By Caroline Turriff
It was after I’d been ejected from ‘Prison Break’ rehab St Margaret’s in South London, for parading around in an over sexed way as if I wanted to f**k everyone, that I really learned to value 12 Step Fellowships. Not as a place to meet sexy people you might go clubbing with, as I’d thought before, but as somewhere you needed to go if you actually wanted to stay clean.
I crashed out of St Margaret’s into a women’s ‘Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous’ (DDDA) meeting in Notting Hill, walking in with my tits hanging out and pouting suggestively. They all thought, Oh my God what train wreck is this, she won’t stay clean for a day. Luckily there was a girl there who’d been to St Margaret’s and also had its charismatic leader, Ama, as a counsellor. The girl took me under her wing, hung out with me that weekend, and became my first female friend in the fellowship. In fact, because of the support from the women at that meeting, I was never left alone in those first few days. I started going to two meetings a day and would pick up phone numbers from women I’d just met. Without knowing me at all, they’d spend hours on the phone when I called them saying I wanted to use. I was in my beautiful house in Notting Hill thinking ‘I’m going to lose all this.’ But I still wanted to use cocaine, my finger hovering only a millimeter away from the self-destruct button.
Luckily, after less than two weeks, I was told by my substance abuse worker at Kensington Council that a place had come up at a women’s only rehab in West London, Hope House. As I was (temporarily) out of my lesbian phase, they thought they could ‘work on’ the over-sexed behavior.
Unfortunately, a poisonous woman had gone from St Margaret’s to Hope House, spreading lies about my bulimia, saying I spent half my life with my head down the toilet. This was definitely not true, the period when I’d been virtually living in the toilet had ended when I was in Jamaica. So everybody hated me before I’d even arrived. I found out, shortly after I’d got there, that they’d had a special meeting about me with all the clients as there was such animosity towards me. I had a particular falling out with one woman, Camilla, who was very aggressive towards me leading me to say to her: ‘how dare you speak to me like that’ in a group. She didn’t like me as I’d arrived with fake Louis Vuitton luggage. All of the seventy pairs of designer shoes I’d taken to my exclusive rehab St Chillin’s were re-located to Hope House, along with hundreds of bags. Due to the chronic shortage of walk in wardrobes, I had to store them all under the bed.
Now safely back in rehab, my commitment to 12 Step Fellowships began to falter a bit. I still went to meetings but would arrive at the end, with loads of makeup on and my cleavage showing, my telephone number tattooed on an exposed breast. The green contact lenses made a comeback. My age started shifting again. I thought ‘Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous’ was primarily a dating club where you went to pick up men and was extremely excited to see Russell Brand at a meeting in Notting Hill. Not that I knew who he was, I just thought he was incredibly hot. Fred, my ex-armed robber admirer from St Margaret’s, was phoning and texting but I was juggling all my different options. My efforts did not go unrewarded, I had 7 men from the fellowship wanting to date me while I was in treatment. I was told this was ‘using behavior’ in my therapy group but didn’t understand what they meant. I wasn’t doing anything with any of them.
Tragedy struck when over fifty people were killed and seven hundred injured in the London Tube and bus bombings on the 7th of the 7th 2005. It was the worst terrorist attack on the UK since the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing. And it came just a day after jubilant celebrations that London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. But as someone who never took the tube, and caught up with flirting with men, I didn’t connect with the disaster. Little did I know how these bombings would haunt me when I started to take the Tube.
Despite my obsession with men, the Mummy addiction continued. My next ‘perfect mother’ was a blonde, Jamaican patois speaking Irish girl who’d had her children taken away because of crack. Despite this small lapse in her parenting, I decided she was perfect for me even when she woke me up at 3am chatting shit with some ‘friend’ on the phone. I started following her around, trying to sit in her lap and convinced myself that crack was something all perfect mummies did.
I picked up an ideal Sponsor in the fellowship whose primary qualification was that she had more handbags than me.
My handbags could be concealed under my bed; hers occupied whole rooms full of her house. If I had a collection of bags that would fill a small boutique, she had enough to supply the entire population of Beijing. I considered this a plus point as it completely took the heat off me and my shopping addiction.
