The recovering drug addict

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Alex Brooks, 28, is currently in a detox programme at the English Church Housing Group's Walton Street Project, in Oxford

By the time I was 20, I was homeless and addicted to heroin. My habit cost me £30 a day but I'd make twice that by midday through begging. I went through one detox and rehab programme at the Ley Community in Oxford and was clean for a while. I got a place to live, a job, and started a relationship, but when that broke down I went back to drugs, lost my job, and started sleeping rough, begging the money for drugs again.

When you're on heroin, no one wants to know you. You've never got any money and you're totally selfish, only interested in where you'll get the next bag. You feel helpless. For example, it's very expensive to rent anywhere in Oxford and landlords don't want to accept housing benefit. The waiting list to get on to a council hostel was around 13 years, so you'd think "Why bother?" and take more drugs and stay on the street.

I lived like that for five years. By the end I was a wreck, half-starved, covered in ulcers and abscesses and barely able to find a vein to inject because I'd used them all up.

The turning-point was when I got an abscess in my hand from where I thought I'd found a vein but missed. I went to the John Radcliffe hospital and they transferred me to the Nuffield Orthopaedic. I slipped out to pick up my giro, bought some heroin and overdosed so I ended back in the John Radcliffe again, who literally brought me back to life.

Then I did exactly the same thing – this time I was dead for eight minutes and the John Radcliffe were not happy to see me for a third time. After the Nuffield had patched up my hand, I was back on the streets but this time I was doing a lot of hard thinking about where I was going.

Then one day a Salvation Army worker told me about the Walton Street project. What's great about it is that if there's a place there's no hanging around. I filled in the form on the Friday and I was in by the Monday.

Basically it's a shared house between five of us and we each have a key worker. She helps me talk about my feelings and we do a care plan where I work out what I want to achieve. Every week we have a group session where we talk about each person that lives in the house and any issues that have arisen.

I'm detoxing with methadone. I'm off heroin completely but it's not as hard as I anticipated; if you use methadone properly it's only bad when you get down to the last 10ml. Then you can't sleep and you get fidgety. But it's nothing like as bad as cold turkey.

After detox, I hope I'll be able to go back to the Ley Community. Generally I feel more positive.

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