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.






living with former prisoners has its good points- rehab part 7


We had to go to a fellowship meeting each night, so after all day hearing crying and a shitstorm of wasted lives, smashed families, broken dreams, we had to hear it all again every night, only with prayers and biscuits. In drafty halls. I liked the prayers, though they were Godless to appease the non believers. That’s all the higher power stuff. Plus I liked the more dramatic stories, you could tell they quite enjoyed telling them, particularly the narcs. They really, really still loved heroin and no matter how much they said life was better now, without it, some wistfulness in their eyes, like a guy talking about his first sweetheart, body glistening with sweat and chlorine at the open air swimming pool, you can not replace that longing look, even if you can replace the longing. And though I’ve never taken smack, nodding out in a room where no one cared, seemed better than sitting , freezing, in a church hall, with broken ribs, and my mug of instant coffee with its granules floating to the top, tepid, nauseating, and listening to all this very depressing stuff. 

And of course I was part of that shitstorm. I would put something out now and again. Not always nice. One guy said he drunk drove and either caused a death or life long injury (not to himself) and my first thought was wanker, you are getting a clap for honesty, for sharing, while some poor bastard is a parapalegic, pissing into an ergonomic bottle, talking maybe with one of those electronic Brief History of Time voice machines, wishing you a slow and painful death every day, or perhaps he or she is already dead, and everyone said well done for saying that, how brave, and I stood up and said boy am I glad they took away your driver’s license.


One girl, her dad was the king of some sweetie emporium, so she always had sweets, and strangely, great teeth and a knock out figure, she came up to me and looked at the cross around my neck and said, how could you say that, you, a Christian, you should forgive him. And I just wanted to kill her, and him, and explode the sweetie factory, for good measure.  What would Jesus do. He’d forgive and turn the sweeties into loaves and fishes, and the water into tepid coffee.

The ones I hated the most were run by these Hells Angels reject types. Bald on top but long ponytails, pot bellies, would laughingly say only poison now was Starbucks and cake. Their stories usually involved hot chicks lured by the promise of good drugs, cars, fancy watches ( they were really into their watches, surprising now as most had no jobs and really only had to show up for meetings) swallowing condoms full of drugs, near death experiences, waking up in alleyways covered in piss and shit and vomit, how the piss is a relief at first when you are bursting and its warm, but how it gets cold real quick and stinks, collapsed veins that means there are fewer places to inject ( testicles for guys, dunno where the girls did it) how easy it is to get drugs in jail, how you have to be really tough in jail, how jail makes you worse unless you find God or Allah, how you go out and score as soon as you get out. And everyone would  nod and smile like yup, been there, nearly died four times, those times I was covered in shit ,wasnt sure it was my own ( cue laughter of recognition) and I wanted to just stand up ( but I couldnt cos my ribs were killing me) and shout oh fuck you, my dealers were my doctors, it was all very nice, my little green NHS script, before that, in the States, other script pads, before the days of computers, and I never shat myself , not literally, and I never did all that stuff. This was like some Guy Ritchie movie I couldn’t follow.  I never even stole anything and I raged this thought to my mate G, and he said, maybe you stole your kid’s mum away from them. And then I cried for real. That made sense.   I mean if someone said it, like, in a made for tv movie, I would have said what shit dialogue, but it got to me. And after he said that I stopped being so obnoxious in meetings, stopped glaring at the fat Jim Carrolls who had not died, died died, or written anything half as good as the Basketball Diaries,  and started to really listen, trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything, I could relate to. And in one meeting this beautiful girl, I mean drop dead gorgeous, smart, young, she told a story bout getting some gig at a doctor’s office or pharmacy and my ears pricked up. She mentioned the V word, Valium was her poison too and she did lots of the same shit I had done only was younger and smarter and got better faster. And I fell a little bit in love with her. And I wanted her to take me home and fix me and I would do exactly what she told me to, but I could not because I was about half way through the programme and and already decided to move back to London. And she could not have done that stuff anyway. And I would have just egged her, like don’t you miss it just a bit, I mean not the almost dying bit, but all the other good bits, the feeling calm all the time? And I am such a salesperson I can’t help thinking we might both wind up back on it, but she was and is still strong and doing really well in her recovery. And so I love her from afar. 

