Drink and Drugs News December 2016 - Page 12

recovery Addaction’s two-day conference addressed emotional wellbeing while celebrating the value of shared experience, as DDN reports earn, share, connect and celebrate,’ urged David Badcock, Addaction’s head of events, opening the charity’s two-day conference on addiction and mental health. The need to connect soon became a strong theme. ‘I always felt so different from everyone else at school,’ said mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin – the first speaker to start the conversation about the feelings of isolation that pushed him to the brink of suicide. In his case, the eventual diagnosis was schizoaffective disorder – a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar – but it was not the hospitalisation or the medication that made him want to live. Standing on a bridge in London, contemplating the worst, he was approached by a man who said ‘I’m not going to let you jump’. ‘A few things that he said changed everything,’ said Benjamin. ‘The real turning point for me was him saying to me “look mate, I think you’ll get better”. No one had ever said that to me before. ‘When you’re in that phase, you have no faith left in yourself. So for someone else to put their faith in you – that w as what changed my mind… here was a guy willing to listen to me and not judge, and be patient and show compassion. I had hope where I’d never had hope before.’ ‘L ‘We need to invite and involve people who use drugs into services... It’s got to be meaningful engagement.’ He explained how he began talking about his mental health without embarrassment. Working with the charity Rethink, he began going into schools, prisons, hospitals and businesses to try to break the stigma – ‘that shame and that silence’ around mental health. ‘I was in a cycle – either drunk, or hungover or both,’ said Sarah Fitzpatrick, describing the painful lead-up to realising she needed to connect. Still drinking and 12 | drinkanddrugsnews | December 2016 A place to in a violent relationship when she became pregnant, it was the mother she didn’t get on with who phoned social services. ‘When social services took my daughter away, I was very, very angry,’ she said. ‘I thought, “what’s the point?” I’d lost my daughter, my house, everything.’ Connecting with Addaction completely changed her life. ‘I remember my first session – I fell off the chair. After about six weeks I sobered up and was listening more. Joyce, my keyworker, is like my mam. She said “we’re telling you what you need to do, but it’s you who needs to do it.”’ Gethin Jones described his route to disengagement when a troubled and troublesome schoolboy, with his ‘life aged zero to 35 in one big social services filing cabinet’. ‘Never once did a teacher ask me why I acted the way I did. They would say, “Gethin, why are you so disruptive? Gethin, you’re never going to amount to anything.” Those words stuck with me and I started to think, “I don’t want your school. I don’t need your education. I don’t need to be around people like you.’ Sentenced to a detention centre, the frightened 14-year-old child was ‘curled up in a prison bed, in a cell, the blanket over my head, crying into my pillow. I wanted someone to take me away, I wanted to feel safe. Nobody came.’ The belief system that grew within him for the next 20 years was that he didn’t need to have anything to do with anyone – a ‘journey of self-destruction’ that ended in a fouryear custodial sentence. While in prison, he met people who wanted to help him and ‘sowed the seeds that rehabilitation was possible’. But it was a member of the prison outreach team, he says, that ‘connected with me as a human being. Jo never judged or condemned me – she would always be consistent, ask how she could help. She was inspirational to my journey and started to take me through into other services, so they could help and support me.’ With no education, no employment record and ‘no social skills whatsoever’, Jo put him on the path to qualifications and found him a volunteering role. ‘So her support and integrated way of working enabled me to move forward in my life quite quickly. From somebody who felt that they could never amount to anything, I went from two hours a week volunteering to becoming a service manager overseeing a staff team of 40. ‘I’ve heard so many people wondering what they’re going to do about the broken system and lack of support,’ Jones told the audience. ‘But the solution is in this room. All of you have ideas and can think what you can do to make the system better for the people that we support. The next stage is to talk about it, share it – with your peers, your manager, people of influence. Then the most important part is the action – get on and do it.’ www.drinkanddrugsnews.com