DENNIS Wilkinson was an alcoholic and heroin and crack cocaine addict for 35 years, but is now sober thanks to Oxford’s Lifeline services.
He turned to the charity, which supports addicts into abstinence and helps them stay free from drugs and alcohol, last June.
Now he volunteers at the organisation, sharing his story to recovering addicts and helping them with their progress.
Two years since it was set up, Lifeline in Oxfordshire has three branches – on Cowley Road in Oxford, the Banbury Health Centre in Bridge Street and Marlborough Lane in Witney – and is about to open a fourth in Bicester.
Mr Wilkinson, 51, was given both medical and psychological support by Lifeline, including methadone to help with physical withdrawal, intensive counselling and follow-up support.
He said: “All those years of using caught up with me. I was dying.
“In the end I just surrendered. Before when I’d tried rehab I’d been doing it for partners or family, never for me.”
The Iffley Road resident moved to Oxford seven years ago from Weston-Super-Mare. A former landscape gardener, he has eight children with various partners. His current partner, Cher Busby, is also a recovering addict.
He spent a total of 19 years in prison for violence and robbery offences to fund his addiction.
He said: “I wish I’d done it sooner, but it just wasn’t my journey.
“There are plenty of services here. I don’t think people realise how blessed they are here in Oxford.”
Now, as well as volunteering at Lifeline, he helps young offenders and is about to embark on a course in drug and alcohol awareness at Ruskin College. He said: “A lot has changed in my life, things are starting to come together.
“For the first time I wake up in the morning and the thoughts of drugs and drink are not there.”
He puts his recovery down to Lifeline’s support: “I can’t praise it enough, Lifeline got me through.
“A lot of the workers are ex-addicts so they understand.
“I didn’t know how to live life, how to communicate, how to be.
“I believe every town and city should have a service like Lifeline. They should be everywhere.”
In the two years that Lifeline has been running in Oxfordshire, it has helped more than 1,000 people.
And organisers are hoping that with a new branch opening in Bicester more people will have access to help.
Team leader Danielle Bird said: “A barrier for people can be travel. If someone has to travel 20 miles they’re less likely to come.
“We want there to be more support services to help more people.”
Contract manager Dee Dee Wallace added: “We have the same kind of demand in Bicester as we do in Oxford.”