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Recovery Cymru: Helping people with drug misuse issues to rebuild their lives

Recovery Cymru is a peer-led community that empowers people to achieve and maintain recovery from drug and alcohol misuse, whilst supporting others to do the same. Gareth Joseph is one of many people whose lives have been transformed by Recovery Cymru.

Volunteers, some of whom use to be members, are crucial to the organisation’s success

For Gareth cannabis was a gateway drug leading to his use of LSD, ecstasy and speed. He was part of the alternative music scene, within which these drugs were common. Gareth ended up as a functioning user of opiates, and it was more than 10 years before things came to a head.

“I hated myself and I hated everything about my life. The only thing that kept me going was taking more drugs.” There were periods of two or three years where he managed to stop using, until something in his life went wrong. “Then you go back to the thing you know will make you feel better.”

Gareth Joseph, who first approached Recovery Cymru in 2010

Drugs cost Gareth his liberty three times and damaged all the relationships around him. “When the penny finally dropped I was sitting in jail, in my early forties. I’d been working in a really good job and yet here I was, in this dirty cell, with graffiti scrawled over the walls and no handle on the inside of the door. I couldn’t understand how I’d fallen such a great distance, the only thing I could point to was the drugs.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first obstacle to be overcome on the road to recovery. The second is to seek help. This challenge is made even more difficult by the social stigma and legal implications surrounding drug use, many companies will immediately sack staff that admit to being users.

Yet another obstacle is our society’s emphasis on independence, “we’re all brought up to stand on our own two feet. We struggle to show that vulnerability,” says Gareth.  

Recovery Cymru’s support groups are often centred around activities such as walking

Having left prison in 2010, Gareth attended a support group which, at the time, didn’t have a name. Within a few months it had become Recovery Cymru and by 2011 Gareth was behind the desk of their first premises welcoming visitors. “I used to pounce on them because I was so delighted to see someone. Sometimes I’d sit there for days on end and no-one would come through the door.”

Recovery Cymru was conceived by Sarah Vaile, but Gareth was there from the very start. Now they have two centres and 13 staff on the payroll. “It was an amazing journey, it still is,” says Gareth, who now works as the Data and Facilities Coordinator of Recovery Cymru.

Sarah Vaile (left) receives the 2018 Weston Charity Award on behalf of Recovery Cymru

From the beginning Recovery Cymru committed to a unique philosophy that sets them apart from other organisations in the field. “We’re not a service. They do things for and to people. We stand alongside people to support them to make and maintain positive change,” says Gareth. “Although we have professional qualifications we don’t act as professionals. We act as peers.”

Once users have overcome the mental and physical aspects of withdrawal, which vary between different drugs, the problem is generally the same. “You need people, you need something to do and you need something that’s going to fire you up,” says Gareth.

Volunteers painting the ‘Recovery Tree’ mural that greets visitors to the centre in Cardiff

Those suffering from substance misuse often become isolated such that the only people they know are fellow users. “Your parents have had enough of you, your family has had enough of you, you’ve blown all your chances with everyone and you’ve got to start building those relationships back up,” says Gareth.

Recovery Cymru provides a ready-made community for people to slot into. “Everyone has something to give as well as to receive, from the moment they come through the door,” says Gareth. “Willpower is overrated. We’re social animals, it’s about putting yourself in the right environment.”

The Volunteers Week celebration at St John the Evangelist Church in Canton

Another defining feature of Recovery Cymru is its focus on moving towards a fulfilling life, rather than away from drugs. They encourage members to find their ‘vital and consuming interest.’

“Drugs and alcohol are pleasurable, powerful and intoxicating. If you want to replace something like that in your life you need something equally potent that’s going to rouse your passions,” says Gareth. “For me that’s motorcycles and music, the worst times in my life were when I had one of those taken away from me.”

Gareth (second from left) performs as part of a Recovery Cymru music group

Gareth is often moved by the impact that Recovery Cymru has on people’s lives. “One lady started with us as a member, then worked as a volunteer. She managed to get her children off the register and to find work. She told me yesterday she was returning to university and had moved her family into a more suitable house.”

“It’s not just her life that’s changed it’s all her family and possibly her friends. The people that love us want us to be well. To see we’ve had something to do with that is incredible. There’s no better feeling.”

Gareth celebrates the smaller victories along the way too. “One of my colleagues had a text just after Christmas. It said: I’ve had my first ever sober Christmas. I can remember all of it. I had a brilliant time. Thank you so much.”

Another Christmas message of gratitude, this time printed in the local paper

Gareth says to anyone suffering from drug or alcohol problems that “however bad you think it’s going to be going into recovery, it’s not going to be as bad as if you stay drinking and taking drugs.”

Recovery Cymru are reachable via their website, or by phone:

Cardiff 02920 227 019, Barry 01446 734220