Years ago, when my daughters were 4 and 7 years old, I moved into the estate where I still live. I really struggled making a home out of a bare flat that was rented with us with no other flooring than the cold concrete that I tried to dress as well as I could with carpets and throws. It was a repurposed refurbished old school that had been a hostel for homeless families, and so all 41 families moved into their flat at the same time. From day one, all around us, we could hear the banging of hammers and aggressive drilling sounds at all times, signalling flooring being installed, shelves put up, anonymous cream coloured institutional flats turned into warm family homes . Aurally, I felt very small and very alone, with my two girls, I felt like we were three little birds emitting tiny chirps amongst the bulldozing sounds of dragged furniture, barking dogs and DIY. Visually, I felt that we stood out too, an anomaly in the reddish NW1 brickwork landscape, where whole intergenerational clans unloaded heavy furniture, had a pint in the car park, geezers whilstling and teasing each other, dogs running, babies crying, life in technicolour with sounds, smells and loud visual clues advertising the brute force of a large pack of humans in all their imperfections.
In contrast to this, I was an educated working class mum, always polite, discreet and direct, a young solo mum, dressed up in vintage and always alone, flanked with my two adorable daughters. People looked away when we marched on down Kentish Town Road, and boy, did we feel alone, so alone. I felt like we stood out, I felt like we were so vulnerable and I felt the dangers all around us in the form of unfriendly faces, professionals in white coats looking for the slightest chink in the armour of our fragile glass structure built to last one day only to point at my expected dysfunctions as a single parent family with no support. It didn’t matter that I had never stopped asking for help from all these professionals and others, ever since I had become a mother, I felt that the strange family I had conjured up were only relatable to them through the lens of a social concern, we lost our names and got marked with a case number time and time again.
Moving to this new flat also marked the beginning of my recovery from alcohol and drugs where I first heard about the concept of taking it ‘a day at a time’. I still remember taking my last drink on the 6th March 2004, I remember the despair, the loneliness, the fear, the anger I still feel today, though not all the time and not the whole shebang of feelings at the same time , more importantly, I can feel these without having to self-medicate with substances as I have other tools today, by the grace of God.
I could only have guided my small makeshift boat along the raging sea of the last 16 years a day at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time, even a second at a time as I never thought we’d make it alive in what looked like a brutal dog eat dog world where I protected my little girls the best that I could, holding my breath to not feel the terror, soldiering on, through a perfectly close fitting outfit and popping lipstick in the shade of hysteria red.