I arrived at The Bridges in July 2008 from HMP Springhill: mentally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. My life for the twenty years preceding this was largely dictated by selfishness, anguish and drug taking. I left in my wake a devastated family, bemused friends and a wider community who, if they knew my name, would have wanted to mete out my retribution personally.
My story for the most part is the same as any of the guys I’ve met in prison or recovery – just different details, different circumstances. Of that period this quote for me sums it up best; drugs took me to places I didn’t want to go, and kept me there longer than I wanted to stay.
I stayed at The Bridges for seven months and before I left they helped me get a flat locally in Hull. With scant resources it took me a year to set up, but I was helped by the other guys who donated time, energy and furnishings. The RAPt Aftercare team helped me think about what skills I had that I could develop into a career. During a sentence at HMP Bullingdon I was introduced to computer graphics and loved it. RAPt stepped up and provided me with training at college to help me work towards a career in design. In return, I helped to create The Journey, a magazine sent to all RAPt graduates on a regular basis. I gained so much industry knowledge that I was invited by a local Hull firm to handle their graphic output. That led to other work which is now the bulk of my income and I’m in the process of a business start-up. It’s hard going, but nothing of worth comes easy. Wish me well because the paperwork is punishing!
I volunteer when I can, visiting prisons to share my experiences. It’s hard to envisage a drug and crime free life from a prison cell; having RAPt graduates come and talk when I was in prison helped me see a way forward, and I try and do the same. I also meet graduates being released from prison and travel with them to The Bridges in Hull. It’s important that the guys have someone to meet them on release and I’ve been there and done that so we’ve got a lot in common. I swear I get more out of it than they do!
I’m not too good at this writing malarkey but what I want to get across is that many milestones have come and gone since I left The Bridges and grew in my recovery. This may not mean much to anyone else, but in January 2010 my probation ended – and with it ended two decades of me being tracked through the justice system.
There are many people I thank everyday for where I am now, including the people of Hull (Hullgarians) who welcomed me. My family, my son and my precious Nykola – I thank you all for the rest of my life.
I didn’t reach what I consider to be adulthood until I was clean and sober. With the help of RAPt and The Bridges, I’ve got a different life now. I’m comfortable in my own skin, I look people in the eye and they accept me for who I am. It sounds simple, but there have been some long hard years to get where I am today, 16 of them spent in prison. I’m always going to be working on my recovery; the programme is part of my life. It’s in my heart, but when I need it, the strategies I’ve learnt are in my head and they stop me reverting to my old behaviour. If something bad happens to me now I think about it from all angles until I understand more about why it affected me. It helps me to stay calm and strong.
I had my first drink at 10 and carried on drinking until that was my whole life. My cure for alcoholism was heroin, which took my behaviour to a new level – ending with a life sentence. During that time I lost everything that mattered to me; my partner, my son and daughter, my home and my job in the army. My solution to being in prison was to use more drugs; I didn’t have any other coping mechanisms. All the time I was using I’d be thinking about what I was going to have to do to get more, it was like being on a treadmill. When I finally faced the fact that I had to change, I was able to do the RAPt programme in prison, but being released after 14 years was a massive shock. So much had changed and it was hard to adjust – just doing ordinary thing like going into a shop was really difficult. I relapsed and was sent back to prison, where I was lucky enough to be accepted back on the RAPt programme at HMP Everthorpe.
This time, when I was released I went straight to The Bridges, and that made a huge difference. It’s a safe environment; you’re out in the community, but in a place where people know the challenges you’re facing. At The Bridges you learn more about the 12 Steps, while gradually getting used to living a normal life – going into town, to the gym, or the shops. At the end of the day you’ve got somewhere you’re expected to be which really helps. After years of prison routine it’s hard to adjust to not having some sort of structure in your life.
With the help of The Bridges I got a flat in the area and now I’ve got two jobs – one of them working for RAPt! I went down to head office to do the training which I really enjoyed and learnt a lot from. It’s good to have that extra support, a lot of people in prison don’t know anything else but crime and addiction, then suddenly they’re in a position where they have to live a new life – a normal life. The fear of it and not fitting in makes them go back.
As long as I know not to use and to treat people with respect then that’s OK. I’m full of fear and if I accept that and I’m honest about it, then I can deal with it. Recovery is at the centre of my life and I put a lot of effort into it every single day, just through simple things like sitting tight instead of going to the pub for a drink after work with everyone else. Just being able to sit with feelings of boredom and frustration, or feeling really happy without letting it separate me from reality. The pain of losing my father last Christmas blew me over, I was upset – but I could deal with it, and I can deal with it today. I live in the world as it is and see my life as it is – the steps and the support I get from others in recovery helps me to do that.
It’s taken me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, but I’ve decided that I want to be a counsellor. I’m currently studying for a Level 1 certificate in counselling skills, and doing some work in the evenings at The Bridges. I’ve also just started on a ‘Pathways to Employment’ training course with RAPt, which is giving me the skills and confidence to help me get a job at the end of it.