The Ferret’s From The Margins project works with citizen journalists who have lived experience of overlapping issues including homelessness, addiction and mental health. The series investigates the way these things interact, making it very difficult to break out of a cycle of insecurity. One of our citizen journalists, Peter Murray, has a special interest in mental health and addiction, due to his own experiences. This is his story.
Right from the start of the From the Margins project I knew the link between mental health and addiction was something we should focus on.
Looking back, the seeds of my problems were there in childhood. I won’t go into depth, but I hated and feared arguments and sought to avoid them. People pleasing became the norm for me.
On my 18th birthday I joined the ambulance service, a job I loved. But I experienced a number of traumatic events. Black humour and alcohol buried them in the depths of my memory.
I got married and had two daughters. But after eight years I was divorced and my ex-wife moved to Ireland with my girls. Over time contact dwindled away. I remarried and life moved on, despite the fact I was struggling with depression.
Then tragedy struck and my eldest daughter died, at just 16 years old. I find it hard to accept this now, but under pressure from my wife and my ex wife’s family, I did not attend the funeral. I was people pleasing to the core.
After that decision I lost any spark or self belief. I was full of self loathing.
I always liked a drink. But I felt morally I was a disgrace. My self hatred increased, my mood became blacker and deeper. Alcohol was my answer. It allowed me to ignore my feelings so I drank more and more.
My mental health was getting worse all the time. Eventually I spent three periods of time in psychiatric hospitals. Each time I left the ward, I was promised community support. It never materialised. That fuelled my drinking.
Before long I had lost my home, lost my marriage and my job. I ended up on the streets for a short period of time. And then I ended up in hospital where I pleaded for help.
While working on this project, I met lots of others who had experienced something similar. It’s been powerful to see those patterns.
For me, this time the pleading worked. I was admitted to the detox centre – Link Up, as it was then – to dry out and stabilise my health. From there I was given a place at Glasgow’s Rainbow House rehab [now Crossreach] where I stayed for six months. I’m not sure it was right for me but I didn’t get a choice of options.
What it did do was allow me to learn about my alcoholism and receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. With that help, my self belief slowly returned.
From there I went to supported housing for three months, when I moved into my own tenancy. Initially I struggled to adjust and felt abandoned. But with the support of friends I gradually settled.
Friends told me to go to Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) meetings. They work for lots of people, and are important, but they were not for me. My recovery is not abstinence-based – the term used for people who no longer drink or use any substances at all.
And while anyone can go to AA meetings, the aim is total sobriety. That made me feel guilty and ashamed of my drinking, and in turn, made it worse.
But what worked for me was reconnecting with my family. I got back in touch with my youngest daughter and my family, and after a lot of talking and honesty on my part our relationship has grown again.
I went to Ireland on the 20th anniversary of my daughter’s death and left the grave side with a sense of peace and closure.
I now have two beautiful granddaughters and a great relationship with my youngest daughter.
My life has changed. It is not all plain sailing – I continue to experience bad days. The difference now is that most days I quite like myself.
From the Margins is co-produced by citizen-journalists, supported by The Ferret to investigate the overlapping issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health and more.
Support our journalism by becoming a member for £5 a month. As a member you can also access resources on key journalism skills. Use discount code Sale10 for two months full access for free. Students and people on low-incomes may qualify for a free sponsored membership.
With thanks to Shelter Scotland’s Time for Change Glasgow team.
Photo Credit: Laura Kingswell