to the “rescue”

I have a minor nervous breakdown during a building project on my house in Kensal Green and ask my ex-boyfriend the ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer round to give me support

After my novel had been delivered to the publisher, I set about trying to fix some extremely troubling things about my house. Firstly, because of my OCD, it was impossible not having an en-suite bathroom. This was because every time I left the room at night, I would have to check the laundry basket, chest of drawers and wardrobe for miniature serial killers, as well as checking the windows and locks on the door. Although I locked the door every time I went to the loo, it was obviously possible that invisible people would get through the locked door and open the windows again.  As re-checking the entire room required turning all the lights back on, and took at least half an hour, this process completely woke me up and ensured I never got back to sleep. As I was obsessed with sleep, this was intolerable. So I adopted a solution that had been used by all the occupants of the beautiful Edwardian House in Willesden Green which was, instead of leaving their rooms at night to go to the loo, to have a bucket instead. They didn’t even have the excuse of the OCD for this bizarre practise. So, obsessed as I was with the novel, I’d been using a bucket for almost two years before I embarked on the project to create the en-suite bathroom.

My previous building project had made me suicidal as, after having made a “mistake” in the project, I thought a demon was possessing my brain and forcing me to kill myself. This demon was unemployed so spent 24 hours a day hassling me. My other building project to build the house in Notting Hill had ended up with me out on the scaffolding at 3am (in the pitch dark) filling and painting the front of the house, wondering why anyone did this in the day. Even this tiny building project to create the en-suite bathroom had an incredibly damaging effect on my mental health.  The plumber was aggressive, the work kept being delayed, and after a couple of weeks I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown.

I was bereft after the break up with Sarah, my friend from “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous,” who I was totally out of contact with. So I called my Ex, Fred, the ex-armed robber round, desperate for support with the project. With hindsight this wasn’t the best idea. But before this happened he’d asked me: “do you think you and I are over?” and it was obvious he didn’t think we were. I was devastated as I had stopped fancying him, (temporarily as it turned out), so said to him at the time that we would never get back together. But I still felt he was the only man who understood and accepted me. I think, after all we’d been through, it was some kind of trauma bond. And he did give me “support.” Now, as far as I was concerned we were back together.  I wondered out loud whether he would move back into my house, and he said, “who knows what will happen in the future.”

Every time he came round to my house, the feelings between us were intense. But he was distant after these events, not phoning me up or paying me much attention. Despite this, I started getting hooked again and fantasised about us getting back together. While waiting for a response from the publisher to the first novel, I had started writing the sequel, which was about the break up of two characters very like me and Fred during a massive building project. When he read the synopsis he said “are you seriously saying this is fiction?”

I was devastated when the first novel was rejected by the publisher who said it was “too commercial” for their list. Nonetheless I was heartened by the detailed feedback I got on the novel which had been read by many people at the publisher’s including the Editorial Director. She said  “It is a multi-layered novel which deals with the desperate consequences of addiction through a complex family drama, successfully weaving the two together. There are convincing darkly comic moments and characters. Despite the appalling situations all the characters find themselves in, there is a sense of hope threaded through the novel which offers an uplifting message to a very serious topic. Overall, I thought it provided a real insight into addiction and exposes the sad truths behind it but it would be too commercial for our list.”  Having not bothered to try to find an agent, I set about doing this.

My male lodger, who I’d got on very well with and had been able to tell all about my addictions, had been fired and left suddenly. But after he’d gone, Bailiffs accosted my house about his parking tickets, sending endless threatening letters and turning up on my door. I said to him that, if he didn’t sort it out, I would give them his new address. But then I was overcome with a wave of paranoia, thinking that he was going to kill me. I also feared terrorist groups on the news were going to come after me, because of a couple of harmless jokes I’d written in the novel, so I had to stop watching the news. And that random people in the street were going to kill me. My therapist repeated her conclusion that I had PTSD.

