This is quite a long story and is very personal, so bear with me…
The rehabilitation experience began with me being placed in the detox wing of an expensive privately-run hospital in the leafy depths of Tory Surrey. I was quite astonished to be there. I had no money and didn’t have anything like the kind of wealthy family to fund my treatment. I’d literally walked off the streets, with just the clothes on my back. I had no access to any other funds or savings of any kind to pay for the private primary care rehab costing upwards of £1500 a week.
After completing my 24hours in detox - I’d already had weeks-long periods of “clean time”, punctuated by relapses, before entering rehab - to make sure I was drug-free, I was allowed into the main unit. The other residents were a mishmash of wealthy, poor and middle class. A cross-section. One guy had been through the poshest end of the public school system. Another was from the roughest of rough Peckham estates. The entire spectrum was present.
I’d spent the weeks and months prior to arriving in rehab in a maelstrom of hard-drugs and alcohol. Blackouts, threats, associates being tortured for their stash. Going back years and I’d had close friends murdered, a long list of suicides and overdoses. Corpses, funerals, chaos. A familiar narrative to anyone associated with street drug use in London in the early 1990s.
Homelessness was also a way of life. Sure, there were squats, floors and sofas to kip on but nothing permanent. At times I’d gone hungry for days, struggling to stay upright. Other times I’d awoken shivering on the floor of abandoned houses.
Before I’d arrived back in the UK I’d lived in Norway since the mid-80s. There, social provision was far better, the safety net tighter. Sure, people fell through but you really had to work hard to achieve a complete collapse. I left Oslo because I could see my life just slipping away into a mire. The counter-culture, which had formed the bedrock of my life, wasn’t equipped to help me out of the swamp that was of my own making. I’d had enough. I felt I had to change or I’d die.
My timeline before that involved coming out of a kids’ home into “supportive lodgings”. I was only 16. By 17 I had run off and was living in a vast punk rock squat with a large group of assorted miscreants. It was a great time. Nobody had a job. Nobody aspired to go to university. We lived on Thatcher’s dole. We put on gigs in squatted buildings, went on demos, rescued animals from fur-farms. We made punk bands up overnight, inflicting a terrible racket on as many people as possible. I became interested in anarchism, syndicalism, Situationism and flirted with street-based political violence. I read Class War and Black Flag and viewed the Trots with as much disdain as I did the Tories.
By 19 I had septicaemia - a long red line running the length of my arm completed by a weeping pus-filled sore at one end. The drugs had become heavier, the squats filthier. The chaos stopped being fun and started to become terrifying. I was looking for a way out. So, when I met some friendly people from Norway I decided I’d move there.
I woke up after my first night in Oslo with 1p to my name. I stayed for almost 6years. I worked in hospitals, bars, as a naked art model, on building sites. There were some good times and I had some kind of stability for periods. But, again, there was an inevitable downward trajectory. Things just got worse and worse. I knew from my time in a kids’ home that “help” helped. But only to a point. The kids homes of the 80s weren’t particularly safe spaces. The staff in my one were having sex with the kids. Not with me, I hasten to add. I was too stroppy and sharp. I’d have told them to fuck off.
So, in May 1992, it was with complete astonishment that I found myself in a plush, private rehab in posh Surrey. I felt like an imposter. I’d been this angry, drug/drink addled punk rock street kid without a pot to piss in my entire life up until that point. Fuck the system was a mantra. Fuck the Tories was a given.
By this point you’re probably wondering who paid for my stay in this private rehab? Well, it was the government. A Tory government.
In 1990 Ken Clarke, the then Health Secretary, passed the National Health Service and Community Care Act (an assessment of the policy can be found here). In it was a provision to “ring fence” funding for drug and alcohol services with money available to pay for horrible, filthy street scum like me to access private rehabilitation.
This act and the ring-fenced funding it contained pretty much saved my life. I’ve not taken any drugs or drink since I went into rehab over 25 years ago. I won’t list my achievements since then but given what went before my present life can feel like a miracle.
I need to return to the question at the top of this post - “Are All Tories Evil?” Clearly not. I'm pretty certain I would never vote for them but I owe a debt of sincere gratitude to the Tories who put ring-fenced funding in the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act. I have dozens of friends who went through rehab during this period - I believe the ring-fencing for drug and alcohol services was rescinded in 1993 - and we all owe our lives to this money being made available during that time.
Ultimately this experience taught me a valuable lesson. That government can act for the greater good and that the Tories weren’t all bastards. And if I ever meet Ken Clarke I’d shake him by the hand and thank him for helping to turn my life around.