Being treated as a human being and feeling part of his local community is what saved Chris Barron’s life.
With his happy-go-lucky nature, a wicked sense of humour and a feeling of gratitude to his supportive family, it’s hard to believe that Chris once felt worthless, inhuman and cast aside by society.
Sadly that is the stark reality for many dads, mums, sons, daughters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews who are stoically battling the excruciating pain of drug addiction behind closed doors.
And instead of showing compassion, all too often society is quick to judge, leaving those in recovery cut off from their community.
But that is changing in Aberdeen thanks to the groundbreaking community project Fresh Wellness, which uses litter picks and walks to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals who, for whatever reason, are suffering from the effects of social exclusion.
For Chris, who has battled drug addiction since he was a teenager, the pioneering project is the reason he is still alive today.
“Without Fresh Wellness I would probably be dead,” said Chris, 35.
“I feel a lot happier for sure and I don’t feel so miserable anymore.
“It’s not only changed my life, it’s changed my kids’ lives, my family’s life, everybody.
“You don’t feel a lot when you’re in recovery, so doing this stuff where you’re connected you start to feel a lot of things that you’ve actually not felt.
“Being in a community, talking and being positive is definitely the way forward.
“It’s a life-saver, that’s for sure.”
Growing up on an Aberdeen council estate where drugs were treated as a rite of passage among friends, Chris smoked cannabis for the first time at the age of just 11.
That moment marked the beginning of a painful battle with drug addiction.
By the age of just 16, Chris was regularly taking cocaine, amphetamines and pills, and by the age of 20, his world spiralled out of control as he was caught in the clutches of heroin.
“When I was growing up, if you weren’t into drugs then you didn’t have any mates, you weren’t one of the boys,” said Chris.
“I didn’t know then but I know now that there was a hole missing in my life because I didn’t have a father, so the older people that were round me using drugs, I used them as a father figure.
“Drugs became a crutch for me and became something I could rely on.”
Asking for help
Chris soon realised that if he didn’t reach out for help then he would not survive.
“The first time I knew I had a heroin addiction was a week before my 20th birthday,” said Chris.
“I was strung out over my birthday and that’s when I tried to reach out.
“My mother and my sister cared for me, they wanted to see the best for me.
“So I always wanted to change but I was so comfortable in that environment.”
Road to recovery
Since then Chris has been on the long and winding road to recovery.
“I went through Alcohol and Drugs Action’s (ADA) doors 15-20 years ago,” said Chris.
“So I started to understand more about your body, your feelings, the chemicals and how to try to fit into some sort of society.”
During his recovery, Chris felt like an outsider looking in on society.
“When you’re in recovery for a really long time it can become quite negative for you because you’re always talking about drug recovery instead of mental recovery and life recovery,” said Chris.
“If you’ve not been a part of society for 10 to 15 years then you have to start adapting to the new world that is out there – new body, new mind, physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Everything changed for Chris when he started going along to Fresh Wellness.
Run by volunteers, the group supports people suffering from the effects of social exclusion through litter-picks, light walks and meet-ups in Donside, Ferryhill, Rosemount and Seaton.
By tidying up his local community and meeting people from all backgrounds, Chris says that for the first time in his life he feels a sense of worth.
“For me, my neighbours are the important part of that,” said Chris.
“They can see me volunteering so it puts us in a better place so they can feel they can approach me and see that I’m not some sort of criminal.
“Once you’re in drug recovery you need to sort your mental health out, so getting outside and volunteering was amazing.”
Hopes for the future
Chris hopes to see projects like this rolled out across the country.
“It makes you connected to the world instead of disconnected,” said Chris.
“When you’re disconnected it’s all negative, but when you’re connected it’s all positive.
“If you’re around positivity then they’ve got to be positive, you’ve got to think positive, you’ve got to be positive.”
For anyone who would like to find out more about Fresh Wellness, you can contact the group through Facebook.
Alcohol and Drugs Action can be contacted on 03333 448355 and online here.
You can also support our campaign to recognise local environmental heroes like Chris.