Writing has become my go-to companion, my friend. It helps me make sense of this fucked up world. The reality is that some days are more complicated than others, and there are some days I could throw in the towel. But today is a good day. In fact, I am still trying to process it, hence this blog.
As most of you know, I have worked in the addiction field for over twenty-five years, and I fundamentally believe that everyone can change. A simple solution would be to stop drinking, but it’s often not as straightforward as people think. It still saddens me and even angers me that there is still a perception that people who are dependent on alcohol or treatment-resistant are perceived as not wanting help or that their drinking is a lifestyle choice.
Because trust me, it’s not.
Over the years have been highly vocal in many meetings and challenged many professionals who adopted this view. I once wrote a poem it was called ‘Dear Dad’. The poem ended with the three lines below
My pledge in your death
Is to continue to fight
So I will continue to write
And I am proud to say I have stuck by those words. I am passionate about people; I have lost count of the number of recovery journeys I have had the privileged to be part of. I genuinely buzz off their success and personal achievements. But sadly, the reality is that recovery doesn’t come easy for everyone. Some people can be offered a world of support but will continue to resist for their own reasons.
My dad was one of those people.
I have recently been involved in reviewing the 2016/20 alcohol strategy for the city. Part of updating the strategy involves consulting/talking to people who have a history of using support services. It’s an ideal opportunity to ask them how we can improve them as a city, what they think works well, and what doesn’t work well and ask them to tell us how services could be improved.
The old 2016-20 alcohol strategy highlighted ‘that further exploration was needed to understand the specific barriers to treatment and recovery for treatment-resistant drinkers.’ But apart from multiagency meetings, nothing about developing a service bespoke to their needs has ever been adequately established.
After completing the first rounds of consultations, it soon became evident some voices were missing. The 2022 local estimates for alcohol dependency produced by the University of Sheffield suggested that there are around 7,124 dependent drinkers in Sheffield, and there is an unmet care need for 89% of them; this compares to an unmet care need of 81% across England. So other partners and I asked the question, ‘What about the 89%?’
I agreed to establish a small task and finish group to find out. The group, which included partners from NHS (primary and secondary care), the third sector and Public Health, acted swiftly. Survey questions agreed, and £5 gift vouchers were purchased as an incentive for people to talk. The staff who supported treatment-resistant drinkers were also consulted, and after eight weeks, the findings were in.
Magda Boo, 20.05.2022, presented the findings. I listened intently as she shared our findings and some of the participant’s personal experiences. There were stories of how people had used prison to get some abstinence under their belt and other examples of missed windows of opportunities. They’d openly discussed the barriers to why they didn’t engage with the current offer of support because it wasn’t flexible enough to support their current, often complex, support needs.
Ever the professional, it was hard not to get emotional as Magda detailed reasons for why they drank and the barriers that stopped them from seeking support because some of their reasons resonated with my dad’s. Her presentation brought back emotions and memories that I am currently writing about in my book.
Dad’s drinking left him vulnerable and given a chance; some people tried to take advantage of him or exploit him, something me and my sister put an end to. His mobility was compromised. He was always at risk of falling and injuring himself, and he needed support to do practical tasks. Dad did have some spells of sobriety, but they never lasted long enough to stay off the booze. Despite all the bravado, I knew he lacked confidence and that his ego prevented him from accepting, let alone accessing support. Supporting dad was sometimes challenging, some people called my support enabling, but it was a form of harm reduction. Towards the end, he continued to point-blank and refuse any form of intervention that interfered with his drinking. It was hard to come to terms with, but it was also a decision that we had to accept and respect as a family.
So back to the meeting – In addition to updating the strategy, Sheffield has also been allocated a significant amount of additional funding to fund more drug and alcohol support in the city. The commissioners had been working to identify where best to invest these additional, much-needed funds. However, based on the facts and the voices from some of the 89% and recommendations from the report. They agreed in that meeting that a significant share of that funding will be used to design a bespoke support offer for treatment-resistant drinkers.
I could have cried upon hearing the news. This wasn’t just a professional victory, it was personal. It is for dad and all the 89% who, for whatever reasons, haven’t been given a fair opportunity to receive the support they need. Confidentiality prevents me from being able to personally thank those who took the time to share their stories; hence this Thank You blog.
I have no idea, who took part in the surveys, but all I can say is that I will be forever grateful to them for sharing a snippet of their lives to highlight what I and 1000’s of alcohol-dependent drinkers have been trying to say for years.
Here’s a BIG thank you to all the task and finish group members and the workers who made this consultation happen.
But mostly, a BIG thank you to the some of the 89%
Love Fordy xxx
Thank you for taking the time to read – Remember I don’t write for financial reward or gain, I just want to help share my lived experience with others in the hope that it helps. And I just love to write, so if ya fancy getting the occasional email (NO SPAM) with the most up to date blogs from yours truly, please feel free to subscribe at the bottom of the main page.