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How ASPIRE can change your life

This story takes me up to Wednesday, 13 September 2016, which unbelievably is exactly one year that I have been drug free.  Please don’t read it as if it is as story about me. I am one of many clients who have had successes being involved with ASPIRE Services.  This is a story of what ASPIRE can do for you or anyone you may know who needs help in beating a drug or alcohol addiction and wanting a better quality of life.

I’ll start by giving you a picture of the mess I was in a year ago. I am 49 years old and for the previous 28 years leading up to Wednesday, 13 September, I used the so called recreational drug, Amphetamine. This drug has a few nicknames like ‘speed’, ‘billy’ or ‘phet’. I now call the drug ‘poison’. Forgive me if the word poison appears in this story, it’s just so that you know what I am referring to.

The years of taking that poison had taken its toll months before I quit using. No matter what I did or where I went I was hearing voices, which seemed so real. Deep paranoia and regular panic attacks had also set in. It was horrible. I rarely went out of my flat and shut myself off from the outside world, which was crazy really as the voices intensified in my flat. I thought it was better than going outside as I thought the whole world hated me and were talking about me. If I had to go out I would walk quickly with my head down, dodging lampposts.

One of the rare occasions I had to go out was to sign on. Like most people, I had been put onto weekly signing. This only seemed to double the chances of being sanctioned but I had a habit to feed so somehow managed to maintain sign on. One of the things about being in addiction is that you don’t sometimes realise what other people are seeing what you look like and how you are. You seem to go to extremes to have it and pretend you are fine. This doesn’t work and you realise it even more when you get into recovery when people start telling you that you are looking well and good. Things like that help make your recovery worthwhile as well as many other things. My regular Job Centre Advisor Pauline had noticed for some time that something was amiss with me but I didn’t take the hints she gave me. All I wanted to do was sign on, get out and avoid being sanctioned. I didn’t realise that she was just trying to help me.

On Friday, 9 September 2016, she advised me to try counselling if I was depressed.  So I thought I would show some sort of effort, just to avoid being sanctioned. I went onto the High Street and went into a place named the Talking Shop. I spoke with Elaine in the Talking Shop. During the discussion something struck a chord with me and for the first time in my life I said “I might have a bit of a drug problem”. She immediately took me into a private room and after further discussion she advised me to go to ASPIRE Drug and Alcohol Services on Thorne Road.  I agreed. I have Elaine and the Talking Shop to thank. I’ve called in a couple of times during the year to tell them the progress of my recovery. It gives great pleasure thanking people who have supported you and the progress you’ve made.

When I came out of the Talking Shop, even though I had agreed to go to ASPIRE my initial thought was do I do the easy thing and turn left for the bus home or go right to ASPIRE?  Believe me, it was 50/50 but thankfully I chose to go to ASPIRE. I did have a rough idea where it was. I approached ASPIRE via Christchurch Road and straight away found it with the large ASPIRE sign out front of the reception. ASPIRE has two reception buildings about 25 yards separated by the in-between buildings.  One is called Rosslyn House and the other is called Sinclair House.

I didn’t know this at the time, but I was soon to discover this in a few days’ time to my horror. I entered the Rosslyn House building where upon entering the reception area the reception desk is immediately to your left, no problem. I explained in some sort of fashion about what had happened at the Talking Shop to one of the reception girls who gave me some enrolling forms to fill in. Even though these forms are basic about yourself, I was struggling badly. The voices started, I was sweating and could not concentrate. I did manage to fill in what I could.

A guy called Ian introduced himself as a support worker. He took me into a private room for an assessment. He only asked for my name but immediately I thought he was an undercover police officer and that I had somehow entered an undercover police station. I believed everything was a set up. Although I knew I had done nothing wrong, as I rarely went out, it added to the confusion. This undercover cop who calls himself Ian proceeded to explain what ASPIRE was but it was all a bit of a blur and I was not taking any of it in. I just wanted to get out.

