Homelessness – Soren's story
I’m only a drink away – A story of progress
The early years
The first time Soren realised that he had a problem was at primary school. His teacher was cruel to him, sometimes tying him to a chair with rope. He had trouble reading and could not swim. At every swimming lesson, he used to get ‘drowned’ and was bullied, especially emotionally. He was only about five when he learned that he was different.
The secondary school years were a little better, and Soren didn’t get bullied. But again, he did not fit in. He was in the top classes but couldn’t keep up. He had problems concentrating and anxiety, especially social anxiety. He was ‘slow’ and struggled (and still does) to express himself and get things out. He was not ‘academic’ but also not stupid, things just took him a little longer to produce. He finished secondary school, having only done one or two of his exams.
Work-life, alcohol, detox, rehab – losing control
Soren started working in a pub kitchen, then moved on to a hotel kitchen. He did practical, hands-on kitchen and bar work, which were easy to fit in with his lifestyle and didn’t need too much instruction. His life revolved around drinking with his friends and working.
Soren lived at home with his parents but also stayed with friends off and on. Throughout his twenties, he did many different jobs, including working as kitchen staff at Arsenal Football Club, for a builder’s merchant running the paint department, as a painter and decorator and in a nursery/garden centre, which led to work with a company that maintained the local cemetery for six months. These were all convenient jobs that fit in with his drinking, and he went from one job to another.
Then at 27, having lost every job because of his drinking (and unreliability), Soren realised that he needed to ‘sort his drinking out.’ He went to see his GP, who referred him to Ealing RISE. There he learnt about alcoholism and accepted the fact that he might be an alcoholic. Realising he had a bigger problem than he had thought, Soren also started suffering from depression.
Soren went into detox, which he thought was brilliant. On discharge, he was offered a flat by the local council. He continued to work at Arsenal and was abstinent. But he did not have a purpose or any plan in place. He was essentially a ‘dry drunk,’ which lasted about nine months, mainly due to willpower and pride. He eventually lost my job at Arsenal due to too many absences. During that time, he also went to jail for assaulting a Dr and was sentenced to a month in prison – but served two weeks.
On release from prison, Soren spiralled out of control. He had a lot of undesirable people coming to his flat and staying for short periods, and drugs were being used there. The flat was raided by the police, and those present were arrested. No further action was taken, but he lost the flat after two years living there. He was now out on the street, staying at friends’ houses. He was still drinking, so he decided to return to RISE.
He was offered another detox place but could not accept it as he was homeless. He was then accepted at Churchfield Road and was able to go to detox. He was referred to EACH in Hanwell for a structured Day Programme (SDP) and did six weeks of open groups beforehand – 5 days per week, 8 hours per day.
But Churchfield Road was a ‘Wet House’ and even though he was not drinking, Soren was having difficulties coping. He had just completed the SDP and should have been in abstinence-based supported housing.
He relapsed again and continued drinking at Churchfield. Then Churchfield was to be closed down as a wet house to reopen as a mental health support service.
Low points, high points, seeing the light
Soren was street homeless when through the Ealing soup kitchen, he was put forward for the channel five programme, Rich kids Go Homeless. A millionaire stayed with him for a week to see what it was like. Following the programme, the Independent Newspaper interviewed him about homelessness. This was at the start of covid, then there was a bigger stir about homelessness. People on the streets started to be housed in B&Bs and hotels.
Soon afterwards, a manager at RISE saw his determination to change his circumstances, and he was offered a place in Peckham with a 12-step programme. He warmed to the idea of AA but was asked to leave the programme due to being found with painkillers which he had bought for toothache.
His care manager then found him another 12-step rehab programme in Scarborough, which was a structured programme geared toward getting people well. By now, he knew that he was an alcoholic but did not know the extent of it until being in the programme. He was diagnosed with Emotional Personality Disorder. He began to put his all into the programme and took it seriously. Due to his (yet undiagnosed) ADHD, he was getting through the programme more slowly than the deadline for getting through the steps and was asked to leave.
Soren’s care manager agreed for him to return to Ealing, and he was accepted at Cherington, where he currently resides. He has been there for 18 months and has been sober for about two years.
Soren said: “I am attending RISE and, for the first time in a long time, am feeling positive at the start of the year. Like it’s a new year. I have had periods of depression but have been remaining stable. I am in touch with my parents again, which is great. When I came out of rehab, I started thinking of what I wanted my life to be like. I started thinking of my life as a whole. I really started thinking of the future. My greatest wish is not really for anything materialistic, nor is it what everyone wants to have a wife and family. My greatest wish is to feel OK!
I have realized that the best time of my life was when I was twenty-one when I was raving and selling and taking ecstasy. It was a period in my life when I felt most OK, and when I looked up ADHD online and saw the treatments and learnt that the treatment is amphetamines. That makes sense then that I was taking amphetamines. I needed a chemical to feel OK.
Soren says there are things in my recovery he would like to sort out and do with the support of Equinox. Getting his ADHD formally diagnosed will help him to access treatment and support. He still attends RISE and goes to AA meetings. He does not think there is enough support for the homeless, especially those with other complex needs, and there is a definite lack of understanding of the link between homelessness and other factors such as alcoholism and drug misuse.
There are a few people for whom homelessness is a lifestyle choice but most people on the street don’t know what is available. There is a lack of understanding of what could be accessed, and there are only a few who are willing to go into treatment if they can see something better for themselves. “Everyone needs to find their own way. To find themselves and use the time to make the change. For the majority, there is not enough help. People must want to change and need gentle support, not preaching and ultimatums. People that look down on the homeless don’t realise they can only be one or two paychecks away from being there too.” Soren said.
Soren is not making any long-term plans but is taking everyday steps to stay sober and well. He hopes to move on to independent living in the future, but only when the time is right. He said: “I learnt in recovery that it is about feelings. So, I think when I feel the time is right, I will move on. I will need extra support, though. I know what it takes to stay sober, but I’m learning what it takes to live sober. Because staying sober and living sober is different. A lot of people stop drinking but don’t learn to stay sober. It’s harder and more painful. That’s where the hard work and aftercare come in. What I have I learned most of all is that I didn’t have a drinking problem, I had a thinking problem. My thinking was faulty, so I kept making the same mistakes over and over again. Now, I think everything through, and before I am even tempted to revert to unhealthy habits, I think about the consequences. Because I know that I am only a drink away.” Not everyday is good, but there is good in every day! Soren