My journey with Aquarius began after my husband passed away.
I have four children: two sons and two daughters. During their teenage years, two of my children began taking drugs and while my daughter has now stopped using drugs and has turned her life around, my son still continues to use heroine and crack cocaine. My other son was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis at the age of 17. He is now aged 41 and bedridden, unable to do anything for himself and needing 24/7 care in a care home.
Before my husband’s death, I kept all of my difficulties to myself, refusing to let anybody in. So it wasn’t until he passed away that somebody said ‘You need support for you’ – it had never dawned on me, I had spent my whole life caring for my children and everyone else around me.
I first received support from Aquarius as a family member of a person taking drugs. My practitioner worked with me on what I needed to do for myself, not for my son, for me and he really helped me. I will always be eternally grateful to him for helping me realise that I could now start to live my life for me. Throughout our sessions, he worked with me to identify my strengths and weaknesses and gave me the confidence to talk to him openly about any subject, without judgment.
But it wasn’t long before l was also helping Aquarius. They soon picked up on my abilities and my experience of having run my own business and I was soon getting involved in simple things, such as ‘Where should we put the bicycle shed?’ They wanted to put it in the garden which meant adding a concrete plinth so I said ‘What are you doing that for? Just put it in the front carpark because the base is already there’; it was just things like that. So soon after that they said ‘I think we better make you a volunteer.’
My role as a family volunteer involves supporting families. I go out with the Kinship Care Practitioner and visit families and what tends to happen is that the practitioner will lead the meeting, but then I will perhaps make a comment and the person will think ‘Hang on a minute, you understand how I feel’ and then we connect. After the first meeting, I will continue to join the practitioner on the visits, but often I also visit the family on my own. I always encourage the families to come to the family support groups that we organise. I help run the fishing group and I like to get as many people to come along because it’s really great – I had never fished in my life before I started going but now I love it!
Alongside my family visits, I get involved in pretty much anything that’s going on at Aquarius. It’s usually a case of ‘Let me have a look at that’ and if I can help, I will. The staff at Aquarius don’t just treat me as a volunteer and I think that’s made a real difference. I have helped them to see that volunteers like myself need to be part of the organisation, all the way from the ground to the top and they have welcomed this with open arms. I know that I can go upstairs and sit with Annette, the Chief Executive and just have a chat with her – their door is never shut and if they can help me in any way, they will.
From that first meeting with my practitioner six years ago, I have gone on to enhance my life with education and confidence and not once have I looked back.
Becoming a volunteer has made a real difference to my life. From that first meeting with my practitioner six years ago, I have gone on to enhance my life with education and confidence and not once have I looked back. Through working with the staff at Aquarius and speaking to families facing similar experiences, I have learnt a lot about addiction and I now have a better understanding of my own son’s addiction and what motivates him to continue taking drugs. I have also grown into a different person since being a volunteer and am now far more confident. Before I wasn’t really one to put myself forward for things, but now if you say to me ‘Can you go and give a talk to 300 people?’, I’d say ‘Yeah, no problem’. I now feel confident to talk to anybody I meet and will speak openly about my problems and my experiences.
I am finally doing something for myself which feels really positive because although I still live with a lot of pain and anguish with my sons’ illnesses, I have come to realise that I’m important and I matter.