But amongst all the drama there was Fred, solid, loving, supportive and incredibly persistent. When his piercing blue eyes stared at me I felt totally safe, which was ironic given his mile long criminal record. Before we’d even kissed, he told me he loved me and would spend the rest of his life taking care of me. I said I didn’t want to go out with someone who smoked, he put out his fag and said he would give up. When we went to Hyde Park and his dazzling blue eyes mirrored the pure blue sky, I stroked his face and thought, this is what I’ve never had. As we’d been in the same therapy group for months, sharing intimacies, I knew him in a way I had never known any man before. He told me that he’d started fighting and being violent when he was sexually abused, desperate to prove he was a man and wasn’t gay. I told him all him all my most shameful secrets, that I’d only told to Ama. He said he didn’t care, that the only thing that would have put him off was finding out that I was actually a man.
Neal, the alcoholic from St Margaret’s, was also on the scene saying he loved me too. By comparing the two, I started to learn what true love really meant. Neal kept encouraging me to leave the rehab and move in with him. Fred wanted me to stay and, when he took me out in his elderly Vauxhall Astra, which I grew to love, always made sure I got back to rehab on time. He wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize my treatment. ‘Love is an act’ he said and everything he did showed that he genuinely loved me.
My former nemesis at Hope House, Camilla, completely changed her tune when she realized that her family were friendly with my father’s family in Gloucestershire. We started getting on like a house on fire. Once I had sorted the situation with her and found a new (rather mouthy) replacement mother I was happy at Hope House. Although they restricted my visits to Fred, concerned about his criminal record. Another slightly negative point about him was that he had shared needles with someone who was HIV positive for six months and slept with over 200 people. He said he’d lost track after that. Despite my multiple involvements with men, I’d still slept with less than 10. This was because my lady parts had often shut up like a vice, not allowing any willies in, a psychological chastity belt caused by a) lack of foreplay b) my mother’s Catholicism or, c) copious quantities of cocaine. I made him go for a sexual health check before I agreed to have sex. He was terrified, expecting the worst, but amazingly it was all clear. This kind of extremely good luck is why so many addicts in recovery feel they’ve been looked after by God. Just as we were about to do it, he said I’d left my panties in his bed. But when he fished them out they were clearly from Asda rather than Agent Provocateur and I said, outraged, that they belonged to another girl. He apologized, saying he couldn’t control himself as he was desperate to shag me. Then we both collapsed into giggles. We had sex in unusual places, often in public, at Westbourne Park Bus Garage and in his car outside Hope House, where I had an orgasm so huge it practically blew out the windows of the car.
Finally, reluctantly, as I was so happy there, I left Hope House and moved briefly into his flat. But it was far too small to accommodate my shoe and bag collection. My house in Notting Hill had been threatened with repossession after I’d spent the mortgage money on a Dior Bikini and 5 pairs of matching sunglasses. But this had been lifted earlier in the year when my aunt in Jamaica had paid off the mortgage arrears. It was now rented out, restoring my income to normal. My compulsive spending had gone into recovery in residential rehab after they had made me do an extraordinary thing – write down my income and outgoings so that I could calculate my ‘disposable income.’ This was a concept so complex and Kafkaesque that I had never considered it before – surely if you were earning 6,000 pounds a month you could spend 6,000 a month on fake designer handbags? But no they said there were minor necessities, like a mortgage, that had to be paid first. When I simply refused to grasp this they took away my credit cards. So I emerged from rehab solvent and for the first time in years, without an overdraft.
Despite my finances being restored, because I was ‘dual diagnosis’ ie crazy as well as addicted, I was allowed to rent a housing association flat in a dry house in Ladbroke Grove, on the outskirts of Notting Hill. Almost as soon as I moved in, Fred moved in too. And we spent our first Christmas together with his mother and teenage daughter on a council estate in South London. I don’t think I would have stayed clean that first Christmas if it wasn’t for him. It was different from the magnificent Christmases I’d spent with my rich family in Gloucestershire or relatives in Jamaica. But I was on an exciting new journey, into an unfamiliar world.