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Natural Highs Recovery Project

Where do I start? At the beginning, middle or end, who knows? It all ties in with itself in some twisted, tangled ball, but I will try and unravel some of it!

I am just like most other Brits who feel uncomfortable talking about themselves! However, here is a quick summery of the Natural Highs project and how it has tied in with my own recovery.

Natural Highs was born out of the frustrations of government and professionals stating that to recover from substance use problems we must end up in education or employment. This expectation for me personally, someone who has suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and lost the use of my legs, and experienced memory problems, was clearly unrealistic, to say the least.

I had been using drugs and alcohol since the age of 15 and by the time I was 30 I had experimented with most illegal drugs, suffered two overdoses and been in the depths of psychosis on and off for several years.

The drugs’ culture was the norm for me from an early age; being surrounded by people in the music business went hand in hand with my parents’ relaxed approach to life, which was born out of the 60’s. However, weed back then was not same drug as the weed is today, or the weed I was smoking in the 90’s. And in the circles I mixed, we switched from using cannabis, speed, LSD, ecstasy, cocaine, crack and finally (for some) heroin.

In 2001 I had a brain haemorrhage and was given a survival chance of 10%.

It took me a while to recover from my brain haemorrhage and almost three years to regain the full use of my legs. I still have a wonky eye and suffer headaches, but what the heck, I’m alive and still surfing. I’m not popping up on the short board the same as used to and I’m now surfing a huge longboard, like the ones you see in those old films from 60s with the Beach Boys playing in the background. It’s more of a scramble getting to my feet now, but it’s still surfing!

Cannabis was the hardest drug to kick for me. It was a double-edge sword, you know, one causing mad thoughts, anxiety and depression, but also soothing you at the same time.  During my clean times, I would retreat to a group of friends who got their highs from life. When the surf was up they would be in the water and when it was flat they would be mountain biking. This draw to nature’s elements brings me a greater clarity and an underlying deeper feeling for life than drugs and work can bring for me.

Like a lot of other addicts, I had always been concerned for friends or acquaintances who were taking risks or had completely gone off the rails. I had always given advice and support. This may have been judged as hypocritical in some ways, but it was how my drug culture worked – we looked out for each other.

Gradually during my time recovering from my brain haemorrhage and past lifestyle, I gained clarity in my thoughts about what is important to me. I grew closer to my family and clean friends and pondered on which direction in life I would now take. Now that I was clean and sober, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Help others overcome their addictions.

On a practical level, I obtained a diploma related to substance misuse and gained some friends who worked as practitioners. They became my mentors and I soaked up their knowledge of the treatment system.

After two years of volunteering for a drugs treatment agency and several interviews, I finally gained employment as a drugs worker for Compass in 2007… a dream come true! I had by now been clean from drugs for over six years and I threw myself into further studies.

After a couple of years of being a practitioner, I felt something was missing in  the drugs and alcohol treatment services. During this time, I also suffered two bereavements – both my mum and dad died suddenly from cancer – this drew me  back into a darkness where I experienced both anxiety and depression.

I had to get strong, particularly as I had loved ones dependant on me being healthy. Sometimes, the motivation comes after the event, meaning that even though it felt that I didn’t want to get out of bed or even carry on, I would force myself to get up and do things. I would make plans with the help of my partner, aiming to keep myself busy to help ride these negative feelings out.

I also took time off work and retreated. After reflecting back on what had helped me in the past, I spent time with friends kayaking and climbing in Yorkshire. I pushed myself to the limits. During the evenings on these trips, I talked about the past and what I was going through with people that I trusted. These discussions helped me put my life and feelings into perspective. The suffering was still there, but I felt that I could now cope.

Time is a great healer, as long you deal with the bad emotions and feelings –   otherwise you just end up putting things on hold. At home, my partner and I talked for hours, trying to understand the hand that we had been dealt, as she too had parents who were undergoing treatment for cancer.

My partner and I have grown stronger and become more adaptable to change. We enjoy, love and make the most of life. We grasp opportunities to make our lives richer, and in doing so try and enrich, love and support the people who are in our lives.

I returned back to work with a clearer approach to what I wanted to do in my work life. I came up with the name and concept of Natural Highs.

Natural Highs is about building a positive identity and improving one’s self through experiences and friendships. The first event we held was a massive success. The activities included rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, archery and gorge walking.

These initial events brought together a small recovering community, with people buzzing about the day’s experiences and wanting it to carry on. As a result, we quickly put together a weekly Natural Highs support group, which not only organised future outdoor activity events but became a safe caring place where people could discuss their issues, problems and successes.

Friendships are made very quickly through these group activities and experiences. For some people, it gives them the confidence to complete treatment and move on. For other people it marks the end of a self-destructive lifestyle, and for others it has meant a completely different way of life. The group in Selby quickly established a Natural Highs mounting biking club. This group now organises their own groups away to different parts of the country and help others wanting to learn the sport.

Other events include guitar workshops, equine therapy, art groups, book clubs, craft groups, yoga and free gym passes. We adopt a buddy up system where peers support each other in attending these events or groups within their locality.

‘Natural Highs uses the approach that helped me recover in my life and we now run residential centres in North Yorkshire where we run daily activities, including rock climbing, mountain biking, raft building, archery, and my favourite, Walking. Walking talking therapy, I love it. People open up to each other, and there’s something very therapeutic with the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other, walking distances in beautiful surroundings. It gives the mind time to contemplate the bigger picture and put things in perspective.

I have so many amazing stories of people recovering through the Natural Highs programme. I would like to thank both clients and practitioners who were the pioneers from the beginning, who continue to help and inspire others in their journey of recovery whatever you’re recovering from, and to the new people who come up with new creative and inspiring ideas and who are now pioneering the way in their own communities.

To find out more about Natural Highs, visit the Compass website HERE

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