I went to college, studied for three years, got a B.Ed, and a distinction in my sociology papers. Then I came back to Sheffield and started teaching – I taught in North-East Derbyshire for three or four years – I went out with lots of different blokes – none of whom quite fitted the bill, or I didn’t fit their bill, whatever.
And then I met Jim, who is now my ex, and he’s now deceased. We married, and we were quite happy to start with, and I spent, ooh, quite a few years having three babies – loving them, caring for them, and bringing them up… which was all good stuff. During this time I lived in a very masculine household –three sons and a husband… but it wasn’t a problem. And I had a Guide company, and I loved my Girl Guides. We camped, we walked, we barbecued – we just got on so well together. At this time, the blind Brownies used to meet at Manchester Road and they really needed some support. So I tootled along there because at this point I was wondering about doing special education. So I went along to help for a couple of years and then the Brownies dispersed into sighted packs. Eventually it became a bit much – the job, my family, the Guides.
Fifteen years ago, I suppose, we came home from visiting Jim’s parents after a Mothering Sunday obligatory coffee and cake, and he just announced he was leaving us. Just like that. Out of the blue, no idea, ‘I’m leaving you’. And then he went off to a folk club. And that was it… it took him two or three weeks to fnd somewhere to live, during which I foolishly let him stop in the house. My eldest son had already started stopping with friends and doing his own thing. The middle boy was at university. So it left me at home with my youngest, which was fine. But he’s a bright lad and he wanted to go to university, so I kept on working because, well, I wanted him to go to university. So, off he went to do a psychology degree, and then… my mum died – she had pancreatic cancer – and from diagnosis to death it was about two months which was a huge shock. Seven months later my dad died – we always said it was a broken heart because they’d been together so long. Possibly it was that, but he had bronchial pneumonia, anyway. So, then it was me, alone.
The only anaesthetic I knew of was alcohol. I hadn’t addressed any of the things which had happened – they’d gone in and gone down, gone in and gone down – layer after layer of them – all unaddressed. So I addressed them with the wine bottle. Lots of wine bottles. Lots of behaviour that I am… looking back… I am ashamed of. But then, when you’re pissed you don’t care… And at least while you’re like that, you’re not remembering any of the things that have hurt you.
I had a long period when I was drinking quite heavily, and things were really chaotic then… terrible. I mean, I was on my own in this house, and I was just going to the off licence and waiting on the door step for ten o’clock in the morning when they opened. Until it got to the stage where they said they were very sorry but they couldn’t serve me anymore, which I suppose I had coming. So I had to go down to the next one, and then things got really bad and I had to go all the way down to the Spar at the bottom of Hunter’s Bar. Now that was problematic because walking down there was a difficult option when you’re half pissed, and then catching a bus to come back. So it all got a bit awkward – and then after that, I think, they wouldn’t serve me on Banner Cross at all so that was that.
Anyhow, eventually – after a spell in supported housing, which wasn’t all that bad really – I started going to AA, and there were parts of AA I found incredibly useful and helpful. And then from AA I sort of drifted into SASS, then I became a Quaker, and then I started volunteering at SASS and I was very happy. I still volunteer at SASS – every other Monday, every other Tuesday night, and Fridays. I don’t have to think ‘Oh, I’ve got to get out of bed to go to SASS’ – I think, ‘Great! SASS today!’
And at Drink Wise, Age Well they are so warm, so welcoming, and you feel valued. You know, even though I’m just an ordinary person – I go as a person, not as a facilitator like I do at SASS. They just welcome you – you can’t help but become really engaged with the whole group… I really appreciate listening to others, listening to their stories… feeling empathy with what they’re saying. I have an overwhelming desire to reach out, put my arms round them and say ‘It’ll be OK’ – you know? – ‘It’ll be OK’. I think it’s a great privilege listening to other people’s stories – and sharing my own, because I’ve been quite open about it. And we also have a joke. Danny and Belinda are forever sparking at each other, but they’re both lovely people.
As for the next five years, I’m struggling with that a bit. I want to carry on volunteering, and wonder whether or not there might be opportunities for that to spread out a bit more – different avenues, whatever, I don’t know. I’m content to enjoy my days, as they go. I’m totally abstinent now – nine and a half years.
Showing compassion… sometimes you have somebody who starts weeping while they’re telling their stories, and what have you… you just feel this urge to put your arms round them, and you pass the tissues, and ask if they’d like a coffee, or whatever comes to your mind. Just reaching out to someone… you know that might sound very trivial, but in actual fact, a cup of coffee when you’re needing it at that stage of the day, and a nice bun – they go down really well.
When I talk to people when I’m volunteering I say, ‘Come on, just reach out for help to whoever you can’ and I’ll give them the number for Drink Wise, or SASS, or Samaritans, whatever it is that they want.
So, reach out for help to whoever you can, as often as you can, and whenever you can. There’s a lot of help out there.