‘It is true that the literature of psychotherapy already numbers many works which recount the saga of recovery. Since the turn of the century, psychiatrists have increasingly elected to publish illustrative and exceptional case histories, and, not to be outdone, patients have increasingly presented their own retrospective sessions. This book is unique in that it simultaneously traces the course of treatment from the vantage points of both patient and doctor, as they evolve a delicate and difficult relationship which has personal meaning for both of them’. ( Yalom,1974, p ix).
In December 2010 quiet independently of each other Paul, an ex-health service user and homeless on the streets of Westminster for many years, and I, a counselling lead for a small Westminster counseling service for the homeless attended a three day ‘train the trainers’ workshop organized by The Personality Disorder Knowledge and Understanding Framework (KUF). (A national training framework developed and delivered by the Personality Disorder Institute at Nottingham University, the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, Borderline UK and the Open University). We got on well together and saw the potential for constructive collaborative work.
What follows are the accounts of our two different journeys. Which will hopefully will give an idea of own individual journeys up to the point of our meeting and what we have leant from each other in our joint therapeutic ventures with alcohol dependant homeless people at Hopkinson House, a ‘wet’ residential hostel in Westminster, run and managed by Look Ahead.
Who I am
Hi my name is Paul. I was born in the City of Manchester. I was raised by my elderly farther, my mother having left the family home when I was four. I had three other immediate siblings all older than me. First came our Christine, then it was our Susan, then our Tony. But sadly he committed suicide when he was only 16 years old. I was only 12 years old myself at the time and it was I and my farther who found him. He had hung himself with his Karate belt. Then of course last but hopefully not least there was me. I also had a half-sister and brother. They too were older than me. They did not live with us. Not long after my mother left my farther, all the rest of my immediate siblings went to live with my mother. As a consequence of this my farther kept a very tight rein on me and would not allow me to go out to play. When I came home from school I was kept indoors. I could not go anywhere unless it was with him.
This was back in 1969 and back then it was very unusual for the father to get custody of the children. So I unlike my sisters, (My brother Tony had been put in to care before mum and dad split up. That in its self is a whole other story.) I for some reason, that no one in the family can or will tell me, was left with my farther who in 1969 was 57 years old. (I was conceived when he was 53 years old.) So here I was a 4 year old boy left with this very old-fashioned Victorian thinking man. I lived with my father right up until he died aged 72 I was 18 at that point and I had never lived on my own before. I had just before my father died, moved into a bed and breakfast and I was a very lost and frightened young boy. With no real life experience, other than say that of what it’s like living with a very old, very Victorian man. I had to try to cope as best I could.
Life after dad
The people that ran the B+B Mr and Mrs L and their family were the kindest, nicest people you could ever wish to meet. They were from Ireland. I lived there for 4 years right up until they sold the place to someone else. The new landlord didn’t look after the place like Mr and Mrs L had done and it soon went downhill. As a result of this all of the decent tenants all very good friends that I had made there moved out. So I found myself all alone again and for the third time in my life, everyone who had been important to me left. It was at this point that I too decided that I wanted to leave the B+B as well. So without really knowing where I was going or what I was going to do I gave in my weeks’ notice and I was off.
My life for the next 20 years
It was at this point that I became street homeless. I was 21 years old and this as it turned out was to be my life for the next 20 years. So for the next 20 years my life consisted of sleeping at the back of churches and old disused railway lines, or anywhere I could get my head down. But also more importantly to find somewhere I could feel safe because the very first night that I had tried to get my head down I had a very frightening experience which left me very psychologically disturbed so that for the next 2 weeks solid I did not go to sleep. I was just too afraid. Eventually tiredness lack of sleep, and through sheer exhaustion I had to start trying to get my head down and hey wouldn’t you know it the very first night I try to go to sleep( in Manchester Piccadilly bus station) I was attacked. I don’t know how long I had been asleep for but I was very brutality awoken by some drunken guy kicking me as I lay on the bus station benches. After that I decided that maybe the Town Centre wasn’t the place for me so I went back to the one place I had spent the last 4 years in. That place was Withington the area in which the B+B had been. I didn’t spend all of my time on the streets living rough, there were spells in and out of hospitals, hostels, prisons, B+BS, or any combination of these places in one shape or other. 20 years is a long time to cover and this undoubtedly is not the best place to be doing it so I will leave it there. Suffice to say that the rest of those years were pretty much what you would expect of someone living on the streets. There were, nevertheless many more memorable moments in those years, but too many to mention here.
My life takes a different path
So now we jump forward to 2003. This was a watershed for me, a turning point if you like a point in one’s life when you come to that crossroads. Which way shall I go? I’d had enough I was in my late 30’s about 37-38. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on the streets but I just didn’t know how to change. All I knew was that I had to get away I couldn’t take living like this anymore. I was in prison at the time. It was nothing serious, yet another petty crime. I can’t even remember now what it was. Knowing me it was probably shoplifting. Anyway I had only got a couple of months and so it was at this point that I had a brainwave. I had about two weeks left on my sentence and as was the custom at the time I was going through the discharge process and as a part of that process I was taken to the reception area of the prison. Once there I was basically taken through the reverse of the process I went through when I first arrived, the only difference being that at some point in the proceedings I was asked where I wanted my travel warrant making out to. Back then the prison service would Issue prisoners with a travel warrant to anywhere in the country if the prison that they were getting discharged from was more than say 5 or 10 miles away from where they lived. So this was my chance. I had been waiting for this the last two weeks. But because London wasn’t where I actually lived I didn’t know if I could get away with it. As the officer continued to go through the paperwork I sat at the desk next to him with both dread and excitement in equal measure. Then that fateful moment when he asked me “where do you want your travel warrant making out to?” Without a moment’s hesitation I answer back “London!”… He doesn’t bat an eyelid. Yes! I had done it! Now I only had a few days to go and I would be in London, away from all of my problems. So over the next few days I convinced myself that this… was the answer to all of my problems. I have since learned that in doing this I was in fact doing what we call in Alcoholics Anonymous (of which I am now a proud member), ‘a geographical’. You see in doing this I mistakenly thought that if I just got away from Manchester then all my troubles would be gone. Then the day arrived. This was to be my biggest adventure to date I was so excited I just didn’t know what to do with m myself. So I did what came natural to me I bought myself some booze for the train. I was so full of excitement I was off to the bright lights of “London” where I could get away from all of the things in my life that were causing me pain, misery and suffering. Of course not for one moment did I ever think that it was I who was the cause of all that pain and suffering. No it was everyone else’s fault for the way things had turned out, for the way I had turned out.
London the beginnings of a new life
Not long after arriving in London, maybe only after about a couple of hours or so, did it start to sink in that I hadn’t really thought this through, and that I was now in a vastly larger City than the one I had just left. Not only that… and more importantly, now I was in a City that I did not know. It wasn’t long before I was back in the system jumping from one institution to another. So now I was back on the “misery go round”. I was homeless, destitute, in and out hospital, in and out of prison, and then back to the streets. Around and around I went. And then I found myself back in prison yet again. This time I was in a bad way I ended up having a nervous breakdown. After a while some people came to see me. They told me that there was this brand new unit and that things were going to be so very different. This time there was going to be people at the other end of my prison sentence, people willing to help. And I guess I was more willing to be helped this time. I was transferred from the prison on January 25th 2005 to a brand new unit. It was one of the first to be set up in the country devoted solely to people with personality disorder. I was under section and I stayed there for the next 2 years.
(To be continued….)