Recovery from addiction is primarily a social process. Someone whose life has been orientated primarily around getting money for drugs, buying them, and then using, now has to fill their time with more meaningful activities. They need to engage with people around them, in particular other people on a recovery journey. Social, physical, educational and voluntary (giving back) activities all help the process of recovery, in part through the person gaining a sense of purpose and feelings of belonging.
Boxing is a big part of the physical fitness activities at Penryhn House. ‘There’s nothing quite as liberating, or as enjoyable, as being punched in the face by one of your close friends.’ Early on, James used to take some real pastings off the lads. The community does lots of creative writing. They partner with Eternal Media in Wrexham, which is run by Marcus Fair. Eternal Media film the NWRC Expeditions and they’ve recently won Best Documentary (Wales) for Focus Wales 2023. They do a 12-week programme for NWRC members showing the basics of filmmaking and podcasting.
James emphasises that addiction takes up everything in a person’s life, so when you remove that, ‘there’s this massive void that is left behind…. You have to fill that.’ The person can’t sit around and watch TV all day. They need to find something that they can get passionate about. James believes that hobbies are really crucial to a person’s recovery. ‘The things that we do by choice, the things that we just do for sheer enjoyment, either because they give us just a sense of pleasure or a sense of mastery…’
James points out that when you stop using or drinking, your emotions come back again, so its important to find something that you can get passionate about that fills that gap. The community’s growing project is also relevant here; it’s also about people being outside and nurturing something.
One of the NWRC Trustees, Sarah, goes out to Kenya regularly. NWRC sponsors a family, a woman with six children who had lost her husband in tribal fighting. The family was homeless, so NWRC raised the money in the community to build them a house. Sarah went over to sort things out with one of NWRC’s longest members, Linda. NWRC now sends money to help the children with their education.
When Sarah and Linda returned from Kenya, they pointed out that one of the big issues for the girls was ‘period poverty’. Once the girls start menstruating, they can’t access school anymore as disposable sanitary towels didn’t really exist. NWRC obtained about ten sewing machines and members started making reusable sanitary towels out of material in the Penryhn House classroom. They made about 20,000 towels.
James could feel the buzz and vibe in the room where Linda was working away with ‘a load of hardened former heroin users who had spent half their life in prison.’ One of the lads said, ‘For the first time in my life I actually feel like I’m contributing to someone else who is worse…’