Keith was the first client to benefit from Arc's service 'Victory House' and has since moved on into his own home. Here he tells us about his story.
I joined the Army when I was 15 years old and after 5 years I was medically discharged with a diagnosis of PTSD. 5 years doesn’t sound like much but it’s a long time when you’re a 15-year-old lad and you leave school on the Friday and you’re in the Army the next Monday. You miss that important part of your life when others are still growing up, partying and having fun. I think that had a lot to do with shaping my future and the way I’ve gone through life, trying to catch up on those years.
I threw myself into work, starting at 5am and returning home at 7pm. I’d drink before I left for work, head to the pub on my lunch break and back again once I’d finished. I lived like that for 3 years, it became a routine. Then one day my life just went stir crazy, everything caught me up and my head just exploded. I ended up in prison for 2 years and whilst there, I would be asked to think about why I’d been drinking so much. I realised it was down to my service in the army and I’d been hiding this problem in my life for so long and suddenly it hit. I lost everything. I lost my wife, my kids, my house, by business.
When I left prison, I moved back in with my parents but after a couple of months we had a disagreement and so my Probation Worker put me in touch with Arc’s Outreach Team. I visited Open Door, where I met Sue on the Monday and by the Friday, I had moved into one of Arc’s satellite properties.
I had never lived in shared accommodation, so it felt weird for me. It felt like I went from having everything to having nothing. For the first couple of weeks I wasn’t sure how I’d get on – everyone had different agendas, different circumstances, different life stories. I isolated myself a lot which was made easier by me working as I was out early and back late. Gradually I got used to this new way of living and the other residents and realised they were good people. I’d had a stigma about homeless people but being in the situation yourself opens your eyes to how people can end up there. After this realisation, it was great – over the months I got to know everybody and on my first Christmas there, I cooked a big Christmas dinner for everyone in the house, there was about 8 of us and it was a good bonding session. I’m still in touch with some of them now!
The support from Arc was always there, I just didn’t access it. At the time I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, I just thought I needed a lift up to get back onto the ladder and get a flat.
After 6 months of being here, Arc were opening their own Veteran’s accommodation, ‘Victory House’, and I was offered the first room in this new project. That was an amazing part of my life and the support network was brilliant. Out of all the people in Arc who have helped me through things, Daz (Ops Manager for VH) has helped me the most. He’s gone out of his way, even when I messed up and would turn up drunk.
During my time in Victory House, I would see different residents move in and some with quite complex cases too. It was very daunting, but it made me realise how many problems I’ve actually got because normally I’d just say “no, I’m alright, there’s nothing wrong with me” and then I’d just crack. So, to have that support network was amazing. Not just Daz, but others at Arc – I could talk to them about my experiences and I never used to be able to do that.
Being able to talk about my life story gave me the confidence to talk now. It was upsetting for me to do it but it’s one of those pandora’s boxes you’ve got to open and that’s what I did.
Victory House is such an amazing place, I can’t say enough about it.
Then one day, it just felt like it was time for me to move on. There were others around me still struggling and not accepting the support and it made me feel angry. I’d gone through those key points in my life and thought I’m not doing that anymore. Instead of getting angry, instead of getting drunk, instead of fighting, instead of burying my head in the sand, I decided that I didn’t want to go back to that stage. Luckily that week I had a phone call to say I had been approved for a flat.
I’ve always been a person who is head strong – my way or no way, but that attitude ended in me going to prison. What Arc did was actually talk to me like a human being. Talk to me like they would want to be talked to and they listened and understood people. They didn’t tell me what to do, they advised me what to do. It has brought me out of that cantankerous, negative person that I was. They’ve done a wonderful job. I still feel as if I have a support network now.
Arc’s staff and their services has shaped me into a way now where I can walk down the street and hold my head up high and not just think “I’m Keith, I’ve been in prison, I had a breakdown, I’ve got PTSD”.
It feels brilliant to have my own flat now. It’s the next step. It was scary to start, I didn’t have my mates around me, you do make a lot of friends at Victory House. I just noticed the silence for the first couple of weeks and you start to wonder if it’s right for you. But then you look at the bigger picture and see what you’ve achieved so far and what’s to come and you think “well done”.
I don’t know what’s around the corner and I take things month by month. But I don’t see the future as negative anymore. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking ‘fucking hell, another day’. I don’t live that way anymore.