Becoming a Peer Mentor helped me to find my voice.
This is Alan’s* story in his words.
I heard about the Providence Row Peer Mentor scheme from a guy in my Cocaine Anonymous (CA) group, I had been in the group for 3 years by that point and was 2.5 years clean and sober. I was looking to take the next step in my life, to do something that would help me give, back, I’d taken so much, from society, from friends, from family. I wanted to be part of the solution and re-write my wrongs.
Up until that point my life had been full of chaos and fear. I started taking drugs when I was 13, first it was cannabis, speed, trips, ketamine - my life was all about drugs, crime, theft - at 17 I would go from the pub doing cocaine to a crack house smoking heroin. I went into my first treatment centre at 18 and came out healthy but started drinking pretty quickly after, I did a 12-step programme at 19 but was kicked out, by 20 I was on crack and went to prison for the first time.
The next 17 years were a blur, I was incredibly vulnerable, I lived my life in despair and fear, I couldn’t adapt to life on life’s terms, I couldn’t function without substances in me. My existence was focused on where to score, a constant cycle of drugs and theft, revolving around sleeping in crack dens and cars, shoplifting for money to buy more drugs. I looked awful, I was dirty, I would catch sight of myself in a shop window and think ‘who are you?’. I hurt so many people along the way, I was constantly taking advantage of people, I lost friends, people started to stay away from me, my family would despair at how to help me.
The turning point came when I was 36. I was broken, traumatised, confused, full of self-pity. One night I was lying in a stairwell, I had nothing, I’d burnt through everything, every relationship, every chance and opportunity. I knew there was nothing left, I started praying, I prayed to god to take me, to end it all. Soon after I met a guy who took me to CA, I saw people who were like me but were who healthy and were managing their lives, it gave me hope. I did a 12-step programme, I didn’t think I had the power to do it, but I did, I put it down to divine intervention. I realised that the way I’d been feeling was false, it was rubbish, I’d been looking inwards, absorbed with myself when I needed to look outwards. I took on every suggestion, every piece of advice I was given, I began to see blessings that I couldn’t see before and slowly I moved from darkness into the light.
Peer mentoring was the next step. I was full of fear and anxiety at doing the course, I’d barely even been to school, I hadn’t had any sort of education. But I was guided through the process, I started to feel empowered. The training showed me how my experiences could be used to help others, how to be in a group, to lead a group, it helped me to find my voice. We learnt about the brain and how trauma affects it, we learnt about the impact of substance misuse, about overcoming homelessness. I began to see how I could use the negative in my past for positive, how my story is someone else’s guide book. At the end I was awarded a Level 2 accreditation, it was my first ever certificate.
For me doing the course was a beautiful experience, I had a new feeling of self-esteem, of self-worth, I’d gained tools and skills and felt confident about using them. The CA group was full of so many incredibly vulnerable men, men whose lives were blighted by trauma and chaos. I started to become a sponsor, helping others out of the darkness and into the light, using myself as evidence of how things can change. I’m now the Group Representative for my local group, I represent the group at district level, speaking on behalf of my committee and taking an active role in running the group.
I can see clearly now, working with people with addiction feeds my soul, now I’m part of the solution.
*Alan’s name and other key details have been changed to protect his identity.