A girl’s day out in rehab


There was a woman there, early 60’s I’d say, and one day she announced she was a bit of a one in her day, she did love a good dance, and sort of waltzed with an imaginary partner up and down the communal room where we said prayers and got our post. And she was so lost in this waltz, which then turned into a bit of a jive. Waltzing, jiving, I could do them all, even pissed, I was a a BIT OF A ONE, she said.  I said quietly, no , a bit of a one means a slag, you were just a dancer, a drunk dancer, but a dancer. And she said, no, I was a dancer and a slag, and laughed heartily at her own joke. She had great legs and a broken veined complexion, the kind you see on people who pour whiskey on their cornflakes and think its normal. She had some sort of early onset very mild form of alcohol related dementia. And though everyone liked her and she was a bit of a laugh, no one ever wanted to go to the shops with her because she would get lost, or just go walkies, and you could never buy your stuff cos you had to find her. She said her daughters had disowned her and this brought up a fresh personal hell for me. It never occurred to me it could work that way around, that the kids could disown the parents. But they were grown ups as well, whereas my kids were still kids. Teens at least.

She loved Primark. She seemed to have a good disposable income and her favourite getting lost place was there, and the queue was always enormous. She liked those coats that looked like duvets. The Indian summer left quite suddenly and we were all rushing to the second hand shops to buy winter coats.  Addicts are not big on forethought. When we pack, we really only check we’ve got our drugs, clean knickers if we are we are not totally nuts. But the lady, the goer, the bit of a one in her day, she would only get new things. Hence, I seemed to spend half of rehab looking for the bit of a one in Primark.

I will always think of her dancing with her imaginary lover. For that moment she looked young, and sober, and you could see the beauty that had been ravaged by drink.

One day, two girls I lived with and myself decided to have a “spa” day. On our meagre budget, this meant going to the Vietnamese nail varnish and eyebrow tidying shop. They did your nails for less than a tenner, your brows for a fiver, your tache, if you had one, for three quid.  We went into the shop, giggling like young girls, taking in the strange smells of Vietnamese Pho cooking on a single burner in a back room where I think some of them lived, because there was a mattress on the floor, a bowl of oranges and some dirty Hello Kitty sheets messed up on the Tracy Emin like bed, that and dirty kid’s  nightgowns and pjs of superheros. Then there was the chemical smells of nail varnish, nail varnish remover and hot wax for ladies who wanted “Down there” seen to. I had no idea what she was talking about. She wanted to pour hot wax on someone’s private bits? Was this some sort of sexual pleasure-pain thing, or did they want women hairless down there, to make them look like children?

The dancer went first. They put the hot wax on what was left of her eyebrows and sorta ripped them right off. They painted her fingernails bright red. She had lipstick to match. She scrubbed up ok, though the over application of face powder made her look rather ghost like, more so than all of us junkies did anyway. We giggled. We read months old copies of magazines, all with Jordan or Katie Price on the cover. We made sure we did not lose the dancer. Occasionally I went into the back room, my guts in upheaval, demanding the medicine I could no longer have. The kids played quietly on computers on the bed. The toilet just had a beaded curtain. “Shut your eyes and ears and nose,” I implored them. They giggled. “You got the bad tummy?”


“You need the medsen?”

“Totally, I totally need the medsen, but nothing you have”

“We have rice. Very good for tummy. You too skinny Make tummy better, not so skinny”

The nail varnish lady, wearing a sort of gas mask, came in and shouted to the kids in Vietnamese”

I said to the kids, “Sorry. Sorry I got you in trouble. And like, for the war and stuff.”

They said nothing.

By the time I got out of the loo, drained , ill, just wanting to get the hell out, it was my turn. I had my eyebrows ripped off as well, leaving two angry welts, which she drew over with a pencil. The other girls were in hysterics. She did the bit over my lip, but it just turned into an angry, welted lumpy thing. I had my nails done in the same shade of the dancer, that way, if she got lost, I could show someone my nails and say, “Her nails are this colour.” Like that would work. 18 quid poorer, in great facial pain, fifty times uglier than when I went in, I slunk out with my friends, who all looked pretty OK, pretty even. We went for coffees, and one of the girls, a lovely girl, she just stared at me and burst out laughing. “They’ll grow back, don’t worry. The rash, well, it might settle….” here she burst into hysterics again. And I laughed too, it was hard not to.