I got a referral to the local psychiatric unit, telling them what was going on, and was horrified when I saw the letter they wrote to my doctor. Although completely true, it made me sound totally mad. They said that, although they’d confirmed the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, I may well have PTSD because of the threats from my mother when I was a child. I tried paroxetine to control the PTSD but this was a disaster. When I went to my local supermarket, I decided that the tiny cuts in the packaging of the frozen blue berries meant they’d all been poisoned by a blueberry-hating terrorist group. I took the blueberries home, wrapped in a thousand bags to avoid them poisoning the rest of my shopping. It was like having a nuclear reactor in my freezer. I was barely able to leave the house, thinking that an electrical wire was in the wrong place, and that the house would, obviously, burn down. And when I did, I had 9 panic attacks, thinking I was having a heart attack and called an ambulance. I ended that day thinking I was definitely going to kill myself. After speaking to my doctor I came off the paroxetine and resolved never to try anything similar again. At least, after I came off the medication, I was able to eat the blueberries.

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One event that did penetrate my total news blackout was the hacking to death and decapitation of off duty soldier Drummer Lee Rigby by Islamic extremists just outside London. Although I tried my best to avoid reading about the story, it was all over the front pages when I travelled on the tube. With paranoid fears about terrorist groups myself, this horrific event made my determination to avoid the news even stronger.

I spent the first half of 2013 sending the first novel out to a couple of agents, and working on the second novel.  As I spent all day writing about Fred’s rather idealised character in the novel, I fantasised about us getting back together. I wrote a detailed scene by scene breakdown of the third book in the trilogy, in which, at the end, we naturally re-united. But Fred’s interest in me was waning. He said: “for ages I was desperate to get back together with you, but now I don’t want to go back to what we had before because it was all about you.  I want things to be about me.”  Because of my mental health problems and that I had so much more money than him our relationship had been all about me with him in the role of caretaker. But now, despite the fact that I was facing a financial crisis, he didn’t bother to call me.

The thing that I had dreaded most was happening to my rental property: the dilapidated, totally unmodernised, house next door had been sold to a property developer who was demolishing and re-building the house. My tenants complained bitterly about the noise and eventually said they were leaving. I was facing a financial crisis unlike any I had had before as the house next door was a massive building site there was no way I could rent my house out. I decided that I would use the period to do some improvements to my rental property.

Before the tenants moved out I resolved to finish my second novel so, in a blast of creativity, wrote 75,000 words in 5 weeks, finishing the first draft.

I finish my second tragi-comic novel about addiction and recovery and a building project in Notting Hill

I was preparing for my building project most of the day, so ended up writing till midnight every night. Of course the fantasies about getting back together with Fred went into overdrive. I had created a version of him in the novel that I was completely in love with.

But when my tenants moved out, I had a nasty shock as it became clear that the house needed massive amounts of damp proofing. All the plaster would have to be removed on the ground floor and re-rendered. I had to move all the furniture out of the house, clearing it for the work. I had used an expensive builder, who had done a lot of other work on the street, thinking that the service would be better and have less impact on my mental health problems. My builder’s labourer started removing the plaster at the beginning of December. As the house was pulled apart and in chaos, and I had no prospect of renting it out, I had an upsurge of OCD. The sight of the empty house, with all the plaster gone, freaked me out as I walked around thinking, “I used to have a house, this is a building site.”

At first the OCD at my rental property would only take about 45 minutes a day and I would have to take only half a dozen photographs. I became obsessed with the fact that the builders may have damaged the boiler, so had to photograph the central heating controls to prove the heating was off.