In fact Ian wasn’t an undercover police officer – he is one of many fantastic support workers at ASPIRE. He is also one of many staff I have dropped on without an appointment and had to call on their support. I hope the staff I do not name will forgive me for not naming them but I have called one of them at one time or another.  This includes everyone from Helen the Manager, the girls on reception, all levels of staff and clients. That is one of the many beauties of the place. There’s always someone available whether through reception or in the coffee lounge.

Upon leaving the assessment with Ian, I was so relieved to get out and went into some kind of panic attack outside in the side street. Once recovered and calmed down a bit I went home to my non-existent world. At home I could not even watch my television for more than a few minutes as I thought no matter what programme I was trying to watch, they were on about me. It was as if there were cameras in the television and all round my flat following my every move. The voices I was hearing were being controlled by remote. I would turn the television off for days but then the voices would increase, both inside and outside. This went on and on, day and night.  I would fall asleep eventually, through exhaustion. I’d wake up and it would start again. All good fun … NOT!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 was quite possibly my own personal D-day. As usual, that day at first was as confusing as ever but Friday was looming and I had to sign on again. Had I done enough to avoid being sanctioned?  Plus the confusion of thinking I was being set up. So I decided to go back to ASPIRE more out of paranoia than anything else. Plus I had some poison left. When I took what I had left, in fact it turned out to be the last I have used since and the last time I will ever use. I approached ASPIRE this time, coming up Thorne Road in the opposite direction to the time before. As I said earlier, ASPIRE has two buildings, not far apart which I didn’t know. This time I accidentally went into Sinclair House and to my horror when I walked into the reception area and the desk was straight in front of me. I thought they had moved the whole building 45 degrees. I went into a frenzy. The reception ladies were trying to explain something but I was taking no notice. I ran outside, where everything was there, like the large church, Thorne Road and the ASPIRE sign. During the frenzy of running in and out, trying to work out how they could have moved the building around in five days, I must have looked like some crazy building engineer.

A guy appeared and introduced himself as Paul. I thought Paul, just like Ian the week before, was another undercover police officer. Paul suggested we go into a private room. After I finished blabbering on about buildings, moving rooms Paul suggested we go outside for some fresh air and a cigarette. I agreed as I was dripping in sweat. He took me back through Sinclair House reception and outside and into the Rosslyn House reception. I would say this is where our first bond was formed. Because in a roundabout kind of way the building had not turned 45 degrees, I had entered two separate buildings. The emotions just ran through me and I cried my eyes out with joy. It felt as though I had a tiny bit of sanity. Paul never once undermined what I was saying as he would have heard it all before and no doubt hear it all again. My initial thought was that this guy who calls himself Paul might not be too bad of a ‘copper’.

Paul is not a police officer. He’s a fantastic support worker and has led me magnificently through this past year. All the good things that he said would happen to me have happened, if I remained drug free. The voices dropped rapidly. They still exist today but are a lot more rare and quicker. The paranoia is not as severe. I have started to feel good about myself. These are just a few great things that have happened to me. So much so, I was thinking Paul was God because what was happening was a miracle. Thinking Paul was God was a bit of an upgrade from thinking he was an undercover police officer at the beginning.

On leaving ASPIRE after the first meeting with Paul he suggested that I come back and see him two days later on the Friday, after I had signed on. I half-heartedly agreed but I was unsure if I would or not. I had a week to go until I got paid which normally would not be a problem because I could “lay on” until pay day and keep going round in that cycle. I did not lay on, Friday came and I went to sign on. To my surprise Pauline was delighted when I told her about the Talking Shop and ASPIRE.  She advised me to keep going to ASPIRE especially after I told her about the drug problem. Even though I think she knew. Not long after that Pauline advised me to sign off jobseekers and apply for sickness benefit. I took her up on her advice and claimed sickness benefit (ESA) to help me with my recovery. I also realised that she had been hinting for quite a while that I was in no fit state to work. I am still nowhere near ready to work, health wise, but hopefully that will come in time as I continue my recovery. I owe Pauline a lot, as it was her who very first set me on this journey. I wrote and gave her a thank you card and I have also rung a couple of times during the past year to keep her informed of how I was doing. She asked me to keep her informed as she was very pleased to hear from me.