“Well that’s not what I call I spa day,” I said, blowing on my coffee.

“Well we’re addicts, it’s a spa day for like, misfits”

We suddenly realised the dancer was missing. Oh fuck. Wait, I said, she’s probably gone to Primark to buy a coat to match her nails. So we left our coffees and went into Primark, and found her, slinking round the rails, looking for anything red.  I didn’t even have to do the nail thing. I still think of her , dancing in her reverie, when she was bit of a one. She may well still be, she may be dead. I hope she isn’t. I hope she is waltzing with her daughters.

why being off drugs is like being on drugs


There were teen parties in Queens in the 70s, I remember very little about them except the kids who had the parties were rich. They had pool tables and rec rooms. They had amazing all in one stereo systems. Everyone had a copy of Frampton Comes Alive, a double album that no matter whose house you opened it in, some straggling pot seeds would fall out. Everyone seemed to clean their dope in the gatefold of Frampton Comes Alive, the subtitle should have been “and you all can get wasted to the weary wah wah peddle and excruciatingly long guitar solos and say oi, Peter, no, I do not feel like you do, for I am not a rock god but a skinny 14 year old with a cheesecloth shirt and bell bottoms and a peace pendant round my neck, having a bit of a boring time at this party. There were two “sexy” games people played at the racier parties, so chaste were they , we really were innocents.  No one ever got preg playing spin the bottle. If you kissed someone on the mouth it was a huge deal, it meant you “put out” So I never. There was a more mysterious game called seven minutes in heaven. A guy and a gal ( can not remember the selection process, it was less random than a bottle spin) went into a closet and came out seven minutes later. Sometimes one or both were a bit flushed. I was spared the details. Some items of clothing may have been taken off, or unbuttoned.  Those kids for sure would wind up in Juvenile D centres of correction. Or pregnant, or both.

I never liked pot. It made lazy people even lazier, and bores even more boring.  What I liked to do best at parties was to imagine that I lived in the house, that that was my pool table, my dog, my garage with a deep freezer full of emergency pies My double doored fridge that made ice on the outside, my three toilets, each with a different decor and different scented Charmin loo roll that would hurt your bits, from the stuff they used to scent it. Each with different colour schemes a a tin of air freshener to match. Each with a box of matches in case the air freshener did not work.

But I digress. At some point in rehab a kid ,really a kid, 18, came to stay in our flat. He was addicted to the really strong pot they have now, skunk. He was spotty and had a not quite grown into his face sorta face, big tall body, little boy head full of weed. He worked in a chip shop. He had all the irritating habits of a teenager but none of the endearing ones. I didn’t so much want to mother his as to murder him. The trouble with coming off deaden your soul drugs is that feelings start to come back and in my case, some were murderous. I had  science teacher once who told us eight employees a year vanish near the frying vats of potato chip factories. I didn’t eat potato chips for years after, in case I was eating someone’s dad. I started to think of this kid falling into the vat of oil. Though chip shop ones would not be big enough to accommodate his outsize legs. We used to sit in the front room and glare at each other, neither of us having anything going for us. Me, middle aged, fucked in the head,full of sadness for my dead best friend, no drugs to deaden the pain. Him, a spotty oik missing his weed, the only thing to counter the tedium of asking “Do you want salt and vinegar with those?” and stinking that rank smell of hardly every changed cooking oil that seeps into every pore and lingers.

“Why are you here? Why are you not like, at a kid one?”

He had no answer and even if he did, it would involve stopping scowling at me to open his thin lips.

One night he decided to make himself spaghetti. He emptied the whole packet from Asda into a too small pot and the ends burned and the resulting mounds of glutinous mess (you’ve made too much , I observed) he tried manfully to shovel the whole lot down his throat, to prove the portion had been right for him.
“What the fuck has it fucking got the fuck to do with you?”

“Fuck all. I hope you eat the lot and feel terribly sick.”

And when I wasn’t feeling angry I was feeling sad. Once a week a guy came and stuck needles in our ears and we meditated. I meditated murdering him and sticking all the pins into him. Why was I so pissed off. Had the wind changed direction as I came off drugs and did I get like, stuck in an angry person’s head?  I was nicer on drugs, sure, comatose at times, and more vocal when I was angry, actually no I was not nicer on drugs, I was a pain in the arse.  But was just containing all this anger the only alternative. Was the rest of my life gonna be spent imagining teens falling into vats of oil, hippy guys who meant well being pinioned to death with his own acupuncture needles?  Guys ODing on spaghetti? (never saw that in a mafia film. Probably an impossible way to die) Wandering why I never got chosen for seven minutes in heaven?

