Digging shelters

A few days ago I had my last session with my therapist. She’s moving to another clinic, and I’m not the same person I was just over a year ago, so my need for therapy has come to a natural end. Back then, I was suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was anxious, depressed, distraught, desperate. That gave way to anger and more anger, followed by months of flashbacks and panic attacks.

I’m not saying the panic attacks are over; they’re merely occasional. These days, I rarely shape-shift into a hound sniffing out contraband around Ben. I may resort to a few half-hearted sniffs – just to make sure – but that’s exceptional. That choking thudding in my chest, the sweats, the tightness in my head and dizziness – all thankfully flying out into the distance, a receding flock of gulls.

Old nightmares

Yet, as the end of my therapy drew near, I found myself tumbling into old nightmares – of Ben relapsing and turning our lives inside out again.

In waking life, things haven’t gone too well for Ben. He’s suffered a number of setbacks in the last few weeks. His friend and confidante is in a mental health ward after failing to kill himself. Ben had two unsuccessful interviews for admission to a postgraduate teaching course – the only invitations he was offered after finally submitting his application. And we’ve been arguing.

Long ago, this would have been more than enough reason for him to break open a case or three of beer and get hammered – maybe crap himself in the process (yes, this too came back to me in high definition the other night as I lay sleepless in bed. The smell before he made it up the stairs, his blitzed out expression, his body swaying at the top of the landing).

The day of his second unsuccessful interview, I texted him to find out how he was. No reply. I felt those dormant moths resuming their dance in my belly. Sweat broke out across my back. I was watching the Jungle Book with Rosie, and I was texting Ben, all the while picturing him at the Tesco Express, buying a case of Zwiec. I knew that when he finally arrived, he would be fumbling for the lock, then tripping up the stairs. I knew this and I was prepared for it.

When he arrived, he opened the door on the first attempt, walked lightly up the steps, came into the bedroom and sat next to Rosie. I sniffed the air, ready to recoil from it, but there was nothing there. He was sober. There were no cans of beer in his bag. (I didn’t check. I didn’t need to.)


My therapist (ex-therapist) would and did say that these flashbacks are normal – that they point to an underlying anxiety about my therapy ending. She also said I’ve come a long way from where I was.

I’ve made some tough decisions, too. I’ve said goodbye to Hong Kong. On paper, my reasons for turning down the secondment are financial. But if I’m honest, it’s because I’m tired of uncertainty, tired of living in limbo, tired of firefighting.

I’m staying in London. I’m buying a bike and buying new plates to replace the two chipped ones Rosie and I eat off of every day. I’m taking her on holiday to the places I’ve always wanted to. And I’m looking for a new flat, so we can move into a place where Rosie can have a room of her own, and I can, too.


Computer, what’s the point in this?/ You do all the thinking where we – / Just digging shelters in the snow/ Build a house of dream and domino

Neil HalsteadDigging Shelters



5 thoughts on “Digging shelters

  1. Pingback: And the tables turn | married to an alcoholic

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