Duncan is originally from Dundee. He started drinking when he was 12, using valium and dope when he was 13 and injecting at 17. In 1996 he underwent a four month rehab programme and was clear for a year. But eventually he relapsed and until 2004 was on methadone and injecting any type of drug he could get hold of. He had problems finding veins he could still inject into. One Saturday morning he was walking to pick up his script and saw a friend who “was in a real state”. He realised at that moment that he didn’t want to be like this anymore – “a raging addict” like his friend. He applied for rehab and was approved, but because he’d tried and failed in the past, it took nearly a year for Phoenix House to get the funding. He moved into their South Shields project in November 2004 to undergo an 18-month residential course: intensive, within the hostel at first, then graduating to supported accommodation, “re-entry flats”.
He was in the Phoenix House office with his keyworker one day when someone who had been on the programme and who had become a training worker rang up to ask if they knew any decorators. He could decorate himself, so he started volunteering. He was still on benefits, and was offered a job several times, but because he was at that time still involved with the rehab, he was too scared to go for it. However, when he was rehoused in the project’s re-entry flats, he put in for and got a job giving training to school leavers. He obtained a teaching qualification, completing nearly two years - 4 months volunteering and 18 months employment - but didn’t really want to be a teacher. He then
saw an advertisement for Tyneside Cyrenians’ ACE (Adults facing Chronic Exclusion) pilot project. He’d never heard of the ACE project so rang up to ask what it was about. “When they explained, I said 'That’s my life! What you've just described - that’s my life!’." So he went for interview, got the job and started a week later.
Duncan has now been ‘clean’ for 5 years and is certain that he will remain so. He appreciates the support he receives in his job. His team of six includes five recovered addicts and they provide
mutual support in team meetings, in dealing with work stress and on what’s going on in their personal lives. Counselling is available if needed and he personally finds the gym a great way to deal
Having relapsed before, what makes it feel different this time? Duncan feels it’s because he’s now got something positive in his life: “I can go home at night and feel good that I’ve helped people who are in the same position as I was”. He’s always open with others about his background and he’s certain that this is an advantage. It helps break down barriers, especially with chaotic users: “If I’m sat there with someone who knows I’ve been there, they’re going to be more open and honest with me, and we can do better work together.”