Words by Blyth Brentnall
Encouragement and running: these were the two key elements of Ronnie Hart’s successful recovery from drug addiction. Today, working as a support worker for the charity, WithYou, he tells his clients that if he could recover, anyone can.
Ronnie had sunk to rock bottom when he first sought help to overcome drug addiction. “I had absolutely nothing in my life. I was in total despair,” he recalls.
Early on in his recovery, a support worker invited him to go running and he baulked at the thought.
“I was horrified when he asked me, absolutely horrified. But I went out with him anyway,” he says.
After running for about half a mile Ronnie started throwing up. But, hauling himself back up again, he persevered.
Two days later, the worker asked him to go running again and at first, Ronnie refused. He could not face what the agony he’d gone through before. But the worker encouraged him to try, reassuring him that it would get easier, and Ronnie reluctantly agreed to join him a second time.
As Ronnie regained strength, the support worker noticed that he was naturally athletic. So he advised Ronnie to join a running club and train. Gradually, his body started to heal, he built up strength and became increasingly passionate about his newfound hobby.
“I realised it was something I was naturally gifted at and I just never knew I had the ability to do it before,” Ronnie adds.
As he grew stronger, drugs became a thing of the past and his addictions were replaced with a new reason for being.
“Running gives me a sense of purpose and achievement. When I’m running I'm always striving to do better, mentally as well as physically,” he explains.
After six weeks of abstinence from drugs, he ran his first 10km race. After six months, he ran a half marathon, and after a few years, he competed in the London Marathon.
His remarkable progress came with challenges. Just two weeks before the London Marathon, Ronnie tore his meniscus. Each time he moved his knee abruptly, it felt like a part had popped out, causing him severe pain. So for the last weeks of training he was only able to run for a couple of days at a time before needing to take five days to rest and recover.
He might have dropped out of the marathon were it not for the many people who sponsored him to take on the challenge for WithYou.
When the marathon arrived he managed to run the first 18 miles without any trouble before he had to stop for a physiotherapist to examine his knee. He rejoined the race but continued with increasing pain. For the last five miles he had to keep pausing.
But as the crowds cheered his name he persisted till he passed the finish line at last.
“I crossed the line and was just overcome with total emotion,” he says.
He held back the tears as he walked to collect his medal.
“But then I saw my partner walking towards me and I just burst into a flood of tears just because of what it took from me mentally.”
He adds: “It was a learning curve for me. I learnt what mental toughness is.”
Ronnie now works for WithYou, supporting people like him to overcome addiction. He has a caseload of about 30 clients who he works with on a one-to-one basis, tailoring their support plans and linking them up to the services that most fit their individual needs.
His colleagues come from more academic backgrounds than him and Ronnie sees the advantages of higher education. But his clients appreciate working with someone who has faced similar struggles to them.
“After everything I’ve been through in my life - all the trauma, the drug use and everything - it means that if I can do it, anybody can do it. So for me, it's just about letting people see that - that if they put in a wee bit of work, they can go on to achieve anything they want,” he says.
WithYou runs a free, confidential webchat service which offers expert advice on drugs, alcohol and mental health. To access the web chat, or find out more out the support offered by the charity, please visit wearewithyou.org.uk.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
WithYou. A UK charity supporting people to overcome addictions with free advice and by connecting them to local services. Find out more and support them here.
Turning Point UK. A charity supporting people with mental health problems, disabilities and addictions. Find out more.
London Friend. This is the UK's oldest organisation supporting the LGBT+ community with their health and wellbeing. They offer support overcoming substance misuse. Support them here.