“Before Recovery Through Nature, the only thing I’d ever grown was a beard!
It has allowed me to experience – for the first time ever – what a peaceful mind is.”
Gary is a client in our Coolmine Lodge residential service. He is one of dozens of men living in the lodge where a therapeutic community approach is used to aid recovery. The community works together to support each other and actively help each other overcome addiction.
Gary has a turbulent backstory. He has been in and out of prison for 34 years, since the age of 15. “I’ve been in prison almost all my life. Here’s how I illustrate that for people: I was in prison when for the first space shuttle crash. And the second one. I was in prison for the first Live Aid concert. And the second one 30 years later. I was in prison when Nelson Mandela was in prison and I was still in when he was released!”
And that experience has made him quite institutionalised. “There are certain things I really struggle with that other people wouldn’t give a second though. I don’t like crowds. I’m not used to them. So even here when it comes to being in the dining room with a crowd of men I really struggle. And I lack certain life skills – going in to a shop to buy the paper is a completely foreign concept to me. So I get nervous about it and panic a bit. But I’m working on it.”
A love of learning and a thirst for knowledge meant that books were Gary’s big escape in prison. “I would pick a country each week and try to learn as much as possible about it from the prison library. From my cell, I would learn more about so many countries that I’d know more about them than people who’d actually travelled to them!” Gary has since gained many academic qualifications including Creative Writing and Social and Human Studies in NUI Maynooth. This learning came with limitations though. “I read about the human mind and did yoga lessons but completely missed the deeper meaning of it. People spoke about having a quiet mind but I didn’t understand what that was.”
As we speak, Gary is mowing the lawn of Coolmine Lodge where the clients share the space with goats and chickens. It’s a quiet oasis in the middle of schools, the Blanchardstown shopping centre and offices. There are wheelbarrows, polytunnels full of fruit and veg and flowers coming into bloom. These are all the result of Coolmine’s therapeutic horticultural programme, Recovery Through Nature that has been invaluable to Gary. “Before Recovery Through Nature, the only thing I’d ever grown was a beard! It has allowed me to experience – for the first time ever – what a peaceful mind is. I finally understand what that is.”
About Recovery Through Nature
Our Recovery Through Nature (RTN) programme was launched in 2014. It sees our residential clients -male and female – actively giving back to their communities by working together on various conservation projects. Through this programme our clients learn horticultural and mindfulness skills that they’ll use for their recovery.
To date, over 3000 client volunteer hours have been spent on this programme and retention rates for those involved with RTN are close to 75%. Some of our previous projects include planting over 40,000 flower bulbs and constructing and developing a community allotment in Finglas.
Our RTN team were last week, for the third year in a row, invited to present a garden at Bloom. Our ‘Coolmine Woodland Hug’ garden invited Bloom visitors to experience the mindfulness our clients experience through the RTN programme.