Geraldine and Killian, both participants on a Special Community Employment Scheme, spoke to Changing Ireland about how they moved from being panicky, nervous and withdrawn to becoming confident, hopeful and action-orientated people.
They had both been through treatment, but found the scheme was helpful for them to move on from addiction.
Geraldine is in her third year on the scheme. She said it “absolutely” made a big difference going from a treatment centre to a CE scheme: “Because of all the years of relapsing, I came to the stage where I knew I had to do this very slowly.” She was nervous. “Back then I could not speak in public. I was afraid of my own shadow. I was isolated.”
The scheme focuses “mainly on physical health, mental health and personal development” and she said she needed it. “Coming out of addiction, my self-belief and self-esteem was shattered, broken, on the floor.”
In her fourth year in recovery, Geraldine is now confident. “With the benefits of what we’ve been doing here on the scheme I have found my voice. I can speak. I push myself further. In personal development, one of the things we do here is taking little steps to push past the fear. It’s gently done. As a group it helps that we’re all going through similar stuff.
“Structure is a big thing here. We have our timetable. We know what we’re going doing for the next week. It varies from doing workshops, doing steps, to doing kayaking, mountain climbing. There are around 17 in the group – the number varies,” she said.
“We call it the T.E.A.M. project – Together Everyone Achieves More,” said Killian. “It’s like a family. We all bond through our experiences. It’s a safe place.”
NEGATIVE TO POSITIVE
Killian is a year and a half on the scheme. “After treatment there wasn’t a hope I could have gone straight into college. I’d have been too anxious.
“You need a bit of time to yourself to get to know who you are. I thought I wasn’t able to socialise with people, that I was socially incapable.
From working in the scheme, I noticed that actually I’m not a bad communicator. They were just negative beliefs.
“It was like creating a new life. Addiction is soul-destroying because you do things you thought you’d never do, but that’s just you with the drink or the drug. You lose the connection with yourself. The real you you have to unearth.
“I find with the help of the scheme, doing tasks daily, having structure – it helps you get balance in your life. For example, we learn basic life-skills like cookery, but it’s not just about the culinary skills, it’s about learning to eat nutritious foods.
“As addicts our heads go very fast, so we do things to slow down our minds, like meditation and art therapy. We do things like hillwalking, paddle-boarding and kayaking to get the endorphins going.
“Working with (CE supervisors) Daniel and Tara, they help you to come out of yourself, to rebuild you. It’s like when you’re building a house, you need a good foundation – before you go on to get jobs, or go into college.
“We came in here with all sorts of destructive patterns, but day by day we’re building new habits and it’s transforming our lives. Anything is possible. The world is our oyster.
“This is like my secondary treatment,” he said. “I found it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
Asked for advice to anyone thinking of going into treatment and wondering what will happen afterwards, Killian said: “I think after treatment you do need a whole year to yourself just to kind of find out who you are. If you can get into a project like this you’ve struck gold.”
Geraldine joined the scheme after “it was suggested to me to come here”.“Really and truly, for anyone out there, I know in my heart and soul, after many, many relapses, after feeling hopeless, that getting onto a scheme like this was the next right thing I needed to do.
“It was very simple to pick up the phone to Daniel and Tara here to get that organised (to sign up for the scheme). My addiction had changed so many lives, but now my recovery is changing lives too, gently and slowly. It’s beautiful,” she said.
When we first spoke to Killian, his ambition was to do a personal training course in a gym. “That was my passion before. I want to be a coach, to maybe become a life coach and help people with their mental health through fitness. That’s what helped me. I got through my addiction by renewing my old passion for the gym.”
Since then, and while remaining on the CE scheme, Killian has gained an industry standard qualification in fitness by completing a personal training course with Elite Fitness and Performance Academy in Dublin.
Geraldine was interested in studying addiction counselling and psychotherapy. She could study part-time and stay on the CE scheme.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could turn my life story around and take that experience and channel it in a positive way – that would be amazing,” she said.
She looked forward to “going back into the workplace and doing a course” and since then she has begun a Level 6 course in Mental Health in the Community in UCC.
Both Killian and Geraldine would like more people to know about the scheme and welcomed last summer’s visit by Minister Joe O’Brien.
Geraldine said, “It’s great to see someone at that level taking interest. We’re so passionate about the scheme. It has changed my life. Those changes weren’t just for me. I have two sons at home. The positive ripple effect on them. I can put that down to the support and to the work I’ve done here.”
“And it was nice to see him acknowledging the work by Daniel and Tara,” Killian added. They both agreed that “There should be more of these schemes around the country.”
Special projects help people break addiction and change their lives