The Ghosts of Homeless Christmas Past

Christmas past

The Christmas before I gave the keys back, I went “All Out.”

I spent money I didn’t have on things I knew I couldn’t afford. For breakfast, I ate smoked salmon and washed it down with copious amounts of prosecco and wine. I cooked Christmas dinner and ate it on my balcony, sharing my leftover turkey with the cats and my dog, Bear. Then I ran myself a bubble bath before getting into bed and crying myself to sleep.

I sold all of my things, rehomed the pets I couldn’t keep, handed back the keys, and prepared to become a statistic.

The Christmas after I gave the keys back is a bit of a blank.

Bear is dead, I’m alone, and I’m grieving. I am now transient, and I am all out of shits to give about what happens to me now.

There are no presents and no Christmas tree, just a whole world of head-fuck that keeps on getting worse.

There are no memories to call on to help me narrow things down, so I’m guessing it ran along the lines of “sad, wasted, struggling to cope.”

I either spent it alone in a seedy bar somewhere or with some random, nameless, faceless person who had offered to buy me a drink or 10.

Time is meaningless; my days all start and end the same – me, heading out searching for a can. They all end with me passed out, unaware, unconscious.

I’m living dangerously, deteriorating rapidly.

People see me but pretend they don’t.

Three Christmas’s in, and I’m a guest in a hotel. Not an actual bona fide paying one – more of an “urgent, in need of a bed” kind of scenario, courtesy of my friend who was the hotel manager. I arrived drunk, in tatters, and so malnourished I could barely walk. The hotel was full of older people. I looked older than any of them.

My friend fed and watered me, tried her best to keep me safe, and never once stopped praying for a miracle as I continued to disappear in front of her eyes.

The following Christmas, we got one.

Christmas Day 2016, I woke up in a secure unit, in deepest, darkest Cornwall. I was detoxing from alcohol addiction, desperately trying to get myself well, and clinging onto the hope that maybe, one day, once I came out the other side as a newly hatched sober person, that my life might be a bit less of a car crash.

We wore party hats on Christmas day, and we ate roast turkey, pulled crackers, and sang along to Christmas songs. To anyone outside looking in, we looked like normal, functioning human beings again, for a couple of hours at least. That’s if you overlooked the fact that we were all yellow, orange, ashen, or grey and that none of us were drinking.

The staff gave us all little presents to open. One of mine was a pen. Tiny, almost insignificant then, hugely relevant now looking back, given that writing was to become my “raison d’etre” and my “Willy Wonka Golden Ticket” back out of the rabbit/hell-hole that I’d inadvertently fallen into somewhere along the way.

We spent Christmas night watching Happy Feet. As 16 issue-laden, broken people, we were trying desperately to cling onto that day for as long as we could. As soon as the credits rolled and the last little penguin disappeared from the screen, we knew that “normal service” would resume. We would be straight back in our respective heads and off slaying demons again.

Yesterday was Christmas day.

I spent it in my caravan where I live with someone else’s cat I’ve nicknamed “Mr. Happy.”

For breakfast, I ate smoked salmon and sipped a glass of Nosecco. I had Christmas Dinner with friends and shared the leftovers with my cat. I looked out of my window and watched the sunset over fields dotted with sheep.

And I wished on a star and thanked all of my lucky ones for everything I have that is good in my life.

Then I picked up my pen, and I started to write

Denise Harrison

Denise Harrison


Denise Harrison is a writer, blogger and podcaster bourne out of her own personal experience of homelessness, addiction and poor mental health. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Big Issue, Metro, The Guardian and Happiful Magazine as well several not for profits. She is passionate about raising awareness and tackling stigma around addiction and mental health and recently wrote the film script for an educational film called This Is Depression.

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