There was one point in my flat when everyone except me and this other girl had been in prison. And we left the flat to rush to a meeting and the girl responsible for the keys left them inside the flat. And this was handy, cos there were four guys who could break into a house quickly, softly and without breaking anything. So one shimmied up the drainpipe and we got the keys. Another time we went out to do our basic food shopping and we all had to sort of babysit each other, like couldn’t even walk through the alcohol aisle. And one of the guys picked up the loudspeaker and said, “Today check out our discount on our own brand seeded loaf, and Michele, put the Smirnoff back.” That was probably my first proper laugh there. I liked hearing my name on the loudspeaker and I was no where near the booze, but I enjoyed the joke. The guy didn’t even get in trouble for using the loudspeaker. I didn’t like that guy all that much but he gave me a book called The Shack about what happens when a man’s daughter is brutally murdered, and he meets all these spirit guides. And I cried my eyes out every page of that book , and anyone who has ever lost anyone they loved, they should read it. And it hit me then that everyone who “fixes” on drugs then fixes on something more acceptable, like sweets, or exercise, or meditation, or meetings.  And I told G I don’t fix on jackshit, only pills, only specific pills and specific alcohol, and then I read the Shack, I read it constantly, in bed, like porn. Only not like porn cos it didn’t make me feel sexy, it made me cry til I was practically sick. And I got it. I fixed on death. Which is like the worst thing to fix on cos everyone dies, often way before you do. TBC




rehab part 5- I get on the train and go


Rebab and such like, facilities for the nervously impaired, always looks great in movies with beautiful chicks. Think young Natalie Wood on a rolling lawn, with a starched white nurse, probably drip feeding her narcotics simply for being a teenager. Winona Ryder hanging with Angelina, eating Ice Cream in New England. Beatrice Dalle, heavily sedated before her lover snuffs her out and goes home to eat a life affirming pot of stew in Bette Blue, sweating in his wifebeater, remember all the great shags he had before the amor went fou. Even Cuckoo’s Nest with the hideous Jack Nicholson looked kind of fun, and everyone was sedated. Best of all was Valley of the Dolls, poor little Patty Duke, sitting in some sweating machine to slim down or calm down or something. Patty Duke was girl next door cute, also on piles of real drugs in real life, you know. And in the film bonkers, on shitloads of precious and marketable sedatives. So what I wanted was to be put in a sweating machine, on a rolling lawn, with a Valium drip, and somehow, I would get off drugs by being on more drugs, the same ones I liked. This made perfect sense to me at the time. And at the end I would emerge fresh-faced and dewy and forgiven, and get out, find another dirty doctor, but just HIDE it better this time. Or plan B, which was that I would be so sedated and lifeless, a Native American would come and suffocate me with a pillow. And everyone would be all like, “Oh, we should have just let her take drugs forever, then she would still be alive.”
But here’s the thing about rehab. They don’t give you drugs, they take them off you, and Valium is one mother of a drug to withdraw from, if you’ve been on and off em for most of your life. I was running for the shelter of my mother’s little helper waaay before I was a mother.
The people on heroin were off it in a week, sometimes less. They got sleepers and , I think, Valium, as part of their detox. I was the only Valium queen I think at the time I was there, and my detox took a month, gradually cutting down, but even when it’s gone, it’s not really gone, because it has a very long half life, and lurks about in your piss and blood and saliva for ages after you’ve taken your last one.

