It is election eve. Tomorrow a lot of people put a lot of paper into a lot of boxes, and then we get to spend the next two weeks wondering who’s in whose gang, and who isn’t. Marvellous.
So anyway. Who wants to hear a story? It’s an improving one. With a stout moral core. And it’s got drugs in it.
All of you? Good. Bring your chairs around. And your drinks. And someone turn that thing off.
Imagine a man. An addict. He no longer takes his fix to feel good; that stopped a long time ago. He now takes it to not feel awful. If you look in any thesaurus, one of the synonyms for addiction is ‘enslavement’. This man is no longer his own master. He is miserable to the core. He knows that these days, after every fix, there’s a chance he might not wake up. And he knows something is very wrong, because he doesn’t care. And he loathes himself for it.
He has tried to stop by himself. He would rather die than let anyone else know he has a problem. But within 36 hours of stopping, he feels so physically fucking awful that he can’t get out of bed. Or shower. Or get his kid to the nursery. Or work.
And he knows that one tiny fix will prop him up for a bit longer. So he weakens, and fails. And then he fucking hates himself more, and is out to punish.
If he’s lucky, he will at some point realise that he can no longer stop this by himself. He needs other people. He needs someone to believe that he wants to get better more than anything else he’s ever wanted. And he starts looking around.
This man finds a website, which talks calmly about treatment options for parents. He discovers a walk-in centre, that is in the heart of his community. He doesn’t even have to make an appointment.
He walks past the door for two straight days in a row. The third time he walks in.
The guy who met me was Johnny. He was a short Scotsman, thickly built, and with tattoos on his arms that showed he had been a Guardsman. Yes, he told me, the army had taken him all over the world. Brunei, and Germany. And in 1982 it had dropped him on the side of a shallow mountain (“more of a hill, really, sir”) called Tumbledown in the South Atlantic.
There, at night, he had slithered up that rocky incline on his belly, watching the tracer fly far above his head. Until the sun came up, and then they were all sitting there in plain sight, under the Argentinian guns, like some sort of appalling duck shoot.
Johnny had done okay, though. He’d done alright. Came out without a scratch, or so he thought.
But he took that battle out with him when he left the army. He’d taken it on to the streets when his wife had kicked him out. He’d taken it to men’s shelters. And ultimately to community rehab.
And now he was looking after me. Efficiently. With clipboard in hand.
When Johnny put his hand on my shoulder, and told me it would all be alright, I wept.
He quickly put me through triage, then explained the titration process.
Within 48 hours I had my script, my plan, and Johnny’s number.
And now I work, voluntarily, as a drugs and alcohol counsellor. It’s my turn.
But here’s the punchline.
The website that directed me home was closed in March due to ‘cuts’.
That walk-in centre was closed last year, in an effort to ‘centralise’. There are no walk-in centres at all now.
Proper, qualified people like Johnny have been let go. It’s now all agencies and volunteers.
If I were to ask for help today, I would be told to fill in a form and wait three weeks for an appointment letter. If I ask what I am supposed to do for the next three weeks, I’ll be implicitly told to go back to my dealer. Or website. Or whatever shit-awful place I had decided that morning to never go back to again in my life.
Look. Here’s the point. These changes have only happened in the last SIX YEARS. There is a plethora of independent research that says these kind of cuts aren’t necessary. They just feed an ideology.
So I have to tell people to fill in a form. Crying is okay, because I understand. Trying to punch me in the face is even better; at least I know that you’re motivated.
It’s the quiet ones that haunt me. The ones that nod, and look at the floor. And walk right out of the door.
[update] save some lives, Corbyn. Work at the middle ground. For all those dead people I met. The dead weather.