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Behind the Scenes- How we decide who is offered a place on our residentials.

Write to Freedom are always refining the process of how we select who comes onto each residential. We want to work with those who are in Recovery in the widest sense. Recovery from drugs and alcohol, mental or physical ill health, work addiction, technology addiction, relationship addiction and so on. It’s a wide arena! The most important aspect of our selection process is around whether or not we feel you are ready for the journey you will take with us. We know the process intimately. We care deeply for your well-being and your recovery, wherever you’re at with it. We will ask ourselves if you are resilient enough to go on this journey with us. Are you ready?

The work you step into with us can be challenging, emotionally, mentally and physically. This means that we wouldn’t want you to be overwhelmed by the residential and for your recovery to be negatively affected. We feel there is a right time for everyone. We use our questions, phone calls and our instinct to tell us whether this is the right time for you. This is based on a combined Recovery total of over 100 years between staff and volunteers - past and present. That’s a lot of Recovery miles. We feel we’re in a good place to make a loving decision about what we offer and who to.

It will never be a ‘NO’ to your application. Only a ‘YES’ or a ‘NOT YET’

This not about judging you and your life but about our duty of care to you, and to us. 

If you identify yourself as an addict or alcoholic in abstinence based recovery we will look at how much clean time you have and where you currently are in your recovery. You may have had some time clean, relapsed, and are only recently clean again. We will take any clean time or sobriety you have had into account.

If you don’t identify yourself as an alcoholic or addict and have chosen controlled drinking or using, we will still consider a place for you. Your work with us will hopefully support you to get to the next step in your life.

While we fully support the benefits of abstinence based recovery and the 12 Step programme, we accept that not everyone will choose this path of recovery. Some of our facilitators and volunteers are in abstinence based/12 Step recovery.  We believe that the ultimate way forward with destructive dependency issues of any kind, is complete abstinence.

We view dependency as anything you feel unable to stop and is creating suffering in your life and/or the lives of others. You could be on your way to abstinence based recovery and we may be able to help with that.

We are personally and painfully familiar with the nature of denial in addiction. If we feel you are trying to hold it together, denying the impact of your addiction or simply white knuckling it, we may gently and respectfully challenge you and your approach to your recovery. Ultimately, we will support you to get to the next stage in your recovery journey. That’s at the heart of what we’re about.

We are aware of, and are actively working with Trauma. One or more of our staff will have experience of working with Trauma and will be available to support anyone who feels they need it during the residential (and after). It’s important for us to know in advance any issues you may have with anxiety, depression, mental and/or physical health issues including any trauma you may be aware of. These are serious issues in our society. We believe open communication about our inner struggles is a gateway into our healing process. We are not offering therapy, but the outcome of our residentials is often therapeutic.

We offer regular introductory days. These are to meet us, spend time out in nature and get a sense of whether you are ready to attend a residential. There is no requirement to be at any particular place in your recovery to attend. You will be welcome to come to more than one if we feel that this is the best way forward for your journey with us. They will always be different. They’re a great support for all who attend. Visit our upcoming events page here to find out the next introductory day.

Once you have completed the residential you will be able to attend our monthly mentoring days on Dartmoor. And beyond that, your involvement in Write to Freedom is up to you. You can staff the days or residentials as a volunteer and even train to become a facilitator.

It is truly an amazing journey.

Caspar Walsh and Ben Ford

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Ghost Dog. The Way of The Samurai.

I first noticed the dog as I gave Sam a hug goodbye. It was some kind of a miniature Doberman Mastiff cross with what looked like some serious anger issues. It had dark eyes, like it had been keeping guard forever and was ready to take my leg off. Was it real? A dog that small and angry? Certainly looked it, sitting defiant on the dash of the beat up 70’s camper van. A double take later I realised it was a plastic guard dog.

The mentoring day on the moors with staff and the new souls to the Tribe was as beautiful and unique as ever. Time by the river. Time by the fire. Time alone. Sharing lunch and sharing where we were all at in our lives. The weather held, just. Eddy got in the water. Sam’s wet shoe melted as it dried by the fire. Becca gave us a few of her softly electric poems. Amanda tended the fire. And we all helped keep it going. The land, the woods, the river worked their magic on us. We each found a piece of something in this wild place to give us peace. A reconnect to the retreat time we spent on the moors. A recharging of the soul batteries, a chlorophylling up! My pace had slowed, my mind cleared, my heart made tender by the company and the familiar wildness of this part of Dartmoor. The breaking of the spell stopped me in my tracks. The impact of the aggressive, no doubt hurting, man was very real. He emerged from his old van, mimicking the face of the angry dog on the dash, demanding that we move away. That we take our care and kindness elsewhere. My response was, as calm as I could muster, that we were in a public car park and maybe he needed to go further into the wild? The door of the van slammed shut.

