I was homeless until March 2012, when I finally gained a privately rented unit. In that time I slept in parks, alleys, boarding houses, tents and everywhere in between. I attempted suicide, lost all sense of reality and learned to both despise and love this world.
I have yet to come to terms with the last two and a half years and in spite of my current accommodation, still feel homeless to this day.
In this series I am looking back on my homelessness in an effort to understand what has happened to me as well as holding onto the hope that others will learn from what I have been through. Some memories are stronger than others, some more painful than others whilst some have been blocked completely.
Today, we are in early 2010, the beginning of the second worst year of my life.
The Beasts Below (Days 157 – 273)
Yesterday I wrote of triggers. The things that send my mind reeling back into past trauma and pain. Sometimes these are physical things that can be avoided, other times they come out of the blue in the form of newspaper articles or blog posts. But from time to time they are dates, mere digits on a calendar, that remind me endlessly of the pains that I have experienced.
In 2007, my life was in disarray. After a year of battling throughI had clawed my way out the tunnel and refocused my life. I had returned to college, formulated a five-year plan for the future, approached each and every one of my passions and foibles and devised ways to embrace and/or dissolve them. My social network was increasing, not just in terms of strengthening the friends I had, but extending it on two different fronts. In spite of glandular fever and other physical illnesses I had continued to work, as much as I was able given the illnesses, and push onwards with these changes.
Then, in the space of nine days, everything fell apart. I lost my girlfriend, college course, social network, income streams and suffered a breakdown. Over the subsequent three months I lost everything else: my possessions, my passions, my ability to think, my future.
And throughout all of this the emotional abuse was raging, forcing me to believe I was the most useless, worthless, selfish, despicable, grotesque piece of human excrement that had ever existed.
In May of that year, a few short months after I had felt so spectacular about my life and future, I downed every pill I could find and collapsed onto my bed praying for death. I wanted the abuse to be over. I wanted the pain to stop.
Obviously, the attempt failed; I lived.
In 2009, my life was once again in disarray. After two years of fighting to rebuild my life, I had failed. The words of my abuser had been proved correct. Living in a boarding house in Inverness I spent my days job hunting, scrimping and self-harming. Whilst online one day I received an email from a woman in Australia who had read my blog and needed help.
I have written of her in the past, and thinking of her now is still painful. The short version is I failed to help her and she took her own life; she died. And to this day I have blamed myself for her death and carried the guilt ever since.
These events, separated by two years of time, occurred on the same day. An anniversary that was marked by day two hundred and seventy-three of my homelessness.
It had been one hundred and sixteen days since I had left the accommodation I’d called home. A period of time that had been marked with some of the deepest periods of depression and isolation I had experienced in my life on the streets thus far.
My ability to function had become so bad I barely existed in the real world. My mind endlessly cycled in and out of fantasy, delusion and hallucination. I was now talking to myself almost constantly. Whether it be when I was on my own in the park or surrounded by others as I walked the streets in a cloud of illusion, the two and a half years I had spent isolated, with little to no human contact was taking it’s toll.
This period marked several events that became defining moments in my homelessness:
- After obtaining a new mobile phone through a JSP (Note: Job Service Provider, not Janet Street Porter) I was attacked on the street a few short hours after I had collected it. My two attackers had decided I was photographing a woman without her knowledge for nefarious purposes. It didn’t matter to them that I did not have a camera on my phone!
- For the first time since 2007 I blacked out. For a period of five days I have no memory of where, what, how, who or where I was.
- This boarding house was a nightmare, but not the worst I ever stayed in. It had only one toilet and bathroom for the twelve people living there. On weekends, when various friends, partners and family members came to stay, this number could increase to anywhere from 14 to 19.
The house itself was invested with mice that would regularly eat through walls, food and possessions. It did not have a proper bed (merely a rodent faeces invested mattress propped on the floor with bricks) and several dogs lived in the backyard whose droppings were never cleaned up by their respective owners.
My reasons for leaving this boarding house were several fold:
- The money I was paying for rent made it impossible to afford adequate medication and food, let alone anything else.
- My hallucinations and PTSD fuelled nightmares were causing issues for other members of the house.
- The night before I left my door was kicked in by a fellow housemate and I was thrown against the wall by this person, demanding I give him money as he’d run out of alcohol and I’d just been paid. Only I hadn’t just been paid and had even less money than he did; a fact proven when he went through my wallet and found nothing but lint and moths. The black eye he gave me, I was told, was a warning.
- One evening, whilst sleeping rough in a park in Melbourne, I witnessed a couple having an argument. Normally I would turn the other cheek for all couples argue from time to time, but when he began physically assaulting her I decided to intervene. As far as I’m concerned no-one has the right to abuse anyone; physically, sexually or emotionally. As he was beating the shit out of me all I could think was ‘at least he’s not hitting her’
- For the first time I was awakened by police whilst sleeping rough. They were actually quite decent about it and, after checking my ID and running me through their computer, advised me of certain areas to stay away from and let me be.
- This incident however sunk into my paranoia and I began sleeping in other locations to avoid any further police contact. Sometimes drifting miles away from the park that had kept me safe for so many months into areas that were even more unsettling and dangerous.
- Also during this time my recently renewed passport was stolen along with other items whilst I slept. For the first time since being homeless I had no photographic identification.
All of this, combining with the ongoing verbal abuse I was receiving from non-homeless people and the damage that had been caused by having to leave my accommodation, mixed with the upcoming anniversary of Stephanie’s suicide and my own attempt in 2007, I knew I needed to be accommodated on this day.
With my distrust of homeless services elevating and my ongoing lack of support from mental health organisations I saved enough for me to book a hotel room for this weekend. I needed to be indoors. I needed peace and security. I knew if I didn’t all hell could break loose as the trauma triggered a napalm explosion in my mind.
So, as dawn broke on day two hundred and seventy-three, I cracked open my first bottle of wine since becoming homeless. I knew I would be criticised for being ‘just another homeless alchy’ but as nothing else was working, and with no-one to turn to, self-medicating with alcohol was my last and only option.
For months there had been triggers everywhere I’d been – the assault in the boarding house, the attack on the street, the ongoing verbal abuse, the (albeit my own stupid fault) assault in the park – and my mind was now firmly in non-functioning territory. And as I repeat these reasons I wonder why I’m defending my consumption of alcohol that weekend.
Every week people self-medicate with alcohol for far fewer reasons than I had. Perhaps because it made me realise I was now just another stereotype or that I had finally conformed to the abuse that my ex had levelled at me: I was a worthless, useless, unloved human being who deserved nothing but a life on the streets with alcohol his only source of comfort.
Whatever the reason it was the only thing that prevented me from doing something stupid that weekend so I have no qualms about what I did. Lost to a stupor of wine and beer (unfortunately, I couldn’t afford whisky) I drank to the memory of Stephanie, subdued the pain I was feeling and momentarily forgot the pain of my fallen life.
The simple fact was I was no longer coping with being homeless, being alone or with any of the crap going on in my mind. I didn’t know what to do or where to go and, after seeking help, I lost all trust in homeless services.
For where I ended up was the worst place possible.