Completed AVP workshops at level 1 and 2, is now a facilitator
The switch in my head had been pushed. The switch that reads above it, ‘Violence, Warning, Do not touch’. Too late though, my switch had been flicked and a chain of violent behaviour began. I took a rake and swung it at everything in my path. On this particular occasion my car got the brunt of my anger. My black beetle that, I had been working hard to pay off. I threw the rake as far as possible then without a thought I ran my forehead in to the house wall causing blood to flow and tissue to swell. My switch usually worked on a timer and after so long the raging anger within me would subside and the violent behaviour died down to a stop.
I sat on the floor and sobbed, “I can’t take it anymore, I just can’t take it anymore”. My words indicating that this wasn’t the first time I had displayed such violence. Countless times I’d lost it, breaking every plate, bowl, and cup in my home. Cutting my body until blood poured or I’d beat myself black and blue.
I can almost hear the question rolling around your heads. I can see it in your eyes, Why? Why would someone do that to themselves? Well, on this particular occasion it was because I couldn’t get my car out of the snow. Ok, so that was just the surface reason. I’ve since learnt that I was suffering with low self esteem and unresolved issues that had contributed to my violent outbursts. I’m far from proud of myself and I’m not bragging about what I have done. I’ve hurt myself and I’ve hurt others, especially those I’m closest to.
As I sat on the floor, head throbbing and blood trickling down my brow, I realised that I needed help. I couldn’t continue my life in this way and I didn’t want to. It was then I found a leaflet on the Alternatives to Violence Project and I decided to attend a level one workshop. It was a long weekend but I found it refreshing to discover that I wasn’t the only one to struggle with these intense emotions.
There were people from all walks of life that found it difficult to deal with conflict in their lives. I found it to be a laid back atmosphere where gradually people become open to share their experiences. We looked at self-esteem and how best to act in a situation of conflict. AVP has helped me heaps in giving me the tools to deal with some of the difficulties in my life. Ok so I’m not totally reformed but I am a work in progress and AVP has set me on the right road to a more peaceful and controlled life.
Since my first workshop I have worked my way up and have trained as a facilitator. I can now have a positive impact on those who continue to struggle with violence within their lives. AVP has brought so much into my life and the biggest lesson I have learnt is that it’s possible to change.
Completed AVP workshops at level 1 and 2, is now a lead facilitator
My childhood was dysfunctional. My parents drank a lot and were unfaithful. There were separations and they each brought their lovers into the family home as trophies against the other. I recall how that used to scare me and my two sisters. In our early childhood we often found ourselves in foster care and when I was 15 my parents divorced, my immediate family split up and my support structure shattered.
I left school at 16 and soon fell into anti-social behaviour: drink, drugs and crime. I now see that I was mixing with the wrong crowd, but I’m not blaming other people. I know this behaviour was the coping strategy I used because I didn’t know how to talk about the sadness, guilt and shame I felt from my childhood. My anti-social behaviour was a sign of my inner struggle but it made me even more broken. I served my first prison sentence when I was 17. By the time I was 20, I was heavily involved with drink and drugs and had served time for violence.
I learned from my father’s behaviour that there was a payoff in being aggressive: I could get what I wanted, which at that time meant feeding my addiction at the expense of family, friends, work colleagues and the wider community. I was living a life I couldn’t understand, suffering from depression and high levels of anxiety. My mental health was unstable.
After a further 27 years of addiction and prison, I became aware, on the back of a nervous breakdown, that I could no longer contain the pain and trauma I was suffering in my heart and soul. Despite having children, whom I thought I was a burden to, I tried to take my own life. Unsuccessful, I was detained under the Mental Health Act.
This was still not my rock bottom. On my release I drank and took drugs again and before long I was back in prison for another violent offence: assaulting my partner, the mother of my two children, which is something I have had to face up to and live with. I’ve tried to process my guilt and shame and have had help in this from personal therapy.
At first I could not see how to break the belief system I was brought up in. I thought destructive relationships and alcohol were the solution to life’s problems. I used manipulation and coercion and from what I know today I accept that I was out of control.
I was released from prison in 2012. Whilst in prison I learned that my two sons had been taken into foster care. I recall this moment as the biggest punch my soul had taken. I believe my soul said “I have had enough of this feasting on greed and gluttony; I am taking over from here.” I believe I had an awakening, an epiphany, and that my self-disgust brought me to a turning point.