At the end of each residential we ask the participants to take care as they had back into the world. To be gentle and kind with their hearts. Mindful of those who haven’t shared the same experience. Who may see something different about them and want a piece of it. Or want to wreck it simply because it does not fit with who and how they are. The reconnect days on the moors are equal in power and connection to the residentials. So it follows that this word of caution and protection, as we had back out into the wider world, needs to be repeated after each day we spend together. Much of the world isn’t ready to connect in this way yet. I have no doubt in their hearts they crave it, but their day to day minds and life will want to reject, crush or shout it down. Perhaps because it’s too painful a reminder of what is missing.

 Standing there listening to the angry man demanding we move away from his vehicle and hug somewhere else, was a shock. We try and teach a principle of taking nothing personally. A bold ideal. I’m a sensitive being, and when my heart is open (which is most of the time) and someone is attacking me verbally, it hurts. Part of it is personal and it needs to be stood up to with as much love and calmness as we can find. Our protective, loving shield need to be up or at least ready. Not a blocking of the heart, or a shutting down but a gentle voice offering protection and kindness where and when needed. A gentle steer away from the focus of trouble or confusion to a place of safety.

As I headed home, I was struck by the image of the angry dog on the dash. And what sat behind, lurking and probably hurting, in the dark. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll see the man again, maybe things will be different. For now, I’ll pray for him and continue to take care of my heart on the wilder road.

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2017 First New Tribe

Saturday 25th March 2017 saw me on a mentoring day with Write to Freedom in the company of staff and peers. The location – a remote spot on Dartmoor I had never been to before. Both tor and wood were arrayed in all their glory as an early spring sun rose full and refused to hide all day. A time to leave the mundane world behind and connect with nature and with my fellow human beings. A day for looking out and looking within. Some spectacular images and memories. The sight of particles and rays of light scattering off the lake and streaming through my eyes, through the universe. The felt presence of air, earth, fire and water, in the strong breeze on the tor, the soil scattered with the debris of old leaves in the wood, the sparkling fire of the sun reflecting off the lake, and the roar and spray of the river. A time and place also for personal reflection, to feel the sense of inner peace and connection, to attend to word and image, to listen to story and myth, to bond and share with my companions. We were given an image of connection, a rope- a rope that tied us to each other, to nature as we explored and enjoyed her, and to our individual hopes and aspirations as we journeyed on together, over the moor and onward in our lives. This is an experience that I need to return to and dwell in again. Fortunately I have the comfort that further mentoring days are in the pipeline. So I look forward to expanding days of companionship and personal growth ahead.

Peter

Guest Blog: Ali from RISE recovery

Sunshine beating down on my skin nourished and calmed me. In silence I left my Tribe – this journey was one that I had to do alone: to think, to reflect, and ask myself what was my truth, what had drawn me to this quest.

I climbed over the stile and headed into the woodland. In a split second I had entered another world – cool air stroked me, damper danker smells of mystery demanded to be drawn into my lungs. I felt safe here; safe in the knowledge that I am just a tiny insignificant spec amongst a beautiful landscape.  I was safe from the noise, rushing, pushing and jostling of everyday life that I can still struggle with.

Slowly drawn towards the beat and lure of the boron drum I walked up the winding track. Tingling within as my thoughts and senses were captivated by the beauty around me, I stopped and picked up a piece of stone, the colours spoke of the autumn to come. Into my pocket it went, a memory to keep and treasure.

This weekend for me was about answers: Who was I, what purpose do I have in life and how to move forward keeping my truth pure. The drum beat drew me onwards whispering its song, you’re nearly home, you’re nearly there just keep on going we’ll all be there. Like a heartbeat slow safe and comforting.  I reached Caspar and Ben – they invited me to take off my boots and socks. The moss slightly damp between my toes felt good, my toes wriggling and spreading with delight. I was then blindfolded reassured that I would be safe in the hands of another warrior. Trust is part of my struggle in life – when people and life has torn you apart the instinct is to go it alone, leave the pack behind. The experiences over the last couple of days were encouraging me to challenge that belief and curiously it felt good to hold onto a strong arm and be led.

Without sight my other senses were heightened. I could hear water and feel every small differing texture between my toes. My heart was racing, roaring, fast – a different drum beat.

After what seemed like an eternity we stopped. I was calm now. I was beginning to trust my brother, he hadn’t let me down. He had kept me safe and steady. I was learning to trust again. Unsure of what was to happen next, I caught my breath, felt the sun on my face and smiled.

