For better and for verse

For better and for verse

For better and for verse

Poetry and some gritty real-life experiences are honing the support an East Midlands charity is offering as it reaches out to people suffering from drug and alcohol dependency, writes Tony Yorke.

For as long as Stuart Hardy-Taylor cares to remember, addiction has had a hold on his life.

As a child, he loved playing football. But the buzz he enjoyed when kicking a ball with his mates in the parklands of Loughborough was soon forgotten – once he became hooked on substances and booze.

Stuart was just 12-years-old when his life started to be derailed. He was to remain an addict for more than 30 years; ‘swapping glue sniffing’ for the tried and tested drink and drugs concoction that makes so many people prisoners within their own bodies. Throughout his marriage and the early days of fatherhood, and while he earned his living as a long-distance lorry driver, Stuart was often ‘off his head’, as he puts it. Yet, as a ‘highly functioning’ addict, he was able to disguise his dependency to everyone except those closest to him.

‘Nobody really knew I was an addict,’ he recalls. ‘They knew I liked to have a drink, but they didn’t realise the extent of the problem. It was frightening and crazy. I was driving a huge lorry around the country every day of the week and I was putting myself and everyone else at risk. And nobody knew the extent of the problem except me. When I wasn’t working, you wouldn’t find me at home very often, where I should have been helping my wife raise my son. I was out, usually in the pub, drinking myself silly.

‘People had forgotten who the real Stuart was. And I had too. I loved playing a game of football when I was a kid. I remember the fun times I had with my mates. And then I struggle to remember anything, with the exception of the fights I got into and the pain, lies and torment I was experiencing on a daily basis.’

End of the road

Something had to give. And so it did, just over five years ago.

‘I had come to the end of the road,’ reveals the 48-year-old, who still lives in his Leicestershire hometown. ‘I needed help. If I didn’t get it, I dread to think what might have happened to me.’

In desperation, Stuart quit his well-paid job and turned to an independent Christian charity called The Carpenter’s Arms. Like him, it is based in Loughborough and its methods are highly effective and very uncompromising.

‘Initially, I went there to get help – not to be converted,’ recalls Stuart, remembering clearly the first day he walked through the doors of the former pub that has now helped so many beat their demons. ‘But the longer I stayed, the more I became aware that real changes were taking place in many of the men who were on the same journey as me. The staff responsible for overseeing my recovery made no demands of me as far as Christianity was concerned. There was discipline. There had to be. But it was fair discipline, and if you stuck to the rules, everything would be fine.

‘Mostly, I stuck to the rules, and the longer I stayed, the better I started to feel. But there was still something I felt I was missing. So I looked around at the others recovering alongside me and I became interested in what was happening to them. Many had chosen to find out more about faith. So I started to ask questions. And very quickly, things started to change for me.’

Reading the Bible was to become a daily routine for Stuart and his fellow ‘brothers’. And the more he read, and the more he discussed his innermost feelings in the group sessions held by The Carpenter's Arms team, the more he found himself starting to break free from the hold drink and drugs had on him.

‘It was remarkable,’ he admits. ‘Something very special happened to me at The Carpenters. It was a truly spiritual experience, and I will be forever grateful. The Carpenters used to be a pub I drank and played pool in, and it was always a massive thing that I got sober in the place I used to get pissed in.’

Stuart spent 12 months benefitting from the charity’s three-phase addiction recovery programme. When he was ‘clean’ and ‘restored’, he was offered an opportunity to join the staff. He jumped at the chance, remaining with the charity for the next three years, before eventually resigning in August 2020.

Reach out for help

During this time, Stuart has discovered things about himself he never dreamed were possible.

Poetry has become a huge part of his life. He has published two books of poems, which talk about real life and faith, and is known to his readers as ‘The Recovery Poet’. He has also founded the Funding Addicts Into Recovery charity, which is committed to paying for the ongoing treatment of addicts who reach out for help.

‘We have a heart to do as much as we can for anyone who comes to us and asks for support,’ says Stuart. ‘There is a lot of need throughout the East Midlands. And we want to do as much as we can to bring relief.’

A major fundraising campaign has been launched, appealing directly to a host of potential grant-makers. Stuart is also keen to utilise social media to get his message across to all audiences, and he is also networking with other, like-minded organisations to create an infrastructure that will be able to cope with the anticipated demand.

‘We can’t do everything, but we can do something,’ he states. ‘And it might be that little something that makes a huge difference to the life of someone who has asked us for help.’