“I’M AN alcoholic; I started drinking when I was 17. I had a career as a nurse, and was always drinking in my down time. It wasn’t a problem. I did that for many years, but it got worse as the years rolled by,” William Luscombe says.
In 2010, Mr Luscombe’s mother died; he got married, and his first child was born, all within a few months of each other. “I had a nervous breakdown, and had to call time on my nursing career,” he says. “My drinking took a new hold on me. I was a train wreck.”
Mr Luscombe, who is now 40, considers that he was near death when he arrived at Yeldall Manor, a Christian drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation centre in Reading. It has been working for 40 years with people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.
The ministry began when the missionaries Bill and Joanie Yoder, from the United States, felt called by God to help men out of addiction by inviting them into their own home. That led to the establishment of a treatment centre in the 38-acre grounds of Yeldall Manor, in 1977, and to a programme that now also includes four “moving-on” houses.
“When I went to Yeldall, I was effectively homeless. I was committing misdemeanours and breaking the law, doing stuff I wouldn’t have dreamed of before. I was roughing it on the streets, stealing bottles of wine, and drinking to make myself feel better, because my body was dependent on it. I’d go into hospitals and drink the hand gel to get alcohol into my system. I was underweight, and not far off death, and I thought: ‘I can’t carry on doing this: I’ll be dead inside a few months.’
“It was desperation just not to die. Something inside of me — maybe it was God — wanted to keep me alive, to give something to the world, and to be there for my kids.” That was Mr Luscombe’s “tipping-point”, he says: when the desire to change and get help became stronger than the desire to drink.
“Predominantly, we tackle heroin, crack cocaine, and cocaine misuse, and alcoholism,” Dan Head, a programme leader at Yeldall Manor, explains. “It’s not a pleasant place to be, as such. But the men who come here are in a situation where the consequences of using have stripped them of normality — family, relationships, possessions, employment — and the individual has suffered greatly because of his addiction.”
An estimated 15 per cent of the men have a significant mental-health problem; the proportion rises if you factor in those with depression and anxiety.
Lynda Bowyer PhotographyOut with the old: an anger- therapy session, one of many interventions and types of therapy on offer throughout the programme at Yeldall“There has been a significant rise in people with a dual diagnosis: a mental-health problem and a substance-misuse problem,” Mr Head says. Regardless of which came first, the mental-health issue takes priority. “People have to be appropriately medicated and receiving the right level of care before we can tackle the addiction. Unless their mental health is stable, we can’t make any lasting change to their addiction issues.”
Rather than start with the addictive behaviour, and then try to resolve the underlying issues, the programme at Yeldall Manor is geared towards internal transformation first. “We look at the motivators and drivers of addiction. If you change and tackle those, you can then change the resulting behaviour.”
Rehabilitation follows four stages: stabilisation, conceptualisation, resolution, and reintegration. While many rehab programmes last three months, to go through all the stages of Yeldall’s programme can take up to two years.
“We stabilise someone by enforcing boundaries and a disciplinary system, which might sound harsh, but we’re bringing certainty,” Mr Head says. “When an individual gets to us, often everything in their life is chaotic, which causes huge anxiety. Enforcing a timetable and a system holds them to something. They don’t like it at first, but it brings security and gives them peace.”
This first stabilisation phase can last up to six months. “In the past 12 months, 53.7 per cent of those who’d started our first stage completed it,” the chief executive of Yeldall Manor, Treflyn Lloyd-Roberts, says. “It’s key for us to be more than half, because we want people to feel they’re more likely to complete than not. Without undermining the programme, we’re always trying to address the barriers to completing, as people’s chances get better, the longer they stay.”
Once someone has been stabilised, Yeldall starts to look at the drivers. “‘Why do you behave in this way?’ . . . We allow them to understand who they are, why they are, and why they do what they do. Once that understanding is gained — and that normally takes a number of months, through group work, counselling, and therapeutic community living — then we can move on to a place of resolution. ‘What do you do about it?’ ‘Who do you become?’ ‘What do you become?’ ‘How do you act?’ ‘How are you going to act?’” Mr Head explains.
“When people have completed [this] stage, they’ve effectively spent a year with us,” Mr Lloyd-Roberts says. Getting through this second six-month residential block gives the men a much higher chance of long-term success: “The past three years of data show that after six months of completing stage two, 78.6 per cent of these men have not gone back to problematic use.”
The final part of the rehabilitation process is concerned with “reintegration”. The charity owns four “moving-on houses” where residents have support from full-time workers; so anyone wishing to stay on can do so for up to a year, allowing him to look for paid work or training while he is there.
