“Have you met them yet? What an amazing group!”
‘The group’ are the talk of the house at Minsteracres. They are 15 men and three support workers from Seaham-based Free the Way which offers clients help to establish a new way of life in recovery from addiction, with accommodation and programmes to help them out of the trap of dependence.
They are a mixed group of age and dependency – some very recently joined, others well along the way to recovery. They all share the experience of hitting the bottom, some many times over. They also share the drive to find their way out of the desperate places their addiction has taken them.
The group are here with our outreach team, and the relaxation they all talk of includes several hours of hard labour in the walled garden where there is still lots to do before we are ready to plant the trees, bushes and vegetables we hope to be supplying to the kitchen.
“We were told a few fibs before we got here,” jokes Jimmy. “First they told us about the massage and acupuncture. Then they mentioned a bit of light gardening, but really it’s as much heavy work as we can manage!” Fortunately, for the most part, they seem to be thriving on it, “We don’t mind,” admits Jimmy.
Cliff Johnson who is one of the three accompanying the group says the key to the effectiveness of Free the Way is that it’s family led. “It started off with a mothers’ group who set up a drop in centre – people were having to wait up to 18 months to get on a methadone programme, so they wanted to provide something to help.
“Next, homeless people started turning up, so they fed them and let them shower. Now they offer accommodation for people to live in groups of three. They stay until they’re able to move on and manage on their own again.”
“It can be a challenge for them,” says Cliff. “A lot of people don’t like to take a close look at themselves – it can be difficult. We work through the 12 step programme, it’s about moving away from selfishness and dishonesty, which is what addiction is all about, and learning to be kind and generous. It takes a while to be able to do something for nothing and feel the reward.
“We lead by example, we don’t push. I know – I’ve been there,” says Cliff. “Some can be clean for years then relapse. The doors are always open. Everyone who works with Free the Way has either experienced addiction themselves or had a family member who has.
“When you come in you think you’re never going to get there,” says Jimmy. “Then you see someone who’s been clean for five years and it gives you hope.”
Everyone has a story, and some are further along the road than other. “I’m six days clean,” says Keith. “I’m a marathon runner and had a flat of my own, but I get anxious and depressed – that’s partly the alcohol. I ended up in a homeless hostel and came to Free the Way from there.”
Jimmy was 35 months clean when he had a relapse ten weeks ago, “I’ve been back on the straight and narrow now for two weeks. Free the Way helps because you’re around people who aren’t using. You’re all trying to do the same thing. We go to narcotics anonymous – it’s a nice sense of fellowship and it helps.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into my own flat in a couple of months,” he adds.
Turns out Jimmy is something of a pianist and gives them an impromptu concert one evening. The others are impressed. “Would help if the piano was in tune mind,” says Jimmy.
“I’m only two weeks in,” says Stephen. “I’ve met some really nice people and been welcomed in. The first week I thought to myself that I didn’t want to be there. I had to let in it. It’s changing my life, and coming here made it better.”
During their two night stay, the outreach team laid on some de-stressing activities. Cliff had come across Minsteracres’ outreach coordinator Liz Holmes when they were both on a Capacitar course to teach relaxation techniques.
“On the second evening we were joined by another two Capacitar practitioners, so everyone had a chance to join in, learning Tai Chi, finger holds and acupressure and other techniques,” says Liz. “One or two gave up, but most stuck with it.”
Paul, whose back was broken when he was run down as an 11 year old, got a massage to help ease the pain in his back. So did Stephen. “I can’t sleep,” he says. “I do Tai Chi and meditation to concentrate on my breathing and help me relax.”
“We’re all in separate houses, three to a house and normally just chat with each other. Being in a bigger group has been good,” says Jimmy. “I’ve had the time of my life here.”
“They’ve been a fabulous group,” says Liz. “Great to have around. They have a real positive energy.
“Tess and I both felt a great respect for them. Given their experience, they’ve been open, giving and supportive of each other. They’ve been so enjoyable to work with.”