I had tried to get help before but through lack of desire on my part and incompetence on the part of drug and alcohol teams I’d never got anywhere. Some time in the summer of 2005 I’d been referred to a drug and alcohol team. I was clean at the time, looked reasonably healthy and was coherent. This was reason enough for them to dismiss me. It annoys me to this day that someone could be dismissed simply because they looked well. I was lucky, I made it in the end but how many other people have been turned away because the people charged with giving help don’t know much about addiction?
Before I did my detox I referred myself, I went to the interview purposely withdrawing, I knew that was the only way I was going to get help. They had to see how bad I actually was at the time. The woman who referred me to a rehab, along with the NHS saved my life. I had no idea what rehab entailed, I had an image of celebrities sitting around smoking Marlboro Lights while they took a bit of time out from their mad lifestyle.
The rehab itself was in the middle of nowhere. To this day I don’t think I’d be able to find it on a map. It was between Southampton and Portsmouth in the south of England, the nearest train station was about sixteen miles away. The house was beautiful and at one time had been a mental hospital. There was an alpaca farm at the back of the house, one of the residents jumped over the fence one day and took one of them for a ride. You think you’ve seen it all until you go to rehab.
For the first six months I just coasted along. I look back and realise I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to sort myself out or not. When all of your adult life has been lived in a certain way it’s hard to change it. You think to yourself, what am I going to do? Life will be boring without being able to go out and not being able to have a drink. You also have to take responsibility for your actions, that’s what fucks a lot of people up. As humans we don’t like to believe we’re wrong, it’s easier to blame someone else. As an addict, no one picks up but you. Regardless of what has happened in your life, you’re still the one who uses, you have a choice, use or don’t use.
Most of my time was spent cleaning mirrors or hoovering. There was a rigid structure, up at seven in the morning, breakfast and then a mixture of group meetings and doing chores until the evening. You always had something to do. As much as I hated cleaning mirrors repeatedly it makes you reflect, and not just literally. You couldn’t leave the grounds, you had one ten minute phone call a day and visits had to be approved and were usually once a month. A lot of people left because they said it was easier in jail than it was in there.
After six months I considered leaving. I wasn’t one of those many people who thought they were all right and could go back out into the world and be fine. I wanted to go out there and get fucked up. I couldn’t see the rest of my life living clean and sober. There’s a bizarre glamour behind addiction, you convince yourself life will be boring, that you will be boring. If I relapsed, it wouldn’t take long before I would be dead. I sat on a bench one afternoon and had to make the decision between life and death.
Death is a strange thing for addicts. It’s an accepted risk, you know you’re playing with your life and you know that it’s a real possibility. The thought of it isn’t as scary when you’re using. You’re selfish too, you don’t think about consequences or how you affect the people around you because there’s only one thing in your life and that’s your sole purpose for living.
I made the decision to stay. I talked to people and began to take responsibility for the way my life had turned out, I grew in confidence and a life of sobriety became more appealing. After fourteen months I finished the program and ended up in a flat of my own in Portsmouth. I have a million stories from rehab, I met some amazing people, some who are no longer with us and some who just couldn’t find the strength to stay clean. It’s hard to write about it because I don’t want to give up people’s stories, that’s not my place to do. Trust is important.
While living in Portsmouth I had to decide what I was going to do. Most of the people I knew in recovery circles wanted to go into the addiction field themselves. I flirted with the idea but realised it wasn’t for me. Communities in recovery can become overbearing and I didn’t want my whole life to be consumed by constantly thinking about a battling addiction. If you’re always fighting it, you’ve never beaten it.
I felt like a child again, when your emotional development has been stunted, you have to try and learn everything you should have learned years before. You’re a child in an adult’s body. You also don’t know much about life outside of getting fucked up and talking about addiction. Being in a residential rehab for fourteen months, your life is consumed by therapy and then you go out into the big wide world only to realise people don’t care much for psychoanalysis and thought processes.
I was given the chance to go to India in January of 2009. That was the defining moment in the path I have taken since. It was a U.K government program which sent 18-25 year olds to underdeveloped parts of the world to experience life there. I didn’t choose India, and at one point I wasn’t sure I would be allowed to go, they had doubts about my past and me not even being two years clean. I’d given up on it, until one day I received a phone call saying they’d accept me on the condition that if they had any inkling I was drinking I’d be thrown straight off it.
I received an email on my birthday telling me I was going to India. Excitement was quickly taken over by doubt. India was a place you’d see on wildlife programs or programs about poverty. Much like going to rehab, I had no idea what to expect. The day I left for Heathrow airport, I still wasn’t sure if I was going to go through with it. The whole way to the airport I kept telling myself I could turn around if I wanted to. Thankfully I didn’t
Arriving in Delhi was an assault on the senses. It was early January but still quite warm and humid. There were people everywhere, a lot of them stopping to look at the group of white people. The journey took us up to the Taj Mahal. It was one of those moments in my life where I had to pinch myself, from where I’d been two years before to where I was at that point. I was floating around, I’d found freedom and I wasn’t going to let it go.
Our final destination was in the Himalayas in the northern part of India. We stopped for a break at one point and straight ahead of us was the beginning of the snow-capped mountains. It was in those snow-capped mountains where I’d spend the next three months teaching children from small villages.
It was during this time I started to take up writing again. I’d bought myself a diary from a Tibetan enclave and used it to teach myself Hindi, spending hours learning the Sanskrit alphabet, copying the squiggly lines. I also used it to write down my thoughts. It was from that diary the first thing I wrote which I posted to a public audience came from. It was called ‘My Cow is Black.’ The children had to recite a passage in English about their cow being black which is where I got the idea from.
As well as teaching we had the chance to travel around the local area. We were invited to a local wedding and travelled there by sitting on top of a bus. It felt like something from a movie. We’d go to the Tibetan enclave at the weekends, it was high up in the mountains and you could watch as the snow clouds came across the top of them. I’d wander around the markets, buying things like yak fur hats just because I could. A few years before I’d been drunkenly dreaming of exotic lands far away and I’d actually made it.
The kids we taught didn’t live in abject poverty but they were not well off either. They had an innocence about them which has been lost in the western world. Our world is over saturated with technology. Most of them had never used a computer before. The boys would spend their time outside of school playing cricket, usually perilously close to sheer drops. Sometimes one of them would go bounding down the side of a mountain and you’d be thinking it was curtains before they’d reappear a few seconds later laughing.
The day I left, one of the kids was crying and wouldn’t talk to me. He didn’t want me to go. The kid had dreams of being a pilot, his English was exceptional given the resources available to him. The desire he had to make his life better at only eight years old is something I’ve carried with me. It also showed me it doesn’t matter a persons age or where they’re from, they can always teach you something. I’ve vowed to go back to the village, and I will do one day in the future.
When I came back to England, I was completely lost. I’d caught the travel bug bad. Within a few months I was back on a plane to India, this time on my own.
Part 1 is here