Andy's story

Andy - September 2017

People who know me now can’t imagine the way I used to be. I am the companion rep for our community, and every winter I volunteer for Crisis at Christmas. Now, I think I am seen as responsible - a safe pair of hands - but for 15 years I focused on drinking, drugs, and having a good time. I genuinely did not think about anything or anyone else.

I’m originally from Bristol, and I probably started drinking socially around the age of 16. By the time I was 20, I’d moved on to drugs. You name it, I tried it, but really it was because it was what we all did - I just followed the crowd. I worked in a cash and carry and I had plenty of ready money. We liked to let our hair down at the weekends.

Then one day I took it a step too far, when I turned up to work drunk. I lost my job then and there, but instead of stopping me in my tracks, it had the opposite effect. I started drinking more and more until it got to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed without having a glass of vodka first.

Largely, I managed to hide my drinking from my family, I don’t think they realised how bad things had got, but my friends knew, and maintaining a relationship with girlfriends was impossible. I was not a nice person. Eventually, I ran away to Manchester - I knew some people there and I thought a change of scene would do me good. Instead, I got even worse. I started taking pills and other drugs. People were reaching out trying to help me, but I was out of control and I didn’t want to know.

Eventually I got sick of myself. I climbed to the top of one of the highest buildings in Manchester and stood on the edge, looking down. I hated what I had become, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to jump. I called a friend, it was literally a cry for help. Luckily for me, she dropped everything and came to get me. She took me to hospital, and from there I went into rehab. It was miles away from my friends and family, but that distance was what I needed.

It took me more than two years to finally kick my habits, but when I left, I still didn’t know where to go. I walked the 20 miles to London from the rehab centre, arriving in the middle of the night. I was terrified as I tried to sleep, huddled in a doorway on Oxford Street. In the morning, I approached some other people who were homeless, and they told me where to go to get a meal and a shower.

I was living in a hostel when I saw a leaflet about Emmaus. It was scary at that point to think about giving up the safety net that I had constructed – the routine, the benefits I was getting, but I knew that I was ready for change.

I arrived on a Wednesday night. I remember that we sat down and had fish and chips for tea. It felt good. The Community Leader told everyone that I’d be joining the following week, and I was so relieved. At first it was hard, fitting in. I still had a temper and I had to learn to keep it in check. Communal living can be tricky.

I thought I had blown it when I was temporarily banned from the community for getting into a fight. You can’t imagine my relief when I was told that I could come back – that second chance felt amazing. They said to me: “You made a mistake. Now make sure you learn from it.” It was advice I really took on board, and that I try to pass on now when I work with new companions.

I came to Emmaus South Wales in January 2016 when the community first opened, as a ‘seed companion’. Since being at Emmaus I have changed and developed so much. I have been lucky enough to meet Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall when she visited our community, as well as the First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, alongside other local MP's.

I have just started a European Computer Driving Licence course at Bridgend College to enable me to learn how to use the Microsoft Office package. I also plan to start a Coach and Mentor course this year, with a hope to do a Social Studies degree in the future.

If Emmaus hadn’t given me the chance to prove myself, I’m pretty sure I would have ended up dead. Instead, I am developing myself, helping others and giving back to the Emmaus community, which is a really great feeling.