February 3 2016: ‘I had a season ticket for the hospital’ – Read how five Glasgow men battled through addictions and homelessness

The Evening Times / Herald Scotland, February 3 2016

A group of men, including an ex-naval officer, have spoken out about battling addictions and living on the streets of Glasgow in a bid to help others.

The men, who almost lost everything to alcohol and drugs, are from Turning Point Scotland’s Glasgow Homelessness Service.

They shared their experiences as part of a new booklet called Into the Black and Back, which was launched with the help of the Village Storytelling Centre and funded by Glasgow City Alcohol and Drugs partnership.

In the book are the stories of nine people the service supports, offering a rare insight into life on the streets and living with addiction.

The Evening Times met five of the men involved to find out how about how their lives were changing and how they hoped to help others in a similar position.

Dad-of-four Thomas Hardie, from Anderston, said he turned to drink when his partner and the mother of his kids left him about 15 years ago.

The 45-year-old was working as a builder and in security but started drinking more alcohol to cope.

He lost his home and was living in homeless hostels for 10 years.

His lowest point came when he contracted viral meningitis and was in hospital for three months.

Mr Hardie said: “I was drinking a litre of vodka a day, plus lager and anything I could get my hands on.

“I was a builder, did security for years working in a shop then became a full time dad. Then I had a season ticket for the hospital. I was there constantly, every weekend I was in for a seizure.”

Mr Hardie’s weight dropped to an unhealthy nine stone.

He said: “Doctors said it was self inflected.

“I even had meningitis and nearly died from it.

“I nearly died but I fought through it. The doctor said: ‘if you have a drink again you’ll die.’”

Mr Hardie has now been sober for two years after living in the service’s long stay unit.

He said: “I’ve had no cravings for alcohol at all.”

Mr Hardie now has a flat and is planning to help people affected by addictions and homelessness, with another member of the group.

He said: “We go to snooker and we don’t drink. We meet up and have a cup of tea. We’re just living a normal life now.

“Addiction is so simple to fall into it but it’s hard to get out of it.”

James Grant, from Sighthill, has battled every addiction. He turned to drugs and alcohol after losing a son to cot death syndrome.

The 53-year-old said: “I isolated myself to deal with my problems.

“Doctor prescribed drugs but then I started buying illegal drugs – cocaine, heroin, anything to numb my feelings.

“It got a hold of me before I knew.”

Mr Grant, who has four other children, went through a marriage breakdown 15 years ago.

After his children left he could not handle a house and ended up homeless. He was 35.

He said: “I went to put my key in the door and they changed the lock. I just took that to be normal.

“My life just spiralled out of control. I slept rough at the back of Sighthill flats in doorways.

“I was in and out the hospital, out two or three times a week. The nurses knew my name.”

Mr Grant was referred to the service in December 2014 after staying in a hostel in London Road.

Now he is getting on with his life.

He said: “I was in the long stay service for a whole year. I learned so much. I did things like cookery courses, things I’d never done in my life.

“It’s changed my life now.”

Ex-service man John Helling, 46, was in the navy for 14 years and served in Afghanistan.

When he left in 2002 he joined Network Rail – but found attending to deaths on the railway made his post traumatic stress worse.

Mr Helling, who is originally from London but has lived in Glasgow since he left the navy, said: “I moved around the world with the navy.

“It was a heavy drinking culture. When I left and worked in the railways I was dealing with the suicides.

“I was using alcohol to cope with post traumatic stress – drinking whisky, vodka and anything else.”

Mr Helling lost his home and ended up at a hostel for ex-military personnel.

However, he realised he had to become sober to be able to get on with his life.

He stayed at the homelessness centre and is now volunteering with the British Heart Foundation.

He said: “We’re not just numbers. I just want people to see we are human beings, we are not animals. We have just unfortunately fallen by the wayside.”

John Tennant, from Pollok, turned to drink when his wife died suddenly of heart problems.

The 54-year-old said: “I was shutting out everyone and everything. I remember one time on a Monday I got the bus up to Robroyston and bought three bottles of whisky from Asda. The next time I was compos mentis was Friday.

“I was ducking and diving.”

Mr Tennant was sleeping in a shelter in the supermarket.

The dad-of-three decided to change his life in July last year.

He said: “One morning I spread my wife’s ashes. I bought four cans of beer and a bottle of whisky. I just realised then I needed help.”

Lee Donald, 34, from Pollok, first went to prison when he was 17 for car theft and was “in and out of jail all the time”.

He said: “ I was 13 when I first smoked hash.

“I ended up drinking and taking Valium. It was a really bad concoction.”

Mr Donald ended up being barred from every hostel in Glasgow.

Things changed for him when he met his partner about a year ago.

His body was in a bad way, he was taking fits and his mental health was suffering.

Mr Donald attended the service and has now been sober a year.

He said: “I was shaken up for six weeks when I came to the service. Now my life is completely different.”

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