Overcoming addiction and reaching success

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The addictions used to make me think of a devil’s finger inside me slowly scratching away at the inside of my head until I gave in
— Paul Millen

I’m currently sitting in a reclining chair in the middle of an old Church hall in Corby Town Centre. In quite a sombre mood as the emergency shelter I’m working for has been told to vacate the building as it’s being turned in to a martial arts gym. This was my idea, and I’ve willed it to work and had concern for it for four years now. The people who lay sleeping on camp beds around me are my people, I’m one of them with the addition of some lucky breaks stemming from what I believe to be a God on my team, and a mother who never gave up.

Growing Up:

 For me, from a young age much of life seemed like a chore. I was always full of anxiety and I always felt like things were slightly different when it came to the way things were for me. At primary school, I’d stand up and cry for seemingly no reason, and the other kids would make remarks like ‘maybe its because he didn’t get a gold star!’ To which I’d think ‘do they really think I care so much about silly things like that!’ I can also remember holding up a piece of work to a little girl sitting next to me one time and saying do you think this is good?’ She replied ‘yes’ whilst winking at the boy across the table in a rather obvious way. So, that’s the kind of little boy I was, not quite right, but no trouble to anyone, and even a times extremely kind. I would never have imagined nor would anyone else I suppose, what was to come. 

In my early teens, I found relief in illicit substances and alcohol. Every swig, every time I inhaled the stress of being different would be lifted like a weight from my shoulders. What was once my remedy very quickly consumed my life and my mind though. By 16 I was either sitting in an armchair in my front room thinking of the best way to end my life, or had money and was out of my head. I knew the symptoms of psychosis, and I knew that thinking tv shows were sending me messages was one of them symptoms, although I still believed they were. I couldn’t stand in the same place for very long on the streets as I was convinced that a car was going to purposely run me over, so when I did stand still it was always by a lamppost or a tree for protection. My mood swings were awful and rage became an emotion I would come to know intimately. Mixing this mind with alcohol was never a good idea and over and over I’d end up in the cells carried like an animal in leg restraints and handcuffs. Then the fight would begin to strip me naked so that I couldn’t harm myself with my clothing and they’d back out of the cell whilst I coughed and spluttered on the floor from the restraint techniques. 

It was after a few years of this that I became known to mental health services. And then after ending up with no fixed abode, that I got taken in to a mental health care home. These people were good, they knew their stuff. It wasn’t long until they had me exercising, in college, and doing volunteer work. The problem was though that I was what is termed as dual diagnosis. They couldn’t deal with my addictions and after a year and some bad behaviour the only place for me was Berrywood hospital. It was for seven months the first time, and then over the next two years I was in and out like a yo-yo. Frenzied self-harm became a regular occurrence, and still the addictions persisted. The addictions used to make me think of a devil’s finger inside me slowly scratching away at the inside of my head until I gave in. It wasn’t like as a kid where my only reason for living was illicit substances.

Moving Forwards:

The mental health workers chipped away at me and had shown me a better way, but the claw kept scrapping and every now and then I would succumb. For me the mental health interventions were something which helped me both from ending up homeless and from slipping ever deeper into an alternate reality. But it wasn’t until I took steps myself to become free from addiction that recovery from both became possible. And what I’m sure you’d find if you were to stick around in the areas surrounding the hospital is patients on leave with mental health diagnoses having a few cans so they too can feel the weight being removed from their shoulders, just like I did and just like many of the guys sleeping around me in camp beds do. Not all patients have these dual problems though, and whilst I have the opportunity I would like to draw attention to those souls I met who are spending their life in hell; tortured and tormented by voices and paranoia. Anyway, enough about that the fact is that I, on a wing and a prayer, made it through these times. And it was those times which gave me the heart needed to start talking to Darren. 

The Shelter:

Darren is, like many of the people in camp beds around me, one of my people. Around 5 years ago he was living on the streets in Corby. I used to chat to him when I saw him. Sometimes he was coherent, sometimes he was drunk, and sometimes he was completely delusional. The chatting after a while led to us becoming friends, and having not long moved into a new flat in Corby which had a brick shed by the front door with a spare sofa inside I said he could stay in there. He had terrible rotting feet you see and my flat was a bedsit, so the smell if he’d slept inside would have been unbearable. What happened was, after a lot more chatting over many bowls of super noodles, that he began to be less delusional more of the time. Eventually because he made sense whilst talking he befriended an old lady who took him in and seen to it that he went to the doctor about his feet and mental health issues. I often bump into them around town and chat. Darren is smart clean and extremely well fed. He still gets thoughts of paranoid conspiracy theories but nothing too life limiting. What Darren doesn’t know though is that he was the inspiration for the shelter in which I sit.

