For someone who started out work in refurbished warehouse adjacent to a tundra of dilapidated and partially demolished industrial wastelands of Dudley I’ve actually worked in some highly glamorous places in my career. From my current job in top class rehab set in Thailand to traveling the globe as a personal counselor, the settings in which I have worked could be hard to be described as dull.
In 2007 I received a job working in Northamptonshire as part of an ambitious, and if I reflect back on it poorly thought-out, relapse prevention project.
The idea was to meet the needs of alcoholic clients across the Northants region and help them prevent relapse back into treatment services – namely detox services, either as an inpatient or emergence-admission in A&E (accident and emergency). My job, with my newly acquired addiction counseling skills, was to go out into the community and meet with clients at various locations across Northamptonshire. Such as Daventry, Kettering, Northampton and Corby.
Aquarius, whom I worked for, was traditionally a “Tier 4 residential rehab”. They had been based in Northamptonshire for around 20 years but unfortunately due to cuts they were about to face radical changes in the upcoming years. Hungry to reach out into the community they won bids from the Drug and Alcohol Action Team (part of Northamptonshire council) to provide community outreach. The aim was to emulate what had been met with some degree of success in Birmingham, to reach out into the community and meet with alcoholics to offer them support and coaching on how to live a sober and alcohol free life.
Just a bit of history here, AQUARIUS was actually the name of a project in Birmingham University in the late 1970’s. It was the brain-child of various psychologists who wanted to make a project away from the traditional 12-step model of recovery. If you’re familiar with SMART recovery it’s very similar. Aquarius first set up in Birmingham to provide clients with a non-12step based residential rehab that focused on alcohol being a “learned behaviour” rather than a pre-disposed or acquired disease. It had some degree of success but it shut it’s doors as a residential rehab in the years funding started being drawn away.
One of the areas I had to cover in my new job was Corby, little scotland.
Corby is almost synonymous with a typical grim English town. I personally think it’s undeserved, but since the Steel industry collapsed in the UK, Corby collapsed with it. The collapse of the steel industry left behind a string of disenfranchised youth, limited jobs and people now without a sense of purpose. Unfortunately the gaps left where opportunity once was quickly filled in with drugs and alcohol.
Corby has had a huge Scottish influence, many Scottish people came down during the movement of the steel-works, but it’s also been a refuge for many Scots fleeing the north decades after the steel-works died off. I can’t say if this has any relevance to the alcoholism in Corby, there simply isn’t the data on this matter and I never saw any note-worthy pattern to add to this. Traditionally though, rate of alcoholism and drug addiction have surpassed levels normally seen down in the south of the UK.
Corby had a significant rate of relapse in alcoholics in 2007, at the time I was working in Northamptonshire an alcohol detox was 800 pounds a day, making the total cost of most relapsing addicts 8000 pounds a time to the purse of the local tax (based on a 10 day detox). Unfortunately the only way to get a detox in the region was to either turn up to Kettering General in a coma or receive a detox from Berrywood Hospital (mental health hospital). This is obviously a huge cost and something had to be done in order to help reduce the rate of relapse. The traditional service that had been there for sometime was failing clients badly, they needed someone who could reach out to the community, talk face to face on a weekly basis and work with them on an effective but easy to understand program of sustainable recovery.
With my training in Motivational Interviewing, Gorski’s relapse prevention and psychology of addiction I entered into the arena of Corby to battle the addiction and alcoholism that gripped the town.
I’ll never forget the pride I felt when one of my clients was reading a leaflet that I wrote on how to manage life after a detox whilst waiting for me. He looked up at me and said “Whoever wrote this really knows what they’re on about.” I was humbled but very proud that my work was already having a positive effect on people.
Many of my clients felt that no one cared for them, alcoholics surprisingly felt even more marginalised than their drug using peers. There was little or no support before I arrived there, apart from the local AA groups there wasn’t anything significant in terms of support for alcoholics. I recall one client I assessed for a continuum of care during his detox, he told me to “piss off” as we began and “no one gives a fook”. I soon learned this reaction was down to the fact that almost all petitions for some form of continued counseling in Corby was rejected. However, funding had been provided to drug addicts in the region, so for years many alcoholics were shut out of services or given the absolute minimum amount of help – bit shabby considering they were the ones still paying tax on their substance of choice. This is down to “crime reduction” policies and home-office funding.
Drugs, such as heroin and crack, were always seen to cause a lot more trouble than alcohol. Alcohol, although fuels a few fists and car crashes, is not positively linked in with crime like heroin and crack is. Heroin and crack are deemed as the life-blood of acquisitive criminals, who constantly have to steal and hustle money from the public in order to feed their addiction – the relationship certainly isn’t as black and white as this but that’s for another blog.
So Alcohol wasn’t funded well, infact it probably received less than 10% of the funding drug services got. This, along with cheap white-cider, left a bitter taste in the mouth of many of the alcoholics I worked with.
Back in 2007 many shops around Corby would sell two 3ltr bottles of white cider for 5-6pounds. That’s 6ltrs of 7.5% white cider, which is a whopping 45units of alcohol! So to be a seriously entrenched alcoholic in Corby was affordable to most, including those without any income.
A little fact here, white cider contains no apples. You may think “Well I guessed that”, however you may be shocked to know the industrial process it takes to make it. They take pure ethanol, mix it with water, add a little sugar and then mix in a little citric acid to give it an apple-like flavour. There’s no cider press, no apples, no distilling process. It’s usually exclusively drank by people who have some form of problematic relationship with alcohol whether that be dependency, hazardous (trips, spills and fights) or harmful to health.
I felt like I had made a difference in Corby. I felt that I had really repaired some bridges for the services in the area and most importantly I made the clients whom I worked with lives a little better. I know it can sound like a self-serving statement but it’s a very endearing aspect of my work, to know that you have had a positive impact on people’s lives. It wasn’t enough for some people and I wish I could have done better, but don’t we all.
Since working in Corby it has received a fair amount of rejuvenation although I don’t think it will ever see it’s hay-day when everyone worked in the steel mill however that being said apparently the steel-industry was poisoning the land. Corby is trying to re-brand itself as a satellite town from London, it’s still just shy of 100miles from London but they put a lot of effort into the train station.