I went into prison feeling like a broken man. A mixture of overwhelming feelings seeped out of every pore. Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anxiety and embarrassment. Because of these feelings and concerns of being judged it took me a wee while to get in contact with Natalie & Gary from the Recovery Café. I needn’t have worried! The Recovery Café is a safe place within prison where one can attend without the judgement and stigma that many have experienced throughout their lives, especially in general society. In The Recovery Café I learned about recovering from addiction and coping skills as well as being able to have contact with services and people that can assist people with the many and complex issues that come along with being released from prison. Some may not appreciate the concerns prisoners can have when being released. It can be a very daunting experience! A very anxious time at the best of times. Never mind during the unpredictable times of a pandemic.
Despite having all of these feelings and emotions I was convinced that I had turned a corner in terms of my addiction issues. I was ready to face life on the outside with a new, fresh perspective on how I was going to live life. I even had a wee tingle of excitement thinking about how wonderful life was going to be and that how things were going to be so different this time around. (This is what an addicts mind does: it confidently tells you that “this time will be different”. Despite a lifetime of examples of the same outcome.)
My release date was during the height of lockdown, were everything was closed and nobody was working. Therefore I would have no access to the services that I was in need of during this critically important transitionary period of my “wonderful new life”.
My day of release had arrived. I woke up that morning with the usual unpleasant sounds of the opening and slamming of the cell doors as the prison officers shout to check that the prisoners are still alive. My initial thought was “thank god I don’t need to wake up to this bullshit anymore”.
Then my thinking was “right, this is it. The first day of the rest of my life!”
So, there I was standing at the front doors of Barlinnie. Not a soul in sight. Unusually empty. Even though I was well aware of the lockdown restrictions, I wasn’t really prepared for the feelings of uselessness that come when you don’t know what to do or where to start. I was given an envelope with numbers about homelessness and such things but there was no information of what hostel I thought would have been arranged for me. Not sure what to do, I called an acquaintance to come pick me up. A massive error on my part! As said acquaintance arrived with a couple of others who are in about drugs and all that comes along with that life. Within the hour I was half way through a bottle of wine and drugs in hand. All those positive thoughts had disappeared. All logic had gone. The power of addiction had taken over. 3 days later I was in hospital with no memory of what had gone on during these 3 lost days.
If I thought that I was broken back when I started my prison sentence then I don’t know how to describe the pain and overwhelming feelings I had once I had sobered up. I was a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wreck. Utter despair! This was me done. Finished. I could see no way of ever being able to turn my life around for the better. All the good will and intentions I had wasn’t enough. Suicide was my only option as opposed to being continually demoralised by addiction and bad mental health.
The kind nurses at the hospital arranged a hostel for me to be discharged to. For 2 days I just lay in bed trying to muster up the courage to top myself. Believe me, it’s much harder, mentally, than one may think. Especially sober with no false courage to lean on. But that was my goal nonetheless. As I lay there with all these disturbing thoughts and feelings that I have been trying to run away from my whole life; feeling completely useless, anxious, scared and ashamed. Utterly hopeless!
Suddenly a memory jumped into my head and pushed through all of these loud thoughts that were jumping around my mind. That memory was of Gary from SISCO (who deliver recovery initiatives via the Recovery Café in prisons). I have known Gary since my school days. I’ve had nights “on it” with him. So I’ve seen first hand how addiction affected him. But most importantly, I have seen the turnaround Gary has made to his life. A massive difference let me tell you. Thinking about him I thought “I want a piece of what he has”. Remarkably, after my recent escapades, the one number I had was Gary’s that was written on a piece of paper. I had no credit, I lacked the courage to reverse the charges to tell him that I had messed up. Again.
It took me a wee while to bite the bullet and admit to myself that I couldn’t do this on my own. Eventually I did it and reached out for help. I now realise how much of a defining moment this was. As soon as I got off the phone with Gary, it rang again. I didn’t know the number and the fear and anxiety arose again. I couldn’t answer. Moments later, a ding. A text from Natalie. That one phone call to ask for help and within minutes I would be in contact with undoubtably the 2 most important people in my life, in terms of my new life in recovery. Straight away I was met to be provided with essentials like toiletries and food etc. Even got my phone topped-up so I could stay connected. But more importantly, all the care, compassion, encouragement, support & guidance I have received since reaching out truly is wonderful. Beautiful. I am in constant contact with these amazing people and through them I have and will continue to make connections with positive people who all want to assist me in building new and improved life. And all that these people want in return is to see me do well. How lovely is that?!
After a wee while, I asked Gary if he would be willing to sponsor me and after showing my willingness he thankfully and kindly agreed. Pretty soon I was meeting up with Gary on a scorching day down at Glasgow Green. So there we were, starting the 12 step program and the realisation hit me – we were sat at the same spot I had had my first ever alcoholic drink some 24 years earlier. There is something quite poetic about that.
Starting the 12 steps I was a wee bit anxious and fearful because this program forced me to have a long hard look at myself, and confront all the fears, resentments, thoughts, feelings and emotions that I have been running away from my whole life. It’s normal to have these worries stepping into the unknown. But all I can say is – thank god for the 12 steps. I now look at myself and others with more compassion. I don’t hold onto any ill feelings about myself and others. And that is just the beginning because I can let go of a lot of the issues that I had harboured. I can now see the part I had to play with a lot of my resentments towards others. Now my whole outlook on life is so positively different. For the first time in my life I have ambitions and desires to help others who are in need of assistance. I now have the faith and belief that I will gain qualifications and employment. I now have the faith and belief that I will be settled with a home where I can have my 2 adorable children back in my life again. All the important things in my life that I lost due to this horrible disease of addiction. I now know that if I put the work in I can live a good clean & sober life!
I’m now building a life of contentment that I have always wanted and I am around good people who have a positive influence on me.
I pray that those who are suffering out there find the courage to reach out for help and assistance to make better decisions for a better life. Once I managed to reach out I received nothing but kindness, compassion, support and guidance which gradually gave me that wee bit of hope that manifested into faith & belief that life can and will be what I want it to be. All I have to do is keep putting all the advice that I’m given into action.
A wee quote I read today fits perfectly for my thinking now –
“Staying positive doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time. It means that even on hard days you know there are better ones coming.”
And this is a big part of the change in me today – a total change in mindset.
I went from the depths of suicidal despair to having optimistic faith.
Today I feel truly blessed!