DDN Magazine October 2023 DDN_October_2023 | Page 10



From director of an art gallery to living in a homelessness hostel , Portraits of Recovery founder Mark Prest ’ s own lived experience led him to launch Greater Manchester ’ s first Recoverist Month

It was December 2007 , almost Christmas , and I was in my dream job . A northern workingclass boy had shaken up the status quo and risen from exhibitions officer to director of the City Gallery in Leicester . Until my world came crashing down .

The launch of the Annual Open , our most popular show of the year – more than 100 guests including arts professionals and local government – were invited to view works by amateur and professional artists from across the region . It was a big night . And the gallery director , man of the moment , was inebriated , slurring his way around the show , making barbed comments . When squeamishly reading the incident report , my crashing into an exhibiting artist ’ s sculpture leapt off the page . Thankfully no damage was done – the damage was all to my reputation . I ended up suspended , narrowly avoiding dismissal for gross misconduct . By that point , I had been struggling with alcohol use for seven years . The doctor ’ s response ? Simply ‘ don ’ t drink ’. I eventually engaged with drug and alcohol services , but nothing stuck . I was in denial . Time off work meant more drinking time , and things got worse .
CROSSING THE LINE I can pinpoint exactly when I crossed the line from social to problematic drinker . It was after a night out on ecstasy with friends whilst on holiday in South Africa in 2000 . I suffered a panic attack . A friend suggested a glass of wine to calm my nerves . It worked . From then on , I selfmedicated my acute anxiety issues with alcohol .
The period between Christmas 2007 and April 2008 was a blur . My drinking was out of control , and I rarely went out unless it was for further supplies . Just before Easter , the telephone rang , and I answered – a rare occurrence at this point , as I neither opened the curtains or the mail .
It was a friend from home , and he said he was coming to fetch me . An intervention I now know , as he hadn ’ t heard from me in ages and feared the worst . I ’ ve no recollection of him arriving or the 120-mile drive to Oldham , my hometown . I was – I was later told – deposited , a stinking , shaking wreck , at my mother ’ s house . What I do remember is waking up the next day without booze , suffering two withdrawal seizures , being hospitalised , and having psychosis .
After a spell in rehab , during which I lost my job , I left and quickly relapsed . Worse was to follow .
My poor old mum was due to go into hospital for a longawaited hip replacement . I was drinking again , and she was rightly fearful of leaving me in the house . So , she called my brother for help .
He arranged for me to stay at a homelessness hostel . I remember waking up the next morning with no clue where I was or how I had got there . I had hit rock bottom . Somehow , I got sober . All that I had learned fell into place , and after getting myself back to AA , I started working a programme .
ARTS IN RECOVERY During my time in rehab , I had begun to think about the value and role of the arts within recovery . Undoubtedly the arts were in my blood . Prior to gallery work , I studied for a degree in contemporary glass . From 1991-95 I set up my own studio , selling my work internationally , including to Liberty in London .
The only exposure I had to creativity in rehab was some time-filling , pedestrian colouring in . The arts were only seen as diversionary activity rather than a parallel tool for recovery itself . A seed of thought , planted by a therapist , started my musing on how exploring self through selfportraiture might help socially reintegrate recovering people by redefining their relationship with themselves and their place within the world .
Out of rehab , feeling more stable , and having permanently relocated to Oldham , an opportunity presented itself . I approached the director of Gallery Oldham with a proposal . He was an arts colleague who I knew very well . I was honest about what had happened and explained that if he gave me desk space , I would deliver two arts recovery projects .