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[ Personal Narratives ]

How My Denial In Rehab Shrunk From The Size of Titanic To A One Person Canoe

My seriousness and dedication to my treatment at St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, can be deduced from the essential items I packed: 12 sets of Agent Provocateur lingerie (in case I got lucky).   A vibrator (in case I didn’t).  Enough benzos and diet pills to get me through the first week. 17 pairs of designer shoes (later smuggled up to 70).  36 handbags. 15 pot plants. My counsellor said that I looked like I’d escaped from the set of TV sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous.”    I sincerely believed this was a compliment.

On arrival at St Chillin’s I developed a severe “car envy.” The car park was littered with Range Rovers, Porches, X5s and Jaguars. I arrived in a low series BMW that was old enough to vote. But when I suggested to my father that my treatment required him to upgrade his vehicle immediately he looked at me in a pained, almost angry, way as if the cost of my stay might somehow prohibit this…. Of course though I’d previously had insurance, in the chaos of my cocaine and shopping addiction, I hadn’t paid it for a year.

Luckily, the drugs I had packed were undisturbed by the dilatory search by a lady in a white coat, probably a nurse. There was no way I could go into rehab without my diet pills. Saint Chillin’s was not really a rehab, I thought, it was just some kind of extremely expensive Spa. Almost immediately on arriving, I was told by a (surprisingly dowdy) female patient that she could get cocaine to me at any time in less than half an hour. All I needed to do was ask, she helpfully said, and she would call a dealer round. Although impressed by the products available for instant delivery in this rather rural spot, I decided I would not do this as I was having a “break” from cocaine.

But, alas, the doctors at the rehab decided I had to come off anti-depressants as I was “manically high.” Within two days of stopping the pills, I was consumed by a raging horn I had never experienced in my life. Thankfully I hadn’t been that lustful when I was with Shagger, my sex God Latin lover, or I think I would have died of sex. But just when I needed it most, my trusty vibrator broke down and my urgent attempts to contact the manufacturer (in North Korea) hit a brick wall. Undeterred, I set out into the local village of Lower Pig’s Bottom. This consisted of about two hundred houses, no supermarket and definitely no Ann Summers shop. The Post Office seemed to be the most bustling place in the village. So I went in there picking through the shelves of stationary, envelopes, dog food, cat litter and sellotape for any kind of vibrator, I wasn’t discriminating. After forensically searching through the shelves for 2 hours, I decided the vibrators might be hidden in the back office and approached the counter gingerly to inquire if they were in stock.

“Erm…” I said, going rather red, but the motor in my panties propelling me on like a locomotive train. “Have you got any toys in here?”

“Toys?” the elderly lady behind the counter said. “Well we’ve got a yellow toy duck that squeaks if you put it in the bath.”

“No,” I said, leaning a bit closer in so I could whisper in her ear, “I mean adult toys.”

“We’ve got a game of Scrabble somewhere on the shelf.”

Fed up of pussy footing around,“I want a vibrator,” I said.

“Goodness me,” she blushed, “you won’t find anything like that round here.” She looked me up and down. “Are you staying at Saint Chillin’s?”

“How did you know?” I said.

“Oh when we get these unusual kinds of requests they’re always staying there.”

Dejected I trailed out of the Post Office, regretting that my fingers had been trained how to type at 70 words per minute but not to give me an orgasm. This was a definite failure in my expensive education – a belief that ladies did not need to know what was going on in their lady parts.

On day 5 of Saint Chillin’s a disaster occurred – I ran out of diet pills. After putting on weight because of my excessive drinking (but still being a normal size) I had decided that the main reason I was in rehab was to lose weight. I tried to spin an (unsuccessful) line to the doctors saying that I had to have Xenical as it stopped me throwing up. (This was blatantly false as I had been Oding on Xenical in Jamaica and still puking three times a day) They said that under no circumstances would they prescribe me diet pills as I had a raging eating disorder. I immediately made plans to break out of Saint Chillin’s and escape to London to score diet pills. Unfortunately, due to my chronic shopping addiction, I was 8,000 pounds overdrawn and couldn’t get a penny out of my account. I considered having the diet pills delivered to the rehab (along with a vibrator of course). But I suspected that any large packets from drug manufacturers (and North Korea) would undoubtedly be searched.

I did not, of course, consider myself to be an addict. Absolutely not. I was a party girl who’d been to too many parties. Quite what party I was attending when I was scoring drugs in a Jamaican ghetto at midnight is still a mystery. Saint Chillin’s, which was a second home for so many celebrities, was, I considered, just the latest stop in the party circuit. Determined to lose weight I adopted a strictly no carb Atkins diet. This was to prepare me for my return to partying in Jamaica in three months’ time. This was all I thought I needed to sort my drug problem out. In case the Atkins diet did not promote sufficient weight loss, I also scored some laxatives in the pharmacy, not attempting to hide this from the other Saint Chillin’s residents.

