Using alcohol to counter the horror her life had become, Jill desperately needed help to survive, hold onto her family and start looking forward. She found that support in Changing Lives and wanted to share her story.
Although her children and milestone family occasions gave her a focus for her efforts to stay sober, she struggled to maintain her abstinence and relapsed a number of times before contacting UK charity Changing Lives for help.
Now in her late 40s, Jill is enjoying the start of a working career – at a time when her friends are looking forward to retirement. And she couldn’t be happier about it.
“If it hadn’t been for Oaktrees, the Changing Lives employment team and the whole network, I really wouldn’t be here today,” she says.
“My counsellor at Oaktrees (a 12-week non-residential abstinence programme run by the charity) has been a huge part of my recovery – I’ve never been counselled like that before.
“She made me believe it wasn’t my fault that I had had all this abuse. Even when I was abstinent for 19 months, I blamed myself for my children losing out.
“I remember the day my husband sat me down and told my children that ‘this is all her fault, the reason this has all happened is because of your mother. Do you think I wanted us to break up as a family? Do you think I wanted to sell this beautiful home? No. Her doing, her alcoholism.’
“So it was all my fault. I’m not responsible for my disease of alcoholism, I was accountable for my actions, but I’m not responsible, and I wasn’t responsible for being raped, being handcuffed and locked in my bedroom. I wasn’t responsible for all that physical and mental abuse.
“So you know what, I’m proud of who I am today and I’m proud that I’m an alcoholic because that’s who I am. I can do something about it and I am doing something about it, and I can’t believe that, after all these years, I’m in a workplace.
“All my friends are saying, ‘I’m dying to retire and you’re just starting work,’ but I’ve never been allowed the opportunity before.
“Alcoholism is a mind illness that ends up being physical. It corrupts, it strips you bare. You lose your self-respect and I was lucky I didn’t lose my children, my family.”
“Where I’m at today is all down to Changing Lives and this whole network. Gaining employment is a huge bonus. I’ve got a purpose in life. I can get up and leave my house with my head held high knowing that I’ve not hurt anyone today and that I have a job to go to.”
Jill’s first period of abstinence lasted eight months – she wanted to be sober for her son’s wedding. But it was her birthday shortly afterwards and she went out with some friends.
“They knew I had a little bit of a drink problem but they didn’t know how bad. So I went out with them and I ended up picking up a drink for the first time in ages. Within a week or two I was back to square one. It just got worse and worse. I couldn’t get sober for myself or my children.”
Eventually Jill went to see a counsellor, got herself a sponsor and returned to AA meetings. It worked and the 19 months of abstinence followed.
She says: “My family thought they had me back and I was totally in a fab place. One of my goals was to get what was rightfully mine in my marriage. I was going through a dreadful divorce and I had to be sober for solicitors meetings and the court hearings.
“I had a situation arising where my son’s baby was getting christened so I was going to have to be in a small confined place in the church and then at their house all day with my ex-husband and his partner.
“The compulsion just came raging back from nowhere. Everyone knew I was dreading the christening but I didn’t tell them the compulsion was raging because I think deep down I wanted to pick up a drink.
“Within six weeks I had. Every day was a struggle and 10 months of hell followed.”
During this period Jill let down her son, received two cold sharp tongue-lashings from her mother and a friend and experienced a week of sleeplessness and vomiting as her body reacted to years of alcohol abuse.
She decided to get another sponsor and return to the AA meetings. At this point a very good friend insisted Jill should go on the 12-week Oaktrees programme.
“All my friends are saying ‘I’m dying to retire and you’re just starting work’, but I’ve never been allowed the opportunity before.”
“My friend said: ‘If you do Oaktrees now, you’ve got the rest of the summer to be the beautiful person that you really truly are. You are going to be well.’ She came in with me and a Changing Lives worker gave me a good talking to – everyone gave me a good talking to and I said, ‘Right yes, I hold my hands up; I know I need Oaktrees.’
“So within a week I was being interviewed with my recovery coordinator and the following Monday I started. I knew if I didn’t do this I was going to die or I was going to fumble about until I did die.
“Alcoholism is a mind illness that ends up being physical. It corrupts, it strips you bare. You lose your self-respect and I was lucky I didn’t lose my children, my family.
“It’s so selfish because you’re not thinking that they love you and that they are seeing you destroy yourself.”
Jill had no intention of going to work, but an Oaktrees worker mentioned the Changing Lives employment team to her and a seed was planted.
She says: “I loved my work placement. I felt like part of the team. My buddy while on placement said, ‘You have put my staff to shame; I want to bottle you and sprinkle you around the store. You are a delight to have; we need you on this team.’
“I thought I was going to explode. I still have to pinch myself.
“My daughter’s amazed and proud. My mother sent a text saying she was so proud, it’s like turning the clock back 20 years – ‘I’ve got my daughter back.’”
Oaktrees is an abstinence-based day treatment centre run by Changing Lives for men and women who want to be free from drugs and alcohol.
It is a 12-week, full-time programme which includes group workshops, therapy and information sessions.
There are Oaktrees centres in York, Gateshead and Blyth: their programme follows the principles of the 12-step approach to recovery and people attend AA and NA meetings on evenings and weekends as part of it.
Graduates have access to a weekly Continuing Care Programme for up to 12 months and are also able to access services that support the ongoing recovery journey such as education, training and volunteering.
For more information, visit www.changing-lives.org.uk. To make a donation to the charity, click on the DONATE button at the top right of the screen. Or text CLIV45 to 70070 to donate £5.