Putting Down Roots : Paul’s Story

Paul used alcohol to mask his anxiety. Soon the alcohol had taken away everything he cared about: his work, his relationships and eventually, his home. But with our Putting Down Roots project, which uses gardening as a tool for recovery, Paul is starting to get back on his feet.

“Growing up, mental health wasn’t something people talked about openly, you were expected to just get on with things.

I’ve suffered with anxiety and low self-esteem since I was a child. I never felt like I fitted in. As I got older, my friends started going on nights out and meeting girls. But I just didn’t have the confidence.

I found work as an electrician and I’d regularly go to the pub with my boss. On Fridays, we’d start drinking after lunch and wouldn’t stop until closing time. Alcohol seemed to be the answer to all of my problems. When I drank, my anxiety disappeared.

For the first time in my life, I found myself fitting in and connecting with other people. At the age of 25 I started going out with my first girlfriend. I’d go to pubs and clubs with all my new friends. When they said they wanted to go home after a night out drinking, I didn’t underst and why. I was having such a good time, I didn’t want it to end.

It was scary. I slept rough, sofa surfed and stayed in squats. Everything I loved and cared about had gone, so alcohol became the most important thing in my life. I didn’t know what to do – I didn’t know there was support available.

I slowly began to realise that I had a problem.  At first I managed to keep up appearances – I even started my own business. But my dependency on drinking soon affected my relationships, and my finances. I relied on credit cards to get by and this soon escalated into serious debt. It all happened so fast.

“Then, when I turned 40, things came to a head. I lost my driving licence which meant I couldn’t run my business. My relationships with my family and my partner broke down and I eventually became homeless. I lost contact with my young daughter.”

After several months, I managed to find a place in a hostel. Then I moved into a ‘dry house’ for people recovering from alcohol use. I started volunteering and looking for jobs. But it was too much all at once.

Back then, I didn’t understand addiction or recovery – I kept thinking I’d rebuilt my life, only for everything to come crashing down again when I’d relapse. I needed something less stressful to keep me occupied while I focussed on getting better for good.

That’s when I first heard about St Mungo’s Recovery College and Putting Down Roots, their horticultural therapy and training project. I’d always thought gardening would be a bit boring – I thought it was a hobby for retired people! But I decided to give it a go.

I started going to weekly training sessions at the Castle Park Physic Garden in Bristol in 2019 and I’m still going now. The staff are really friendly and I’ve met so many other people who’ve had similar experiences to me. It’s a safe, non-judgmental space where we can tend to the garden together and get to know one another.

I soon realised how much I love working with my hands, being outside in the fresh air and seeing the results of our hard work come to life. It’s a public garden and it feels good to be giving back to the community.

“Gardening has become a kind of therapy for me. Since I joined Putting Down Roots I’ve rebuilt my relationships with friends and family, and they’re so glad to see me doing well.”

In November 2020, I moved into my own flat. My daughter comes to stay and she’s one of my biggest motivations to stay on the right path. She’s teaching me about TikTok and YouTubers!

It’s funny, my drinking all started because I wanted to feel confident, to hide my anxiety. That’s why it’s so
hard to stop because when you do, you realise the anxiety is still there. In the end it’s Putting Down Roots that has given me confidence in my ability to recover – confidence in myself.”

Interested in finding out more about St Mungo’s skills and training projects? Look at how Putting Down Roots and our Recovery College help people with experience of homelessness.