Paul is an ex-service user and as part of Volunteers Week, details his experience of volunteering during treatment and recovery.

Throughout, my 20 years of addiction, I always helped people where I could. Either by giving my time or giving financially, something I now realise was not due to my desire to genuinely help but was a self-gratifying way of hiding my addiction. A way of covering up my bad behavioiurs and ultimately keeping my secret selfish gambling life from being uncovered. I did it to make me feel good about all the bad I was doing.

Starting volunteering during treatment

Whilst in treatment at Gordon Moody, I was asked, along with the other residents, to assist at a local bowls club. It was coming up to bonfire night and the ground had to be covered completely by tarpaulins. We would also need to go back a few days later to clear up any debris and mess and remove the tarpaulins.

My first reaction was quite negative, I’m here to stop gambling I thought, not be a good Samaritan, but a little reluctantly I went along. Within minutes of arriving, I started to realise how much our help meant to the members of the bowls club. The smiles on their faces, when a group of young, fit men turned up to help, was something I wasn’t expecting. Not surprising when the task was made apparent, it was a big job.

After several hours we had the opportunity to have tea and biscuits with the members and it soon became clear how much our help meant to them. Walking away that day I felt something completely new, a good feeling. I had helped someone with no ulterior motive, I wasn’t doing it to hide something bad or because I was getting something out of it. I actually looked forward to going back to help again.

Helping out at a local food bank

Not long after this, we were offered the opportunity to help out at the local food bank for a few hours each week. Having enjoyed my first go at volunteering so much, I was more than happy to spare my time. Again there was that feeling of inner happiness, that I was doing something for the sole reason that I wanted to help.

Years of selfish behaviour had taken its toll on me but I was now experiencing the joy of being kind. It turned out to be something I looked forward to each week, a bond was formed with the existing volunteers. No judgement was ever cast about my past or my circumstance, just a group of people doing something kind, something positive.

Identity struggle

When I arrived in treatment I was particularly struggling with my identity, who was I as a person. I saw myself as a nasty human who only knew selfishness and lacked morals but treatment made me realise this was my addict talking and actually deep down I did have morals and kind, positive core values. For me the volunteering boosted my recovery by allowing me to explore who I was as a person, what I believed in, and who I wanted to be. After years of selfish behaviour it was a very humbling experience.

Taking on my first official volunteer role

Before completing treatment, circumstances meant I was offered some extra weeks at the treatment centre before moving to the recovery home in Dudley. Knowing I would have more spare time around group sessions, I decided to look at more volunteering roles in the area. Having worked in retail for many years but fallen out of love with it, I decided I would like to volunteer at a charity shop, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) was recommended so I applied and, after a quick interview, I was offered a position, three four-hour shifts per week.

Volunteering at the British Heart Foundation

It’s difficult to express how much volunteering at the BHF has helped me in my recovery. My humility, self-worth and confidence have all increased and my love for working in retail has returned.  Again there was no judgement about my past or why I was offering my time, just an amazing team who treated me like a normal person.

I can’t remember the last time I left paid work happy but there I was, leaving my shift at the BHF beaming from ear to ear. I remember one day where I spent almost the entire four hours steaming clothes. I remember thinking to myself, if that was me during addiction and even if I was getting paid for it, I would have thought it was a waste of my time, that I was too good for it and would have likely walked out. Yet at that moment in time I was as happy as ever. I felt complete and I think for the first time genuinely believed I had a future, one that I was excited about.

Moving to a new area for recovery

Leaving the BHF team at Beckenham was sad but I knew before I even arrived at the recovery home in Dudley, I would look to continue my volunteering. Sure enough, I was soon part of the team at the BHF in Dudley – another amazing team who have made me feel like one of the family. Here I have been shown more parts of the business, been trained in more areas, and been able to continue to build on my own confidence and self-esteem.

Helping me rebuild my life

Volunteering has not only been a huge factor in the success of my recovery through the mental and emotional empowerment it has given me, but has also played a massive part in my time management and preparation for leaving the recovery home. It has helped me combat boredom and also has given me a structure and routine, two huge factors that help me stay focused and positive.

Retail work may not be for everyone but there are so many volunteering opportunities out there I would recommend everyone in recovery gives it a go. There is a better life out there after addiction and giving my time to others has helped me realise this.


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