Today’s “expert” is Gail, a 50- year-old Group Facilitator living in Westport.
I’ve put “expert” in inverted commas here because Gail is a little different from the others featured in this series in that she herself is fairly new to sobriety (2 1/2 years) and doesn’t have any formal training in addiction therapy, practices or treatments. However, I have chosen to include her story because the work she is doing on the West Coast is simply fantastic. It’s a great example of what anyone motivated to help others in recovery could achieve given the right skill-set, determination and support.
Mrs D: Tell us what you do…
Gail: I am the co-ordinator and facilitator of the ‘Stepping Up In Life’ addiction support group in Westport.
Mrs D: What is that?
Gail: ‘Stepping Up In Life’ is a free volunteer Alcohol and Drug Peer Support Group which meets weekly on Thursday afternoons from 1pm until 3pm. We began our meetings in June 2014 and since then we have had around 50 people come into contact with the group through meetings or Facebook. Last year the group won a Trustpower Buller Community Award.
Mrs D: How did this all start?
Gail: How we began was by hearing a whisper through the West Coast grapevine of a similar group being formed in Greymouth by the West Coast District Health Board and secondary services PACT, the Richmond Group, Te Ara Mahi and Poutini Waiora. I along with the help of our local Alcohol and Drug Clinician and the Regional AOD Consumer Advisor lobbied for a specific group to start here in Westport. A 10-week initial pilot programme was agreed on and introduced at PACT House in Westport. Once the initial programme was completed the attendees decided to carry on with the Meetings themselves and decided on the name “Stepping Up In Life” and the group has grown from strength to strength.
Mrs D: What training have you had to take on this role?
Gail: As the Co-ordinator/Facilitator of ‘Stepping Up In Life’, my current training has all been based on life experiences. My former work experience gives me a good solid background in clerical, communication, goal setting, time management, organisational, and networking skills. My own extensive life experience has given me knowledge of AA, rehab, counselling, relationships, parenting, separation and divorce, mental health, addiction, the courts system, the Justice Department, etc. My caring nature and personality gives me the social skills required. I am continually trying to up-skill myself in self development courses and home based learning through Open Wananga to better myself in the my role for our Group, which I love, while retaining and owning my own recovery and supporting others. Lately my role has taken a more social worker type element, finding food parcels for people needing food, assisting people with WINZ and medical issues and also finding accommodation for the homeless and attending court with people when they need support.
Mrs D: Do you have any supervision or peer support from trained professionals?
Gail: As mentioned earlier our group has the support of the WCDHB and secondary services so if any problems or questions arise that we can’t answer or sort out within the group these professionals are only a phone call or email away. They visit regularly and are available for presentations when required. We have another support person, our Regional Consumer AOD Advisor from ADANZ. He visits our area every three months as he is based in Christchurch however he too is only an email or phone call away.
Mrs D: How many people attend these meetings?
Gail: On an average week we have 6 regular folk attending. Its not a large number but we are a small rural town and it is 6 folk who are wanting to help themselves get well again. Our town is in a real economic downturn at the moment and there is alot of addiction related crime and stress about but the group only wishes to help those who want to help themselves.
Mrs D: Do any outfits or agencies refer people to your group?
Gail: In Westport the main agencies who refer folk to us are WCDHB, Clinicians, Rehabs, Doctors, Nurses, the Salvation Army, Poutini Waiora. I have done a lot of networking with most agencies and support groups and recently successfully negotiated with Community Corrections to allow a person to attend our group whilst on Home Detention, which was a first. People can self refer as I have flyers on most public noticeboards, at the Court House and in police stations around town. The local radio station and newspaper have given us free advertising on a regular basis which has been wonderful.
Mrs D: What form do the meetings take?
Gail: Our meetings are generally operated on the basis of one week a Formal Meeting (Presenter/Workshop) and the next week an Informal Meeting. One month our presenters for the formal meetings were someone from Supporting Families (through Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Issues), and an Occupational Therapist from the DHB who spoke about relaxation and wellness. Another month I organised 2 very popular ‘Creativity in Sobriety’ workshops where I asked a local artist to come along and teach us painting techniques. We all did a painting or two each and were able to take our own art work home with us! Last year while searching the internet I discovered a website call Peer Zone. Peer Zone is a self awareness, self wellness programme presented in around 20 workshops and are Peer led. Luckily I was able to find a trained Presenter who works for Richmond Group and now travels from Hokitika to Westport every 4 to 6 weeks to present the workshops to our group. Topics covered so far by our group are Understanding Ourselves, Understanding Our Distress, Understanding Alcohol and Drug use, Leading Our Recovery and Exploring our Stories. Participants receive a Certificate of Awesomeness. The workshops take 2 to 3 hours and are really interesting and popular. During the Informal Meetings we meet and greet, talk about triggers, how our weeks been, watch alcohol and drug DVDs , swap tips and reading material. At all meetings I make sure all members are safe and well.