But but but, something nice was happening in all this, just for a few minutes a day. It was October, a rather warm one, and the way we had to walk from our flat to the centre every day meant cutting through a church yard, and in this church yard there was a really clean early morning smell, and I would not have noticed it before. I gazed at fat spiders in the middle of dew dropped dappled webs and noticed the fine craftsmenship, the beauty of nature.  People who’ve done a lot of acid talk about spider webs a lot, but never in great detail. Really, the most they say is “Wow, ” or “Like. Wow” or least originally, “We should give that spider some acid” I noticed the way the sunlight hit the brown and red leaves, making a sparkling crunchy carpet. I noticed the sound of the birds singing, waves ( when we were at the sea) crashing, going in and out, in and out ever so gently, never getting bored with going in and out, in and out, wearing out the shiny stones, washing away half built or demolished sand castles. I saw telly kid watching cartoons and eating chocolate cereal in his front room, net curtainless, in his school uniform. What a picture of innocence. Invite me in, telly kid. Invite me in to watch cartoons and drink tea and I will make you  a proper breakfast. After school I will take you to the sea and we will skim stones. You will be better at it than I am, making them leap four or five times, and mine would sink, sink like stones. But I would not mind if it would spare me this glut, this storm of feelings.  Gimme telly and sugar and another child, for I feared I had lost my own ones.

rehab, i forget which part


There was always a bit before you left, or graduated, when you had to stand in front of all the residents and tell your story. I heard a lot of these while detoxing off valium, and cried my head off, such was the tragic lives of these people, I totally wasn’t thinking of my own, I was in that middling state between coming off drugs which for the main part of my life , was told by American paediatric doctors ( like for kids, you get me)  were perfectly fine and acceptable for people with my anxious leanings. Then not so NICE came in with their no longer than two weeks directive to GPS and man I was FUCKED. I had to make shit up. I had to go to dirty doctors. I had to pretend to be the thing  I actually was , which was fucked. I had to queue up with whores and such like, the sad housewife on sad housewife drugs.


And it was time for one of my housemates to move on. His tale was so awful and raw and painful and pretty much every decision he made in his crime filled life was wrong, but he didn’t half bang on, as all the get rich quick and use their own stash types did, about his bloody watches. Watches and cars, the formerly flash gits, that was the thing, a nice watch, a nice car. A babe, yeah maybe, but never as important as the bling,watches, car, threads ( curiously all top of the range sportswear, not suits) STUFF. You sell drugs, you get stuff to show off, not for babes, but for showing off more stuff to other drug dealers. My car does more things if you press the right buttons, my watch tells the time in every country in the world, my sports gear needs to be drycleaned, my trainers need to be baby wiped. F was born into a life of crime and knew fuck all else. I listened to his story and cried to the point of dehydration. One of the workers said its the valium wearning off , her emotions are all at the surface, but you know I lived with the guy and knew nothing about him. And after his talk he went into something more halfway. We still facebook from time to time. I remember he had a go at me for bringing negativity into the house. I remember when we got bedbugs and we had to hot wash all our clothing and all his flash sportswear shrunk. I remember our 5 quid a day eating vouchers while we were in b and bs waiting for our house to be exterminated. I remember at one b and b my minder T, a lovely beautiful caring girl , I thought she might chose to share her room with bling sportswear guy but shared it with me. We had an Indian summer, and we went to the beach, and she gave me her sleeping pills but I was wide awake, watching The Sleeping Bones on HBO and crying my head off as she snored the snore of the justifiably tired.  There was no ventilation in the room save a window that opened an inch.  In the morning we all went down to the buffet for instant coffee, orange squash, toast and individual portions of marmalade or marmite. Everyone filled their pockets which was do-able so long as they did not unnaturally bulge.  I think we went to the beach that day. I did think, at that time, I could live with T forever, with her sleeping pills, with HBO, with individually portioned marmalade, with F and his sad tales of losing his posh watches and cars. Without good ventilation. It seemed possible in the getting off drugs time.

Now, most things feel if not impossible, not very likely.