I had never experienced violence from a man until I came into recovery. Perhaps my choice of partner – an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail had something to do with that. Of course we’d met in rehab and he’d moved in with me the day I left. I then decided I wanted a baby…
So everything was sorted. Fred and I moved into the family house I’d bought in West London, preparing to have a baby. Of course the house had not been modernised since 1865, had no kitchen and was riddled with damp. But I was desperate to take on a massive building project to distract me from my troubled feelings around my mother’s death. After my father arrived (and fell through the rotten stairs) he gave no endorsement of the house but said it needed “a lot of work.” Yes I said briefly looking up from my rabid internet shopping for prospective fixtures and fittings for the house. We had embarked on an exciting new project to create a family home.
One downside, when we’d moved in, had been the frequent planes flying overhead. And in art therapy at the Prison View psychiatric unit where I was being treated for borderline personality disorder I had drawn a dramatic picture with planes crashing into the house. Little did I know that it was the London property market that was about to crash, which had a major impact on my mental health. My relationship with Fred also had serious engine trouble.
As soon as we’d settled in, the dynamic between us changed in an unpleasant way. Fred had been happy living in the flat in the dry house that didn’t belong to me, but now he had moved into my house he started to feel out of control. Despite his sensitivity to my mental health problems, he was a macho man whose ideal scenario was to be in charge. In all his previous relationships he had been the one supporting the household, while the woman provided his “dinner on the table” when he came back from work. Soon after we moved in, he began to speak to me in an abusive way, telling me to “shut up” and, on one occasion, calling me a “stupid cunt” in front of his family and friends. My baby fantasies ended up on the same dusty cobwebbed shelf as my fantasy Oscar. I decided I didn’t want to have a child with someone who spoke to me in such a disrespectful way.
Despite this fairly sensible adult decision, my search for a replacement mummy persisted. So I spent most of my time behaving like a (very clingy) two year old clamped onto Fred’s knee and calling him “mummy” “Don’t call me mummy…” he would bark in his gruff Cockney voice, “you can call me Daddy instead.” But my relationship with my father was so difficult I definitely didn’t want to call him that. I would phone him 9 times an hour, like a toddler whose been given a phone, and he would answer the phone every time I called. This was perfect love, I thought, the attentive mother I’d never had. He became confused when I was acting like a two year old but still wanted sex saying “you can’t behave like a baby and be horny at the same time.” But that’s exactly what I was a horny adult baby.
As it became clear that there had been a least one very large loan from my mother to her family in Jamaica, which hadn’t been paid back, my anxiety rose. Unable to deal with the difficult financial situation around my mother’s death, I became obsessed with the building project on the house. I spent 20 hours a day online, not getting dressed or eating, checking out fixtures and fittings such as polar bear shaped baths. Instead of spending five hours getting ready to go to the psychiatric unit, I would shuffle there in a tracksuit not bothering to brush my hair. Fred said “you always used to look so good, you don’t look good any more.”
Washing became infrequent for both of us, with ludicrous excuses as to why we couldn’t have a bath. “The tiles in the bathroom are the wrong shade of mauve,” I said, “they’re so old fashioned they make me feel like a ninety year old” He would claim that he had a new form of psoriasis that was allergic to water. And his 50 a day fag habit still continued, accessorised with 100 cups of coffee. This gave him the most disgusting halitosis which I referred to as “the Death Breath.” I literally couldn’t kiss him without gagging and needing a gas mask to protect me from chemical attack. With this general filthiness, sex dwindled down to a minimum, we barely bothered to touch each other in a sexual way.
Nonetheless, I tried to fit in with his picture of a perfect housewife, making sure there was always dinner on the table when he came back from work, and doing all his washing. Being a proper Cockney his favourite dinner was chicken tandoori. Setting aside my feminist principles, I did all the housework. But no matter how hard I tried to be the perfect wife, he was still aggressive towards me.
