Alcohol misuse or addiction is regularly conflated with the issue of homelessness.
However, as drinking permeates British culture, we know that you do not have to be homeless alone to be confronted with this issue.
When we look at Wales as a whole, Alcohol Change UK shows that in 2017/18, there were 54,900 alcohol-related hospital admissions.
In cases where homelessness and alcohol intersect, it is often rooted, much deeper, into past trauma.
At The Wallich, we offer trauma-informed support for our service users struggling with alcohol; working with other alcohol-specialist agencies and using a harm reduction approach.
To build a relationship with their support worker, our service users often benefit from the expertise of people who have experienced the issues they face.
Many of our support workers are transparent about their own past experiences of homelessness, prison, mental health or addiction.
One such Senior Support Worker, Alison, has been kind enough to share her story with us – in the hope that it will help others on their journey to recovery.
“My mother was ‘an alcoholic’ and killed herself when I was 11 years old.
I always swore that I wouldn’t end up like her, but looking back I realise now I knew so little about how it can affect anyone.
I was always an anxious child and always felt like I didn’t fit in.
Being part of a single parent family added to the stress and isolation in my teenage years.
At 15, I tried my first drink.
Suddenly none of that mattered anymore, I felt invincible and all my problems disappeared.
I moved to London when I was 19 and got a great job. I worked hard to advance up the career ladder.
I travelled the world and friends said I was part of the “it crowd” taking drugs and partying and enjoying all that London had to offer.
However, I’d noticed that not everyone wanted to party until the morning, then go home and drink more.
But that’s where my drinking was heading.
By the time I’d got to 37, I’d walked out of my job and never went back.
The next 10 years revolved around stopping drinking for six months, relapsing, nearly losing everything, switching from alcohol to weed, and generally just trying to get through life.
I was unable to cope with how I felt inside and using substances to self-medicate.
I’d get sober, get a job and things would start going well. Then I’d pick up a drink again, thinking to myself: ‘I’ll just have one…’ and off I’d go again.
Four years ago, after a week-long bender – during which time I was hallucinating and genuinely didn’t care if I lived or died – I googled Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and went to my first meeting.
I had no idea how AA worked but I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore.
What I found was an amazing fellowship of people who shared their experiences with me. They told me I didn’t have to feel this way anymore and taught me the 12 steps of recovery.
I related to what everyone was saying in those meetings, and I remember thinking on that first night: ‘I feel like that, I’m not the only one’.
I celebrated a year of sobriety, got a great job and was on the up again.
I stopped going to AA meetings thinking I was cured and didn’t need these people anymore. Then one day, out of the blue, that familiar voice said: ‘It’s a lovely day, why don’t you have just one glass of wine’.
I did – and I spiralled down again in a frightening short space of time.
After three weeks I was physically addicted again, drinking vodka in the morning to keep the withdrawals at bay.
I reached out to another AA member who picked me up in her car and took me to a meeting.
The same people welcomed me back and told me I was going to be okay – as long as I didn’t pick up that first drink.
I’m about to celebrate three years’ sobriety and I owe AA my life.
I am substance free, and I intend to live that way for the rest of my life, one day at a time.
I am so grateful I found my way back into recovery.
I contemplated jumping off a bridge when I was imprisoned in addiction. I genuinely believed the world would be a better place without me.
Now I love my life. It’s the simple things like living an honest life that makes all the difference.
I don’t have to lie to friends and family to cover up my addiction and can live my life at peace helping other people facing addiction, get sober.
I still go to AA meetings. I volunteer on the national helpline for four hours a week, around my shifts at The Wallich, I am Secretary of an AA Intergroup and I do lots of work in the community around public information.
I try to step up and give others what was so freely given to me.
The shame of alcohol addiction can keep us hidden away behind closed doors – but I’m living proof that recovery is possible.”
At The Wallich, we work in a trauma-informed way and focus on harm reduction.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to recovery, so we work with service users on the best approach for them.
Not only do we have abstinence projects across Wales, but we also have ‘wet’ projects, meaning residents will reduce their drinking or focus on the health issues associated with alcohol, in a safe way, with a roof over their heads.
Making residents more aware of the options, opportunities and choices available to them enables them to make informed choices for themselves.
If you’re struggling with an alcohol addiction, or you’re beginning to see an unhealthy pattern emerging, please know that you’re know alone.
You can get help and change your relationship with alcohol for the better.
Here are just a few agencies that support with alcohol addiction, in Wales.
If you’re registered with a doctor, reaching out to your GP can be the first step to getting help.
Alcohol Change UK is a leading alcohol charity offering resources, statistics and referrals.
Friendly, trained workers operate across most of South and West Wales, providing support to individuals affected by alcohol and drugs, and their friends and family.
The support and information we provide is free, confidential and non-judgmental.
Alcoholics Anonymous is concerned solely with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics.
Smart Recovery is a charity that promotes choice in recovery.
Aiming to empower people with practical skills, tools and support so that they may manage their addictive behaviour and lead satisfying and meaningful lives.
Recovery Cymru is a peer-led, mutual-aid, recovery community in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan that empowers people to achieve and maintain recovery while supporting others to do the same.