Before my breakdown, fear and anxiety fuelled the power I gave to alcohol and drugs. I did not believe I could change. I had become so scared of life that I wanted to hide away, not only from others, but from myself. I needed to escape my own pain and the harm I was causing to others.
I can see now that I took substances in order to find oblivion, so I would never have to face reality. I was caught up in the hamster wheel of addiction and sabotage, self-destruction and denial. For years I thought there was no way out, until I found AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project.) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), shortly after being released from that prison sentence in 2011/12.
I was attending mandatory probation appointments, undertaking a domestic violence education program, IDAP (Integrated Domestic Abuse Program) when I saw an AVP poster advertising workshops in York. As I was already learning to look at the causes of my behavioural difficulties and felt good about this, I thought I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Of course I was petrified. I thought everybody would judge me and have a negative opinion of who I was. On the contrary, I was given a voice and listened to with compassion and empathy. As a result, I learned to trust that underneath I was a good, caring man who had got lost in pain and struggles.
In summary, I have come a long way in my recovery. I have my children back in my life and a loving, non-destructive relationship with an adorable lady. I have huge empathy, which I bring to my studies and my support for others. Using a person-centred model of psychodynamics, I have managed to educate myself into the pleasures of being sensitive, caring and holistic when working with others. I am now a facilitator for AVP and work in communities and prisons offering the same support I received.
I believe my experience is now my strength. Having had the journey I had, the opportunity to study and my volunteer work with the Samaritans, York in Recovery, Sunshine and AVP, I truly feel blessed, grateful and honoured to still be alive. My purpose now is to love, care for and support others with their personal development, self-awareness and fulfilment in a loving and proficient manner.
I would like to say a huge thank you to AVP. It possibly saved my life !!
Completed AVP workshops at level 1 and 2, is now a facilitator
Paul took part in our workshops while in Addiewell Prison. Paul is one of our newly trained facilitators and has shared his reasons for volunteering with AVP Scotland. As an ex-offender with a violent background he had struggled with conflict – both in prison and outside. Paul’s story is sadly typical of many people who want to change, he’d attended various courses and tried hard to stay away from trouble, but it was only after attending our workshops that he found the tools that really helped him.
After his release Paul was able to move away from his previous lifestyle and to take responsibility for communicating his needs appropriately. He recognised that how people interact with each other – the tone of voice they use or body language they display – was actually the ‘tip of the iceberg’, and so he was more able to step aside from conflict rather than engage with it. He’s become more observant of people’s behaviour and so become more tolerant of them. This change in Paul has not gone unnoticed! He’s had very positive feedback from his friends and he is making progress in resolving the conflict in his own family.
What others have told us
“A great course, very well delivered/led/taught. The facilitators were organised, supportive and very inclusive. We were a varied group of people and they were very aware of including everyone and making this material accessible for every member of the group. The facilitators managed very competently that sometimes difficult balance of being part of the group, sharing their experiences too - whilst also ‘holding’ the group really well. Enough time was spent making sure trust was built up in the group. I felt safe and comfortable to work in the group knowing we had all agreed how we would work together. Really clear instructions were given so I knew what I was being asked to do and why. The activities were varied and well paced, which meant I was kept interested, alert and comfortable. The sessions were designed around what we as a group wanted and needed which was great.” - Anonymous
“If you are thinking of joining an AVP course, you are probably doubting whether it could be any good? I have to give up my free time! I’ll attend if I have to, but it will do me no good. It will be a complete effing waste of time. These were some of the attitudes people came with on my course, five years ago. Me? I knew I needed help. My depression was crippling me, my self-worth was at rock bottom and I knew I would end up in prison - for a long time. I did the course, it was hard work but I made some great friends and everybody helped each other out. You have to look really hard at yourself and your attitudes to be able to change, but it’s worth it! Before, I would panic if I was somewhere busy, thinking if someone banged into me, even just accidentally, I would want to punish them. Now I am calmer, kinder and a much better person. I am nothing special and anyone can change to better themselves. I would urge anyone to do a course with AVP, as I did. AVP totally changed me, I am pleased to say. I am no longer angry and also practice Buddhist meditation. Life isn’t easy but I can manage it far better than I used to.” - Anonymous
“AVP was to be my turning point. There was no right answer – nor wrong ones. What pleased me more was that other people could see the changes I was making.” - Anonymous prison workshop participant