Cooking Free Meals For My Community Is Helping Others – And My Own Recovery

Giving back is a key step in my recovery from addiction. And we need to give back now more than ever.
Courtesy of the author
HuffPost UK
Courtesy of the author

In my early 20s, life on the surface looked pretty good. I was on the road, catering for major events including the Olympics, Asian Games, Brit Awards and even getting to cater on tours with The Rolling Stones, Cher and Pink.

I was living the life I’d always dreamed of. But I was also slowly destroying my life at the same time.

Everyone I worked with was going out and partying hard. It was the done thing. It felt glamorous to a budding young chef, but the culture, combined with my love of drink and drugs, took me to hell and back on many occasions.

But I realised I wasn’t doing it like everyone else. I was doing it to excess. Looking back, I think it was probably obvious to everyone, but I never really discussed it. And in fact, although I admitted that I was an alcoholic on several occasions, I often talked myself out of it and went back into denial. It was easier that way. Or that’s how it seemed at the time, anyway.

I ended up losing several good jobs because of my lifestyle. In fact, when I was working in China in 2011, my behaviour not only cost me my job, but it very nearly cost the entire company its contract.

When I got back to the UK, my drinking and using was completely out of control. I was managing to get the jobs, but unable to keep them and having to move back in with my mum, who continued to support me through thick and thin. Addiction never exclusively affects the person directly experiencing it – there’s always a knock-on effect to friends, family and colleagues.

In 2016, I finally admitted to myself that I was completely dependent on drugs and alcohol. By that time, my drinking and drug taking resulted in over 40 hospital admissions and many suicide attempts and finally, in December 2017, I’d had enough. I ended up in hospital but this time, when I was discharged, I knew that drinking was not an option.

Just a few days after I was discharged, I found myself in George Street Social, a recovery café in Newcastle that hosts 12-step meetings. I completed 184 meetings in 90 days, found a sponsor and became part of a supportive recovery community, making many lifelong friends. I truly believe that the recovery community, and my family, saved my life. Not only did I feel part of something, and less alone than ever before, but I was even offered a job as a chef again. But this time the job was in a safe place: the recovery café itself.

Cooking plays such an important role in my recovery. Not only is it something I love and something that calms my mind, but it also helps me to give something back to the very community that helped me find recovery.

In 12-step recovery, the 12th and final step is all about giving back, about sustaining your own recovery by helping others. Since the coronavirus crisis, George Street Social has had to close its doors, meaning we are no longer able to offer food for sale, and I am no longer able to do my job.

However, the recovery community never stops being there for each other. So I decided to volunteer my time cooking meals for others. It’s good for my soul, as it keeps me engaged, is part of my recovery and, put simply, I just love being in the kitchen. Even as a full time chef when the café was open I enjoyed doing extra bits of cooking and baking, and I’d often make sobriety cakes for people at cost. It’s the creativity and the giving back – it’s invaluable.

Each week during lockdown, I’ve had the kitchen to myself, and I’ve cooked and cooked and cooked! Hundreds of meals each week, working with donated supplies from Charlotte’s Butchery – a small independent that’s really supportive of recovery, as well as fresh vegetables funded through personal donations from others. Other volunteers from the community pick them up and deliver them to people in recovery, people in need, as well as key workers who are doing such an immense job for all of us.

I know first-hand how addiction impacts both ourselves, and those close to us. But so too does recovery – its positive effects ripple through, and in some ways, simply being in recovery means helping put things right again.

For me, so many aspects of my recovery are thanks to the George Street Social community as well as my mum’s ongoing support, and I’m glad I’m able to give so much back now. At times like these, it’s the best way to get through.

Anything is possible. Long may it continue, one day at a time.

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