I went back to ASPIRE and met Paul again. We made an appointment for Monday.  Paul skilfully, said “If you are going to use the poison over the weekend, to use less”.  I took the challenge on and used none. My mind-set was that I had gone two days without any so I could go another couple of days without any. These small targets or challenges are a familiar feature at ASPIRE because everything does not happen overnight and it’s best not to think too far ahead. At ASPIRE we call these “baby steps” or more commonly called “don’t run before you can walk”.  As those days ticked by I knew in my, at the time, ‘wooden heart’ the first crunch challenge was going to be the Wednesday coming up. Payday leads of times over the years I might have been skint a day, maybe two days before payday not used because I could not pretend I was going to quit. Payday would come and I would go and score. When Wednesday came I had gone a full week without using. I had never done that before.  It’s amazing the stress you can put yourself under in the days leading up to an event and when the day arrives it is not as bad or anything like you thought it is going to be. Instead of scoring I went to ASPIRE and Paul was delighted. He told me that he was a football fan and like me is a supporter of Leeds United.

My first sense of achievement came after a couple of weeks when Paul asked me to do a urine test. Even though I knew I had not used during this time I did not have a clue how long the poison stays in your system for. When the test came up negative I was so happy and I mean really HAPPY. I hugged Paul, my perception of him and ASPIRE was changing.  Also the volume, intensity and regularity of the voices were dropping rapidly just as he said they would. After this I told everyone at ASPIRE I was drug free and I was so happy.

I was going into ASPIRE practically every day. This obviously meant I was out of my flat and seeing people I know more. Without realising it I had a spring in my step. Instead of walking down the streets with my head down I was stopping people I knew and telling them what I was on with. This continued and after a while people were saying well done and also saying how much better I was looking. This makes you realise how terrible you used to look and gives you a tremendous boost and only adds to the determination. About the same time as the first urine test Paul introduced me into the Coffee Lounge and encouraged me to do some of the groups available there.

The Coffee Lounge which at first I thought was the police station canteen is managed by a fantastic support worker named Sally who has helped me on numerous occasions. It’s a great place to socialise. The Coffee Lounge is open every day through the week and is really cheap, for example where else could you get beans on toast with grated cheese on top (my favourite) and a cup of coffee for £1.30?  It’s far cheaper and more comfortable than McDonalds, Burger King or any other café in town. Free Wi-Fi is also available.

As for the doing of groups, I was really nervous, like all the clients are at first. I would never have thought I could do group sessions talking among other people but I quickly found out that it really does help. Even though we are all individuals it really is surprising the similarities and ideas that feed off each other really helps. Some groups will suite you, some won’t. There are various different groups every day and I can guarantee you that at least one will suit your needs, probably more than one.

My main three were Relapse Prevention, Mood Masters and the SMART Groups.  SMART stands for Self-Management And Recovery Training. It’s only recently that I’ve stopped doing the groups because I think there comes a time when you have got to take the next step and try and put what you have learned into practice. Saying that I would not hesitate to start doing the groups again if I thought it was necessary. I would advise any potential clients or present clients to try the group sessions. You may also have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any other clients by name. The reason being is that we have a strict policy on client confidentiality. What’s said in-house stays in-house. Just because I am not doing the groups at present does not mean that I am finished with ASPIRE, not by a long way. The Coffee Lounge is a great way of socialising. I shall continue to attend on a regular basis. Also the staff and clients are who I would like to class as my friends and no doubt at some stage for some reason I will need their tremendous care, advice and support. Knowing this is so reassuring.

