It’s been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs but I’m definitely getting there and I want to say a huge thank you to everyone at Turning Tides from the staff at St Clare’s and the Recovery Project to everyone at STAH and SSP for all their support. Also a big thank you to Health Central for helping me get through it all. If it wasn’t for all those different people I don’t think I would have made it. Every single person helped me, even Brendon. My keyworker, Pete, was fantastic and got me through it big time. My keyworker, Sue, at CRI was great. People just put up with my moods and just listened to me. There are so many people that need thanking but there’s not enough paper in the world for me to do that...
I came out of prison in Feb 2009 but breached my license so got recalled in May. I was released again in December 2010 and stayed in a bail hostel until my license expired. I had no choice but to leave and had no place to go. I stayed on a friend’s sofa, then another friend’s sofa – they call it sofa surfing. I did this for 8 months before I recognised I needed some help and after going to St Clare’s Day Centre was offered a place at the Recovery Project. The Turning Tides is a hostel that helps people who are not just homeless but are struggling with addiction. I was there for four months trying to stay clean and work through the things I was finding difficult but I got asked to leave because I was still using class A drugs. I left in the December. This time I stayed with friends and then moved into a caravan. While I was living in the caravan I saw a doctor for some routine blood tests and found out I had Hepatitis C. I was still struggling with a drug addiction at the time and to have treatment you needed to be clean for at least one year. I knew I wasn’t going to get there without a bit of support. I went back to St Clare’s and wanted to try again. The staff arranged for me to have an interview for a place at the Recovery Project and I was moved back in by October 2012.
This time I was there for 7 months but it still wouldn’t stick. I still found it hard to want to take care of myself and stay away from drugs. Eventually I was asked to leave. This was the beginning of my first time being street homeless which went on for 5 months. I don’t know how people survive for any longer than that; it must depend on what kind of person you are. One night in you think it’s going to be okay, one week in and you’re afraid, cold, always tired from being awake at night. I found myself getting more and more used to a ‘druggy’ type lifestyle but feeling I needed to be part of a group to keep safe. It was a difficult place to be because to be in a group you had to do what the group did and my addiction became worse. I did try to spend a couple of nights on my own but I didn’t sleep at all, I was afraid what would happen to me during the night. I remember thinking prison would be a lot easier and considered committing an offence to try and get back there. I stopped myself though; I knew that while I was in a bad place going back into prison was not the answer.
Throughout my life I haven’t known much different from feeling often quite scared, alone and dependent on substances to help me feel okay. I had no idea what life could be like but I saw other people going about their days living a life that seemed to have ore meaning and more purpose. I used St Clare’s again during this time for the hot food and drink, toilets and showers. I spoke with the staff but I probably wasn’t their favourite person. Nine times out of ten I’d be speaking to them and be completely off my face on legal highs. My addiction to legal highs was now my primary problem.
I wasn’t in the right frame of mind during those 5 months to engage with the service properly but after a little while something changed. I met with the staff at the Day Centre and they said I could possibly have a space at the Short Term Assessment Hostel (STAH); I met with the manager of the project and she explained how it worked and what the rules were. I remember I moved into STAH on the Thursday, had my last legal high on that Thursday morning, as one of the people I was with had some, and moved in. Friends in Portsmouth helped me out with a bit of money. I was not in a great place but I knew I needed to get off the streets.
I was interested to see what STAH was like. I’d heard it was stricter in some ways than the Recovery Project and I actually found this really helpful, especially in the early days. It all seemed quite black and white, behave and stay clean and you keep a roof over your head and receive the support your need or use drugs and alcohol and face a life on the streets. This might seem quite harsh but for me it was the structure I sorely needed.
One of the things I found difficult was sharing a room. Even though I had shared in prison this was completely different. If you didn’t get on with someone, you were still stuck with them and this was challenging. I am a very neat person and I remember sharing a room with one person and being frustrated at their lack of cleanliness and tidiness. After a while I started to feel like I needed to move on. I knew I wasn’t ready to live totally independently but I had heard about the Stepping Stones Project (SSP) and wanted to move there. I kept asking my keyworker but he was worried about my blood sugar as it had been all over the place and was concerned about me being alone in a house that was not staffed 24/7. Eventually I took my keyworker along to see the doctor with me who said if it would help my mental health, which was declining, to move to a different project then I should do it. I was still due to start my Hep C treatment so was keen to get everything in place so I could begin this.
I moved into SSP which is a house share where staff still pop in but there is more independence. I still met with my keyworker and had his support but felt more like I was standing on my own two feet. When I was there I realised that if I had moved there as early as I wanted to I might have struggled with the independence. It’s important to be totally ready otherwise you can end back at square one. I understood the staff had my best interests at heart; I just was impatient to get my life moving forwards.
I started my Hep C treatment while I was at SSP and am now waiting for the final all clear. The treatment is another story entirely as it’s quite an experience. I could not have undergone the treatment without a permanent roof over my head as just the basic things such as keeping my medication refrigerated would have been impossible and the support of the staff at this time was great. The project staff had to put up with my mood swings which were a side effect of the treatment and the doctors and nurses and all staff at Health Central were always listening if I needed to offload. My main treatment was in Brighton; my keyworker came with me to these appointments to help me remember everything I needed to do. There were 3 hepatology nurses at Brighton Hospital, Kathy, Alex and Magella who were brilliant. I was so grateful that I saw the same people each week so I did not have to keep repeating myself, it made everything a lot easier and helped me get through my treatment.
It’s been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs but I’m definitely getting there and I want to say a huge thank you to everyone at Turning Tides from the staff at St Clare’s and the Recovery Project to everyone at STAH and SSP for all their support. Also a big thank you to Health Central for helping me get through it all. If it wasn’t for all those different people I don’t think I would have made it. Every single person helped me, even Brendon. My keyworker, Pete, was fantastic and got me through it big time. My keyworker, Sue, at CRI was great. People just put up with my moods and just listened to me. There are so many people that need thanking but there’s not enough paper in the world for me to do that.
Thanks again to you all from the bottom of my heart.