“That’s what they say isn’t it? You need to hit absolute rock bottom before you want help…”
And that, hitting rock bottom, is exactly what happened to Phil.
Twice, he says he found himself in situations which could have cost him his life.
Beset by addiction problems, coupled with trust and other issues, Phil was indeed at the very bottom, when he was found, covered in blood having been seriously assaulted, in Wolverhampton City Centre.
By this time he was already well known to the Good Shepherd, a popular and outgoing character who had also volunteered at the charity, but one who was finding it tough to stay on the right path whilst in his own company.
“The King on the Hill” became Phil’s nickname such was the length of time – the best part of 15 years – he spent as a rough sleeper.
So often there is a trigger which can start a person’s spiral from what we might term a normal and healthy life, and that was no different with Phil, who had suffered a painful family bereavement.
“Back in the day, I worked hard, I was a grafter and a fitness freak, and addiction was never a problem,” he recalls.
“After family bereavements, I started going more into a drinking culture, and like anything, the drink only become an issue when I couldn’t feed the habit.
“I didn’t think I had a problem, which is what so many people say, but as time went on, I started to hurt the people I love.
“Psychologically and emotionally people close to me had to put up with a lot, and even though I didn’t mean it, it was still happening.
“I’d maybe come around from a stupor which might have lasted two days, three days, four days, and I’d be thinking ‘come back to reality you gobshite Philip, what are you doing to yourself?’
“But then it would be like ‘oh well, I’m still breathing’, but by this time the drink had really got to me.
“I needed some tough love, and people to make me realise what I was doing to them, but as they say, it is only when you reach rock bottom that you actually go and look for help.
“I have no recollection of the last time I was attacked, but that was the turning point, and if nothing had been done then, I think I would either be in prison now, or six feet under.”
Found covered in blood having been the victim of an assault, it was clear that the next step for Phil was going to be crucial, if he was indeed to overcome his addiction and try and return to what must almost have felt like a previous life.
Already well known to the Good Shepherd following his volunteering, especially to key worker Paul Burns, Phil agreed to check in to Livingstone House, the charity-run rehabilitation centre in Birmingham.
He wanted to recover, he was ready to face his demons, but perhaps he wasn’t completely expecting quite the extent of what lay ahead.
“I thought I’d go in there for a time, maybe a few months, get the alcohol out of my system and aim for that word that posh people use – sobriety,” he says.
“But I wasn’t prepared for the shock that I had to go through mentally, emotionally and psychologically.
“They strip you to the bone in there, there is no hiding place, and I probably thought I was going to be able to wing it.
“I had to face my demons and tell my life story in front of 16 or so other lads, and I found that hard.
“There was stuff in there that I had never told anyone before, but it helped me, and I realised from there that It’s never good to keep blocking everything out.
“I am from a generation where it was always felt that it was a weakness to ask anyone for help, but I know now that I have to.”
That support from the Good Shepherd proved pivotal to Phil, both before and after his spell in rehabilitation, and his time since.
He readily acknowledges the feeling that he doesn’t really deserve it – but that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to how the staff have been so keen to help.
Phil has previously, before normality was interrupted due to the Covid-19 outbreak, taken part in the meaningful activities put on by the Good Shepherd, including cookery classes, table tennis and boxing.
“I was a decent boxer in my prime,” he recalls. “You probably had to be, growing up in the estate that I did!”
As well as at the Good Shepherd, Phil has also previously volunteered for the Midland Heart Foundation, but one big step taken on his road to recovery was to find him accommodation.
With a suitable flat located with the help of Wolverhampton Homes, then came the need for furniture and appliances, which is where the Socks and Chocs charity came in.
Socks and Chocs had already funded Phil’s rehabilitation treatment, and they also helped with his start-up in the flat by providing carpets, a cooker, wardrobe and washing machine.
“Phil has come a long, long way, and contentment is the massive word I would use now for him,” says Paul Burns, among those who helped Phil go into rehab after he had been seriously assaulted.
“Going through rehab, and with his volunteering, it has got him back to having a normal life, and having a structure to his life.
“He can now do functional things in that flat, he can relax and watch TV, he can walk to the shops and buy some milk instead of cans of beer, and it’s not long ago that it would have just been a cave and he would have made no progress at all.
“I think the people here at the Good Shepherd and the time we have spent with Phil has been invaluable to help him as a person.
“Rehab wouldn’t have had the same effect without the nourishment he has received from talking to Brother Stephen and the support workers here over the years – he has made plenty of good friends.
“The next phase will be to get Phil back into employment or another voluntary position, because the idea is always that they don’t actually need the Good Shepherd eventually.
“But even when that day comes, we will always be here for him, and he always knows we would love to see him and he can pop in whenever he wants.”
“The Good Shepherd? They are my safety net,” adds Phil.
“I am surrounded by good people who have my best interests at heart, and even when I have messed up, they have never turned their backs on me.
“I sometimes think I don’t deserve the help, and I’m certainly not looking for sympathy, but it’s good to know that the support, that safety net, is there for me.”
Phil is full of gratitude for Socks and Chocs for helping furnish his new flat, and is looking forward to what lies ahead.
“I am eternally grateful to Socks and Chocs for their funding and Good Shepherd for their help and I am not exaggerating to say I don’t think I would be here today without it,” he says.
“Although I’m getting on a bit now and if I was a racehorse I’d probably be able to go five furlongs rather than a mile-and-a-half!
“It’s nice and quiet where I live, I say alright to the neighbours, and have certainly found a bit of contentment.
“I’m in a much better place now, in more ways than one.”
Main photographs kindly provided by Stuart Manley Photography