Guest Post: Every Step Home – Part 3

Today we come to the conclusion of my first guest post with Paul (Part 1, Part 2).

Starting the AA group                         
As the art group progressed some of the guys started to ask me how I had managed to stay sober for so long myself. I told them that I was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and that this was the sole reason I was now sober. Probably like me they too had tried to stop drinking before and found that they couldn’t and just like them I too had tried many times to stop drinking but could not. I could not do this on my own; I tried to cut down, tried switching drinks etc. but to no avail. I tried medication and therapy none of these things worked.
Then one day when I was still a patient at the Medium Secure Unit, in a ward round my doctor said to me “look Paul we’ve tried everything with you and so far nothing has worked so how about trying AA”. Well I can tell you I was not at all happy with this. How dare he even suggest for one moment that I was an alcoholic the impertinence of the man! “No way am I going to AA”. I shouted across the table at him. “I know that I’ve got a drinking problem but I don’t want religion rammed down my throat” you see I was already prejudiced prior to investigation. So I had these preconceived ideas of what AA was all about. Eventually though I had to concede. After all they had been really fair with me and had reinstated my ground leave and I guess somewhere deep down I kind of knew that maybe this is what I should do.
 So as I told the guys all about my journey, going to my first meeting, getting my first sponsor, having my first slip and how I got to where I am today, some of them started to ask about getting an AA meeting set up there in Hopkinson House. I was more than happy to do this but first I would have to talk to some of the more senior members of AA to find out what I would have to do to go about this. As it turned out all I had to do was go ahead and set it up and if I needed any help with it just get in touch with the local G.S.R group (General Service representative group) it is like a business meeting for all of the AA meetings in a particular area; each AA meeting has someone as a G.S.R representative who represents their group at this business meeting. This is the place to go if someone wants to set up their own AA meeting and needs help with literature and other practical things. I then spoke to john about asking the management at Hopkinson House if we could go ahead with this and they agreed.
The first meeting went ahead without john being there as john couldn’t make it that day. It was a resounding success we had 5-6 people. I had asked my sponsor to do the first chair for me (A chair is where a person from AA comes and tells their story and shares experience, strength and hope with his/her fellow Alcoholic’s). We got a good response from the guys. Sadly, though not all the meetings went well. On one occasion we had to hold the meeting in what is known as the ‘wet lounge’ because the room we had used before was not available. This was not ideal as that then meant those who had come with bottles and cans of strong beer were able to drink them unchallenged and this made things a little difficult.
The person that I had invited to come and do the chair was constantly being interrupted and all praise to the man for being so patient with them, but it meant that those people who wanted to listen could not concentrate on what the man had to say and for those doing the interrupting they were not taking what the man had to say on board. I was unsure as to what I should do about this situation. Not having a lot of experience in running an AA meeting where people are openly drinking. The best thing to do I thought was to do what I have seen others do in an AA meeting when someone is being disruptive: just let them have their say but then try to gently coax them to be quite and try to listen to the chair. As it goes even though some of the guys were drinking and were interrupting the chair, they were none the less asking very good and relevant questions. All in all it turned out I think to be a very productive meeting despite it being held in not the most ideal of rooms!          

Co-working with John
They say hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I guess they must be right because it is only now 9 months later, that I can see how it was for John working with me. For John then, going to Hopkinson House was part of his work as a counsellor for Westminster council and therefor a very great serious responsibility. So when I started working with John it was for me, (to begin with at least) a very exciting adventure. And I suppose I didn’t feel that same sense of responsibility that John must have felt every time he went to Hopkinson House. I was very green I had no real experience of being in the world of work never mind working with someone else. I was also just finishing my time in long term therapy and had not gotten used to being with people on an equal footing so in some ways and on some level I think that I was seeing John as an extension of that therapy. As for the way John perceived me during that time I feel he was spot on because as a person with borderline personality disorder I can be very intense. For me as an ex-service user working with John, I guess I was still in client mode. One thing about being borderline is this very intense need to be liked especially when we meet someone for the first time and we really like that person, the trick then is not be rejected so in order to make sure this will not happen we tend to over compensate. Again as a borderline I find that I can be a very needy person. I feel that the whole experience of working with John was what it needed to be at that time. I hope to be working with John much more in the future and with my experience now of working with Mr M.B clinical psychologist I have found that I can work with a professional person on equal terms and it be an equal partnership. I hope that John and I can find that same working relationship.

