START - Hartlepool's Integrated Substance Misuse Service

Recovery in Hartlepool - Billy's Story

Recovery Month 2022

Held every September, Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery.

It aims to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members  who make recovery in all its forms possible.

Recovery Month was marked here in the North-East with a UK Recovery Walk which took place in Newcastle on Saturday September 17th. A delegation from START in Hartlepool attended the event which began at 12pm at Ceremonial Way (next to the Civic Centre) and then made its way down Ceremonial Way to the City before returning to Exhibition Park for the rest of the day. 

The START delegation at the walk

The START delegation at the walk

Three stalls-based Recovery Month events also took place in Hartlepool supported by a range of START's partner agencies, including Lets Connect, IMPACT on Teesside, Hartlepool Carers and Hartlepool Volunteers.

Those who attended were given the opportunity to undergo training in how to administer Naloxone which can reverse the effects of an opiod overdose. A total of 20 people underwent the  training and were issued with their own Naloxone kit. Visitors were also able to speak with others in recovery to hear first-hand their experiences of addiction and recovery, and sample complementary therapies.

START staff at a Recovery Month event in the One Life Centre in Park Road

START staff at a Recovery Month event in the One Life Centre in Park Road

Billy's story

Former heroin addict Billy has turned his life around and is now helping others as a valued member of staff at Hartlepool’s substance misuse service.

He is working as a Substance Misuse Care Co-ordinator at START (Supporting Treatment and Recovery Together), a partnership between Hartlepool Borough Council and Foundations.

He also spends two and a half days a week as a Substance Misuse Specialist with the Council’s Community Support Team in the town’s Victoria Ward.

And just for good measure, he even finds the time to do youth work on two evenings a week!

Now clean for almost nine years, Billy’s humble, cheerful and optimistic outlook on life belies the problems he has overcome.

He identifies his problems as beginning at an early age - as an “Army kid” until the age of 8 his soldier dad’s regular postings prevented him from putting down roots and forging long-term friendships.

“I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) traits which tends to go hand-in-hand with substance misuse,” he says.

Billy was a bright child – he didn’t even have to revise to do will in exams – but his academic performance began to tail off in his teens and he ultimately failed to fulfil his potential.

His first issues with addictive behaviour involved fruit machines and then he began experimenting with drugs in his mid to late-teens, initially cannabis before being exposed to heroin in his mid-20s.

“I had never been in trouble with the police until my late 20s when I started to get arrested for petty crime. Thankfully, I never went to prison,” he says.

At his lowest point, 6ft 3ins Billy, an injecting drug user, weighed less than 10 stones. At one point he became dangerously ill with a serious chest infection.

His turning point came when he saw a former schoolmate, himself a heroin addict.

“For a time he just disappeared bit I didn’t pay much attention because I was so wrapped up in myself. However, I saw him after six months and he looked “brand new”, so healthy. He had managed to go away and sort himself out and that planted a seed,” recalls Billy.

This experience, together with the support of two “really persistent” drug workers – one of whom he now works alongside – and the on-going care of those closest to him resulted in him seeking help with his addiction.

Billy last took drugs on October 31st 2013, and has since devoted his life to helping others.

And he has a simple message for anyone considering seeking help for an addiction.

“Just come to Whitby Street and talk to us. We acknowledge what a big step it is just to pick up the phone or walk through the door. We don’t put people on the spot – we don’t sit in circles, for example. Getting in touch is just the first step, but it is the beginning of something.

“Please, please give it a try.”