My next milestone was when I reached a month drug free. Gone were the days, the weeks, I had reached a MONTH and it felt massive. This stage also proved a pivotal stage in my recovery. I took a chance and tried to contact my 23-year-old son. He had disowned me for a many years due to my drug use. So when I contacted him and told him what was happening, to my shock and absolute delight, I got a response. I was over the moon. This added to my determination to stay drug free and we formed a relationship again. I also received tremendous support and encouragement from my son’s older sister. She’s not my daughter but she has been fantastic with us both. After meeting my son for a few times I asked him if he would like to go to a Leeds United football match with me. He said yes! It was a brilliant day out. Football was always a big thing in our lives. We used to be Leeds season ticket holders. There were 25,000 people at the match that day. After the match outside the stadium in the packed streets, low and behold, who should we bump into but my key worker, Paul, his wife and son. I told you I believed in God!

Things are great today. My son and I have been to quite a few Leeds matches since. But I’ve had my struggles on the way. I can tell you now that this recovery business is not totally hunky dory. There are ups and downs but at ASPIRE there are ways of dealing with these issues. Even though ASPIRE is a drug and alcohol service it also deals with what I would call the knock-on effects of addiction. I think it’s impossible to have a drug or alcohol addiction without it having some effect on your mental or physical health or perhaps both. For example, I am a 49 year old trying to become a parent again with a 23-year-old, following a nine year gap. My main concern was fear. The fear of losing him again, for example my son did not answer his phone for a day or two and immediately I thought I had blown it and got really depressed. I never thought about using the poison again but still I was down in the dumps and would stay at home being miserable. This would have been noticed by ASPIRE and the staff there have phoned me and convinced me that stopping at home is not the way forward. As usual, they were correct. The staff are highly skilled in all aspects of life.

It became evident that I had mental health issues. Sally suggested and advised me to do something about it. I had actually taken advice on as a kind of hobby from these people who know what they are talking about. It’s far more rewarding than the “I think I know it all” attitude I had when using the poison. Sally arranged an assessment with a psychiatrist at St Catherine’s Hospital. Once again the days and build up were far worse than the day itself. I was not 100% sure if I would go even though I knew it was for the best. Sally eased my fears by asking Lydia, the Mentors Manager if she would allocate a mentor to give me support and go to the assessment with me which she duly did. I was allocated a lovely lady named Sue.  Now you must remember these mentors are volunteers at ASPIRE and are available at ASPIRE for all sorts of things for clients including the support of going to appointments with you. Sue met me at 9.00am in town, travelled with me there and back and sat in with me with the psychiatrist. In a nutshell, she forfeited that morning of her own free time for me. How fantastic is that!

On another occasion, only about 10 days after the previous appointment I had another assessment, this time at the Job Centre. More stress. This time I was allocated another mentor, a gentleman named John. I did not get called in for my assessment until an hour after my appointment time. John never budged. He stayed with me right through. Once again how fantastic is that. I believe if it was not for the actions and support of those two mentors it’s highly likely I would not have attended those two assessments. Therefore it would have slowed down or maybe halted my recovery. Sue and John’s actions were so heart-warming and something I will never forget for the rest of my life. All the mentors are a credit to Lydia’s mentoring team at ASPIRE and above all they are a credit to themselves.

This may not sound a lot, but a week after the Job Centre assessment I booked an appointment at my local dentist where I had, you guessed it, an assessment which is basically a check-up. I did attend this appointment on my own. But if I had not attended the other two assessments with the support coupled with some of the confidence skills I have learnt at ASPIRE, it would not have entered my head to go to the dentist. My teeth would have carried on rotting in much the same way the rest of me was before engaging with ASPIRE. Just shows you the power of ASPIRE and the knock-on effect it can have on you in dealing with other issues in your life.

