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Looking at the horizon

September 09 2015
Picture from Creative commons. © Andy Walton. Picture from Creative commons. © Andy Walton.
Sometimes you've just got to find your own way of moving on with your life, says Mat Amp.
I live in a house where you can get a blowjob for less than a fiver.

In the morning it resembles a scene from The Walking Dead. The staircase is littered with bodies, some seemingly lifeless. An old guy with tattered clothes lurches forward and in a rasping voice, all sandpaper and ball bearings, demands “Change”.

“I want change, too, mate. A fucking change of address would be a good start.” He does not laugh. Instead he sucks his teeth and rolls the tombstones that long ago replaced his eyeballs. They are windows to a place so chaotic and dark it makes me flinch. It makes me flinch because six short months ago he was me.

Recovery is the hardest and yet most rewarding journey I have undertaken in my rollercoaster of a life. Attempting to re-engage when physically, emotionally and spiritually unbalanced is a white-knuckle ride of epic proportions. The simplicity of drug use – get money, score, use, get high or be sick – is replaced by life, a technicolour Universe of myriad complexities, with the volume knob twisted to full.

The initial detox from heroin is horrendous but the physical and emotional impact lasts for months.

There is the shame from all the messed-up shit that most addicts pull at one time or another, as well as the anger and bitterness over what could have been – a deep sadness that derives from all the practical and emotional stuff that was never dealt with.

Advice from all angles is fast and heavy. The treatment industry pushes long-term, high-dose medication. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) preaches abstinence, steps, getting a sponsor. And tells you that you have an incurable disease. Then there are the well-meaning friends and acquaintances who think they know what is best for you.

For me, the often-conflicting advice became a cacophony that was like a large orchestra tuning up. Eventually it was just a wall of unfiltered white noise.

Almost everyone says: “You have to remove yourself from vulnerable situations” and “Make sure you are in a calm, stress-free environment”. This has not been an option for me. I live where I live and serenity does not.

I drink alcohol. But I quit Subutex, the opiate substitute I was prescribed, in record time. I went to a lot of NA meetings at first but did not share much, and I never liked the NA mantra of ‘Just for Today’.

Instead. I have tried to plan for the future, looking at the horizon so I can promise my daughter and girlfriend that this is not just for today. It is forever. I certainly do not believe in a higher power or even the traditions that NA is based on, but the meetings were a massive part of my recovery.

I have met some incredibly supportive people at NA meetings. Voluntary work with St Mungo’s Broadway Recovery College has been positive in reconnecting with a world I had become utterly isolated from. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has helped with structuring my day, self-motivation techniques and establishing a functional sleep pattern.

The support and help of friends has given me back my self-esteem.

In other words, I have done this my way, taking what I need and moving forward with a positive attitude fuelled by a sense of humour that has turned even my domestic situation into a source of at times twisted amusement.

Instead of getting overwhelmed, I have used the dysfunctional behaviour in my house as aversion therapy. Being around people who are using has got me over the fear of being around drugs, which has made me crave them less. In this way I have prevailed in circumstances that would have seemed impossible to me six months ago. Soon I will be moving out of assisted living and into my own flat.

I know I have a long way to go but the white-knuckle ride is over. The only advice I will ever give anyone attempting to give up drugs is to do it your way. It is your life after all.

‘Mat Amp’ wrote this article while on the Pavement's journalism training course, Word On The Street: London.


Renting right

How do you start renting without a deposit?

That was the dilemma facing me. Actually, it was just one of the dilemmas I faced as an unemployed ex-offender, unable to return to my family or even my home town after leaving prison with three years to serve under community probation.

I was homeless. Initially, I was sent to live in a probation hostel, several miles away from the area where I had lived all my life, and had to keep to the curfew times of when to be back at the hostel.

I was expected to stay for three to six months then find my own place. I even attended a course on how to go about renting accommodation in the private sector. What I learned was not so easy to put into practice though, what with being unemployed and with no savings to call on.

Finding employment was also proving to be a problem. And to be honest, my motivation to do so was somewhat lacking.

I had no funds for a deposit and not enough for rent. Plus, there are not many landlords/landladies willing to accept ‘DSS tenants'.

I managed to drag out my stay at the hostel for nine months. They liked me because I caused no trouble and got on well with the staff. Finally, the manager decided I needed a shove; he gave me a written eviction notice and I had four weeks to find somewhere or be out on the streets.

The eviction letter also served to ‘encourage’ the probation service, (and the agencies they referred me to) to pull out their proverbial fingers. One such agency was Homestart. With a few phone calls from me to chivvy things along, they referred me to the homelessness charity Crisis. That was the moment that changed everything.

Crisis had funding to offer deposit grants of up to £1,000 to two ex-offenders per year – and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. I was also allocated a Private Rented Sector (PRS) housing coach who set about trying to find suitable accommodation through a database of landlords. Meanwhile, I was scouring the local press, estate agencies and the Internet for properties where the landlord would accept DSS tenants.

By then, my notice period at the hostel had expired. But some good friends, who I’d known for about 30 years, were now living a few miles from me and were happy to put me up for a while. I had become a sofa-surfer.

Then, success! After viewing a few dire, pokey properties, I found a good-sized studio flat that I really liked. My housing coach contacted the landlady, negotiated on my behalf and explained that Crisis were supporting me with this tenancy and would continue to support me for as long as needed. She also contacted my local borough council to help set up my Housing Benefit claim, as I had no current or previous connection with the borough other than my stay at the probation hostel.

After three and a half weeks of sofa-surfing, I moved into my new flat. Four years on and I'm still in the same place, self-employed in my own business and very happy, very settled.

If you are homeless, for any reason, and single (i.e. with no dependants to support) why not see if Crisis can help you? Better still, get a referral from an agency/charity that you’re already involved with. I can’t promise that all will work out as well as it did for me. But if you don’t try, then you might just be missing out on the break that you need.

Charles wrote this article while on the Pavement's journalism training course, Word On The Street: London.