Two people who have recovered from harmful use of drugs and alcohol are sharing their stories, to encourage other people in Northumberland to reach out for help.
Emma (not her real name), 51, is now sober and happy, but there was a time when heavy drinking affected every part of her life.
“I always seemed to drink more than everyone else, even as a teen. Nights out soon led to drinking wine nightly in the house; one bottle per night soon led to two. I was still going to work every day, so I didn’t think I had a problem. If I went out, I would drink a bottle of wine beforehand, which usually ended in me being passed out by the end of the night while everyone else was having fun. Then I began drinking whatever was left over the morning after.
“Before I knew it, I needed that drink in the morning. I began shaking and sweating if I didn’t drink throughout the day, and panicked if I didn’t have some alcohol with me (even while at work, I was disguising vodka in pop bottles).
“Because of my struggles with alcohol, by the time I was 36 I’d lost a husband, a long-term partner, my job, houses, my car, and all my friends. Alcohol was the only thing I thought about. I stopped caring about the heart-breaking stress and worry I was causing my family.”
Ten years ago, when Emma was 41, a doctor gave her the number for the Northumberland Recovery Partnership. She made the choice to call and ask for help.
Northumberland Recovery Partnership (NRP) is a dedicated service for anyone in Northumberland aged 18+ who is experiencing problems with drugs and/or alcohol. The service offers a range of support provided by medical staff, nurses, and dedicated Recovery Navigators. This includes community-based recovery programmes, help to stay physically healthy, and support with employment, housing, and better health.
From 1 October 2023, the providers of the Northumberland Recovery Partnership are changing slightly. Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) will continue to be the lead provider of the service, working in partnership with Humankind. The service will continue to provide the same range of effective, evidence-based support, and treatment plans for people currently being supported by our service will not change.
It was life-changing, I have never looked back…I thank my lucky stars every day that I made the decision to change, with a lot of help and support.
Emma admits, “I didn’t give Barbara, my Recovery Navigator at NRP, an easy ride at first. I felt a lot of self-pity, blamed everyone around me, and I lied about how well I was sticking to our plan to reduce my drinking. But Barbara never gave up on me!”
Between July and September 2014, Emma attended NRP’s non-residential rehabilitation program. “It was life-changing,” she says; “I have never looked back.” Emma carried on attending groups at NRP, and began volunteering there too.
For Rob (not his real name), his risk-tasking behaviour began when he was a teenager as well. “If I was told something was too dangerous, or too stupid, I would have to try it to find out why. If someone said, ‘take ten of these and you will die’, I would take eleven.”
Even when Rob began training to be a nurse, he was smoking a lot of cannabis and taking a lot of mushrooms and acid, which started to take a toll on his mental health. “I ended up losing my job. I was devastated.
“At my lowest point, I was influenced to try heroin with a girl I was seeing. We spiralled, injecting every day for the next three years. As the habit spiralled, so did our risk-taking – shoplifting and overdoses, leading to arrests and court appearances.
I wake up every day grateful to be alive…I tell people all the time, ‘together we are stronger; you are not alone, and I am here for you.’
“One day I found myself scrabbling amongst some rubbish for a needle to use and sharpening it on a wall, because I was so desperate – I had hit rock bottom. The next day I went to the GP for help. I got a prescription for methadone [a medicine used to help people stop taking heroin], and booked myself to get tested for HIV and hepatitis.
“It wasn’t easy, and there were some hefty bumps along the road, but I have now been free of all drugs – prescribed or otherwise – for over 10 years now. I wake up every day grateful to be alive.”
Both Emma and Rob are now paid staff at Northumberland Recovery Partnership, where they work as Peer Supporters to give people hope and support on their own journey to recovery.
When Emma saw the job advertised, she says, “I decided that I was ready to give something back.
“Life is amazing now – I am 9 years and 3 months sober, and I’ve been working here as a Senior Peer Supporter for a year and a half!
“I thank my lucky stars every day that I made the decision to change, with a lot of help and support.
“Now, I work to pass that hope onto others – that with belief and support, the future is whatever you want it to be.”
When someone showed Rob a job advert from NRP, he says, “I was amazed – they were actually looking to hire people who had experienced addiction themselves. I realised perhaps I could finally use my own experiences to do some good.”
Rob has now been a Senior Peer Supporter for a year, and absolutely loves it. “I am able to share my stories, experiences, and ideas about recovery as we try our best come up with strategies and goals to help each person claw their way back to a happier existence.
“What I tell people all the time is, ‘together we are stronger; you are not alone, and I am here for you.’”
Gill O’Neill, Executive Director of Public Health, Inequalities and Stronger Communities, Northumberland County Council, said: “Drug misuse and alcohol addiction can have a devastating effect on families. Living with or knowing someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol can be lonely and challenging.
“Accessing the kind of support provided by the Northumberland Recovery Partnership is invaluable and can help people improve the wellbeing of the whole family.
“It is wonderful to see the help and support they provide and the work Emma and Rob now do is truly inspirational. By offering people hope and support they empower them to rebuild their lives and the lives of their families.”