TRACY Williams was drinking three litres of vodka and a bottle of wine every day at one point.

The Blackwood resident, who weighed just seven stone at the time, had turned to the bottle to deal with the agony of losing three children.

Now 43 years old, Ms Williams was 22 when she lost her son, who had been born prematurely.

He died aged seven months after his lungs failed to develop properly.

Eleven years later, Ms Williams suffered heartache again, in similar fashion. Only this time it was with twins.

She said she failed to cope and began drinking all day.

“Whenever I tried to stop, I would have fits,” she added. “I also had gastric ulcers.

“I don’t even enjoy drinking.”

But Ms Williams now attends Brynawel Rehab, a centre in Llanharan, Rhondda Cynon Taf.

She said: “If I wasn’t here, I would definitely be dead.

“Now I choose to live – I choose my family, my children and my grandchildren. They need me.

“Brynawel have given me my life back and I can never repay them for that.” Ms Williams, who has four children and two grandchildren, called staff at the centre “marvellous”.

“I have told them things I have not told my family,” she said. “Some of the people here have been addicts themselves so they can understand it.

“I still struggle, but I am able to express how I am feeling and open up.” Ms Williams, who also said she would like to work with people in recovery herself one day, is coming to the end of her stay at Brynawel and said she feels “much stronger”.

Brynawel bases its recovery efforts on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – rather than the 12 steps program used by Alcoholic Anonymous (AA).

Paul Doster, the lead therapist and rehab’s recovery manager at Brynawel, said: “The philosophy is that if you can train your brain to become addicted, you can train it to become un-addicted as well.

“The majority of rehab centre are 12 steps – this is quite different.”

Open to anyone over the age 18, the centre can help up to 25 people at one time, both men and women. They offer three programmes – one which is four week intensive, one which last for 16 weeks, and one working with people suffering from alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD).

In the intensive programme, clients are offered three one-to-one sessions a day with a therapist, Mr Doster added, while in the 16-week programme there is a mixture of group therapy every day and one-to-one sessions throughout the week.

They welcome clients who are self-funded and those who come referred.

“The ARBD programme lasts six months,” said Mr Doster. “We had six people in the pilot last year.

“People with ARBD have memory loss. They have good long-term memory, but if you ask them what happened ten minutes ago they have no idea. When they first come in, they are very ill and our focus is on making them physically well.

“We also have people who only come for relapse prevention – it depends on the person.”

Brynawel, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in November, has been through a lot of changes over the years. It started as a ‘wet house’ and is now an abstinence-based environment.

It works with people with addictions ranging from alcohol, and opiates, to cocaine, and prescribed medication.

Mr Doster said: “When someone is in addiction, drinking and using is not social or fun anymore, it is something done behind closed doors.

“There is a lot of shame and guilt around addiction. In some cases, they accept there is a problem, but they do not know what to do – maybe they will pick up some leaflets, speak to some people, but that is all.

“Trying to move away from a lifestyle is massive. Even if it is killing you, it is comfortable. Change can seem like a too big of a task.”

He also said many clients think they are “totally different”, calling themselves “the lowest of the low”. Some may have done “terrible” things and to hear others sharing their stories can be quite “cathartic”, he added.

Clients can benefit from all sorts of activities, from leisure centre use and walks, to growing their own vegetables and having animals, including chickens, ducks and horses.

They also have a mindfulness garden, with art classes.

“It is about finding different ways they can express themselves, that is where the art and animals come in,” said Mr Doster. “All the outdoor stuff is just as important as the talking.

“Most people that come here say there is a very nice feel to it.”

Unlike other rehab centres, Brynawel allows their clients to keep their telephones and visitors are welcome on a Sunday.

Alex Drummond, a Newport man who has been in two different programmes at Brynawel, said: “It is surprising how many people come out to be involved with the chickens, to make sure they are fed, have water and clean them up.

“We also have Poppy, the dog, who is quite good at picking up your emotions. She goes in the therapy groups and she knows who needs a bit of TLC. She is in tune with people’s emotions.

Mr Drummond, who lives in the Beechwood area of Newport, started taking drugs recreationally while running a nightclub in the city, but his mother’s death left him using cocaine every day.

“And then, when I wanted to stop, I couldn’t,” he said. “It is easy to get into it, but really difficult to get out.

“I isolated myself and locked myself up for the best part of a year. I felt guilt and shame.”

The 35-year-old, who says he spent thousands of pounds on drugs, has been clean for just over three and a half months and is now the assistant editor and business developer for Pipe Down magazine, which is Gwent-based magazine and focussed specifically on addiction.

Despite his sobriety, the dad-of-one still attends weekly relapse prevention sessions at Brynawel. He has also started doing some voluntary work at the centre.

“It can be overwhelming when you leave,” he said. “It has been a massive help for me to come in and talk about my feelings, urges or cravings.

“Some people come to relapse prevention sessions for more than a year – Brynawel are not going to stop you from coming, their doors are always open.

“It is a safe haven for me here.”

Mark Cankett, from Cwmbran, has been clean for three years and is now a recovery support staff manager at Brynawel.

The 44-year-old runs the non-therapy side of things at the centre, including a life skills group and a group aimed at building a ‘network of recovery’.

He is also a complementary therapist, offering aromatherapy, reflexology and mindfulness.

“The job definitely helps with my own recovery,” said Mr Cankett, whose addiction began at the age of 17 after losing a close family member.

“I have taken everything over the years – I used alcohol and drugs to feel numb. I didn’t like myself, I thought I was worthless.”

Mr Cankett said Brynawel is a “fantastic” place and that is a pleasure for him to work there.

“If you can help one person, it makes me feel so good,” added Mr Doster. “I love working with people, and to see them change is so powerful.”

To find out more about Brynawel, visit