This particular part of my story starts, appropriately enough, in a public toilet. I’d been ‘living’, in a biological sense at least, on the beach at Kirra in the Gold Coast. A long stretch of the beach is sheltered from the road that runs by it, by a line of shrubbery and hedge. Desperate and resourceful enough, I’d gone ahead and dug out a little shelter in the bushes. It wasn’t exactly home from home, but the dense hedge meant I could hack a big enough hole to lie down in and become completely invisible to passers-by. And so, with a couple of large, thorny-ish branches serving as my ‘front door’, I lay there, safe enough and relatively well protected from the elements, slowly but surely drinking myself to death.
Until the rain came.
A person without adequate shelter faces a daunting array of unforeseen challenges already, but rain truly is the enemy of the homeless. It permeates everything. Every plan I thought I’d made, every angle I believed covered, the rain still found its way in. I badly needed get myself under ‘proper’ shelter of some kind. And as the cold, and increasingly strong rainfall began to drench me, soak my hair and clothes, and run down the back of my neck, I remembered the public toilet a short walk from my bushy refuge. So I grabbed the extra-sized bottle of wine I had, my phone and the large lock knife I carried for protection and headed to the loo. Safe there from the rain at least, I locked myself in a cubicle, sat on the floor and continued drinking. As was, and still is, my habit I took to Facebook to console myself, read about the world, chat to friends and so on. But this time, at what was probably the lowest point in my life, I did something I’d never really done before. I asked for help. Me being me, I didn’t strictly speaking, ‘ask’ for anything. I just made a short post on Facebook, describing my situation. Something like: ‘Homeless. Raining. Sat in toilet. Drinking myself senseless’.
The exact words don’t matter much now, but the reaction certainly did, as I’m pretty sure it saved my life. Soon enough and to my astonishment, the replies, calls and messages came flooding in, but this time like a saving rain. Within very short order, like within an hour, a good friend in the UK had started a GoFundMe campaign to get me off the streets and into a hostel, at least for a few nights. Calls and messages of practical support also: ‘Do you need money?’ (a kind idea, but perhaps not a good one), ‘My friend can put you up for a few nights’; ‘Where do we send a care package?’; ‘Shall I fly to Australia and get you?’ and so on. I was overwhelmed, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, by the friendship, loyalty and decency of friends and strangers as, a world away in the UK, the States and nearby in Australia, they gathered round me like a family. To this day I still can’t find the right words to describe my feelings of gratitude and humility. To relive those feelings in my mind, as I’m doing right now, is to summon a world I didn’t know truly existed until that moment: the sheer power of human kindness. The phrase ‘lost for words’ is of course a cliché but as the author Jack Kerouac once noted, ‘clichés are truisms and truisms are true’. But if there is one word I can summon to describe my feelings, then ‘gratitude’ would be the thing.
In the short-term I was rescued by a girlfriend, who got me out of the toilet and the bush at least and onto the sofa at her friend’s place. Out of the frying pan and into the meth den however, wasn’t a sustainable solution either. In a small, bedless flat in a rough part of the Gold Coast, I lay, semi-comatose on Valium, subject to a parade of drug dealers, gangsters, boy transvestites, meth addicts and outright maniacs. I found myself involved in knife fights, heavy drug use, domestic violence, driving stolen cars stashed with firearms and drugs, and generally falling apart, morally, physically and emotionally.
But by this time the GoFundMe campaign had gathered some serious momentum. From around the world, people had donated thousands of dollars, easily enough to either get me back home to the UK, or into rehab here in Australia. Looking, as I did, like a fully homeless person who desperately needed alcohol, I decided that they probably wouldn’t even let me onto the aircraft, let alone back in the country, and so – with the help of the people now running a sizeable fund – I made a decision that was to change my life. On a Saturday morning sometime in winter, I finished off what was left of a goon of cheap red wine and, in a state of near suicidal distress, called an ambulance. Five days later, detoxed enough to think straight, I was delivered to the Gunnebah Rehabilitation Retreat in the Tweed Valley, where the recovery that sustains me today began.
I can tell you a million tales of what happened before and after those desperate days, but they amount to little more than war stories. Before was a sorry tale of personal decline, a death in the family, the end of a long marriage, bitter regret and, finally, homelessness. After was a tale of kindness, redemption, salvation and the beginning of happiness, as I began to learn about, live through and own the condition that had dominated and defined my life for so long: alcoholism.
That I’m alive today to tell this story is a testimony to a number of things. The kindness and action of other people, many of them complete strangers. The Grace of whatever God it is that watches over me and finally and critically, my own personal resolve to live. At some undefined point in the midst of all this, I had decided that I wanted to stay alive. It could so easily have gone the other way. But looking back on it now, admittedly from a place of greater safety, I realised that I had within me an iron will to survive. It often didn’t feel like it at the time, and I recognise the very real emotional collapse that may bring about a suicide. But nonetheless, and call it God, evolution, luck or whatever you will, life demanded of me that I do one simple yet complex, messy but immeasurably beautiful thing: live.
Nick Jordan, Tweed Valley, March 2020