From drugs and dyslexia to Recovery Coach
When working with guests at Ocean Hills, recovery coach Callan Jennings is well placed to understand the struggles of getting into sustainable sobriety.
A lifetime of struggling with drugs and alcohol has given him the experience needed to empathise with people desperately seeking relief from addiction, which these days, is a real pleasure, Callan says.
“The best part of my job is seeing guests from beginning to the end. At the start, someone might not be able to look you in the face, and then we get to watch them slowly over time.”
For those who don’t know, recovery coaches, as with other peer support workers, spend a lot of time with guests, and like Callan, have mostly experienced addiction and recovery either in their own lives, or through their relationships with others.
Supporting guests in every way they need while they go through their days at Ocean Hills is key. “I try to share with people that exercise and eating healthy to help with anxiety,” says Callan, who has run peer support groups in different settings over the past five years, “We go for walks but also do the work recovery – the readings, practicing gratitude and acknowledging strengths.
“I believe in being thoroughly authentic and prepared to do the difficult work and surrendering the outcome.”
Callan is studying Mental Health and Addiction.
Like many who experience mental health and addiction challenges, Callan’s issues began in childhood.
After his parents divorced, Callan had to move schools, where he was labelled as “the dumb kid” due his then undiagnosed dyslexia, and then his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“She was given three-to-six months to live. I didn’t want to live if she wasn’t here, so I decided to kill myself when she died.”
Thankfully his Mum beat the disease but by then, Callan’s life was a “mess”.
A natural talent for sport, including rugby, rugby league and Muay Thai kickboxing, provided many bright spots during his youth but anxiety was his closest companion. Drugs – initially marijuana at the age of 11 and eventually, alcohol, speed and methamphetamine – seemed to provide a solution to his worries and give him confidence he’d never possessed before.
“I hated drugs and how they made me feel but they helped to relieve the anxiety.”
But as anyone who has used drugs and alcohol knows, they only provide a short-term fix to a much bigger problem, and end up fuelling the anxiety they initially treat.
Sobriety and getting clean became a goal in his early 20s, initially by giving up alcohol. Then followed numerous attempts at getting off drugs, which he managed to do many times between relapsing. It was during this period that Callan realised he had a talent for helping others. “I would quite often stop for a while and people would ask me to help them do the same in the short term. I helped about 10 people get off meth.”
Callan is a well-known advocate for people in recovery with dyslexia.
After several rehabs, Callan finally managed to get off meth six years ago. Since then, he has become an advocate for people with dyslexia and has formally studied mental health and addiction. He also works as a recovery coach and does a lot of volunteer work.
“Working in addiction is humbling because it can affect anyone: it’s not racist or classist. “I’m all about inspiring people to change. I love sharing with people at Ocean Hills how to sit in the moment and not run away from how they’re feeling. You don’t have to meditate to be able to do that – you can just learn to sit in the sun.”