As the building project progresses at my house in Notting Hill my OCD gets worse I started taking multiple photographs of the Honeywell central heating controls and checking the locks and windows and plug sockets 45 minutes a day

I would check all the doors and windows had been locked, repetitively. And when I found the builder had not locked the downstairs window I thought, see they’re careless I won’t be insured if this window’s not locked, I’d better check some more. At first I had left the machines in the kitchen on but, terrified of a fire, I started switching them off and checking repeatedly. Then I decided the builders leaving things plugged in may cause a fire so I went round the entire house every day unplugging everything and checking repetitively that everything was unplugged.  I thought if a single light was left on the house would burn down and therefore had to check all the lights at least five times.  I started on my path of a ninja warrior, doing karate chop movements in front of the switched off lights, shouting “Dark! Dark! Dark!” in pitch black rooms. I just couldn’t believe what was in front of my eyes. Luckily I was on my own, apart from the invisible people of course. When I left the house, I would stand in the street in front of the darkened house saying “Dark! Dark! Dark!” and doing multiple karate chop movements in the direction of the lights. All the neighbours thought I was crazy and they were right.

A catastrophe occurred in my life when I found out, on Facebook, that Fred was having a baby with his girlfriend and that the child was a boy. Fred, who hadn’t been a very good father to his daughter, had always wanted a mini me and now he had one on the way there was no way he would ever leave her. His strange lack of contact with me during the building project all became clear, he had known she was going to have a baby. I was devastated that he hadn’t even bothered to tell me letting me find out on Facebook.

I was so upset I could barely move, felt like I was dying inside. But no matter how much pain I felt, I had to keep myself together on the surface to supervise the building project.  I forced myself to go round to the building site, but inside I was dead. I was in total agony all the time so the OCD got worse.

I started having to take more photographs both at home and my rental property.

My OCD gets much worse escalating to 5 hours a day and I now have to photograph the Vailliant boiler at my house in Kensal Green as well as the Keston boiler at my house in Notting Hill

By my birthday, 30th December 2013, the OCD had escalated to almost 5 hours a day. I had a miserable birthday. The electrician who I’d found for my rental property, became threatening when I asked him for an invoice, and I’m pretty sure vandalised the house, throwing a bucket of plaster at the door downstairs. Being alone in close proximity to an angry, explosive, man brought back nasty memories of the row with Fred where he’d hit me and smashed up the house. I was terrified. I had invited friends to a meal at a restaurant but had to cancel it at the last minute because the meal would not have allowed enough time for the OCD. Then during the meal, which I spent alone with my friend Vas, a drunk woman from recovery came up to us and kept abusing me. It was one of the worst birthdays I’d ever had. As I hadn’t had time to do the OCD before I’d met up with Vas, I had to go back to the freezing building site after dinner to do three hours of OCD.

One bright spot on my horizon was that I’d reconnected with my childhood friend Susanna. I’d started to ring her up as I knew she’d gone grey because of problems with builders in her house. Soon, we were on the phone every day and I would regularly pop round to her flat. She was incredibly tolerant as I could never give a specific time, as it all depended on how long the checking was going to take. Just as Fred and Nicola had looked after me now I was being looked after by Susanna.  I also reached out to my neighbour, Diane, a therapist on the NHS who’d had OCD herself, and would be on the phone talking to her for hours at a time.

The OCD had become so bad that I’d gone to my doctor looking for help. I’d been referred for CBT at my local mental health unit and was waiting to meet the therapist. I’d also been put in contact with my local psychiatric unit where I’d previously gone to get the diagnosis of PTSD.  I phoned them and said I was desperate and was about to relapse on alcohol and drugs. They said “that’s not really our concern we don’t think it poses a threat to you or anyone else.”  I then went into detail about my behaviour on alcohol and drugs, warning that this would happen again if I relapsed. Once I was definitely a threat to myself and society, they decided they’d better help me and assigned me a psychiatrist and a social worker. I was sent a prescription for Sertraline for the OCD but, terrified at the reaction I’d had to the paroxetine, didn’t want to take it.

In February I received an email from Sarah, saying she wanted to make amends to me for any hurt she’d caused me. The email was light and jolly, and said she “was sure” everything was going well for me. As I was going through one of the worst crises of my life I couldn’t deal with the turmoil of contact with Sarah and didn’t answer it.