The next day I was busted in my therapy group about the laxatives, but told them, totally unashamed, that the primary reason I was in rehab was to lose weight. They decided that my denial was too deep to be treated at a satellite branch of Saint Chillin’s and that I needed to be transferred to the Food Disorders Factory at the mothership Saint Chillin’s, in London. Indeed not leaving me much choice in this they packed up all my things (including the plants) saying they could not treat me as I was “out of control.”

But when I went for an interview at the Capital of Saint Chillin’s, the psychiatrist told me there was no way I could go to the Food Disorders Factory if I had a drug problem. This was, he said, because so many of the women in there were on drugs. At least they were honest that they had a drug problem. I returned to the rural outpost belligerent, determined that I would not be moved. And after a revolt by the other members of my Kick the Habit Programme I was allowed to stay. This was perfect for me as I was much happier thinking of myself as someone with a tiny drug problem rather than an eating disorder.

I emerged from my first week of phone purdah (where they confiscated my mobile phone so me and the other patients could “focus on themselves”) to discover that my financial crisis had deepened.  Being so overdrawn, all my direct debits had bounced, leaving me with thousands of pounds of bank charges.

I was, luckily, later able to claim these bank charges as “business expenses” after explaining to the Inland Revenue that I’d been incarcerated in a drug treatment centre devoid of phone contact. They hadn’t heard that excuse before.

Not that Saint Chillin’s resembled a normal treatment centre. It looked like an expensive country house hotel with plush blue carpets and copious quantity of brilliantly polished dark wood. The private (un-shared) bedrooms all had an en-suite bathroom. Although the carpet in there was thin, corded, and hospital like, there were plastic items of furniture and, unlike any hotel, no lock on the inside of the door.

Another disaster occurred when I ran out of lorazepam, my favourite benzodiazepine. This was so strong that it could kill a raging cocaine high after 22 hours of using and let you go to sleep. My first night without it I found I couldn’t sleep. And that my skin seemed to be crawling with insects who kept on biting me.

The next morning, I approached the manager of the rehab incandescent with rage.

“My room is crawling with insects!” I exploded, demanding a change of room. “I can’t believe how filthy this place is! It’s ridiculously expensive and you can’t even be bothered to get in pest control! The bugs are worse than Jamaica here.”

Eventually, they gave me a different room. But the insects were sneaky, kept following me around. After the third room change I wondered if they were something to do with me. No one else seemed to be complaining about them, except the junkies, who were constantly scratching themselves.

“It’s withdrawal from the drugs and alcohol,” the psychiatrist finally said. “You must have been taking a lot more than you told us when you arrived.”

“To be honest, I forgot about the lorazepam,” I said. “It didn’t seem that relevant when I was snorting cocaine 22 hours a day and my fridge looked like a liquor store.” But, in fact, while it had been alright coming off cocaine, coming off benzos was a fucking nightmare. I had constant panic attacks, was scratching as if I had fleas, my head felt like a roller coaster.

Only a few days after the benzos ran out, I was forced to do “Step 1” of the AA 12 Step programme “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction that our lives had become unmanageable.” Of course, despite the fact that I’d been arrested at Heathrow airport, covered in cocaine, I did not think my life was unmanageable. I considered myself to be a party girl who had simply partied a bit hard. The reaction from my therapy group to what I’d been getting up to in Jamaica was, instead of the laughter and applause I’d been expecting, shocked silence and a recommendation “to write it all down as a public leaflet to warn people not to take drugs.” I was horrified. These people didn’t see me as a party girl at all, they saw me as a raging self-destructive addict. Maybe my drug problem wasn’t as tiny as I thought… Upon doing my Step 1 I realised that the location where I had stashed my cocaine in Jamaica (obviously I had to have some instantly available for when I got back) was a bit unsuitable. I’d put it in the bathroom at my aunt’s house that was used by my 2 and 3 year old nephews. This had genuinely not struck me as dangerous at all but then nothing had. Shaking I phoned my relatives in Jamaica, thinking they would never speak to me again. There was a shocked pause when I relayed the information followed by an instant promise to get rid of the cocaine. That Step 1 changed my life. Instead of just having a break from my using, I now decided I was going to get clean.

I loved the local “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” meetings as everyone there was so good looking and just the kind of people I would want to go clubbing with. And I was very impressed by a chair I heard from a woman who’d been in prison. She said she’d learned to do artificial resuscitation on her younger siblings from the age of 6. Her parents, both junkies, kept leaving syringes full of heroin lying around and the children would OD. Apart from making me think that heroin addicts were even worse parents than mine, I also thought, if she can survive that childhood and get clean so can I.