New life: William Luscombe, with his Graduation certificate from YeldallTHOSE who come to Yeldall have usually either referred themselves, or been referred by their family, the probation service or prison, a GP, mental-health service, or a local-authority-run drug or alcohol service. Currently, however, local-authority funding usually covers only three-month placements.
“Currently, funding for treatment says: you’ve got three months, even if you’ve been in active addiction for 30 years. That’s it. We’re trying to do the opposite, and go against the flow. We walk with people as long as they need. They need to stay until they’re better,” Mr Lloyd-Roberts says. So placements are supplemented by a combination of housing benefit and supporter donations.
Mr Luscombe had previously been to Yeldall on a three-month programme. “It wasn’t long enough, and I went back to drinking in no time,” he says. This time, he spent six months on Yeldall’s main programme, and another six months completing the second stage. He has now been in a “moving-on” house for the past three months.
“There’s no short cut, no quick fix, no instant gratification in recovery,” Mr Head says. “By the time somebody comes to us, they’ve normally been in their addiction for ten to 15 years. At that point, you’ve embedded and instilled certain behaviours and cognitive patterns within your psyche and subconscious. They’re ingrained in who you are. To try and change that in weeks is impossible. It takes years to undo something you’ve spent years doing.”
Yeldall’s programme features a mix of “work therapy”, group work, and one-to-one counselling, recreation, and exercise. As time goes on, voluntary work and chores are added. For the first 12 weeks, men must also attend a local church, after which it is up to them if they want to continue. Attendance at an Exploring Christianity course, and an informal “Fellowship” group, however, are also part of Yeldall’s programme requirements.
The team believes that it is encountering Christ which makes the real difference. “More than what we say or offer,” Mr Head says, “everyone experiences Christ in the organisation: they receive unconditional positive regard. We accept them as they are, where they are, and we love them. You’ll be shocked how much of an impact that has. Love, acceptance, belonging, and to be given hope: that’s Christ.”
“Yeldall is a facilitating place, and I’ve used it to the best of my abilities to keep going with their support system, which is second to none,” Mr Luscombe says. “The programme is hard: it’s not a walk in the park, and a lot of the time I didn’t want to be there. But, deep down, I dug my heels in. I kept telling myself: ‘I’ve got to do this.’
“With my faith in God, and determination to trust, I’m trying to be a better person who stays off the drink. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve had to really change my behaviour [and] learn to be a lot more patient. I go to AA meetings now, and I look at things differently than I used to. I used to panic a lot, and, though I still have anxiety, it’s a whole new way of life.
“There’s an old saying that when you get sober you get your life back. I had a life before, but I had no idea of what it meant, or what it could consist of. I like to think that I’ve not got my old life back, but I’ve got a new life. It’s a new me.”
Grateful: Tony Henson‘Without Yeldall I’d be dead’
Tony Henson, 32, is living drug-free, having left Yeldall in 2010
I GREW up in a semi-dysfunctional family: my dad was a heroin addict, my mum was on amphetamines. I didn’t have a good start. I became a thief to fund my drug addiction, [went] in and out of prison, and was what’s known as a PPO: a prolific persistent offender. I was constantly monitored.
In 2007, I went to prison for the last time. I was there for a year-and-a-half, and [saw] my dad was in the prison at the same time. I thought: ‘This isn’t right.’ I was using drugs in prison, and I remember shouting after a woman from drug and alcohol services that I wanted help and rehab.
She came to see me three months later, in January 2009. I was off my head on drugs. I felt a big sense of guilt, but we did the application. The council gave the funding, and that was the turning-point for me. In prison, I went to church quite often, and was praying I’d get in. Two weeks before my sentence was up, I got the go-ahead.
Yeldall was a time of getting to know who I was as a person. I had a lot of trauma, and a lot of learned behaviours I had to learn to change, because I was a young lad, and I’d never really done life. I went through the programme — about 11 months through the main stage, and then into the lodge — and it wasn’t the easiest of times, but it was the Christian aspect that really got me through.
A month in, one of the staff brought little New Testament Bibles to put in people’s rooms. I opened the book and got to 1 Timothy 1.12-13: Paul says: “I was a blasphemer and a violent man but Christ considered me trustworthy.” I read that and thought: that’s me. I was a blasphemer, a horrible person, but Christ considers me trustworthy. I’d never trusted anyone, and no one had ever trusted me; so I took it on board. That was another turning-point.
I finished in August 2010, but I know that without Yeldall I’d be dead. Now, I’ve got a wife, a son, and hope, without sounding too cheesy. There’s a lot of good change going on. I’m planning on moving back to my home town, which will be scary, but I’m looking forward to it. I want to give something back.