The building project was proving to be a nightmare. The main worker on the project was incredibly hostile, refused to talk to me and, when I tried to speak to him, would just ignore me and literally turn his back. It became torture to go to the building site, ravaged as I was by the situation with Fred. The builders were bemused by the OCD as, to them, my behaviour seemed irrational. They were doing a project opposite and would be there till 10pm every night. They would constantly try to get into my house to dump rubbish from the other site, which meant that every time I did the OCD checking I had to keep starting again. I began putting off starting the checking until they’d left every night so I’d still be in the freezing building site, not having eaten, at midnight. I started taking the keys away from them so I could start the checking earlier, which they didn’t understand. But the fact was I couldn’t start the checking if there was the slightest prospect of anyone else going into the house.

I would come home from checking my rental property at midnight, have dinner in front of the TV then go out at 1am in my dressing gown to check the car for an hour. All my neighbours thought I was mad, would ask me if I was alright, but I was so distraught I didn’t care.

At 2am I would start the 3 hour checking of the house, usually after phoning the psychiatric crisis line or a friend in recovery. Ivor, my friend who is a comedian, worked late and would always take my calls. I tried the Samaritans but they just didn’t understand. I wouldn’t get to bed till 5am absolutely shattered. But however tired I was I had to do the checking, in fact the more tired I was the more I had to check, it was a tyrannical master.

So many days I just wanted to fall screaming to the floor in my rental property not able to go on. And so many days I thought I would not make it through the day without ending up at the Liquor Store. When I was drinking I had not had OCD and part of me thought if I started drinking again the OCD would go away. I had practically stopped going to recovery meetings because they conflicted with my checking at the building site. But my sponsor in “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” convinced me that my life would get worse if I picked up alcohol. And indeed, just as I had to check more when I was tired, if my senses had been impaired by alcohol the OCD could have got worse.

When I would phone the psychiatric crisis line saying, “I feel like I’m having a nervous breakdown,” they would say to me, “you need to be on medication.” But the Sertraline had a warning that it could cause seizures in people who’d had epilepsy. I’d had epilepsy as a child and was terrified to take it. Eventually I had an idea: I could try fluoxetine another anti-anxiety medication which I’d taken throughout my twenties and thirties. I had had no adverse reactions to it and it had a much lower seizure rate than Sertraline. I was prescribed 20mg, the lowest dose, which did almost nothing at all. The OCD had now reached crazy levels.

Eventually the majority of the building project was finished with the OCD taking 9 hours a day. I took to bed for a month, locking up my rental property. Apart from being physically and emotionally shattered I also picked up a bug which I just couldn’t shake off.

After I’d done the checking downstairs and gone up to bed in the day I often couldn’t be bothered to come down to eat at night as that would have meant I would have had to do all the checking again. I was thin already, down to a hundred pounds, but started getting thinner.

The OCD was self-perpetuating: because it was so bad I couldn’t complete the building project at my rental property and therefore had no income. But the lack of income was the main reason behind the OCD. The building project next door was also never ending and kept missing every deadline they’d given to finish it. So, resolving that I would wait until the OCD had improved, I just locked up my rental property and went to bed with Bunny.

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Next week: a day in the life of someone with hurricane force OCD.

 

How I made it to 11 years clean despite having a nervous breakdown, 4 psychiatric relapses and thinking terrorists had poisoned all the blueberries in my local supermarket

I celebrate my 11 years clean recovery from alcohol and drugs at my house in Kensal Green

When I went into rehab at the beginning of 2005 my seriousness and dedication to my treatment can be deduced from the essential items I packed:

12 pairs of Agent Provocateur lingerie (in case I got lucky)

A vibrator (in case I didn’t)

Enough benzos and diet pills to get me through the first week.

