Man who lived through addiction, coma and jail now helping others after turning his life around
'Nowadays I use the hard things in life to strengthen myself'
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He was an addict whose life spiralled from just 11 years old - but now Dennis Bryan is helping others as a much-loved hospital volunteer.
Dennis got into a cycle of substance abuse and crime. Now, however, he has turned his life around and is supporting others.
He urged others to become a volunteer and said: "There’s always a miracle around the corner."
Dennis, who was born in Durham and has also lived in Murton, started getting into trouble with the police in his early teens – often due to his addictions.
At 17 he was jailed for the first time.
His mother, Miriam, died while he was serving time and he was escorted by wardens to her funeral while wearing double-handcuffs – due to being deemed a flight risk.
'I had to learn to walk again'
“I felt so ashamed, but it didn’t stop me,” said Dennis. “Instead, it gave me an excuse to carry on and live the way I wanted, which of course was the wrong way to go.”
Dennis spent his 20s and 30s in an endless round of court appearances, prison, probation, community service and home curfew. Still, he was unable to admit his addictions.
He left school without exams or any real ambitions. Despite marrying and having a son, he continued to get into trouble and the relationship eventually failed.
His addiction almost cost him his life but even a coma, stroke and months in hospital were not enough to curb his behaviour.
'I knew I had finally reached rock bottom'
“I could have died,” he said. “I was very ill and had to learn to walk again after the coma using a splint and stick. But, although my body healed, I was still an addict."
There came the tragic death of his new partner, and he said: “I used my partner’s death as an excuse for my behaviour after I was released from hospital, but I knew I had finally reached rock bottom when I ended up appearing in court in a wheelchair. That was the turning point. I asked for help.”
He now uses this experience to help others as a hospital volunteer.
'Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them'
Dennis, 52, has now found happiness with his partner Dawn and “no longer needs drink or drugs to change the way he feels”.
Instead, he has found great satisfaction in volunteering for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and has just marked his 10th year of sobriety.
“The only person you can change is yourself, but sometimes people just need someone to listen to them – and that’s what I do,” said Dennis.
“I have quite a few health problems due to my past lifestyle, but I use my lived experience to support others. Volunteering for TEWV gives my life purpose."
Dennis became an official TEWV volunteer in 2019 and offers support to people with addictions, as well as mental health difficulties.
'There is always a miracle around the corner'
He said: “Don’t be afraid to give volunteering a try – as there’s always a miracle around the
corner. Don’t focus on the final destination, because it’s the journey that’s beautiful,”
Lisa Cole, voluntary services manager for TEWV, said: “Dennis is a dedicated volunteer who brings warmth and empathy to his volunteering roles.
Spreading positivity and kindness
“Dennis has a truly inspirational story, showing us all how we can overcome challenges and achieve great things.
“We are so grateful to have Dennis as part of our team, spreading his positivity and kindness to everyone he meets.”
To find out more about volunteering , visit www.tewv.nhs.uk/get-involved/volunteering