I can’t remember much about the train journey to Bournemouth, except my broken ribs poking out at jutting angles. My upper torso looked like a broken toast rack. When I arrived at the centre I was photographed (I still have it, I don’t recognise that woman) given some coffee, watched a bit of a film, and then saw the doctor, who made me spill all my drugs on the table. He let me keep the suppositories to stop throwing up. The rest he took away.
I was then taken to the flat in Boscombe which would be my home for the next three months. There were five bedrooms, dorm style, with wardrobes, a single bed, and a communal kitchen and living area. One lovely woman who had been there for a while was my “buddy” who looked after me for the first few weeks. Apart from her, everyone else in my flat had been on heroin and most had been in jail at some point. She had been on heroin, but not in jail. Every night we had to go to a 12 step meeting, either for Narcotics or Alcohol or Cocaine. I preferred the cocaine ones because the people, even off cocaine, were rather zippy and energetic. I didn’t like the Narcotic ones because the people there seemed from another planet. They would speak in street slang and prison slang and drug slang and talk really fast about sticking pins of brown in their pound coins with me going, what’s a pin, what’s a pound coin, what’s brown, and my translator would say, needles, heroin, testicles, and give me an extra strong mint.
There was one meeting, mostly guys in their 60s who had been young in the 60s, and they would laugh and say, “Back in the 60s man, drugs were really drugs, everyone had everything, and you got the chicks and the drugs and the music, and now here were are in a smelly, cold room drinking coffee and eating Rich Teas, but I love it man, I love this life.” But when they talked about the 60s, it seemed so much better. How on earth could being in this overcrowded room with guys who had like, had their legs amputated cos their veins had collapsed, drinking Costco decaff, how the hell could that be better than being high on drugs and having sex with beautiful women also high on drugs, while listening to, maybe Hendrix or the Byrds or Motown, I dunno, better music than Alan Dull Ray, who was on permaplay on the music channel in my rehab flat share. It was also the year PJ Harvey’s When England Shakes came out, and a friend of mine got me a copy and that CD was my salvation. I still get weepy when I hear it, and used to think , if I had only learned the zither and were multi talented, I could be in a puffy sleeved white frock making an award winning record, instead of stinking of stale rollies ( everyone smoked except me, they told me I was “Isolating” and I said, I hate the smell of rollies in my hair.) And when I used to sit bunched up in a chair, to hold my falling apart body together and my ribs in the place I approximated they should be, they said I was sitting in a defensive posture. I said I was holding my ribs in.
On one of the earlier days there, we had a “fun” afternoon out, bowling. There was a guy there with so many morphine patches on him, he was permanently on the nod. And therefore could not grasp the concept of bowling and for the short bursts of wakefulness, would try to participate, once, by being the ball and rolling himself down the aisle to knock the pins down. He ran, rather staggered, away a few days later. There was F, in and out of prison all his life, and now an all singing feel the love of recovery sort of guy. He chastised me for bringing a negative vibe into the house. I said I was on downers, and coming off them, and yeah, it sucked, and if I couldn’t say it sucked here, where could I say it. Then there was the chancer, the wrongun in a high achieving family. His best story was about bringing different girls home and his bed was in a tight spot, so that your feet hit the wall. He was caught cheating when his regular girlfriend noticed footprints on the wall that did not match hers. She said, “Those are not my feet,” and left.
Those are not my feet. I love that line.
There were days when it didn’t feel like rehab at all, but some strange awayday trip. Once day, during a glorious Indian summer, we all went to the beach, and I realised perhaps some normal family, like I was once part of, were on a budget break, and looking at all of us pale, thin, ghostlike apparitions standing at the sea front in dazed wonder.
We attempted a game of football, those of us who could stand and run. I sat on the side, feeling the sea breeze on my face, starting to think , maybe I will come out of this, and come to the sea, and the sea will be enough.
And a dog came and joined in the football game, and scored a goal. The woman who owned the dog came up to my new friend N, and myself. She was trying to work out the nature of our gathering. And trying ever so hard to find the right, English stiff upper lip way to ask what a bunch of half dead junkies and alkies were doing on the beach, playing football with her dog. “What is the nature of your gathering, what brings you all together?” And N piped up , “Drink,” and I added, “Oh, and drugs as well.”
“Freddie, woo hoo, Freddie, ” she shouted in a voice that was a bit too shrill to disguise her panic, to call her dog.” Then we’d head back to the clinic in the van, gather in the common room and get our post and notices and for those of us still on them, our pills. I was the last in my flat to get my detox certificate. It was laminated. I got a round of applause. It was better than graduation.
But then I had to write a Dear John letter to my drugs. My immediate response was “but they will never write back” and my key worker said, “Well, they probably have nothing new to say anyway.”
I have never written a letter where I have to break up with a guy. I usually just tell them, or leave, or both. But drugs, I’d been with them almost all my life. The letter went right back to my Lower East Side days, remembering how I loved to stick my thumbnail in the carved out V in the blue pills. I remembered all the doctors I had seen, the cute French one who gave me piles of em, the dirty one in East London who always looked cagey and miserable, the words typed ( as it was in those days) on the label on the bottle, “Take as needed” or something to that effect, or “as prescribed,” which amounted to the same thing, which was pretty much always. The nice one who I lied to about all my other supplies. The Turkish one I told I needed for flying, and that I flew a lot. The near investigation from the DEA over the forged script. The ones the junkies would lower down in little pails on Delancey. You put your money in, they would reel it up, and they would send the pills down in the little pail.
I found it hard to write to the pills themselves, so I wrote to the people who gave them to me. I said thank you for getting me this far, but now I have to figure out how to do it, life, without you. To the pills I couldn’t say, we had some great times, because we didn’t. I just wrote, and I still mean this, you were always there for me. But I really friggin hate that expression, often uttered in soap operas or in talks about good friends, “You were there for me.” I never knew what that meant. I still don’t. I thought it would be funnier to write to Crystal Meth, so I could say, “You were my rock” but I never liked Crystal Meth, after finding some in a paint box and staying up for three days, during one of the hottest NYC summers on record, fanless, air conditionless, and up. After various attempts, I just wrote, oh, why don’t you just fuck off and leave me alone. But as soon as I wrote it, I wanted to ring it and say, “I take it all back. All is forgiven! Can we still be friends?” And maybe I put it in the letter, I can’t remember, I just remember the pills never wrote me back. And that kind of says it all, really. TBC