17 pairs of designer shoes (later smuggled up to 70)

36 handbags.

My therapist said I looked like I’d escaped from the set of TV Sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous.” I sincerely believed this was a compliment. I had chosen St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, as I felt it would look best on my C.V. and hoped to bump into a celebrity. Despite having been arrested at Heathrow airport, as sundry dogs, passengers and tea ladies detected that my passport and all my possessions were heavily (and visibly) coated in cocaine, I considered myself to be a party girl who had simply partied a bit hard. Quite what party I was attending when I was scoring drugs in a Jamaican ghetto at midnight, thinking I was likely to be gang raped and have my throat cut, is still a mystery. Other adventures I’d got up to included being seduced by a  (female) teenage stripper in Jamaica, who’d killed someone the week before (and then stole my car). And deciding that the best medication for a cocaine induced heart attack, was (naturally) to take more cocaine.

Only a few days after the benzos I’d taken into rehab ran out, (which caused major panic attacks as well as a serious problem with imaginary insects that kept on biting me) I was forced to do “Step 1” of the NA 12 Step programme “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction that our lives had become unmanageable.” The reaction from my therapy group to what I’d been getting up to in Jamaica was, instead of the laughter and applause I’d been expecting, shocked silence and a recommendation “to write it all down as a public leaflet to warn people not to take drugs.” That Step 1 changed my life, reducing my denial from the size of the Titanic to a one person canoe. Instead of just having a break from my using, I now decided I was going to get clean.

After relating a catalogue of disasters with my mental health, the psychiatrist at St Chillin’s diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder and said I had “too many problems” to be treated in the private sector as I would “bankrupt my family.” This diagnosis came after previous diagnoses of clinical depression and bulimia in my early twenties. The psychiatrist said I needed to move to a state rehab. I decided I’d better listen to as my decisions had ended me up in rehab, totally broke. The only place my local authority would fund that had a bed, was a tough rehab in South London, bristling with ex-cons, where I met the “love of my life” an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail. Naturally, when I left residential rehab at the end of 2005, he moved straight in with me. But I’m not sure I would have got through that first Christmas out of rehab clean if he hadn’t been around.

I was going to 12 Step meetings, which I had always primarily viewed as places you went to pick up men, arriving at the end of the meeting, with my telephone number tattooed on an exposed breast. I had chosen a sponsor in “Divorced From My Drug Dealer Anonymous” because her handbag collection was much much bigger than mine. My handbags would fit in a small boutique, hers would supply the entire population of Beijing. My local authority decided I was too deranged to be left in society on my own, so my doctor referred me to the Waterview Psychiatric Unit where they had a programme to treat people with Personality Disorders. I immediately renamed it the “Prison View Psychiatric Unit” as water was as absent as lakes in the Sahara, it was actually overlooking a juvenile detention centre.

My behaviour at Prison View was bizarre. For 3 months I would leap out of bed at 3am in the morning to iron the leaves of artificial plants. As I had purchased thousands of leaves, to decorate the communal parts of the Dry House I was living in, this process took the entire night, leaving me completely shattered. From early childhood I had always had a manic surge at 3am in the morning, which the doctors said could be cyclothymia a milder form of bipolar. I was therefore put on respiridone, an anti-psychotic, which made me sleep at night.

The first major challenge to my sobriety came with my mother’s death in 2006, when I was a year and a half clean. This came after a horrendous six year illness in which she had been paralysed but shaking uncontrollably, having psychotic hallucinations and screaming from 5am to midnight every day. This unbearable situation was the major factor behind my drug addiction in Jamaica. Me and the ex-armed robber, Fred, went together to visit my mother in Jamaica as she was dying. It was shocking to see her, she was catatonic and barely recognised me.

Picture of me Caroline Turriff with my mother Hyacinth Turriff at a nursing home in the Jamaican capital Kingston

Then Fred and I went back together for the funeral which was devastating again. He was incredibly supportive and without him, I really don’t believe I would have got through my mother’s death without relapsing.

