Under the Arches #3 – The destructive power of shame

25th April 2024

Please note this blog mentions drug addiction and relapse (no graphic descriptions).


“Hello boss.” Gary* always calls me that. He’s collecting mugs, washing them and will take them to go through the steriliser.

“I’m in again. When are you going to get me doing some proper stuff?”

Gary has had a long blip. He had relapsed back to using the drugs he took a few years ago. There is a belief among some that this is weakness, but it’s so much more complex. I don’t have the personal experience of having been drug dependent but I have had so many conversations with people who are in recovery.

‘In recovery’ is being free from your addiction, whatever that might have been. The ‘free’ is contentious. I was speaking to one person who has been in recovery for six years and you might assume he didn’t think about drugs that often now.

“Every day I think about them. Every day I tell myself I’m not going to go back to that life. Every day those drugs call to me and tell me that I still want their help.”


Steve* another former user told me he had been out and bought the drugs. He had some pressures, normal life stuff, too little money, too many demands, a relationship breakdown and the thought of heroin got bigger in his mind because that was how he’d coped years ago when he was homeless. He’d sat and looked at the heroin and then phoned a friend. The friend came round and took the stuff away to dispose of it. That was a close call. His seven years of freedom were preserved. He’d got through it.

“The dealers remember you.” That’s what someone else told me. “Others may forget but the dealers are salespeople and they’ll find a way to drop you a message to tempt you.”


It’s difficult to stay in recovery. That’s why Recovery Programmes are so important for so many. Meeting with a sponsor and other former addicts who will hold you and support you, or introduce you to places where you can enjoy music, or football or whatever it is you want to do, without the risk of staring alcohol or drug use in the face.


Gary had done so well. He liked his new life. He’d got employment, first through Archer Project Enterprises and then a job in the open market. Was it loneliness that got him? I know he didn’t phone a friend. It was a few weeks after his relapse that people spotted some telltale signs. It was more than two months after his relapse that he spoke about it. He’d hidden it initially, and then tried his best to deny it because he was ‘still in control’. But the relapse had taken hold. He lost his accommodation because the debts grew.

For a few months if he saw us on the street he turned and walked the other way. Shame has enormous destructive power. Shame labels you a failure, a weakling, someone who hasn’t got the strength to resist. And it feeds on every moment you don’t do well and every lie you tell about your habit. Then, when you are steeped in shame, you struggle to stand tall and tell yourself that you got over your addiction once and you can do it again. But Gary has been through the days of shame and he has clawed his way back and now he has things under control.

It’s not perfect, which means he is not where he wants to be just yet. So, we are taking things slowly. But he knows he is moving in the right direction.


*Name changed to protect identity.


Written by Tim Renshaw, CEO of The Archer Project.

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