This month we’ve been raising awareness of addiction issues.
And we’d love you to join in the conversation, so please do follow us and engage with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. At the Hub, addiction is one of the most common issues that we are coming across in the lives of our visitors, and it can often be related to a variety of other complex issues. Like many of the needs in Harrogate, addiction is a problem that is often unseen, masked by the town’s reputation for being one of the happiest and wealthiest places in the North.
We are here to support people whatever they might be going through and to help them access the relevant and best support for them. This week Hub volunteer and broadcast journalist, Rachel Williams, interviewed local chef, Gerson, to find out his story of addiction.
Meet Gerson. He’s 37 years old, originally from London, now living in Harrogate and working as a chef for Bettys.
Gerson’s life wasn’t always like this. From the age of just 12 years old, he started drinking alcohol and taking drugs. For Gerson, this was just something that became part of him. Something he didn’t realise was happening.
As I waited for Gerson at the entrance of the Valley Gardens, a big booming voice shouted out of a car window “I’m just trying to find a car parking space…”
A few minutes passed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said as he came towards me and waved, “I was dropping the Horizon lads off.”
Horizons is an integrated drug and alcohol recovery service for North Yorkshire. (You can read about our visit to Horizons here.)
Gerson explains: “Horizon is like a halfway house, people come from rehab and they get the opportunity to learn life skills that enable you to get back into the community and earn a living. I came through the programme, I went to rehab called Teen Challenge due to the drugs and alcohol I was taking. Whilst I was at Teen Challenge, I developed my interest in catering and I found out that Horizon could offer training in professional cookery.”
And that’s what led Gerson to Harrogate.
As we walked to find a bench, we chatted about the Churches we both attend and a mutual friend we both know. I couldn’t believe that the person I was talking to was the same as the man who was struggling and using drugs just a few years ago.
Gerson shared: “It started off in my early teens; I was drinking but it was only social.
I started skiving off school because of the drinking and the drugs; it just became part of me. I was a ‘functioning addict’ because I managed to go to work and hold down jobs. A lot of people wouldn’t even notice I was under the influence.”
Gerson’s usage worsened after the death of his brother in 1998. He said: “I was drinking and consuming to numb the pain. To get me through the pain I dove deeper into it, not realising that the deeper I dove, the more problems it created for me.”
The problem escalated and in 2011 Gerson hit rock bottom.
I asked him what his lowest point was. He took a moment, “wow” he said, whilst thinking about what to say. “There’s been a few.”
In 2011, I was working with people ‘in the field’, who I thought we were my buddies – not knowing that they were plotting bad against me. The person I was working with actually got me set up and kidnapped. I was held at gunpoint by a group of men. That was my lowest point because I felt so small- smaller than an ant.
“It was like my manhood had been taken away from me. I didn’t trust my family, I didn’t trust my close friends I was suspicious about everybody.”
After this, he felt like there was nowhere to turn and he isolated himself for three months just consuming drugs and drinking. As is the case for a lot of users, the turning point wasn’t immediate.
He said: “It was like 2 years later in 2013 – things had started spiralling out of control and the problem was becoming very obvious.”
In June that year, Gerson started to address the problem.
Gerson said: “I was at Stockwell Underground Station and somehow my sister, who was talking to me on the phone, knew where I was and found me. I was completely gone. I was so wasted. She’s 4ft something and I’m quite big compared to her; how she managed to take me like a mile up the road to my mum’s house, I will never know.”
“She got me to my mums and that’s when my family stepped in.”
Gerson’s family put him under house arrest. Everything that could get locked away was locked away. Gerson described what it was like to go through a detox. He said: “ I was rattling (detoxicating), everything was coming out of my system and it was horrible.”
He was laying down on the sitting room floor, when his elder brother came in and asked “Ok, what is it you want me to do?”
“I need help” Gerson replied.
Gerson said that admitting that he needed help was one of the hardest things.
He said: “For so many years, I kept telling myself I was alright. I saw psychiatrists, was put on antidepressants and other medication, but it never seemed to work.”
If it wasn’t for Gerson’s family sticking by him and intervening, he wouldn’t know where he’d be. It was his brother that told him his problem was spiritual. Gerson said: “When my brother said that I kind of wanted to laugh.”
Gerson’s parents are both Christians and have been for as long as he can remember. When he was growing up, he had to go to church but he explained he turned his back on it. He said: “I’ve always had knowledge of Christ but I’d never accepted him.”
Gerson’s brother introduced him to an outreach worker who was involved with Teen Challenge. They worked together to fill out an application form and he was offered a bed within three weeks. In that time, Gerson stayed at his brother’s house because his family were worried he might have one last ‘blow out’ before 18 months rehabilitation, which he found difficult. And this was how Gerson started to accept Jesus.
He said he thanks his family because if it wasn’t for them taking the steps that they had, he wouldn’t have got here.
He added: “Of course God’s involved in that, but I now know God used my family. The scriptures say that God has created a path for us and he knows where we are going to go and he put the pieces into place.”
Has it been an easy journey? No. Do I get temptations? Yeah, but then I look at what I’ve achieved: I’ve worked at Bettys for a year and half, which has been the longest job I’ve ever held. Everyone there is really happy and supportive.
If Gerson were to give advice to people currently caught up with addiction, it would be to use the passion that they put into getting the drugs and to use that same passion to stay off it. He said: “When you want to get that hit or that drink and you haven’t got the money, you go to any lengths to get it, so why not turn that around and put the passion elsewhere?”
He also added: “There’s a lot of help out there. More help than one actually realises- just pick up the phone”.
Gerson now knows to call his friends from church if ever he feels isolated or alone.
Reflecting on his relationship with drugs, he said: “When you’re involved with drugs, you don’t really care about the consequences, you’re more about the moment, which can be dangerous because you’re only focused on the now. Not for tomorrow, not for the future.
“And that was the life I was living in the past but since moving up here my life has been better, I’m really glad that I made that decision.”
That’s why charities like Horizon and the Harrogate Hub exist. When you feel like you’ve got nobody to turn to, we are here for you.
Just last year, Gerson was nominated for a ‘Good Egg’ award by his employers and he was shortlisted in the top ten. He told me that if someone had said that to him when he was at his lowest point, he would never have believed it. He said moving to Harrogate has changed his life for all the right reasons.
If you can relate to Gerson’s story, or perhaps you recognise some of the symptoms of addiction in yourself, please come and see us at Harrogate Hub. We would love to meet you and talk to you, and walk alongside you to get you the support you need.
Interview by Rachel Williams
Edited by Ella Green