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You see, whilst he was living in the shed and before he met Ruby his new surrogate mother, winter was drawing near. I was extremely worried about the cold and was trying to devise plans about how I could heat the shed. All the time this was going on I was also attending a Church regularly, one that had just got a new vicar. He kept telling us from the pulpit that he was very much in favour of doing some community work and that we should approach him with ideas. So, I approached him with an idea for a winter time night shelter. We had plenty of meetings and had trouble finding a building to use but eventually things got going. 

It’s not always been easy working at the shelter especially whilst studying, over Christmas we were very low on volunteers and most of my break was spent at the shelter including a run of six nights in a row ending on the day after Boxing day. It is extremely rewarding at times though. The other night a guy of only 27 years old came to the door. He hadn’t been attending for a while, so I was glad to see him. His mother died in is arms and his family disowned him when he was young. He drinks a lot, so much so that his nose bleeds because of having a bad liver. He is regularly beaten up on the streets by groups of people for fun. He turned up at the door shivering with soaking trousers because he can’t always control his bladder. He looked awful. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing him walk out the door the next morning in a much better state, after food, plenty of juice, a fresh change of clothes and a good night’s sleep. 

The large majority of the guests at Nightlight, have issues with mental health. I don’t know of many who haven’t been under mental health teams at some point. We are dealing here with people who never intended things to work out as they have. It’s like the world and them don’t quite fit together. You could provide a house for many of the people we see, but as I know myself wherever we lay our head it’s the same head we have with us. Until underlying issues can be addressed in people chaotic lifestyles will continue to plague them. 

Every year through the summer I try to do a challenge for charity, to keep me out of trouble more than anything else. Last year me and a friend walked from Birmingham to London in aid of Nightlight. Unfortunately, as I’ve already said because of the building issues we may not have a shelter next year. That’s why this year I’ve decided to join a group climbing the three highest peaks in the UK for the charity Mind. These guys provide a great service and I’ve heard on the grapevine that they are branching out into running crisis cafés which open late for those who need help when everything else is closed. They also offer some great services free to people which can really help to change their lives for the better. I think without Mind operating in our communities we’d all notice a difference.

You see, whilst he was living in the shed and before he met Ruby his new surrogate mother, winter was drawing near. I was extremely worried about the cold and was trying to devise plans about how I could heat the shed. All the time this was going on I was also attending a Church regularly, one that had just got a new vicar. He kept telling us from the pulpit that he was very much in favour of doing some community work and that we should approach him with ideas. So, I approached him with an idea for a winter time night shelter. We had plenty of meetings and had trouble finding a building to use but eventually things got going. 

It’s not always been easy working at the shelter especially whilst studying, over Christmas we were very low on volunteers and most of my break was spent at the shelter including a run of six nights in a row ending on the day after Boxing day. It is extremely rewarding at times though. The other night a guy of only 27 years old came to the door. He hadn’t been attending for a while, so I was glad to see him. His mother died in is arms and his family disowned him when he was young. He drinks a lot, so much so that his nose bleeds because of having a bad liver. He is regularly beaten up on the streets by groups of people for fun. He turned up at the door shivering with soaking trousers because he can’t always control his bladder. He looked awful. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing him walk out the door the next morning in a much better state, after food, plenty of juice, a fresh change of clothes and a good night’s sleep. 

The large majority of the guests at Nightlight, have issues with mental health. I don’t know of many who haven’t been under mental health teams at some point. We are dealing here with people who never intended things to work out as they have. It’s like the world and them don’t quite fit together. You could provide a house for many of the people we see, but as I know myself wherever we lay our head it’s the same head we have with us. Until underlying issues can be addressed in people chaotic lifestyles will continue to plague them. 

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Now:

Every year through the summer I try to do a challenge for charity, to keep me out of trouble more than anything else. Last year me and a friend walked from Birmingham to London in aid of Nightlight. Unfortunately, as I’ve already said because of the building issues we may not have a shelter next year. That’s why this year I’ve decided to join a group climbing the three highest peaks in the UK for the charity Mind. These guys provide a great service and I’ve heard on the grapevine that they are branching out into running crisis cafés which open late for those who need help when everything else is closed. They also offer some great services free to people which can really help to change their lives for the better. I think without Mind operating in our communities we’d all notice a difference.

- Paul Millen