Gemskii, 40

This is Gemskii’s story, told in her own words:

(You may find the contents of this story upsetting.)

“I just stumbled around really, never being able to home myself. I had various rented accommodations but they were appalling – boarded up windows, derelict. Girlfriends housed me mostly. I was quite often in abusive relationships but unable to leave because I had nowhere to go.

I ended up in London but became redundant. The premises went with the job and I ended up living on an office floor. I was arrested for possession of Class As, and the courts needed an address so they insisted I get more permanent accommodation. They found me a place in a hostel. I was there for six months. The only thing that kept me alive was attending my probation once a week. Then they put me into supported housing, which I really liked. I was there for seven years. It was my own roof. There were rules, but it was my house, my controls. I’d never had that before. It felt solid.

Cranston 66590 Gemskii 001

Moving out of a hostel [Gemskii is now in independent accommodation], I remember being delighted and amazed that I could put toiletries in a bathroom. You share bathrooms in hostels, everything’s all in your room and you take your wash-bag with you. It’s just so wonderful to walk into your bathroom and pick up your toothbrush from where it belongs. My bathroom is a little Aladdin’s cave.

Clean Break was a big turning point for me. They are a theatre company who specialise in women with experience of the criminal justice system or women who were at risk of offending. It particularly suits me because I had a performance background. I went to ballet boarding school. I’d danced on podiums. I’d been in that whole pop industry on the outside.

Clean Break gave me structure. They believed in me. I did my first courses with them 12 years ago and they are still supporting my endeavours. It’s not like they drop you. And they cook a meal. So you know you will eat, which can be quite significant. I did an access course with them. I graduated with top marks. I was like ‘Wow, I can achieve’ and I auditioned for five drama schools and I ended up in E15 acting school.

When the roof comes over the head, that’s just the beginning. For me, it was when a lot of the chaos stopped and when I started picking myself up. I had respite to look at the rest of my life. There was an awful lot dysfunctional about me. The chaos wasn’t slap bang in my face but it was still there – an undercurrent.

I have had some dark days. I learnt to cut myself when I got unhappy. It gave me something to worry about and it made my inner pain external. I haven’t self-harmed for 12 years, but now I am in a position where I don’t take drugs so I can’t escape that way, and I don’t cut myself so I can’t escape that way. What I have to do now is feel the feelings.

I’ve just started counselling again. It’s about stripping away layers and layers and layers. I think that maybe if I was brave enough to really look at all that stuff again, to grieve for it, and lose it and let it go, that I’ll find things easier and my motivation will come back and my joy of living will come back. I’ve got levels of dysfunction to do with my sexuality. For the last 20 years I’ve been actively gay, and I don’t actually think I am gay. I just sort of became gay because of misadventures with men, that made me angry, resistant. Just a litany of abuse. And also because of misadventures with mothers and needing some kind of tactility growing up.

There is such a need for tactility and for closeness and I think a dog can give that. Dogs and homelessness have a really strong connection. I have a dog to get me out the house a little bit. To stop me being so lonely. Dogs accept you whatever mood you’re in. Whatever financial state you’re in. And if you’re homeless, the other human beings you might be mixing with have all sort of support needs and issues. A dog is really pretty functional comparatively, they don’t ask for very much and give so much.

The person I would like to be is centred, able to manage their emotions, able to give back and help others, and has a platform to encourage others to make the journey, to pick themselves up and try again. Every week I do the Choir With No Name [which runs choirs for homeless people]. It is great on a professional level. It gives me performance opportunity and my singing is definitely advancing. On a personal level, I’ve developed relationships and friendships. I also organise a project called Criminal Cabaret for women with experience of the criminal justice system. We’ve all got a background of performance, and we make cabaret performance with a criminal theme, and are paid for performance so we can sustain some kind of income.

On Saturday nights, I chair an NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meeting. I have about 10 or 11 people that meet there. And that’s a wonderful thing. It makes me feel full, it makes me feel like I have purpose. And the level of honesty that I get there is like no place else in the world. And on Sundays, I go to church. I have a strong belief in God and more recently I’ve been able to call myself a Christian. I have always been a bit shy of that term because it comes with so much baggage. But my belief has become such that I’m not frightened to say that I am a fan of Christ.”

(All material on this page is copyright of Georgina Cranston. Text editing by Sarah Carrington.)

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