Mrs D: Did you ever think you would end up doing something like this? How does it help you with your recovery?
Gail: Definitely not in my addiction days. Once I became sober and started attending the initial Pilot programme and my own wellness grew – and I became healthier mentally and physically – I knew I had some time and abilities to offer other folk in the form of Peer Support. The co-ordinator/facilitator roll developed from there and is a field I am passionate about and am gaining expertise in. I feel honoured to have the group and its members as part of my own recovery. It has assisted me in turning a negative side of my life into a positive one. I describe myself as “18 months in a sober boat, learning just to keep afloat” (Yes, I’m a Split Enz fan). Through the group I have found friendship, trust, hope and strength. I love using my mind in a positive and stimulating way, and enjoy seeing peoples wellness grow from week to week. I love how I can support others and in return they can support me in “my sober boat, learning just to keep afloat”. I would be so so lost without my ship mates.
Gail it is so encouraging to read your story. Giving up alcohol is hard work at first, but so, so worth the effort. The big surprise to me was that stopping drinking did not fix everything in my life! I then had to work at those things too, but without booze muddying the waters, it became possible. Thanks again.
Thank you for the kind words. It can be an emotional roller coaster at times and the brain certainly gets a work out but its a sober brain working it out now not a brain hiding all the truths and lying to myself and everyone else. A big self salvage operation is what I call it, and in my case a huge one!!!
I’ve reached say 200 today and I can not believe I’ve got here…I follow this site daily and without it the personal achievements I’ve made would not have been possible.
Thank you everyone!
Congratulations on quite a milestone. I bet you feel good. Its a real struggle at first but it is immensely rewarding in the end. Go for it Dalboy
This sounds really great, and all the better as ‘grass roots’, not seriously ‘official’ and formal. As I read I kept thinking that a meet up with some of the Chch Living Sober members may be in order – it can be good to have a mini holiday with a serious purpose. Does your group ever have a weekend meeting? Social events? Or is it strictly Monday afternoons?
Hey Ive been thinking along the same lines and I think it would be a great idea too. I know another member and I have discussed it but at the moment we have little funds but with abit of fundraising we could make this happen. It would be an awesome opportunity to have abit of sober fun together. How do we keep in contact with each other…
Great to see, out of a bump in the journey you are now on a flourishing path that will help many others. This world is full of miracles and is truly something we should be in Awe of. Thanks for sharing, Westcoasters are lucky to have a wonderful group like yours. Xx
Thank you so much for the kind comments. The WestCoast tops National Data Records for Alcohol related incidents and with the current economic downturn our Community is experiencing lately our Group can only grow in size as more families and people turn to Alcohol and Drugs to relieve stress. Our door is always open to new members. We are a hardy bunch here on the Coast!
Thank you for keeping it real for Westport.Tthis town needs you and your group and i’m sure we will see the numbers rise . i love the group dynamic as it is now but growth is experience and experience is knowledge . AND KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. and power is strength and its the strength from within that helps healing. all journeys are different but its the difference that helps pertain the knowledge. so thank you Gail. for helping me and the others that need it in this awesome wee town on the sea side. 🙂
Thank you Leearna, and as I said I would be lost in my own recovery without everyone else.
so proud of you mum!
So sweet! Xx
Proud Of You too Abby and Thanks for your continual Love and Support
Really interesting Gail, thanks for letting us know about your group!
Thanks for the comment and glad you found it interesting
Incredible work. So inspiring. Another example of service being a pillar of sobriety.
Thanks for the Comment, I Love Being Sober and I Love having Sober Friends to share it with
Thanks for sharing you journey Gail. You are doing great things in your community and reinforced to me that living AF has so many benefits – not just for me – but also the opportunity to help people in the future.
Thank You for the lovely comment, I Love my Alcohol Free Life and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to give it ago. Im always here to help someone else to sobriety