Norwich group celebrates Recovery Month

A marriage breakdown, a family death or a long standing problem – each member of the small group that meets each week at the Matthew Project, in Pottergate, has a reason why they developed an alcohol or drug problem.

In a room at the front of the building there is a real sense of optimism as those who have stopped drinking or are trying to address the problem are making friends and supporting each other.

Most have been through the one-to-one counselling. As they tell their stories and talk about their experiences, the others nod in understanding. They have been there too.

And informal group leader Russell Neale understands as well. He had a heroine and crack addiction, and ended up on the streets, only finding his way to help through the judicial system.

He has now been sober for six years and is determined to rebuild the self-esteem of members of the group by helping them to support each other through what is likely to be the most difficult thing they will ever have to do.

There is camaraderie among the regulars and jokes and tears among the newcomers.

Denise Burnett, 54, from Norwich, lost control of her drinking when her mother died suddenly of cancer.

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'I've always drunk,' she said. 'But my drinking got out of control when my mum died. I started to hang around people who were heavy drinkers. I suddenly realised at a time before I reached the bottom and got into the gutter and I came for one-to-one counselling.

'I was losing everybody. I was losing my daughter, my family members and it came to a point where I had to do something otherwise I was going to end up in the gutter.

'I am now controlled drinking and I just drink sociably. The reason I keep coming is to keep me grounded. Obviously we are meeting people who are in a similar situation and people understand. The activities help.

'My life is back on track now. I was in a situation where I was told I was going to lose my home. It took me that to realise I was drinking. It was just something to take it all away. She [my mum] died within two weeks of cancer. That was my coping mechanism. It numbed the pain.'

She said that the members of the group text each other between each of their sessions.

A new member of the group, a 52-year-old, described how she was told to sort out her drinking when she went into hosptial.

'I ended up in hospital with what turned out to be a chest infection. They asked me about my drinking and they told me that I am going to have to stop, but I cannot just stop immediately.'

She described how the thought of not seeing her grandson spurred her on to get help. 'I love him. I just love him to bits.'

She said that she had got help before but had started drinking. Mr Neale said the idea of the group was to support each other and to find reason to motivate themselves not to drink.

A 58-year-old man, who is at the group for the first time tells, the others: 'People think I am a boring old fart when I do not drink.'

But Mr Neale is quick to quash that. 'Alcohol strips people of their self worth and their self-image,' he said. 'I've heard so many people say as soon as they have the first bottle, it gives them confidence, but over a long period of time it strips you of your self-worth.

'It takes time to rebuild your self-esteem. You realise alcohol isn't the solution to your problems.

'If you look at how diverse humans are we are bound to be different. How come my sister can have two glasses of wine and put the top of the bottle back on. My body is not wired to drink. If I drink I end up homeless and skint.

'I have not had a drink for six years and I'm educated, in work and I have a beautiful house.'

He said the Matthew Project was now setting up a coffee shop where people would be able to meet other service users while they are waiting to go on the eight-week course.

The group held a barbecue last week to mark recovery month and to raise money to organise activities away from the Matthew Project.

'We are sat in a room here, but life is out there,' said Mr Neale. 'We are interacting with people without the use of drugs or alcohol.'

People can join the after care group at the Matthew Project after they have been on an eight-week counselling course.

'The first one was to encourage all the service users from Norwich to come so that they could meet people with the same problem. We would be meeting up with other people from other groups and then we thought why don't we raise money from it as well then we can do stuff out in life.'

You can contact the Matthew Project on 01603 626123. There is a 24-hour Helpline on 01603 764754 for Norfolk only. You can also drop in to Pottergate in Norwich between 10am to 4pm weekdays and on Wednesday from 2pm to 4pm only.

You can also e-mail the Matthew project. Adult services: support@matthewproject.org; young people under 18 in Norfolk: under18@matthewproject.org

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