When I finally decided to graduate from Oxford (20 years late) a big day had been planned with my father and cousin Miranda. These plans hit the skids as Fred and I had a massive row on the morning of the ceremony and almost split up. I was shaking and in tears for most of the graduation, in the fabulous baroque surroundings of the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford. In keeping with Oxford University’s distain for the modern age, the entire ceremony was in Latin. The pictures afterwards show me, Fred and my father all smiling uncomfortably trying to paper over the cracks in our relationships.
Encouraged by my new sponsor in “Divorced from My Drug Dealer Anonymous” I came off all psychiatric medication in January 2008. This was against the advice of the psychiatric unit. I was alright for a few months. But when I was faced with what I saw as financial apocalypse, as the tenants abandoned my rental property because of an imminent major building project next door, I fell apart. I lived in a state of total terror thinking every day the scaffolding would be erected next door and I wouldn’t be able to rent the house, losing all my income. I was in such a state of hysterical anxiety that death seemed preferable to me so I would wake up at 4am planning to kill myself. I was walking around in such an agitated state that people would come up to me on the street thinking I was on crack.
I had no awareness at the time but my fears of financial apocalypse were determined by my mother’s behaviour towards me as a child. Every time she threatened to throw me out of the house, ignorant of the fact that the government looks after stray children, I thought I would end up starving to death on the streets. This gave me a deep seated fear of annihilation that was triggered by financial problems that was later diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It wasn’t just me that was facing financial apocalypse. So it seemed was the entirety of Western capitalism. I was struck by the TV images of desperate savers queuing to get their money out of former British building society Northern Rock. This became the first bank in Europe to be taken over by the state as a result of the 2007 sub-prime mortgage crisis.
But with constant plans to kill myself because of my own financial maelstrom, I had to go back on psychiatric medication. This decision was described by another woman in “Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous,” who had no knowledge of my mental health history, as “completely unnecessary.” I came face to face with what I consider to be the worst aspect of 12 Step Fellowships, their attitude to psychiatric medication. I never spoke to her again. I was aware that other people in the fellowships had been advised to come off medication by their Sponsors and had gone on to kill themselves. Luckily, I did rent the house out, calming my anxiety slightly.
Back on medication, I was able to move forwards with the building project on my own house, and became obsessed with various details of the project. Possibly connected with this, the abuse from Fred escalated. He started throwing things at the walls and, when I locked him out of the bedroom one night, kicked down the door, saying “don’t fuckin’ lock me out of the bedroom again.” My friend Imran, who was back in my life after years apart as we’d had a reconciliation, kept popping around to the house. This was much to the disgust of Fred, who couldn’t stand any competition even though Imran was gay. Imran asked me if I was sure that Fred would never hit me. I said “no I’m not sure at all.” Imran looked shocked but I was so dependent on Fred there was no way I could let him go.
Just as we were gearing up for the building project on the house, the property market in London collapsed leaving me with a house worth significantly less than I had paid. I saw another house online that I decided I should have bought instead. My reaction to this was rational – for someone who still had 5 spare personalities and was being treated at a psychiatric unit. I became consumed with an obsession to kill myself by pouring petrol on myself and lighting it and, at the same time, burn down the house. This was linked to another attempt to reduce my psychiatric medication. Fred, who had previously been so understanding about my mental health problems, did not relish the thought of being burnt alive in his bed and said: “you need to see a psychiatrist. Now.” I went back on the correct dose of anti-psychotics and the desire to burn down the house went away.
My struggle with my family in Jamaica to get the loans my mother had made to them repaid was continuing. But just as we seemed to be reaching a settlement, the Trustees of my mother’s Trust in the BVI said there had been another very large loan which I hadn’t been aware of. I upped my figure for the settlement but it was still nothing like the total amount that was owed. But my mother’s family pulled out of the settlement. Nonetheless, as my house was barely habitable with a kitchen that was only just big enough for a mouse, I pressed ahead with my plans to modernise it using the money I already had.