rehab part 3


Oh, OK Paul is dead. We don’t know the details. Cops came in, our friend went in first. He was hunched or slumped in a corner. Dogs needed walking. Our friend walked his dogs. Someone had rung his wife, who we hear had just screamed. A really long scream. Takes big lungs. I know that dead husband scream. My mother had screamed it in Liverpool, at the top of the stairs, before melting into her nightgown and evaporating in 1967, when my father was killed. It is a particular pitch, that scream. I think it must be the one that makes light bulbs explode, and the light dims forever or it feels like they will be forever, before you go, oh hey, I can get another light bulb. Or a torch. Something. Life will not always be this dark. Only you can’t see it at the time. You can’t see anything.

We cried, or I cried, maybe he cried, on the bed some and then I said oh, we have to call his parents. By which I meant, I have to ring his parents. We threw some clothes on, went round to his flat and there were  men taking him away, all covered up. We went next door to our friend who lived next door to him.  A lot of our mutual friends were there, pacing, smoking, red rimmed eyes. I went into a room and rang his family house in Belfast. His mum answered. I said Hi, it’s Michele and I have some very bad, bad news, the worst news.

His mum was very composed. A little confused because I was not sure how to tell the story, what little of it I knew. He had not been answering his calls, he had not walked the dogs. He was doing , or not doing things , and this was unusual. I didn’t know the details and didn’t really want to. I know when I think of this phone call, these terrible feelings come up in me , as if it is happening right now, even though it isn’t, it is four year later now. I said , look, it’s about Paul, and it’s bad, really really bad. We couldn’t get hold of him, they couldn’t get hold of him, and then they found him.

Where did they find him, she wanted to know. I think at this point I had led her to believe he was just missing.

In his flat.

“I’m not sure what you are saying. Are you trying to tell me my son is dead?”

“Yes, I am trying to tell you your son is dead. Yes. I am so very sorry.”

She said something to her husband. We agreed it would be best to stop talking just then, and maybe talk a little later. 

All I really remember about the next fews days is ringing people to tell them, then taking lots of drugs and ringing the same people to tell the same story. And taking the same drugs. And telling the same story. And more drugs. You get the picture. And some would say, “Um , yes, we had this conversation.

A few hours ago. And yesterday as well. Are you OK?”

“No. I’m the opposite of OK. The total opposite.”

I didn’t say that. I said:


“Oh, sorry, I’m going through a list. I guess  I didn’t tick you off the list. But really, the reason I’m calling is Paul is dead and we have to do a funeral and of course you will come, I’ll let you know.”

About 16 months after those dark, eternal days, ( in the inbetween time I had left my husband and kids, moved into a damp bedsit , did drugs for a year solid and nothing else solid came into it. I staggered down to a room in Hackney Central where we sat in a circle while a guy stuck pins in our ears, to get off drugs or drink. It didn’t work. So I got into rehab. That did work.) I went to visit a friend who was outside this particular circle of friends, and I told him the bare basics. My best friend died, I went crazy, left my husband and kids and lived in squalor for nearly a year, then went to rehab but I’m OK now, so like are we still friends, you and me?

And he looked confused. He said, “Wait, this guy was your friend. Not your husband, you are talking about him like he was your husband.”

“Oh God, no, we never, no, no it was never like that. No sex, not that kind of love.”

And this friend is quick witted and I thought I had fed him a line which would be along the thoughts of, just what I am saying, no sex is what wives have with husbands, or don’t have. I rest my case, you are talking about this guy like he was your husband.

But he wasn’t my husband and even if he had been , that would have not been an excuse to go and create the massive shit storm I did.

And here’s the thing about bad grieving. It’s a selfish animal if you let it become so. It not only consumes you, if you let it, but no one else is allowed to be sad too, you have to be the saddest, because that shows you loved the hardest and most.

Well I have tell you now, with the wisdom of hindsight, that’s a load of horseshit. TBC

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, yeah, alright then. Part One.


