From Alcoholic Mother to Addictions Counsellor
I am a mum of three boys who are about to set foot into adulthood. I couldn’t be prouder – because there was a time when I thought I would never see this moment.
I was Head of Creative Arts, and Head of Music in a secondary school for ten years. I don’t remember drinking every day, but the habit crept in. By the time I gave birth to my eldest son, it was a bottle a day.
My youngest son was born suddenly at 25 weeks, weighing just 1lb 12oz, and only 9 months after the birth of his older brother. All three boys were taken into foster care in 2007 because of a turbulent marriage fuelled by alcohol.
My first year of recovery was a blur of treatment services, fellowship meetings, visiting my boys, filing for divorce and working with children’s services to convince them that I was well enough to ensure that they were returned to me.
The odds weren’t great. Approximately 0.5% of children with addicted parents are returned to their care, so I was delighted when the court agreed that all three boys could come home a year later.
After two years of getting used to being a single mum of three young children, I retrained as an Addictions Counsellor. In 2015, I achieved a first class Honours Degree; the day after my graduation I shared my story to a room full of VIPS, press and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of Action on Addiction (now Forward Trust).
Having worked at two of the UK's leading residential rehabilitation units as Addictions Counsellor (Clouds House in Wiltshire, The Providence Projects in Bournemouth) and at Action on Addiction's Structured Day Centre in Bournemouth, I became Co-ordinator of the Amy Winehouse Foundation Resilience Programme – the largest ever randomised control trial on young people and substance misuse. I trained over 100 people in recovery from substance misuse to deliver workshops on self-esteem, peer pressure and risky behaviour. Collectively, they reached over 22,000 students.
In 2016, I received the Marsh Christian Trust award for “Exceptional Individual in the Field of Recovery” at Addaction’s (We are With You) National Conference. Media interest led to a Channel 5 documentary, numerous interviews and even a stint as the editorial advisor for Alice Carter’s story in BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”! I finally started to believe that my story, however raw, might help others heal.
I still regularly see my youngest son’s foster carer, Dr Helen Holgate, who has become a close friend. I have been a trustee for Downton 4 Family, the charity that Helen co-founded and leads, for the last five years.
However, my greatest achievement by far is that my family have not seen me drink alcohol since14th August 2007. If it’s one thing I have learned, it’s that it's not about the quantity or frequency of alcohol consumption, it’s about the consequences.
I discovered that when I put alcohol into my system, I couldn't be sure what the outcome would be. It was only when the consequences became too unbearable that I realised I had crossed that invisible line into alcoholism.
The bottom line was that I didn’t know how to “do” life sober.
But after 15 years in recovery (a day at a time), I can do so much more than barely survive. I now feel fearless, connected, contented and alive.
I really want to help you feel the same way.