Not everyone at Saint Chillin’s had the same idea. One woman in my therapy group, who’d been sent to the rehab to avoid a prison sentence for shoplifting, got her dealer to come round to the treatment centre to deliver heroin. Instead of being dismissed from the Kick the Habit Programme she was simply suspended for a day, because, as a psychiatrist later told me, “private healthcare is all about money.” Despite that, my perceptions of the exclusivity of Saint Chillin’s were dented by the fact that some of the patients arrived (or were returned having gone awol on a drunken binge) in an expensive (but non exclusive) vehicle, an ambulance. I was far from the worst in the group, that honour fell to a junkie and crack head who talked about shooting up crack while driving his car.

I was put on a strict eating plan at the rehab, 3 meals a day and no puddings or snacks. I considered this a massive curb on my human right to snack, but in fact it worked like a treat as I was only sick once while I was there. The food was amazing as well. I was not the only bulimic in my group, there was a male bulimic and alcoholic who’d been forced into treatment after beating up his wife. I had never met a male bulimic before. His denial was even worse than mine. Others in my group who had anorexia and self-harm kept talking about sexual abuse.

All the staff at Saint Chillin’s kept saying I was unsuitably dressed, as I had far too much cleavage showing. It was suggested I go to a meeting of “Shaggers & Lurve Addicts Anonymous.” I was ecstatic when I discovered that they had a regular SLAA meeting at the (even more expensive rehab) Lifeworks. I went to the SLAA meeting (in a low cut top) my ambition not to tackle my sex and love addiction but to pick up a rich love addict. Unfortunately only sex addicts were there, including a flasher, which I thought did not fit in with my party girl image at all.

I bumped into my interior designer (Vlad the Inhaler’s) business partner, Mr Smiler, who was languishing in St Chillin’s with depression. Half the clients were there for depression and were jokily known as “the Glums” while the alcoholic and drug addicts were known as “the Glugs.” I shared my concerns about the propensity of expensive objects to disappear when Vlad was around. “Everyone says that,” he said. The business partner took a bit of a shine to me and turned up one night at the door of my room. But, despite my pearl G string waiting tantalizing in my drawer for the right opportunity to emerge, I decided I would concentrate on my treatment and not get sexually involved.

As someone who has always had a best friend, I soon found a special friend at the rehab. This was a woman who was in for alcohol abuse who’d been so out of control she’d spent much of the time being looked after by her 3 year old son. I tried not to take it personally, but just as we had reached the height of our intimacy, she tried to kill herself. This was a terrible shock to me and should have alerted me to the dangers of making close friends in rehab. But it did not.

With all the drama going on around me, I hardly focused on the news. So I missed the fact that Iraq had had its first free parliamentary elections since 1958. This was, I suppose, an upside to the invasion of Iraq though I have never quite forgiven Tony Blair. The missing chickens of mass destruction (found or rather not found in the same location as the weapons of mass destruction) still stuck in my throat. The Sunday Times started phoning me urgently wanting me to cover a story in Jamaica. I said I was undergoing a biological experiment to improve human survival rates in the event of alien attack and had put journalism on the back burner.

After relaying a life-long catalogue of disasters with my mental health to the Psychiatrist at Saint Chillin’s, he told me I had “too many problems to be treated in the private sector” and should move to a state rehab or I would “bankrupt my family.” As I had just done Steps 2 and 3 of the AA programme which talk about handing your will over to a power greater than yourself, I decided that I had totally fucked up my life and needed to start listening to other people. Despite the issues with drugs at Saint Chillin’s, the fact that they got me to do the first 3 steps when I was only a few days clean dramatically reduced my denial from the size of the Titanic to a one person canoe.

A very kind and focused Asian looking lady from my local Kensington and Chelsea Substance Abuse team came to interview me at Saint Chillin’s. I told her all about my shenanigans in Jamaica and she said I needed to go straight into residential rehab. She wanted to send me to Clouds, where pop star Robbie Williams had written “I’m loving Angels Instead,” which I thought was ideal. But no bed was available. So she said I could go to St Margaret’s which she warned would be “challenging” as it was “hardcore” and on a public housing estate in inner city South London. The great thing about St Margaret’s, she said, was that it was run by an African woman, Ama, who’d had great success with other addicts. I was desperate and thought a black female counsellor would help me work on my issues around my Jamaican mother. My father drove me down for the assessment and we got out of the car at Banged Up Street in South London. St Margaret’s was a low building, barely visible from the road, accessed through a gated courtyard. We rang on the door bell.

A woman with brown hair and a German accent let us in. I sat down in a little room, with a light wood table, off the low ceilinged hall. After an hour long assessment, I was told that I’d got in. My aunt in Jamaica was unsure about the rehab, saying it was in a bad area and that I might get mugged. But undeterred I set off from Saint Chillin’s to its poor inner city relation on the 7th of February 2005. Little did I know that this journey would change the course of my life.

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