John and Louise met under a railway arch in London – they shared an old mattress and slept under cardboard boxes. They had both run away from very abusive families – John from the West Country, Louise from Yorkshire. They left their homes when they were only just teenagers, completely under the radar of social services – no one noticed they had left, no one even bothered to report them missing. John hadn’t been to school for years and was unable to read or write.
By the time that they met under that railway arch they were in their late teens, both with injecting heroin habits. Their relationship was more about self-preservation than anything else, and John started stealing more so that Louise wouldn’t have to continue to sell herself.
After another year or two, they decided to move back to Somerset where John had some friends who he hoped they could stay with, and it was there, after Louise had been discharged following an emergency admission with another accidental overdose, that I met them, about eight years ago. I did no more than anyone else in our profession would have done, which was to get them both titrated up to a proper dose (of methadone for both of them) and allocate them the support and skills of a keyworker. Without the daily demands of miserable withdrawal symptoms, obtaining the funds, using drugs and repeating this several times each and every day – they were able to take stock of their lives and what they wanted to achieve.
Opportunities are few for drug addicts with criminal records and health problems, and progress has not been quick… but it has been remarkable. When I last saw them around a year ago, they had been housed in a tiny bungalow in a small country town: John had been to literacy classes and they were both working in the only local business, which poetically was a cardboard packaging company – Louise had even made it to being a supervisor. They lead quiet lives – John likes a bit of fishing, Louise likes walking their dog. They are both still on methadone, and actually when they come home from work each day, they still smoke a bit of heroin – it still serves a bit of purpose in easing old memories.
So Louise and John have come a very long way – OST hasn’t achieved this for them – their own resilience and the opportunities and encouragement offered by my colleagues has done most of that. And if anyone says to me that this is not "recovery" because they are still smoking a bit of heroin, then all I can say is that this story is the very embodiment of what recovery from addiction really means… and I doubt it would have been possible without the stability and safety that OST has given them. Indeed I doubt that they would still even be alive.
- Dr Gordon Morse
Medical Director Turning Point
First published in the IDHDP newsletter March 2017