RISE Moorland Reconnection Day

It’s been a few months since our successful weekend with RISE (Recovery and Integrated Service) on Dartmoor. We’ve stayed in regular contact and are now in the process of putting a joint funding bid together to continue the programme on a regular basis. We’ve also been in regular contact with the participants who’ve remained amazingly positive about their time with us on the high moor. It really does feel like it’s been a life changing experience for all those involved. What we’d hoped for and more.

What has always been close to my heart in this work is in finding a way of making the vision of ongoing support for our participants, beyond the powerful transformation of the residentials, to become a tangible reality. It’s a noble, crucial dream but the logistics to make this possible on the ground can be complex and a pull on our already stretched resources. But with RISE, it seems to be happening, slowly but surely, as a mutually beneficial, supportive partnership.

We met on Dartmoor last Thursday for the first of what will be a series of days together, reconnecting, sharing, walking, messing around (with an eye on health and safety!) and discovering ways we can continue to support this fine group of human beings. Within RISE they are collectively known as peer mentors and already have one to one supervision support there. Most attend regular 12 Step Recovery groups and therapy. What we are offering is working with them as a group, addressing the dynamics, the strengths and the challenges. We’ll be meeting once a month through the autumn, winter and into next year. We’ll evaluate the process as we go, to measure its success and viability for funding.

Tribe Warrior remains an important part of their time with us, using its themes as a guide for their own daily journey through life. One participant brought his along with great pride!

We had the usual offering of Dartmoor’s very own climate. Walking to the magical Bench Tor, with its dramatic view down into the East Dart Valley. The traditional Dartmoor Mizzle (mist and drizzle for the uninitiated) rolling down the steep sides of the valley into the river gave it an eerie feeling. We headed from the high windswept open moor, down into the woods, toward the river where heavy rain soon turned to welcome sunshine and clouds. My perfect Dartmoor day. Our mini trek finished by a gentle flowing part of the river where we wrote and talked and paired up to explore what challenges lay ahead and what support was needed. By the end of the day, a reconnection to land and our ‘tribe’ was made. Continuity and a reminder of where batteries can always be recharged.

I felt a sadness seeing them all drive off. Matched with a genuine joy in knowing I will see them all again soon. We’ll be meeting, back on the moor, toward the end of the month. I’ll be asking them to contribute to this blog page. Which I’m sure they will, with their trademark zest, humour and eye for the detail of the moors and more.

Caspar – Creative Director, Write to Freedom

New Leaves: reconnecting families after fathers are released from prison

“Imprisonment can be profoundly destructive for families intimate and social relationships. The current rate of inter-generational re-offending is alarming.’’  Crime can often be more shaming for the surrounding family than the criminal themselves, and HMS Parc Prison’s flagship Family Intervention Wing aims to reduce re-offending by developing a positive sense of attachment and responsibility with fathers who have been or are, in prison.  We’ve worked alongside this wing to create the project ‘New Leaves’, to work with the whole family as part of a prisoner’s rehabilitation.

We’ve taken six imprisoned fathers on six separate residential courses with their families, with an aim to connect them to the wild landscape and support their reconnection with each other. Through planned activities, the use of myth and story, the families get a chance to step out of the stress of readjustment and spend time re-bonding and having positive shared experiences. We hold a relaxed environment for safe, heartfelt communication. There’s plenty of opportunity to express feelings and emotions usually difficult to articulate in normal life.

“It has been shown that the use of fairy tales has emotional and symbolic importance for children and their emotional growth.” By using mythical stories, the project seeks to aid children to understand and positively channel their emotions in symbolic terms.

During a ‘New Leaves’ program, families co-create a storybook together as they follow an outdoor trail of activities with the threaded themes of shy Wizards and a hunt for a Dragon’s layer.  The culmination of the lived mythical story is a large wood-sculptured dragon breathing real fire. It’s a striking symbolic connection to the Welsh Dragon that engages the family with their cultural and geographic heritage, whilst playing within the myth and wilderness of the post-industrial South Wales landscape. After finding the Dragon’s Nest and gold, the family co-writes a short piece with the title “The gold we have found in ourselves”.

An interesting by-product of running the pilot year is a sense of ‘cross fertilisation’ that happens during each course. Living in the presence of facilitators who have different daily habits and lifestyles is a worthwhile cultural exposure. Families eat home-cooked organic meals, socialise and play music around a camp fire, without a TV or Internet all weekend.  It’s these subtle, shared new experiences that may increase the family’s sense of unity and strength as they transition into having their fathers and husbands back from prison.

Now, at the end of our pilot year of delivery, we are aiming to set up a reunion day where all the families can meet, celebrate and socialise together, continuing the community bond through their shared experiences within New Leaves. We are also hoping to produce a coffee table style picture book that highlights the political climate of children affected by parental imprisonment, our work with ‘New Leaves’, and some anonymous stories of the families.

Ben Ford – New Leaves coordinator and trainee facilitator

RISE residential Recovery course

The dark surrounding the fire would be ominous were it not for the warm reflection of the flames on the faces of the men and women in front of us. A mixed bag of travellers from all over the country and from all manner of heartbreak. The Bodrahn drum in my hand has been in its case for a too many months. The skin needs tightening. I bring my hand over the flames to test the heat, then the drum, letting the orange and yellow fire shine through the skin. It’s a good bit of storytelling theatre. The eyes watching widen as I strike out a single beat, then another, and another. The instrument rises in pitch, tuning itself to the heat of the fire.  I’m nervous. I also need some tuning up!

This is how our time together starts. With a circle, a fire, an old story, the night, new faces, new friends and silence. The drum is ready.  Each time this is different. Following the same theme, similar threads but told to each group as if it were the first. Responding to the season, the weather, the feeling within the group. This fine circle of beings who have each been impacted by addiction are each seeking to deepen their healing and recovery. They’ve come to us through RISE (Recovery Integrated Services – link). Each bring a gift for themselves and for us. What those gifts are will unfold over the next few days.

Each have been on a road, heading to this turning point, on the high hills of Dartmoor, for months, years, decades. Weather-worn by what life has handed them. And choosing to do something good with it. Turn it into something they can work with, something they can transform and be proud of. And part of that journey is to discover a new relationship with nature and their own, unique story. To rediscover themselves inside its wildness. John, one of our lead nature-connection facilitators, stops mid-sentence as the rapid trill of a Nightjar fills the air. He calls to it. It calls back. The Isle is Full of Noises.

We know the power of these weekends but never know quite how that power will unfold. We respond to what meets us. Each of the staff have, in their own lives, been touched, one way or another, by addiction. We know the hard road. And we know the joy and freedom that comes from stepping off it, onto another path.

We share our discoveries as the days unfold; through words, poems, journals. This land has been shaped by ancient weather, as have we. This group are no different in how extraordinary they are. How engaged, connected, loving, wise, funny and willing to step out of their comfort zone time and time again. To take their recoveries and their gifts, to the next level.

Long may it continue!

Caspar Walsh, Lead Facilitator and Creative Director

Guest blog from our new Chair of Trustees- Brett Sentance

Hello, my name is Brett Sentance and I have recently become Chair of Trustees for Write to Freedom. I work in social housing, have managed a number of homeless services and moved to Devon just over 2 years ago. In 2014 I came across Write to Freedom, met with Caspar Walsh and had an instant connection with him. I understood what he was doing with the charity and a few months later, he asked if I would like to be involved, so here I am.

A few months ago, I was asked if I could help out for a couple of days with some of the delivery on the ground. Dartmoor it was then…

Nestled just outside Moretonhampstead is some land owned by Gordon, a Write to Freedom mentor. He teaches archery, amongst other things, and is a very gentle and wise man.

This place was beautiful, peaceful and a great place to work with people.

I was with Gordon and Ben, another mentor and who again is very interesting, wise for his age and very welcoming and supportive.

For 2 days I was immersed in things; helping, observing and being part of what Write to Freedom do. I kind of knew what Write to Freedom did, but I needed to experience it first hand so I can really be a part of it.

The participants arrived along with support staff from a statutory provider and we started the day. I was feeling a mix of anxiety and excitement but looking forward to working with some new people.

Once we’d set up for the day; preparing workspaces and the eating area, setting up an archery space and other areas for activities, we sat down and started the day by sharing how we were feeling about the day and where we were as individuals. After these honest and open introductions we warmed up with some archery. What an amazing way to focus and be centred on what the day will bring. It’s a great start for the young men when they arrive.

There was a difference in what the men experienced here to other approaches I’ve seen.  Planning and talking about how the day is going to go, preparing for any crisis and unplanned events is incredibly beneficial for the participants and staff and something that does not happen that often in support services. Quite unique.

Some of the young men were incredible at archery and gained many skills as the course progressed. I saw young men from difficult backgrounds and chaotic lives really using the archery as a way of being calm and focussed. It blew me away, to be honest.

Archery is only a part of what Write to Freedom does, and throughout the day there was also writing, sharing feelings, cooking healthy and wholesome food, mentoring, being part of a community, and the list goes on.

I felt connected and all who attended felt the same. It was an incredible 2 days and I felt very grateful to be a part of Write to Freedom. I also thank the young men who attended for their brave shares and getting fully involved.