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'I woke up in a bin': Richard Walsh on how he turned his life around

“My name is Richard, I'm 42 and I live in Norwich.

I first started using drugs when I was about 13 or fourteen. I was hanging around with older people and done it because I thought I'd fit in better and I'd look cool.

I never really thought of myself having a drug addiction as I didn't have a particular drug of choice, I just thought I liked to party a lot. But that was the addiction making excuses, allowing me to justify using drugs. The parties had been swapped for crack houses with people I didn't really know.

For years it worked out well (or so I told myself) but around me, everything was starting to fall apart. I didn't see any of this because I was always high on something weed, cocaine & alcohol. I had a mortgage, a partner and two children. I started to use coke more and more to the point I was locking myself in the garage for hours sniffing coke in secret. Making me increasingly secretive and moody and less interested in family life until understandably my partner kicked me out. I wish looking back at it I'd done something about it then. But I still didn't realise I was an addict. It was at this point everything spiralled. I got heavier and heavier into dealing and my usage went completely out of control. I could get through up to 2 ounces of coke myself a week.

But still didn't recognise I was an addict because I could afford it.

People talk about rock bottom and that you have to hit it to change. I believe this to a certain extent, but I don't want people to read this and make the excuse that they haven't got a problem because they haven't hit rock bottom themselves. It’s a horrible place to find yourself and a very hard and long journey back. I should know, I've done it twice now. The first time was when I had my first spell with crack and heroin and eventually found myself homeless and waking up in a wheelie bin around the back of a bakers. In the morning I was woken up by a cleaner throwing a rubbish bag in and it landing on top of me. I froze and just lay there still praying that he didn't see me. It was then I had this moment of clarity and thought to myself, well this ain't what I signed up for. I took myself straight to Norfolk drug and alcohol services and explained the mornings events and told them I thought I might need some help.

But the addiction was still in me and lied to me that I could go back to dealing as it was the only way I knew of making money, and this time I wouldn't do the drugs. But I then had to face all the destruction and hurt I'd caused my children and the fact I couldn't see them which led back to the only coping mechanism I knew, which was taking drugs to forget and that carried on again for years. All the time my children were getting older and the gap was getting bigger and bigger.

To be honest the last twenty years have been a blur and only feels like 4 or 5 for me.

I eventually got back into crack and then when that stopped working it went on to injecting cocaine and my life really was spiralling out of control. Until everything came to a head three years ago when I hit my second and final rock bottom point. I hadn't really spoken to my family for years and I received a phone call telling me my sister had committed suicide. I went numb, I said to myself right this is time to change my sister wouldn't want me to use her death as another excuse to carry on using.

I was then thrown another little bombshell and found out that I had a serious illness. I remember the day I was told I literally fell of the chair as the doctor told me and cried for about an hour, I couldn't take it all in and was in a state of shock for a long time. I used more and more. I thought about suicide and attempted it a few times until I ended up in hospital after hanging myself. I knew this was it, I either carry on until I was dead or change my life.

I literally thought my life and future was over. I had no money I was in a hostel surrounded by people who didn't really care about anyone but themselves (not everybody, there are people who I met that helped me on my journey back).

I moved out of that hostel to another smaller hostel, and it was there that I was told about Next Steps.

I went to Next Steps and from the minute I walked in and was greeted by staff I could tell it was different to any other service I had experienced. I had my assessment and was told that the service was for people that were out of active addiction and ready to move on. I was told I would be on the next course which was due to start in March 2020. This was in January 2020, I was also told about a drop-in photography group that was starting and that I could join in on that.

This is the point that my recovery really started. I'd always wondered what people who didn't drink or do drugs did with their time. I bought my self a second-hand camera and started going out and taking photos. I didn't think they were any good and didn't really know anything about photography but it helped take my mind off wanting to do drugs. I started to go to the Next Steps hub everyday as it was nice to be around people in the same boat and also the amazing staff that are always there to give you encouragement. I started my course in March and instantly was blown away by NLP which showed me the skills I already had and taught me how to relay them into a life that was free from drugs and how to look at my life more positively. Being blown away didn't stop at NLP. From Nat’s group on taking ownership of your actions and facing up to it all, the check-ins and motivational readings, and lessons on setting boundaries to help protect myself and keep my recovery on the right track.

Having that support network of people around you that genuinely believe in you and care about you has saved my life. Even when the course was cut short because of lock down, staff still phoned you twice a week to offer support and even sent little care packages out to us.

Having somewhere like The Matthew Project to be able to go to every day gives you a safe environment to hangout, which in the early stages of recovery is important. It helped me build confidence in myself and gave me continued support and help, restructuring my life.

Since starting at TMP my life has changed so much. I now volunteer for a homeless charity once a week as lead supervisor giving free meals and offering support to those that are homeless in a safe environment. I am doing courses to become a peer mentor for drug and alcohol abuse as I want to help young people that find themselves in positions to where I have been.

I have moved on from the hostels and have a new 2 bedroom flat in the city, I am also being considered for and having plans put into place to get custody of my daughter and have a good relationship with my parents. None of this would be a possibility without support from The Matthew Project.

My photography has really started to take off. I’ve been contacted by a company in London that paid for me to go to London and put me up in hotels. I’ve done collaborations with other artists, I’ve had commissions to do personalised pieces of work including Suggs from the band Madness.

Next, I want to start applying to Art Festivals to set up live interactive demonstrations of how I do the light painting. And I am now looking at putting together a series of work of street photography.

I have worked with Out There Arts, Neon Cat Media, Maui Waui Festival, Fool Hardy Circus, as well as a number of other artists and performers.”

The work of Richard, AKA Walshy or Street shots. IG #street_shots30 can be found at

Picture credit DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021


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