Close to people | Stories from Bethel

„Every day is a battle“

"I wasn't afraid, I always wanted to get out on the road and was curious about everything. This combination was really bad." Thomas Wellenberg, now 44 years old, remembers the beginnings of his drug addiction in detail. It forced him through 18 detoxes and earned him several prison sentences for drug-related offences.

Thomas Wellenberg sits casually in a jogging suit and baseball cap under a blooming magnolia in front of Heimathof Ruhr in Hagen, a Bethel.regional social therapy centre. The man from Düsseldorf rolls a cigarette and talks openly about his "drug career": his first beer at the age of 11, his first contact with hashish at 12, amphetamines at 13 and his first heroin high at 15. "It went relatively quickly," he summarises.

His neighbourhood at the time, a "ghetto-like" and "quite polluted" Düsseldorf district, was not conducive. The adults in his private neighbourhood did not protect him - quite the opposite. "The first time I saw them smoking a joint was at a neighbour's house. And then it was over for me. But I was 15, and they were in their early 30s, and they gave me the heroin," says Thomas Wellenberg.

Heroin is not immediately addictive, at least physically, he says. "But mentally. If you like it, you're obsessed." Heroin is a "downer". It gives you a feeling of security. "It replaces what you lacked at home. And that makes it very dangerous."

"I'm definitely not stable. Every day is a struggle for me, even when it gets easier."
Thomas Wellenberg

Surprisingly, 30 years of heroin use had not left him with any recognisable damage. "Good luck, good luck," he taps on the wood of the bench. However, he knows from those around him that it doesn't usually end well. Many friends and acquaintances have died, mostly due to heart failure. He himself regularly took time out to detox, but only half-heartedly and not with the aim of becoming abstinent. "It was more out of fear of dying. After three weeks, I went straight back to it."

In 2012, Thomas Wellenberg made his first serious attempt to fight his addiction permanently with therapy. Unfortunately unsuccessful. A good two years ago, he tried again at a rehabilitation centre in Warstein. The therapist there was extremely successful in clearing his head, he says.

Afterwards, Thomas Wellenberg didn't want to move into his own flat alone. "That was too dangerous for me. I still needed a suitable facility for follow-up therapy," he reports. "And now I've been here for eight months. A stroke of luck!"

Thomas Wellenberg has not consumed anything for a good two years. According to the client, the protected environment at Heimathof Ruhr Hagen helps him to stay that way. "The finest controls are in place here, especially urine tests. It's annoying sometimes, but we're all here voluntarily and of our own free will."

Thomas Wellenberg finds the social setting at least as important as the required abstinence. "The daily structures and work therapies, for example in the garden, help me. I'm involved everywhere here, and that does something to my head. I realise that I can work."

Thomas Wellenberg is already thinking about the time after Heimathof Ruhr Hagen. "I need a facility where I can stay longer. I'm afraid that having my own flat would be too much for me. Here at Heimathof, I also practise my everyday life, for example with the housekeeping group." He therefore has his eye on another offer from Bethel.regional, an integration assistance centre in Castrop-Rauxel.

"I'm definitely not stable," says Thomas Wellenberg. "Every day is a struggle for me, even when it gets easier." This self-assessment is valuable, says Head of Division Henning Ebbinghaus. "In our experience, clients who assess themselves more cautiously have a better chance of successful therapy," he says. The aim is for Thomas Wellenberg to eventually no longer perceive abstinence as a daily struggle.

Thomas Wellenberg sees himself on the right path. "I'm doing this for myself, for my health." A year ago, he said to himself: "I want to be 60." He is now 70, he remarks with a laugh.


Text: Gunnar Kreutner | Picture: Christian Weische

This story simply told

Thomas Wellenberg had been a drug addict since his youth. He tried to kick the habit for many years. He now lives at Heimathof Ruhr in Hagen. There, fixed daily routines help him to abstain from drugs. His goal is to live a healthy life and grow old.

Would you like to find out more?


Heimathof Ruhr
Trappenweg 10
58119 Hagen (Hohenlimburg)

02334 50074-0

To the website of the facility

Offers & services

Heimathof Ruhr, with locations in Hagen, Castrop-Rauxel and Gelsenkirchen, is aimed at homeless people and people at risk of homelessness who are experiencing particular social difficulties and have a dependency disorder. The regionally orientated therapy combines addiction therapy, social therapy and social work. These are individually tailored to the needs of clients who wish to live in their own home or in an integration assistance programme in the future.

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