Recovery thrives

As Recovery Month continues to go from strength to strength with fundraisers, festivals and fun, DDN hears three inspiring accounts of this year’s activities.

Timmy Ryan reflects on the moment he believed recovery was possible.

It’d been with me a long time. A childhood surrounded by violence and spending time in and out of care had led me to drink. I guess I was about 14 years old when I started drinking. I was a complete mess, carrying around a head full of physical and mental abuse. It was like torture and I used anything I could to ease the madness of it all.

For most of my life I managed to be a functioning alcoholic. I held down a construction job and drinking was a big part of that world anyway. It was a rollercoaster. I could be in control for a couple of weeks, but then it’d take the slightest thing and alcohol was back in charge. Gradually, it ground me down and alcohol become my master. Over time it took everything – my marriage, friends and family. It’s a terrible disease that took complete control of me.

Everyone used to say I was so distant. I couldn’t look people in the eye – didn’t think I had the right. I couldn’t share with anyone as it destroyed me inside.

At 47, I’d already had two heart attacks and the doctor said the third would be goodnight forever. I had an irregular heartbeat and wasn’t looking after myself. I wasn’t taking my medication, had lost loads of weight and was literally drinking constantly. I was slowly drinking myself to death and was aware of it, but I couldn’t help it – I was drinking to stop the shakes and heaving. The good times had long gone and I was a shell of the man I once was. I was powerless over my addiction and my life had become a complete nightmare full of regret, self-pity and consequences.

My daughter, who was 14 at the time, was walking down the road holding my hand and I said: ‘I don’t want you to die’. It took until that point to realise what I was doing to everyone around me as well as myself. I thought to myself ‘you selfish bastard’. Then I saw myself in the reflection of a pub window and I was looking at a tramp. It was time to get a grip.

‘When I finally opened the door the staff
were so supportive. They saved my life.’

I had managed to get to the front door of Addaction about ten times before, but had stopped with my fingers on the handle and then walked away again. I’d been so frightened about what was going to be behind that door. I had burnt all my bridges elsewhere and thought they would be negative towards me too and send me somewhere else. When I finally opened the door, it was the complete opposite. The staff were so supportive and non-judgmental. They saved my life.

That was the start of the journey. When I had those first one-to-ones it was like a storm came out of me, sharing everything – I’d never spoken about it to anyone before. It was amazing having finally said the words. They held so much less power over me. When I arrived at Chy, the staff were equally fantastic. I spent three months in the main house and three months in the move-on flats in the same grounds.

For years I had a head full of negative thoughts that I used as excuses for all sort of things. Treatment took all those excuses away and there was nobody to blame but myself. I took responsibility in a way I never had before.

You think nobody cares about you – but until you start caring about yourself, nobody will. You have to believe in yourself and admit to yourself that you are worth it. But you can’t do it on your own; you need people like the staff at Chy to put that belief back into you.

After treatment, I relocated to Cornwall and started volunteering with Chy, doing painting, DIY, that kind of thing. At the same time I did courses in maths and English, which was another milestone in my life. I completed a mental health awareness course and a level two counselling course. I also volunteered for the homeless service. I love being in the house telling my story. I tell new residents how it is and don’t sugar-coat it at all. They love the honesty.

‘I life for the future.’

After about ten months’ volunteering, a job came up. I was so proud of myself just going for the interview – to actually get the job absolutely blew me away. I broke down crying, realising how far I had come. It’s been so much hard work, but I owe Addaction my life. I wish I had found recovery 20 years ago and it’s a privilege to help others on that road.

I’m now 50. I live in Falmouth and wake up every day and see the bay outside my window. It’s like a dream. I’ll always be an alcoholic, but I don’t feel the need to tell people now. I live for the future and not the past.

Zara Walsh and family joined the crowds in Blackpool.

Even though my husband had been in recovery for nearly three years, this was my first recovery walk. I totally underestimated just how big the recovery family is.

I didn’t realise how successful the walk would be. My husband and sons have been to the two previous walks and when they came home they would be excited and talk about the walk for days – but this was a whole new level. I felt so proud to have my husband and children walk alongside me. As we flew our flag right through the town centre, all the way to the Winter Gardens, people stood and stared in pure amazement.

Our five children were so proud to tell people that we are a recovery family as we walked with the thousands of people who did not judge you for your past, and stood with you united as one big family who had been through the rough times similar to us. Our kids had so much fun and even made new friends. I now know that I will be at every walk from now on!

Joining in recovery month gave the community at HMP Kirkham the chance to embrace hope and change.

The ability to promote any possibility of sustain­able recovery to our nation’s incarcerated is no easy task for prison recovery services. The chall­enges are multifaceted and complex. Our client group have entrenched and complicated issues that have often taken a criminal and intoxicating career to embed.

But we like a challenge at HMP Kirkham! Changing the culture of rehabilitation and recovery is very much a passion for the staff and community within this open establishment. Recovery is evident and palpable and our success is infectious.

Recovery month is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase that success and fly our proud purple flag across the country, promoting the possibility of hope, change and accomplishment. Our first recovery month milestone took us back to the Doncaster Recovery Games, where we travelled with hope in our hearts and victorious memories of being the first prison recovery team to win the 2016 challenge.

Our proud team included members of our recovery community, who have worked hard on their journey of discovery, and value the opportunity for resettlement. The day was a true reminder of the importance of connection and positive engagement. Team Kirkham came away with a little less winning silver but as much passion and dedication.

Throughout the course of the month our dedicated staff and client group have worked hard to promote the value of visible recovery, raising awareness and sharing inspirational stories, baking cakes, washing cars and making amends for their destructive past. These memories and experiences are the blueprint to a future of purposeful citizenship.

Freedom from addiction and crime requires the vision of alternative, inspirational and asset-based thinking. This cannot be achieved in isolation and what better way to explore that than to join the thousands of people marching along the blustery Blackpool front on the UK Recovery Walk. That day represented everything that categorises the spirit of recovery and reminded us that together we can make a difference.

I am proud to be part of a thriving, innovative movement within the prison walls and challenge anyone to deny the power of recovery!

Amanda Wrenn is recovery service lead at HMP Kirkham


‘You think nobody cares about you – but until you start caring about yourself, nobody will. You have to believe in yourself and admit to yourself that you are worth it. But you can’t do it on your own; you need people.’

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