There is one last thing I feel I must say throughout the time that I spent working John, I at all times felt very much supported and considered. 

In conclusion                                                        
Working with John has been both a privilege and a pleasure I find John a very genuine and caring person, someone who really wants and tries to make a difference. I have found him to be consensual in the things he says and does and has a genuine need to help others. I hope to work with him more in the future and hope that together we will be able to open doors for those of us who didn’t get the breaks in life that most of us take for granted. I feel that I have been very lucky in my life despite all the hardship that I have experienced. I sometimes forget how lucky I am and take for granted the things that I now have in my life. Working with John has helped me to appreciate what I have. I have loved working with the guys at Hopkinson house and despite the anxiety and fear of doing something that I have never done before I feel that it has helped me to become a better person.
Pauls struggles and ability to turn his life around is quite inspiring to me and gives me hope that no matter how big the obstacles are, there is the chance to overcome them. Not only overcome them, but to move past them and continue into a brighter future. I want to say thank you to Paul for sharing his story with me and allowing me to share it with you. A lot of you write to me sharing your experiences… either your personal struggles with BPD or your struggles involving someone with BPD. It’s enlightening for me to hear what others are dealing with. It helps me gain perspective and insight into my own life. I’d love to hear more of your stories, I’d love to share more of your stories… with your permission of course.

Guest Post: Every Step Home – Part 2

Good morning everyone! Today we pick up where we left off in yesterday’s Guest Post with Paul.
The M.S.U (medium secure unit)
I underwent intensive psychological therapy as well as cognitive therapy. It was whilst on the unit that they diagnosed me as having what is known as a borderline personality disorder. Again I have cut short the story of my stay at the unit somewhat, because as you may have noticed in some of my earlier paragraphs I tend to get carried away and I guess there’s just not enough room in this paper for all of my life story. When I eventually got discharged I was ready to strike out on my own. This time I had a better set of mental and emotional tools at my disposal much better than the ones my father had left me with. I feel that I still have a long way to go. I still mess up from time to time, but at least now when I do I deal with it a lot more constructively and a lot less destructively. I now have a place of my own. My very first home and I love it. I have gone on to achieve a great many things. One of those was to get involved in the KUF Awareness Training course, helping to raise awareness about personality disorder. I now deliver that very same training to the staff that looked after me when I was a patient on the unit. 

The KUF (Knowledge and Understanding Framework)   

    Later after I had been discharged from the unit my care team at the hospital had asked me on a number of occasions, to come and talk to the staff of both the unit and the hostel. (The hostel is a part of the units’ after care.)  As a result of this when the hospital was approached by the organisers of the KUF about getting ex-service users involved in delivering the KUF training my team thought of me. So that is how I became involved. It was while I was on the training course of the KUF that I first met John.

Meeting John


I first met John on the stairwell of the hospital admin, the same hospital where I had once been a patient. He was looking for the room where the training was taking place. I, unlike John don’t recall him asking me that exact question and so was surprised to see him walk in the room not long after. As the day progressed I became more and more confident and found myself doing more and more of the talking. As is often the case with me I was talking about my most favourite subject ME! When John heard my story he was intrigued I think. At the diner break (oh and just so there’s no confusion that’s lunch break to anyone reading this of a southern persuasion I am after all a northerner and ret’ proud of it.)  Anyway John, another guy (can’t remember the guy’s name now), and I went to the staff canteen to get some dinner (northern) John got lunch (southern) I am sorry I am just having a bit of fun!

