“You’ve been swimming. Have you ever dived too deep? What happens? That feeling you get struggling to get back up to the surface. Every molecule in your body is straining to get air. That’s how an alcoholic feels about a drink.”
Johnny is adamant that the abstinence-based recovery, the method practised at SCT’s dry hostel, is the only route out of alcoholism and addiction.
“People confuse heavy drinking with addiction, but it’s not about how much you drink. The difference is what makes you take the first drink and what happens to you when you drink it. An addict can’t have one drink. If an addict has one drink, they’re drinking ‘til they run out of money or they pass out – whichever comes first.”
“An addict can’t have one drink. If an addict has one drink, they’re drinking ‘til they run out of money or they pass out – whichever comes first.”
As a key worker, Johnny is more used to interviewing prospective residents in his office at Acorn House than being interviewed. “The main thing is to ascertain if they want recovery or a roof over their head. If they want a roof, this isn’t the right place.”
Whilst homeless men can stay at the hostel, Acorn is about recovery and addressing the root causes of a person’s addiction. Johnny emphasises the importance of residents arriving committed to recovery. “People don’t end up in Acorn House because life is going well. People can only come in here because they want recovery, and they’ve usually tried everything else. Our objective is to teach them how to stay sober one day at a time.”
Acorn residents learn a 12-step recovery programme. Men learn about their addiction and are given tools to address its causes.
“Only one of these steps mentions alcohol. It’s not alcohol that gets us drunk, it’s our head. Alcohol is a symptom. It’s only when you put down the drink that you can find out why you were drinking.”
“Alcohol is a symptom. It’s only when you put down the drink that you can find out why you were drinking.”
“The main work is group therapy. But talking alone won’t keep people sober – if that was all it took, the guys out drinking on the park bench would have recovered by now. These people need to change the way they think and act. They have to change who they are.”
In addition to a key worker to help them to stick to their recovery, residents find a ‘sponsor’ – someone with more experience of recovery who can always provide an understanding ear. Life at Acorn House is very structured, enabling the men to build the habits that can keep them from addiction in a way that wouldn’t be possible without this level of support. Residents wake by a certain time. They take turns to shop and cook for each other: simple acts that bring back the basic habits of normal life.
Acorn residents are introduced to SCT’s personal development and training centre. The New Hanbury project is next door to Acorn House and offers courses in arts, crafts and life skills. This gives a positive and productive focus to time that could too easily be spent ruminating. The pace of the training is tailored for people coming out of addiction, sometimes after many years. Learning new skills helps self-confidence return and grow. But the risk of relapse remains constant.
“This is a dry hostel. There are no three strikes here. If you drink or use once you go straight out. People say you can’t put people out on the street, but it’s the only way. If one man drinks in here he’s putting 15 men’s lives at risk. They have to go, no exceptions. A second chance won’t help them.”
“If one man drinks in here he’s putting 15 men’s lives at risk. They have to go, no exceptions. A second chance won’t help them.”
If they can maintain their recovery men often stay at Acorn House for about a year.
“People want a quick fix. Most other places give you 3 months to return to normal life – after that the funding is gone. You can’t ask someone who’s been drinking and drugging for 20 years to get sober in 3 months.”
The combination of one-to-one and group sessions with structured activity and a strong sense of community help achieve an outstanding recovery rate. 60% complete the programme and move on. For those who have stayed sober and demonstrated that they can be responsible for themselves, they move on to one of SCT’s supported houses.
Here they gain more independence while continuing to feel supported by the SCT community. Johnny’s regular sessions with supported housing residents are less frequent, but no less important for keeping check on their recovery. And they couldn’t hope for someone with a better understanding of their situation.
“As a recovering alcoholic myself I had to learn that drinking was my default position and I needed to be shown how to live in a way that enabled me to not fall back into that default position. I have to put into practice on a daily basis the tools I have been shown so that relapse doesn’t occur.
It’s much like a diabetic who has to take insulin. When the medication is taken on a daily basis all tends to go well, but if should he or she stop taking the medication, problems can and will occur. Having been taught this and now practice it, it is one of the basics that we try to teach the men at Acorn.
“It’s much like a diabetic who has to take insulin. When the medication is taken on a daily basis all tends to go well, but if should he or she stop taking the medication, problems can and will occur. Having been taught this and now practice it, it is one of the basics that we try to teach the men at Acorn.”
People think that alcoholics are just weak willed, but it’s an illness. When I was wrestling at high school I had to lose weight for a bout. I didn’t eat for three days. I don’t lack willpower.
People ask why alcoholics drink. Why? Because they’re alcoholics.”
Rooms are currently available in SCT’s supported houses. If you would like to refer yourself or a client please download the forms on our supported houses page.