This story is not tons different from the other rehab stories I’ve read, fucking up, selfishness, loss, redemption, more loss, but it’s different in parts, so stay with me. It’s kinda long so I may have to tell it in installments

After a series of up close and personal deaths, wham bam thank you mam deaths, fast and close and not a ton of in- between space to figure out what’s it all about , Alfie, moments, I took shit loads of drugs, some legal, some illegal, and chased em with Russian vodka. This was  trick I learned from one of my dead best friends Drew ( not a drug death , an AIDs death, before they had anything smarter than AZT. Take a valium, chase it with two shorts of vodka, and nothing really matters.  Drew got any drug he wanted cos AIDs back then was  a death sentence, you want heroin, sure why the fuck not, your number’s up and you may as well spend the remaining painful days in comatose oblivion. )
 I went to visit his mother in New York after he died.  She  had a totally white and pristine apartment. In his declining months, when he would do laps round the hospital with his drip and grown up nappies,  the nurses opined he was trying to out run his own inevitable mortality. But that day I visited his mother, after he had died and they scattered his ashes in Central Park,she said, “I know it sounds terrible but he would run round the apartment naked, shitting and vomiting on my white carpet.  I said Drew, will you please just shit and puke in one place, so there is only one stain, not a series of major carpet cleaning stains, but he was so out of it.” His body had  a mind of its own. “Cleaning it all, my God, it cost a fucking fortune”

He came to visit me in London, in my bedsit in Finsbury park, nicknaming my Italian landlady Mrs. Manafuckingcotti. He cruised the disused railway that ran up to Ally Pally, and made a bee line for Soho, his gaydar still being keener than anything else. One night he told me, “Oh, I don’t have HIV anymore, I have full blown AIDs,” before spitting out a mouthful of pesto and pasta I’d made us for dinner. “Don’t take this personally, but I hate pesto and the AZT makes me throw up anyway” and he ran to the toilet and stayed there for some time. He said, “Don’t fucking cry on me, Michele, I’m the one who’s got it, not you.” And I cried my head off and between puking he shouted “Oh shut up already.I’ll share my drugs with you, the good ones, they give me whatever I want because I’m dying.”
After he was finished vomiting and shitting he went to Soho. I wanted to have the conversation with him, was he making other people sick, was he seeking out complimentary treatments? He did that hand wave “stop” sign he always did, told me to book us tickets to see the Crown Jewels, and “forgeddaboutit.”
We did the sights, he was sick a lot, and we lay curled up in my single bed while he shivered and sweated and then he would pop up and demand to see the changing of the guard.
He died a couple of years later, when I was pregnant with my second kid in London. They scattered his ashes in Central Park, I may have been too pregnant to fly, or too agoraphobic, I can’t remember, but I had heard it was a windy day and when they tossed the ashes they went flying back into everyone’s hair and faces.

This story isn’t really part of the big story, only in the sense that he taught me how to achieve oblivion faster without anyone noticing all that much, or even if they did, you would be too out of it to care. I managed what I thought was a sense of normality when my kiddies were young. We went to museums, parks, libraries, swimming pools, we played Monopoly “This is so you can learn about Capitalism and greed” I would think, before buying up all the railroads. My old man was killed on a train, so it felt like some kind of Karmic payback. I can’t remember ever finishing a game. It was too boring.
I made them healthy packed lunches and dinners, I let them make drumkits out of all the saucepans. We went on picnics. Holidays. I let them jump up and down on the beds. I watched The Aristocats about five million times. I watched their puppet shows which were all about some puppet popping up and then disappearing and then I would have to shout “Hey, where did he go?” Sometimes I threw Lego at the puppets to teach them about criticism. “Oi. Do something else besides disappear. The plot is very thin.” They’d do another show, wrapping sheets around their little Batman and princess pyjama’d bodies and singing and interpretive dancing to Kate Bush’s Babushka. No matter how many times they did this, it made me laugh. When we got cable tv I made them watch Siouxie and the Banshees and would say, “This, children, is proper music. Not the Spice Girls” And my daughter would say, “That’s not singing. She’s just shouting. That’s not dancing, she’s just kicking her legs up and down.” And then we’d have to listen to the Spice Girls. And every shitty early 90s volume of Now That’s What I Call Music. And we’d all dance and jump up and down on the beds.
I tell you all this to say I wasn’t always the asshole I became. I was a devoted wife and mother for a sizable chunk of their young lives. Sometimes I went on girls nights out with my friends and at some point they’d all start bitching about their men. I never joined in. I had a great guy. Really, I had nothing to complain about. Until some of my friends started dropping dead. I think then, I sort of made Drew’s little handwave to life and went uh uh uh, I don’t do death. I do drugs.”
To be continued.