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.