Gary's story

aaBrighton companion Gary Ward 53 140122web

Emmaus has given me so much stability over the last few years, my old life and my old self seem like they are a million miles away. Here I am, in charge of the new shop in Southwick, and I make it my aim every day to get out there and talk to the customers, selling the goods in the shops, but also just keeping people happy. I’m told I have the gift of the gab!

Becoming an alcoholic crept up on me over the years. I started drinking in my teens and just didn’t know how to stop. For a long while I was in and out of prison for robbery and burglary. I committed crimes to get money to buy drink, simple as that. I can't believe now that all those years went, just like that, I'll never get over it. 

In between prison I worked on a farm with my father until a lorry reversed on me and broke my back. I couldn’t do physical work after that with a spinal injury, and I kept drinking to mask the pain. I really wanted to stop the drink but I didn’t know how. I really wanted to get over it. 

It got so bad that I was doing horrible things like hurting my own family and I wouldn't even remember the next day. I was close to them all and yet I did that. In the end, my father helped me go cold turkey. He kept me locked up for nearly a year with nothing to do but read and watch telly for all that time. I made use of my isolation though, as I had never learned to read at school, and I started to teach myself. Over the year my reading improved enormously. 

I felt like I needed a fresh start, so I moved to Brighton. I was sleeping rough for a while before the rough sleepers team from the council brought me to Emmaus. Living here has been a godsend.

I couldn’t have wished for better people, staff and companions, everyone, it’s like having a vast shoulder to cry on. I was frightened at first, I thought I might be harmed or picked on, but no, I was welcomed with open arms. It's been like paradise really, a shower, food and a bed when you needed them. A dream come true.

I have no plans to move on at the moment – I am still gaining qualifications – so far I have first aid, literacy, numeracy and health & hygiene for working in the kitchens under my belt. The Emmaus staff seem to understand me and like me and they have helped me to like myself too. For a long time I hated what alcohol made me, but now I am in touch with my family again, we talk on Skype regularly, and I think they can see that I am doing OK.