Following the assessment with the psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with Drug Induced Psychosis. I had learned and heard about psychosis through Paul and the other staff at ASPIRE but when it is diagnosed and official it hits home even more. The next stage is whether to deal with it or not. I was prescribed medication, in tablet form, named Respiradone. I was hoping I wouldn’t be prescribed medication. This may sound strange but even during all the years I was using amphetamine, sorry poison, I never used prescribed medication, not even a paracetamol for a headache. It was just one of those things. But I took the advice on board from those who know these things and agreed to the medication. It was also my choice, there was no obligation.  I’m still on this medication today and could be on it for a number of years, maybe for the rest of the new life I have gained. I get my prescription from the Stapleton Road Centre in Warmsworth. From the Stapleton Centre I have another fantastic support worker named Emma. I have regular appointments with Emma which ASPIRE are happy to be held there. Many other clients can also have their appointments with outside support workers to be held at ASPIRE which is good. It makes it far easier to get to than having to catch two buses to Balby or Warmsworth or where the other support workers are based at.

The outcome of my Job Centre assessment was they decided to keep me on ESA to continue my recovery. This meant a slight increase in my benefits. Although this was pleasing I intended to use the extra money positively and in a healthy way.  Nowadays technology has vastly improved and we are in what they call the computer age. I am a bit old school and still believe in the once mighty pen which you may have gathered. Enter the amazing Adele and her magical computer team at ASPIRE. If you’ve never used a computer before they teach you how to use one. Most things in life are now online. All the stressful things like benefits, your housing, jobseekers, sickness Adele and the girls are highly trained and experienced in these subjects and can help you no end. They’ll also make you the necessary phone calls required and can help you out with things like letters, applications and references.  You name it; they know how to deal with it. There are dedicated drop-in sessions as part of the week’s group programme to access these facilities. One to one appointments are also available.

Adele helped me massively with British Gas. For nearly three years since I moved into my flat I never put my gas on once. It meant no hot water and no heating. I did manage to keep my electric on, only because it didn’t cost much for the electric to be kept on. So the only heating I had was a small oil filled radiator which was not up to much. Somehow I managed to get through three winters in this way but while I was using the poison it did not seem to matter. I also didn’t notice that it was not doing my already diminishing health any good whatsoever. As for hot water I would boil two kettles at a time to create hot water for a bath, wash and shaving. Even though I did have difficulties in the bathroom/ toilet as the voices would rise in there like all noises seem to echo in a bathroom that is what also at the time makes everything seem so horribly real. But I managed somehow.

Anyway, as my recovery progressed and my wooden head was clearing, coupled with the slight increase in benefits I approached Adele for her input as regards my benefits. But with British Gas I had what I thought were two massive hurdles to overcome. Firstly, the gas board had capped my gas off last year following the standard yearly safety checks. This stopped the debt building any more than it had. Even though I had never put any gas on, the meter still ticks thus incurring a debt of nearly £300. That was the second hurdle, or so I thought. This is where Adele weaved her online magic and overcome both hurdles. First she arranged for my gas to get uncapped, to get me going. At the same time she applied to something I had never heard of – a British Gas Trust Fund – where they look into outstanding debts and your personal circumstances.  Through Adele’s care, support and professionalism the £300 debt has been squashed. I now have my heating on which I am in control of. I also have instant hot water. The voices have gone in the bathroom just like Paul (God) said they would. I can now relax in a bath whenever I want and believe me when I say, if you excuse my language, I am sure you can fill the dots in when I say it is f…….g beautiful.

Sure I shed many a tear which I have done many times over this past year as these miracles get overwhelming.  But these are now tears of joy and not the tears of despair, anguish and agony I was experiencing for years before. I bet my two kettles also threw a party for themselves after all the work they had done. I now use one kettle for what it is supposed to do, making hot water for cups of water and as an added bonus I now have a spare kettle. Marvelous.

I hope this story gives you a bit of an insight into ASPIRE and all the follow-on support they get for you. It costs all you’ve got, both financially and personally, being in addiction, but all this fantastic support is free.

I’ll finish off by quite simply saying “ASPIRE works for me and ASPIRE can work for YOU!”

Thank you and best wishes for the future

John