"I’m very grateful to Kenward’s staff that I’m still alive today.”
Damien grew up in Brighton, the son of a largely absent father who had an addiction to gambling. However, his childhood was largely happy, he enjoyed school and he showed great promise on the football pitch.
At sixteen, Damien was signed by Yeovil Town Football Club and thought that he had achieved his dream. But his girlfriend back in Brighton became pregnant and he returned to his home town to be with her. Tragically, the child died.
Damien gave up on a football career and tried to cope with the loss of his child with increasing amounts of alcohol and narcotics. Then, at the age of 18, his father briefly returned to his life to tell him a devastating secret.
His father had been leading a double life with another woman for several years, effectively moving between families as his gambling and drug habits dictated. On hearing this, Damien’s mum had a nervous breakdown, leaving him to look after her and a baby brother, whilst struggling with addiction.
By the age of 19 he was dealing drugs in a desperate attempt to fund a self-destructive lifestyle dominated by speed, cannabis, and whatever he could get his hands on. Robbery also became necessary for him to live like this.
A brief stint in the army ended when Damien’s girlfriend left him, which sent him back to drink and drugs with a vengeance. Another girlfriend was a heroin addict who he thought he could help get ‘clean’. Instead, he developed a taste for heroin himself, even as his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Their partnership did not last; Damien did not see his son grow up.
“The law caught up with me and I was sentenced to three years for burglary,” says Damien. “In prison I completed a RAPt course (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners). So I was free from drink and drugs… until my sentence was over. Six weeks after leaving prison, having relapsed into addiction, I was arrested for armed robbery.”
A much longer prison sentence followed, during which time he completed another RAPt course, gained qualifications in Maths and English, and an NVQ as a fitness instructor. Eventually he was moved to an open prison where drugs were all too easily available. This led to violence and a backwards move to HM Prison Lewes and then each of the three Isle of Sheppey prisons in turn.
Once again, although clean and sober on release, Damien headed straight back to his old addiction, which inevitably led to crime and a return to HM Prison Lewes. He entered a detox programme on release, and was living in recovery from addiction until he entered another relationship, with another woman who used heroin.
Admitting the truth
Two children were the result of this relationship, and for a while the family were functioning together under the same roof. But, as he says, “Regardless of everything else I was doing, I just could not stop drinking.” (“Everything else” included methadone, benzedrine, crack cocaine and heroin.) Eventually Damien’s partner threw him out of the family home.
He became ‘impossible to house – thus homeless – in the local area, as all the landlords knew not to open their doors to him. In the summer of 2012, Damien woke up in Ashford Hospital having suffered his eighth overdose.
Following another detox programme, he made a crucial choice. In his words, “It was either Kenward House or a mixed-sex residential project with the freedom to come and go at will. But I chose Kenward for the discipline of having to stay on site for the first month and work hard at my recovery. It forced me to confront myself honestly and has made all the difference.”
Damien finally felt safe enough to properly analyse his life. His previous attempts at detox and recovery had been for the wrong reasons, mainly because they eased his passage through prison. He had never honestly wanted to remain abstinent for the rest of his life. Thanks to the group work, counselling and therapy at Kenward, his attitude had changed – recovery was within his grasp.
Damien continues to work on his rehabilitation at the Malthouse – Kenward’s second stage project – and he is building a structure for a new life in the community. He volunteers at a local horse sanctuary, attends recovery meetings regularly, and has joined a football team for the first time in two decades. He has regular supervised play sessions with his children, and is back in contact with the teenage son he never knew. “To succeed in recovery you’ve got to want to do it yourself,” he says. “For the first time ever I truly want that, thanks to Kenward.”
"I’ve had too much pain because of my addiction, and I don’t want to go back to where I was. Thanks to Kenward, I don’t have to."
Story written in February 2013.
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