How gardening helped me beat my addiction

How Roots and Boots garden project helped in battle with alcohol

Lettuce seedlingsAt the Food Partnership, we run a range of projects working in community gardens with lots of different groups of people.

One is our Roots and Boots therapeutic gardening project for vulnerable adults who have multiple and complex needs through experiences of homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction and mental health difficulties. Most of our participants have been through detox and are now looking for meaningful activity to fill their time as well as learning new skills, building confidence and self-esteem.

After 10 weeks of attending, participants may then feel ready to access a different gardening group (with less support and structure) or choose to roll over to the following 10-week group until they feel ready to move on. The aim is that participants will grow in confidence and by the end, be able to attend an open access gardening group, should they wish to continue.

Here, we share the story of one participant (who wishes to remain anonymous). He had been struggling with alcohol addiction and was living in a local residential treatment programme. His key worker suggested he gave Roots and Boots a try and referred him to the Food Partnership.

This is a longer piece than we usually publish but we think it is a good illustration of some of the work we do in the city.

Why did you get involved with Roots and Boots?

“To be honest I didn’t give it a lot of hope to begin with, I thought allotments? What do I want to do with that? I’d only just got into treatment and the thought of going out there and getting my life back together was just massive but looking back on it now, going up to Stanmer Park, it was actually the first step of getting everything sorted.

“Even at the end of the first day I saw that in an hour and a half I could achieve something of value for me and for the other groups of people who use the plot.  So indirectly it connects me to other people and a wider community.  Also, when I was there I didn’t feel judged, no one going past knew why I was up there, who I was, that I am in treatment, having thoughts about alcohol. Anyone sees I’m just a guy working on an allotment and that was what I felt like when I was up there. That to me is worth just as much as the rest of the treatment was worth.”

How important was it to have transport arranged to take you to Stanmer?

“Without the travel, it just wouldn’t have happened. No-one from our house would have come. Especially on the bleaker days.  Everyone who got in the taxi needed it to come. And we did a bit of team building and bonding in the taxi too.

“As soon as you get in you are a group, even if you haven’t met each other before.  Once there you get in the fresh air and can get stuck in or you can sit out if you need to, if you need some space.”

Why did you ask for the time to be changed?

“So we could start earlier because we found that we weren’t achieving as much as we thought we could. After chatting to Rosie Linford, the Community Gardener Group Leader for Roots and Boots, we ended up meeting up earlier to come.  We discussed it and agreed it because we wanted be ‘spades in ground’ by 10am.

“It also gave us more time for the check-in which was really nice. And we were able to do a ‘check out’ too because some people when they ‘checked in’ were in a bad place, having brought up loads of stuff, problems with family etc., but an hour and a half later their check out is completely different which I experienced and saw in others too. So you have had some respite from the hurt, stress and anger.

“It’s not a miraculous recovery but it’s part of an overall recovery. Feeling calmer, less aggressive. It also set me up to take those feelings back into the rest of the day and have a good rest of the day. I really used the session to relax and enjoy myself. Most days it was a breath of fresh air.  I really enjoyed the physical work because my previous work was physical so it reconnected me to that bit of my life.”

Why is this service important?

“You need to have projects like this to run alongside other projects [like residential support services]. [They] are great but they can’t do it all for you.  They can’t offer this.

“The treatment got me away from my addiction, and the park for a few hours got me away from my treatment, it was just a break from it …. Mow the lawn, weed the garden.

“Treatment is intensive, it works, but at the time what you are bringing up about yourself, it’s painful, the things you are owning up to, your demons you are confronting, it’s heavy carrying all that hurt and pain and anger. Going up to the park I was released from that pain, the more I got into it, even when it was crazy rain weather, I knew I would get that release.

“You can’t get rid of your addiction by sitting in a room or a circle of chairs. You need to get out and create moments – looking back on our Thursdays many of those moments mean a lot. It still comes up in conversation with some of the lads who I’ve moved on with, remembering daft things we did, falling over the wheelbarrow. Because it was a part of our treatment we talk about it like we do other bits, but it’s one of the fonder bits.

“It’s when you look back on things, that’s when you see the benefits. Because I’ve stayed drink free and away from addiction lifestyle, I can look back and see that the plot was a massive part of my treatment. Not separate from it, even though I thought I was just getting outside for a few hours, it WAS the treatment too.

“If you don’t have outlets like that for people in places like traditional rehab there is a gap in the treatment. It’s a release, you aren’t with staff, you aren’t being told what to do, you have choices. It takes you out of the addiction bubble. I also saw other sides of society that you wouldn’t see in the addictive lifestyle – finding out about different projects, what’s happening up in the park.

“A lot of the stuff that gets suggested to you IN treatment is all about treatment. But this isn’t, it’s gardening, it’s like ‘the best ‘non-treatment’ ‘treatment’’. It’s not a meeting or a meeting about a meeting; it’s just a way to be YOU for a few hours.”

How do you see your future?

“I know I’m not on my own, there are other projects out there if I need to reconnect with that experience. I can get into nature and tap into those feelings, get in the van and drive out somewhere, get some space.

“I’ll be keeping in touch with the project anyway as I’ve offered to do some maintenance work for them. I want to give back to the project for what it gave me. I’m busy now doing handy work, I’ve got a lot of work on, but I know I need to keep space and time for myself and not get bogged down in working all the time.

“I need to put myself among the trees and use my ‘toolkit’ to protect myself from the city life, keep my anger issues at bay and connect with the calmness.  In treatment there are some bad places you have to go to in your mind and I have memories of that but experiences of the garden project always make me smile. That’s the truth of it.”

The Food Partnership’s Roots and Boots therapeutic gardening project can be offered alongside other interventions to help people on their recovery journey.

For more information or if you’d like to refer yourself or a client to Roots and Boots, please visit call Jo Glazebrook on 01273 431716.

Share this:

You may also be interested in: