Scally Mag had the pleasure of being invited to Damien John Kelly House…
Damien John Kelly House is an abstinence based residential recovery service for males who are working towards a life away from substances and alcohol. Prior to opening their doors in 2019, the idea of this project struck terror into some of the community around Wavertree High Street where it is based. Local residents protested against the conception of the project. Despite this, the service received planning permission from Liverpool City Council and opened its doors to men who are actively seeking to improve their lives.
What do protests against a service designed to support people tell us about attitudes to addiction? Unfortunately, it appears that we live in system which requires its most vulnerable to ‘prove’ they are ready to be integrated into mainstream society, as opposed to developing an understanding and acceptance outside of the stigmas and stereotypes which are often attached to such issues. These negative attitudes and subtle remnants of the neo-liberal ideology of individualism and meritocracy are still embedded, even in our working-class communities.
Organically, over the course of the past two years, Damien John Kelly House has improved its relations with the community and shown itself to be a vital resource and service for males who need it. Residents from the area have u-turned in their attitudes towards the organisation, and even sent letters of support.
After building a relationship over social media and supporting the service’s recent Go Fund Me- set up to replenish vital stolen goods from its building- we were invited along to sit in on one of their Friday group sessions to meet the lads and take part. We were fortunate enough to be able to meet the lads and hear the stories of the residents first-hand.
A comfortable and informal setting of leather couches, games consoles, and cups of coffee provided the setting for what was to be an insight into perspectives of masculinity, fear, heroism, comradery, death and honesty. Around 15-20 of us got comfortable and listened to Friday’s guest speaker talk through his complex journey to what he feels is a better place, and the trials and tribulations of how his issues, and the issues of others around him, cultivated an existence which was difficult at times. So much so, that it drove him to feel as though he needed to take his own life. Thankfully, the belt snapped, and he lived to share his story.
We all reflected on the sharing of the story and fed back what we took from the guest speaker’s journey and how we were able to recognise the similarities in our own lives at times, and what that meant to us. This was a new experience to me: sitting in a room full of lads as we bare all about some of the difficult times in life and how it makes us feel.
I was often used to being engrossed in the fantasy image of what it means to be a man; physically and emotionally strong, dominant, loud and performative to the point of exhaustion. It’s hard work keeping up appearances. It’s hard work experiencing transactional relationships with very little return or substance.
What was refreshing during the session was the sense of vulnerability, and the notion that this was a safe and acceptable way to be. The myths and stereotypes of addiction were suspended in this moment as each individual was able to explore their humanity in relation to the sense of community that they had established. The end of the session required each attendee to explain something they had learned, something that had impacted them, and to identify somebody they appreciate in the room.
It was this part of the session I was able to learn about the heroic effort to save a young person’s life, the unfortunate passing of loved ones, the impact of a break-in to the service and the spirit of togetherness and support fostered within the group. Mostly within a week’s work.
The direct and unequivocal explanation to a fellow resident of why they have made you feel like you appreciate them was a heart-warming, novel, and humbling exercise to witness. Seldom does the concept of masculinity allow us to be so open and honest about our feelings, and the impact this had on me was profound. These psychological and social approaches outside the normative sphere of traditional gender behaviour was interesting to experience.
My two hours with the lads at Damien John Kelly House was a reminder that accountability, togetherness, support, and meaningful relationships can be the cornerstone to leading a more positive existence. It was also a reminder that addiction and recovery is not all horror stories and doom and gloom. It is no surprise to me now that the wider community, who initially took issue with the opening of the service, have had a re-think about their attitudes. We can all learn a lesson from the work that goes on in services like Damien John Kelly House, and if we apply such outlooks to our individual approaches and attitudes to our personal responsibility, we will have more of a chance of creating inclusive and mindful communities for all.
Thanks for having us, lads. All the best.