There are many varied components to recovery as Dr Gordon Morse reflects.
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 friends. 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 got them both titrated up to a proper dose of methadone and allocated them the support of a keyworker. Without the daily demands of miserable withdrawal symptoms, obtaining funds, using drugs and repeating this several times a day, they were able to take stock of their lives and what they wanted to achieve.
Opportunities are few for those with drug addiction, criminal records and health problems, and progress has not been quick – but it has been remarkable. When I last saw them, they had been housed in a tiny bungalow. John had been to literacy classes and they were both working in the local business – poetically, a cardboard packaging company – where Louise was supervisor. They lead quiet lives – John likes a bit of fishing, Louise likes walking their dog. They are both still on methadone, and when they come home from work each day, they still smoke a bit of heroin to ease 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 offered by my colleagues have done most of that. And if anyone says to me that this is not ‘recovery’ because they are still smoking a bit of heroin, all I can say is that this story is the 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 is medical director at Turning Point and a member of SMMGP. First published in the IDHDP newsletter, March 2017.