Alcoholics’ photos offer snapshot of recovery

One of the photographs from the project

One of the photographs from the project

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RECOVERING alcoholics have used photography to express the challenges they face in their daily lives as part of an innovative new project.

Experts at Edinburgh University devised a programme where a group of 12 people in recovery were given cameras to document their daily lives.

The resulting snaps showed users were sometimes trapped by memories and behavioural patterns from their environment, bombarded with prevalent licensing outlets and often crying out for effective peer support.

Dr Aisha Holloway, who led the work from Edinburgh University alongside Dr Sarah Rhynas, said: “People in recovery are a highly marginalised group who experience stigmatisation and suffer from many health inequalities.

“I was interested in engaging with people on what facilitated their recovery. When people come out of treatment they can face many challenges, so we need to know how to support them as health professionals and policy-makers.”

Dr Holloway, who also chairs the Scottish Alcohol Research Network, added: “Some of the photos are really powerful, as you can see how trapped people sometimes feel by their old lives. It may be their drinking buddy who lives next door, or the off-licence round the corner where they would buy their drink.”

Working with Edinburgh-based photographer Sam Rutherford and the National Galleries of Scotland, the participants discussed their photos and their thoughts and created a narrative which was interwoven into an exhibition shown at the Scottish Parliament this month.

One of the study’s participants was Brandon Walker, who was addicted to alcohol for around 15 years before being referred to the LEAP abstinence programme, at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, in November 2013.

Brandon, who lives in Leith, said: “It was really interesting because the research provided some explanations for us into our behaviour and why we had taken the photos we did.

“Mine referenced the fact that over the last couple of years my eyes have been opened up to what a fantastic world we live in and what beautiful things there are around, which I just couldn’t see while I was drinking.”

The aim for Brandon is to change the portrayal of people in recovery from jittery addicts who are always on the edge of a relapse, to a group emphatically trying to embrace a new life in the face of many obstacles. The 41-year-old said: “It can be something where you feel isolated and stigmatised. Drinking is such a big part of life that many people maybe drink too much and don’t want to think about it as a problem.”

The project was supported by homelessness charity Rowan Alba and the Serenity Cafe, a community cafe which helps recovering addicts.

The exhibition will be held at the cafe, near the Royal Mile, until June 20.

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com