After starting the building project in 2007 with some dope smoking Jamaicans who were probably more likely to burn down the house than me, Fred and I decided we would find a contractor who would not be chilling out stoned while the house was pulled apart. I found a friendly Bulgarian called Tim, doing a loft conversion on another house on the street and employed him to do the job. We were on an insanely tight deadline to complete the loft conversion as we found out at the last minute that the planning rules were about to change dramatically. If we didn’t complete the loft by October the 1st 2008 what we were building would be illegal and half of it may have to be knocked down. Luckily we got it done at 11.55pm on the 30th of September, five minutes before the planning rules changed, and had an (alcohol free) party with the builders to celebrate. We then gutted the rest of the house.
Desperate to save money, as the house was worth so much less, we decided to stay in the freezing building site while the works were carried out. There were no ceilings in most of the rooms, five foot craters in the floors, and live electrical wires hanging everywhere, including over the shower. This did not enhance our feeling of happy families.
One upside in my life at this point was the election of Barak Obama as the first black President of the United States. I swelled with pride at the thought that a black (or even better mixed race) person was taking over the most powerful job in the world. A lifetime of being told by society and my family that black people were inferior shifted a bit.
I spent the Christmas of 2008, with Fred’s mother and daughter on their social housing estate in South London. I vowed that it would be the last time I spent Christmas on a social housing estate, now secretly yearning for the grand Christmases of my childhood.
For the first time in my entire relationship with Fred, I went on a girls’ night out in the New Year. I was with my new friend Sarah from “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous.” Sarah and I had met at the women’s meeting when I was thrown out of rehab in June 2005 and had become extremely close, a relationship Fred detested. I said to her that, although I was unhappy with Fred, there was no way we would split up as I was so dependent on him. I came back home at 1am, nervous about being so late and immediately launched into an OCD frenzy. I spent two hours polishing the mirror radiator in the loft surrounded by the ruins of the house which was a total building site.
The next morning, knowing I had a big day on the building project and had got in late, Fred set my alarm for 6am leaving it next to my head on the pillow to wake me up. “Did you do that on purpose?” I said, shaking, as I crawled exhausted out of bed. “Yes,” he said, “you woke me up last night.” All the anger that I’d suppressed when he called me a cunt and a bitch, smashed things on the walls and kicked down the door, exploded out of my mouth. “You fucking cunt!” I screeched. “how could you do something so fucking spiteful!”
“Don’t you dare call me a cunt!” he said picking up a coffee table and slamming it against the wall.
“Well if you’re going to fucking start smashing things you can leave right now!”
“Oh yeah?” he said picking up my new printer and shattering it on the floor.
“What are you fucking doing you fucking moron, that printer cost over two hundred quid!”
“Don’t call me a moron!” he said and slapped me in the face. I jumped back stunned into silence, but couldn’t pause for long. He grabbed my phone and hurled it at the wall, cracking it into pieces.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I shrieked but he was off charging down the stairs.. In the bedroom my favourite star mirror was waiting invitingly above the bed. He grabbed a chair and swung it at the mirror trying to smash the glass.
“Stop it!” I yelled, grabbing the leg of the chair and putting myself between him and the mirror. “I love that mirror I’m not going to let you destroy it.” I was terrified by this outburst and hoped that one of the neighbours would hear me screaming and call the police. But no one did. I was alone with a raging purple faced man I barely recognised.
He rushed towards a bronze terracotta sculpture of a black man I’d lovingly brought on the plane from Jamaica. I shot away from the mirror and put my hands out trying to protect the statue. “Don’t touch the man,” I hissed. “You know I can’t replace it.”
He grabbed the glasses from my face and stamped them under his foot. “Fuck you!” he said “I’m leaving now!”
He tore down the stairs and shot out the door. “Don’t fucking well come back!” I said “You’ve tried to destroy everything I love in this house.” Reeling and too shocked to cry, I had a cup of tea, wondering how on earth I would make it through the day.
I limped through the day, shuddering and shattered, trying to focus on the electricians and the building work. I don’t know how I survived that day. It was one of the most difficult of my life. I must have summoned up reserves of strength I didn’t know I had.
I slept alone in the wreckage of the house that night wondering what on earth I was going to do with my life. My lover, soul mate, mother, new best friend had gone.