I then became obsessed with having a baby and purchased a family house. This had an unfortunate effect on the relationship between the ex-armed robber and me. He’d been perfectly happy living in a dry house which I didn’t own but as soon as he moved into my house, he started being aggressive towards me as he felt out of control. The next big challenge to my sobriety came when, after a year of escalating abuse, he hit me and smashed up the house in a frenzy of violence, causing us to split up.  I fell apart as he had been my lover, best friend everything to me. But my friend Sarah from “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” and her mother looked after me in their beautiful Edwardian House in North London. I thought I had found my perfect home and my perfect family.

This was shattered when they sold the house and I had a falling out with Sarah the following year. I turned to God, doing the Alpha Course on Christianity at my local church where instead of becoming  a Christian, I decided on taking a swifter route to union with God by marrying the Priest instead. Unfortunately he turned me down, with some excuse about a wife so I was left on my own.

I’ve had a number of psychiatric relapses in recovery, almost all linked to coming off medication, or my decisions to reduce the dose to lose weight, because of my eating disorder.

Encouraged by my sponsor in “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” I came off all medication in January 2008. This was against the advice of my psychiatric unit. I was OK for a few months but when I was facing what I regarded as a financial catastrophe, I fell apart, planning to kill myself every time I woke up shaking and terrified at 4am in the morning.  I had to go back on medication.

In September 2008  I become disillusioned with the family house I’d bought and saw another one I thought I should have got instead. I became consumed with an obsession to pour petrol on myself and light it killing myself and burning down my house, which lasted for two weeks.

After I split up with the ex-armed robber, I felt like a demon was possessing my brain and forcing me to kill myself. Every time I left the house I thought the demon was going to compel me to crash the car, and I was seriously contemplating going back into a residential psychiatric unit.

In 2012 I decided, quite unreasonably, that my former lodger was going to kill me and was told I probably had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was put on paroxetine to treat the PTSD but this sent me into a whole new stratosphere of paranoia.  I couldn’t leave the house and, when I did, I interpreted the tiny cuts in the packaging of the blueberries in my local supermarket as “evidence” that they had all been poisoned by a blueberry-hating terrorist group.

I Caroline Turriff am in complete terror as I think a terrorist group has poisoned all the blueberries at my local supermarket Sainsbury's Ladbroke Grove because of the tiny cuts in the packaging. I am so paranoid I cannot eat the blueberries.

After a day in which I had 9 panic attacks, and ended the day deciding I was definitely going to kill myself, I came off the paroxetine and resolved never to try anything similar again.

In all these psychiatric relapses although killing myself was a distinct possibility, using definitely was not. I had imbibed the 12 Step philosophy to such an extent that I believed that relapse was almost as bad as death. Indeed, when I was using, I warned by the doctors that I only had months to live so this was probably true.

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The biggest threat to my sobriety came when I had a nervous breakdown at the end of 2013 which was linked to a financial crisis and the fact that the ex-armed robber was having a baby with someone else. I had wanted to get back together with him.  The symptoms of the nervous breakdown were that I started to do crazy OCD checking rituals 10 hours a day, from 5pm to 5am in the morning. There were so many days during the nervous breakdown where I thought there is no way I will get through to the end of this day without getting drunk. Alcohol seemed a possible way out of the nightmare of the OCD, which was making me want to cut my throat, as when I had been drinking the OCD had been under control. My sponsor in “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous” convinced me that my life would be even worse if I picked up alcohol and I think that she was right. If anything, just as when I was tired I had to check more for fear of making mistakes, if my senses had been impaired by alcohol the OCD could have got worse. I used the 12 Step Philosophy of picking up the phone and asking for help to get me through the nervous breakdown, gathering a circle of people around me to look after me.  Eventually the OCD was brought under control by medication and therapy.

