A York project is helping people whose lives have been blighted by drink and drugs to find a new direction. Its first success story tells Mark Stead how it opened her eyes to the future.
ONE knock on a door provided Kerry Baldwin with the chance to reclaim her life after years of drug abuse saw her “lose everything”.
The 34-year-old began drinking at 13 after being placed in care, started taking amphetamines at 17, moved on to heroin and was trapped in hopelessness.
Her escape from that spiral came when she approached Oaktrees York, a project where a 12-week abstinence-based recovery programme helps those wanting to give up drink and drugs stay clean and sober and find a new community focus. Kerry, its first graduate, hopes her journey will encourage others to beat their addictions.
“I’d lost everything – my four children, my self-respect – and I woke up one day and thought ‘I need to sort my head out now, or never’,” said Kerry, who is now looking at volunteering opportunities, dog-walking, working with teenagers whose parents are addicts and training to be a mentor.
“I was determined to find out who I was.”
Kerry approached Oaktrees – commissioned by City of York Council, managed by The Cyrenians charity, and based at Bowes Morrell House, in Walmgate – having met its operational manager, Andy Ryan, and entered the programme in January 2014
Through daily therapeutic sessions, she explored her emotions, set goals, questioned her life and created a personal plan for her future.
“I’d never worked in a group before, so it was about building a trust, but when I shared my life story you could feel their love and support,” she says.
Art sessions also saw Kerry take up drawing and the group produce a mosaic. “Before Oaktrees, I wouldn’t have taken part in something like that – I would have thought it was stupid and not for me – but it was brilliant, and I’m so proud of the mosaic that I’m thinking of doing one with the kids.”
Kerry’s family, friends, fellow group members and York support agencies attended her graduation, and she said: “All the attention was on me, so I was really nervous, but I was also really proud and my mum was really proud of me – we’ve become a lot closer.”
With choices she once thought she would never have and a continuing care programme, Kerry sums her life up as “amazing”. Every day, she attends an AA or a SMART (Self-Management And Recovery Training) meeting or goes to church, saying: “Oaktrees’ structure and routine helped show me there’s time for everything and to get out of bed every day.
“I like being me – I now understand things can’t be perfect for anybody, but I’m aiming to be the best person I can. I have control over myself, respect for myself and know I deserve respect.
“Oaktrees has shown me there is a turning point and help and support is there when you’re ready for it. The key is people using it when they’re ready.
“I’m taking everything step by step, enjoying life, not taking anything for granted and still learning about myself. I know that, by staying off drugs, life is going to be great.”
Helping addicts to ‘reinvent’ themselves
COMMON in the US, the Oaktrees model is rare in Britain, with 18 months of planning and fact-finding going into developing York’s programme.
Leigh Bell, City of York Council’s strategic lead on public health substance misuse, said examining successful projects in Edinburgh and Gateshead discovered “what they were doing that we weren’t”, and how they helped people with “chaotic” lives become abstinent and positive members of their community.
“In York, people got to a certain point, were discharged and on their own at probably the most critical point in their long-term recovery, with nobody to look at how they were rebuilding their life,” she said.
“It’s not the case that you have initial treatment and you’re fine. It’s how you get beyond the point when you’ve stopped using your crutch. It’s about helping people reinvent themselves into the life they want, rather than the life drink and drugs forced them into.”
Everybody entering Oaktrees’ programme – including one-to-one counselling, group therapy, workshops and education – must be drug and alcohol-free.
Operational manager Andy Ryan said: “They are already abstinent, so it’s about following through the work, allowing them to reintegrate themselves into society and have realistic options.
“We have individual plans for everybody who walks through the door, working with them on whatever their needs are. If a care plan isn’t what you want, you’ll soon be back at square one. We don’t just force people down a pathway at a time when they have the motivation to do something different – we don’t want them to lose that motivation. We hope that, after finishing the programme, people will pop back in and tell us they have done great things, and done them for themselves.”
Oaktrees graduates receive up to a year of continuing support after completing its non-residential programme, which does not offer detox. For more information, phone 01904 621776 or email email@example.com