Paul found himself homeless after struggling with his mental health and relationships with his family started to break down. But with our Putting Down Roots programme he’s now getting back on his feet. This is his story.
I’ve suffered with bad anxiety and self-esteem since I was a child. I was shy and lacking in confidence and I never felt like I fitted in.
Growing up, mental health wasn’t something people talked about openly, you were expected just to get on with things. I was close to my parents and I left school with some qualifications, but while my friends were going on nights out and meeting girls, I was really self-conscious. I started going out with my first girlfriend at 25.
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. It gave me the confidence I so desperately wanted, and my anxiety seemed to disappear.
For the first time in my life, I was fitting in and connecting with other people. When my friends said they wanted to go home after a heavy night of drinking, I didn’t understand why. I was having such a good time; I didn’t want it to end. I started going clubbing, and that’s when I also became involved with drugs.
It all happened so fast. I managed to keep my head above water for a while, even starting my own business. But my dependency on drinking and drugs affected my relationships, and also my finances. I relied on credit cards to get by and this soon escalated into serious debt.
My friends and family were very concerned about me. Although I tried various private rehab and hospital detox programmes, I never got to the root of my issues. I didn’t understand addiction or recovery – I kept rebuilding my life, only for everything to come crashing down again when I’d relapse.
Then, when I turned 40, things came to a head. I lost my driving licence, and I couldn’t run my business. My relationships with my family and my partner broke down and I eventually became homeless. I sofa surfed, stayed in a squat and I also lost contact with my young daughter.
It was scary. After working for most of my life, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know there was support available. Everything I loved and cared about had been taken away from me, so alcohol became the most important thing in my life.
After several months of rough sleeping, I found a place in a hostel and began visiting a day centre, where I was introduced to St Mungo’s services. For a long time, I also lived in a ‘dry house’ for people recovering from using alcohol or drugs. I was volunteering, trying to maintain my sobriety and also focused on finding a job. After a while, it all became too much. I needed to find something less stressful so I could focus on my mental health and wellbeing.
That’s when I found out about the other programmes St Mungo’s offer for clients, including courses and training with the Recovery College. I read about Putting Down Roots, their horticultural therapy and training project – and I decided to give it a go.
I’d always thought gardening was a bit boring. I didn’t have any experience and I thought it was a hobby for retired people! But I needed something that would challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone.
Arriving for my first day of training, I was very anxious, but the staff and the other clients were great. I started going to weekly training sessions at the Castle Park Physic Garden in Bristol, developing new skills and connecting with people who had similar experiences. The garden was a safe, non-judgmental space for us to work together. I realised how much I loved working with my hands, being outside in the fresh air and seeing the results of our hard work coming to life.
The garden was a public space and giving back to the community gave me such a good feeling. Gardening gave me the focus in life I’d been missing for so many years. My days had structure as I’d committed to working in the garden and supporting our team.
Thanks to Putting Down Roots, I’ve found my groove. In November 2020, I moved into my own private, rented flat. My daughter comes to stay and she’s one of my biggest motivations to stay on this path. She’s teaching me about TikTok and YouTubers!
Gardening has been like a kind of therapy for me. I’ve rebuilt my relationships with friends and family, and they’re so glad to see me doing well. I can’t praise the staff who’ve supported me enough. Now lockdown restrictions are lifting, a small group of us are back working in the garden. We’re replanting after Covid-19, and the gardens will be back in full bloom this summer.
Recovery is about finding the right balance and Putting Down Roots has helped me to find it.