Group therapy is riddled with the sort of words I despise. And at the end you’ve got to hug people who may have hair growing out of their nostrils and ears and you want to say, you know they have devices for that, I’ve seen them in the back page adverts of The People’s Friend, but you hug them and say shit like “powerful story, I could relate on so many levels” while you imagine that one long strand of nose hair growing downwards each day. This guy, he had something to do with Iraq, and his participation in a war he did not believe him, it made him crazy, and he was not on the front line. And I should have thought poor you, poor you having to do this thing you despise for money, that you think is immoral, and all I can think about is how when you cry, the snopt creeps down the nose hair. You are fucked to the very core, you feel , wrongly, perhaps rightly, never having been in the situation myself, responsible for deaths of small children in a foreign field, to provide for your own kids, to keep them in the style in to which they were accustomed, but that’s not even what you talk about. You talk about how you let them down by being pissed. Like all of us, on drink or drugs, with kids who we embarrass at some point or on a daily basis. We feel your pain, but we so don’t do nose hair.
And yet while you sob and weep and we nod and rub his heaving shoulders, I think of devices to zap that hair. each day I mentally recorded the progress of this strand and thought, oh, he could do a Rapunzel, except his name was Nigel, and the woman in distress would say Nigel, Nigel, let down your hair, so I may climb thy golden stair, and some sad fuck into cats and yoga, a bit like me, actually, she would climb up this strand of hair and find to her horror and disgust that it was not the hair of an Adonis in a tower, but the single nasal hair of a chubby bloke with emotional incontinence and a refusal to address the nasal and ear hair issue.And she would get to the top and shriek and unwittingly fall down and seem to commit suicide, and wind up in rehab , like me.
This guy ruled group therapy. He told the same story over and over again, about letting his kids down at some sporting function by arriving pissed. He got pissed because he could not deal with his role, however miniscule, with what he felt, what I feel now, after sitting on the fence, and despising all that not in my name shit, placards held by twelve year old kids who lived in zillion pound houses,all that was the illegal war against Iraq.
No one else could get a word or problem in edgewise. In group time.
Except when I felt bad, which was most days, I was more or less like the nasal hair Iraq sporting event guy.
Except my sadness was more selfish than his. At least he was crying for a whole nation. I was just crying for Paul, and for others I had loved so much, who had died too young.
And I sat in that chair every day, and one day this kid came in, a little older than my own son, and he said he wanted to live in our flat. He needed a mother. He was a grumpy teen who worked on a burger van, and he just didn’t seem all that different from the teens I had left at home: grumpy, opinionated, angry, into his junk food. Mess everywhere. Except he was into his weed more so than normal. Not even sure my kids ever touched the stuff. And we had explosive rows. Mum and teen sort of rows. One of our mantras was “patience and tolerance” and I would say ______, I am trying so hard to access my patience and tolerance, but I feel so much like punching your burger and weedy detox eyes lights out.
There was another woman, arrived in such a state she had no idea where she was or how she had got there. She smelled very badly, of piss, and sick, and other bodily waste products. Someone said, ah, all your senses are heightened as you are no longer under a chemical cosh. And I said, nah, she just really stinks. And she wondering around, pissing and vomiting and looking confused. This is not abnormal. Then one of the group leaders, sensing my midway point on the road to recovery, asked if I would be her buddy. I said, but she’s pissing and projectile vomiting, and she doesn’t know where she is.
He looked at me as if to say, “So , what’s your problem with that?”
I said I didn’t feel well enough myself to handle her welfare, but she came to live with us anyway, and pissed and threw up for a few days and then when she sort of woke up, I asked her if she knew where she was and how she got there. She said, “Last thing I remember I was trying to sell my flat. Was it to you?” Did you buy my flat and bring me here?
I said no, I had been living in a bedsit, I was dirt poor and we were both of us unwell, which is why we were here.
And then I had to tell her the rules. “No drink”
Fuck that, she said.
“You can’t go anywhere , even to the shop, without two other people.”
Fuck that, she said.
I said they had detoxed her and now she had to learn to live without drink or drugs.
Fuck that, she said, I have to go, I have to sell my flat.
But who to? Maybe they thought it was just some drunken babble.
“No, it was a real deal, with lawyers and everything. Oh, I detox all the time, then I am OK and get drunk again, but first I have to sell my flat. Can you ring my lawyer?
“No, I said. “I think you should stay here longer than the detox bit. Otherwise you’ve paid all this money just to piss and puke when you could have done it at home, for free.”
“The home I am selling, if you ring my lawyer.”
I will not ring your lawyer.
“Would you like to buy a house?”
“No, I want you to stay here and listen to some stories. Some are good, some are crap, but eventually something might sink in.
Then there was the French slasher, he had slash marks over the only clothes he owned, which is the ones the French cops brought him in. He said he lived in the red light district in Paris, he fucking ruled it, he was the main guy, drugs ,babes, babes on drugs, the lot. And heroin. His heroin detox was ramshackle, not through the support team but through himself. He left valium all over the flat. I found this the hardest part of my recovery. If he leaves it on the floor, he won’t know it’s missing. I also knew if I took it , I’d be back to square one.
I asked him, “So , what’s the deal with the knife slashes”
He said bad people were after him, it was safer to be in England. He needed some clothes.
“But you yourself, you are not a bad person,” I said, my eyebrows forming a little question mark.
“Mais non, a leetle brown dealing, but you know they want it, I provide how you say the service”
“But do you stab people?”
On occasion, but often it is not essential.
So I rang one of the team leaders and said oh the guy likes to stab people, should I hide the knives?”
“You are being catastrophic. Worst case scenario. Hide maybe the sharp knives”
“None of the knives in this flat can slice even a cucumber”
“Problem solved then.”
I grew to like the French stabber. He endured his detox manfully, vomiting quietly, taking the tablets at the required dose, being polite, being French, speaking in a lovely accent, even when his words were ugly. They got less ugly the less drugs he took. He had a beautiful wife. Maybe kids, I can’t remember. I pictured him in the future, a picture of health, Breton shirt and garlic round his neck, French stick under his arm, on a bicycle. People might stop him and ask for heroin, and he’d said “mais non, garlic.”
I also lived with women whose children were in the care of social services. There but for the grace of my still sane ex, would go my kids. Their stories are too sad to tell. My story, at times ,is too sad to tell, if not for you, for me. They wanted the kids, but they also wanted drugs. You really can’t have both and be a good mum. I found this out at great cost, to myself, and to my children. I alway operated under the illusion that if you hid it well enough, or it was endorsed by your doctor ( to me the most appealing part of the late 60s was manic prescribing of Benzos. Fuck free love. Sedation will do me fine.) it was all legit, it was all Soma. I only found out years later Soma was meant to be a bad thing. TBC