Though my 11 years of recovery from alcohol and drugs have been incredibly difficult because of my mental health problems, I have had one absolute rule: never pick up alcohol and drugs no matter how hard life gets. I have never relapsed on alcohol and drugs since I first came into recovery in January 2005, despite being bat shit crazy for parts of my recovery. My clean time date is actually some time in January, when the drugs I smuggled into rehab ran out. But as this date is rather wooly in my mind I have always celebrated it in the week of the 7th February, when I left detox.

I have done my whole recovery in 12 Step Fellowships, although I have always regarded myself as a 12 Step “dissident” as there are elements of the philosophy I disagree with. Thus I do not believe that addiction or alcoholism is caused by “character defects” or that the core of the illness is “self-centred fear.”  I think a lot of addicts and alcoholics grow up with fear, as they are often in frightening chaotic and dysfunctional households. The great weakness of the AA Big Book, as far as I am concerned, is that it has no acknowledgement of the role of trauma and abuse in creating alcoholism and addiction. I have by no means followed all of the “suggestions” of 12 Step programmes. I did not stay out  of a relationship for my first year of recovery, I did not immediately get a sponsor and, when I did, took two years to do any Step work. I have done no Step work for 4 years, while I focus on trauma therapy. Although, when I was on the point of relapse during the nervous breakdown, I spoke to my sponsor quite a lot, I rarely speak to her now as I do not need to.  I also question the 12 Step quest to rid yourself of “ego” as I think it is precisely ego strength that has kept me clean, despite my psychiatric relapses.

In the UK at least there is also opposition within 12 Step Fellowships to people taking psychiatric medication. I think this is a negative thing, which made me incredibly ill in my early recovery and has led other people who are depressed to commit suicide. The primary reasons my mental health problems are in recovery are because I am now on a higher dose of medication than I was in early recovery and I have had a lot of therapy.

My disaffection with 12 Step has deepened in recent months, as for the first time in my entire 11 year recovery I have been exposed to people who openly criticize 12 Step and say it is not the only way to get clean. This has shaken my foundations, as the received wisdom in 12 Step is that it is the only or the best way to get clean. I now think there are other ways and that total abstinence is not an achievable goal for everyone. I am in something of an Existential crisis around my 12 Step membership questioning certain fundamental tenenents. I am not 100% sure alcoholism is an incurable disease as I know some addicts/alcoholics who are now drinking socially. But my belief is that while addicts and alcoholics may be able to drink socially for a period of time all it takes is a bump in the road, a breakup, bereavement or job loss to get them back to alcoholic drinking. I have always believed in God and found prayer has been very helpful in overcoming my various addictions. But I have recently been exposed to a lot of very intelligent people online who do not believe in God. I am therefore questioning my faith.

I am still attending 12 Step Groups every week and have been sharing about my issues with “the Programme.”  Everyone has been very receptive to my questions so I do not think it is a cult. I do not want to stop going to meetings, as many people have cited that as a reason for relapsing. But it is not just fear that is keeping me in 12 Step it is the bonding and sense of togetherness. It gives the recovering addict a massive global network. Also in practical terms it provides me with a wide circle of friends who do not drink. My crisis with the “Programme” led me to (briefly) question whether maybe I could drink again. But everyone in my life, even those who have nothing to do with 12 Step, said I would be insane to pick up alcohol as my life is going so well. Through 12 Step groups, therapy and medication all my addictions and mental health problems are now in recovery. I am happier and more peaceful than I have ever been and am looking forward to what I think will be the best chapter of my life.

My blog is also going extremely well with over 7,000 hits on WordPress and  a US addiction website in the last five weeks. As a former reporter for BBC Radio and Television I consider writing to be my career and have been trying to make it with my own non-journalistic writing since 1999. With the blog, this is finally coming true.

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Next week: during a building works crisis during which my head feels like a bomb has gone off inside the ex-armed robber comes to the “rescue”