Ronnie Boyle and the Recovery Programme

published on 3 Jan 2018

It's coming to that time of the year when many people vow never to drink again.

Whether that's a new year’s resolution or just the thought of another round of festive partying, January tends to motivate people into taking a break from the bottle.

For some though, giving up alcohol requires more than just a resolution, it requires a change of life.

One man who knows how hard it is to overcome addiction is Ronnie Boyle. Now living in the Granite City, County Tyrone-born Ronnie admits that most of his early adult life revolved around alcohol and being drunk.

But the 55-year-old is using that experience to help others start the journey to recovery. Ronnie is a specialist drug and alcohol support worker with The Salvation Army, based at its citadel on the Castlegate.

It's a role that was formed by the church and charity in 2014 following the launch of its Scotland Drug and Alcohol Strategy - a five-year plan aimed at helping communities around Scotland overcome the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.

As a qualified social worker, Ronnie set up the Recovery Programme to offer practical and spiritual support to anyone who needs it – regardless of their background.

Much of his day-to-day working is about education – about teaching people and finding the best way to encourage them to take a new path. Sometimes that means just being there with a listening ear until people are ready to change.

Other times it requires a more considered approach.

One of those Ronnie has been helping is a woman with Down’s syndrome.

“Really that was a first for many of us,” says Ronnie. “Even the charity that had been supporting her did not know what to do to tackle her addiction. There was no teaching out there on how to deal with it. So we had to think creatively on how to support the person. In the end, we came up with a simple but effective idea that we would give her a little bead for every week she was in recovery. After so many weeks she made a bracelet. She’s now into her second year of recovery.”

In the three years that the Recovery Programme has been running it has helped around 400 people with a range of problems.

“The central aim of our recovery model is harm reduction through community support,” says Ronnie. “That involves behavioural skills, social and recreational counselling, employment skills and relationship counselling.

“We do everything we can to reach the whole person, even when they don’t believe in themselves anymore.

"We look at all areas of a person's life to try and understand their addiction and how it could affect their children or other family members.

“Being able to share my own lived experience of addiction is also helpful. It gets people’s attention and they understand that I’m not preaching to them.

“People would ask me why I drank. I had no idea why. I drank because I was addicted. I couldn't go and have two pints and go away and be happy. There was something lacking. I have other siblings who didn't abuse alcohol so I'm interested in exploring why people are affected by addiction more than others.”

Part of Ronnie’s role involves supporting inmates at Grampian Prison as well as working with agencies in and around Aberdeen.

“When I visit guys in prison I give them something to think about”, he says. “I spend time preparing resources to take with me and talk to them about recovery stories that are real. You just have to plant that seed in their mind. “I have also developed some sayings and I give them out to people on a little card. If that person is having a bad day they can pull the card out of their purse or wallet and take strength from it.

“As a church and charity, of course we have a spiritual element to what we do but we have to be careful. You can’t preach to someone with an addiction. Otherwise they’ll shut down and not come back.”

One of Ronnie’s aims for the New Year is to develop a peer-to-peer support group.

“In my experience people recover quicker and better in a group of people that are like-minded and have had similar experiences”, he says.

“We tried recovery church which was a mix of addicts and non-addicts but it’s hard for someone who has never been an addict to understand what makes that person tick.”

Underpinning Ronnie's work is The Salvation Army's Scotland Drug and Alcohol Strategy and its partnership with the University of Stirling. A new centre for addiction services and research was set up at the university in September with the aim of preventing substance use problems and reducing harms for individuals, their families and communities.

The research team hope to produce ground-breaking research on the connections between substance use, homelessness, and wider health and social problems. That will form the basis for new educational programmes for support workers like Ronnie.

"It’s an exciting project with a lot of potential”, says Ronnie. “I meet with the research team every month and provide them with a monthly report on the people we have been working with.”

Corps Officer Lt Helen Froud said: “Ronnie has a genuine gift for outreach and his work supports all the other work carried out here at the Citadel and in the community. Our work alongside people who are vulnerable and marginalised is greatly supported by Ronnie’s work.”