 Anyway John and I got talking and it turns out that John worked for the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust in Westminster as a counsellor for the homeless. Well as I said before I was homeless myself and since I have been in A.A I don’t believe in coincidences. This was the work of a higher power. This was a god incidence. At least that’s what I choose to believe. I mean just what are the odds that not only do I get to meet a man who works with the homeless but also who is based in the very same area that I based myself in when I first came to London? I was unsure of John at first but that was because I had never been in a position like this before, where for the first time in my life I felt equal to the people around me. No longer Paul the patient but Paul the equal. I guess what I am really saying here is that I was unsure of myself. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t really know how I should act I was not a professional like John nor did I have qualifications. I hadn’t been to university and I didn’t have a degree in anything. What could I possibly have in common with these guys? But as we sat there talking, things just seemed to flow naturally and I soon found myself being accepted as an equal. What’s more I soon found that I didn’t need a university degree I already had the best one of all. I had a degree in a life that had a wealth of knowledge and experience a life in which all of my experiences both good and bad were worth a great deal.                               
Hopkinson House

When the KUF finished, John and I stayed in touch. We exchanged phone numbers on the last day of training and agreed that we would stay in contact. Not long after that I got a call from John asking me if I would be interested in helping him at a ‘wet’ hostel (where alcohol is tolerated) called Hopkinson House. John works there as a counsellor to the residents. He asked me about my art and between the two of us we came up with the idea of providing an art group for the residents of the hostel. I was very excited at the prospect of this but at the same time I was also apprehensive, would the guys take to me? Would I be able to cope with being in a wet environment? How would it make me feel to be around people with whom I myself had not that long since been a part of? But my overwhelming desire was to give something back, to help even if that meant that I would be in a stressful environment.
As it turned out it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I got on very well with the residents. Hopkinson House was a massive revelation for me. I myself had been a resident in just such a place back in Manchester, not for very long mind. But it had been a far cry from what Hopkinson House is today. Although my time there was short, from the moment I was shown around I was amazed by the place. It just couldn’t have been any more different from the experience of the wet house I had stayed in back in Manchester. This place was clean for one thing and it had big bold, bright, warm and welcoming colours, everything looked brand new. To be fair all of this was fairly recent. So if say in 10 years’ time I was to go back would it have the same impact? I don’t really know the answer to that but going by what I had seen in Manchester I would have to say a resounding yes. To my way of thinking Hopkinson House is the way forward, no longer should these places just be somewhere people go to die as they were in my day, they should be more like Hopkinson House.

Starting the art

After all the introductions and tours around Hopkinson House it was time to get on with some art. About 2-3 weeks had passed since I had taken my first look around the place and I was starting to feel a bit more apprehensive. Was I doing the right thing here?  So one Friday afternoon John and I met up at a local café for a 30 minute pre-brief. We talked about how I was feeling and how I wanted to run the group. Pre-brief over, we made our way to the hostel. When we got there we were shown upstairs to quite a large, bright clean room. The room lent itself very well as a space where one could run an art group, I was very happy with it. It was perfect!
As residents started to come into the room, I was very nervous at first, so as a way of trying to distract myself from my nervousness I started to introduce myself. It wasn’t long before I started to feel relaxed. So for the next few weeks I really enjoyed running the art group. At times the group would get a bit lively and one or two of the residents would be a little disruptive but on the whole the things ran smoothly. One of the most surprising things for me was just how many of the guys had real genuine talent. There was one young man in particular as I recall. He hardly ever spoke to anyone. He would come in and sit down at one of the places where I had left a pencil and paper and just got on with it. When he came in for the first time he sat down and drew a picture of ‘Mickey Mouse’, which to me was as good as any that Walt Disney himself could have drawn and this was straight out of his head. This guy had some serious talent I just hope that he gets the chance to use it one day….

…. tomorrow we’ll conclude the story of Paul’s journey so far.

Guest Post: Every Step Home – Part 1

Good morning dear Readers. I have a special treat for you this week. My very first Guest post! I’d like to introduce you to my friend Paul and hope you welcome him warmly. Like many of us he has had a life fraught with challenges and struggles involving Borderline Personality Disorder, addiction, and a multitude of other hardships I wish life had not set in front of him. However, life DID set these challenges in front of him and his is a story of continuing evolution and, in my opinion, triumph. His is a story of inspiration in being able to make the kinds of hard choices and decisions necessary to turn his life around, despite the many obstacles that have been thrown into his path. I find it especially fascinating as in his journey of healing he has also involved himself in promoting the awareness and healing of others who also suffer the way many of us have. Over the next few days I’ll be sharing his story with you. So without further ado, meet Paul… this is the Story of a Joint Collaboration between a Counsellor for the Homeless of Westminster and an Ex-homeless, Ex-Service User.

Foreward –

‘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.
                                                  Paul’s Story
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….)