Since coming to Change Grow Live, Sarah has turned her life around and is now working as a Peer Mentor at our Inspire Blackburn with Darwen service to help other people with the issues they are facing. Sarah recently picked up the Woman of the Year Award from One Voice Blackburn (an inclusive community group addressing health inequalities in Blackburn). We caught up with Sarah after her incredible achievement.
“I used substances to self-medicate my manic depression for fifteen years. I had never addressed my substance misuse, just the mental health side of my actions. My use of substances ranged from cocaine to painkillers and, unfortunately, alcohol too.
I hid a lot of my problems, not just due to being ashamed, but because I was a 40 year old Asian woman and my problems were religiously and culturally taboo in my community. After an alcohol relapse, a couple of years ago, I found myself becoming more dependant. I then started having seizures. My life was chaotic; I was a mother to three children, my partner threw me out of the house and my mother, who is a strict Muslim, locked me in the house in an attempt to help me - even though she was advised that this was harmful by a doctor.
I ran away from my mother’s house with no shoes or money and spent the next few months living on the streets, where I thought I would die. Eventually my ex-partner found me and all I remember was waking up in a detox centre. I then went to rehab, which I hated, but I was told to try Inspire (Change Grow Live) Blackburn with Darwen on my release as a support network.
I was very nervous and ashamed coming into the groups at first. At that time, I was the only woman in the group. I had a lot of issues that needed dealing with, which had been put on hold whilst I was in rehab, at court cases and at appointments with social services and probation. A lot of the staff not only helped me with these, but also supported me through a time that would have otherwise rendered me to use again.
I was six months abstinent when I arrived at Inspire but I asked to do all the foundation groups. Whilst on the groups, I was asked if I wanted to do Peer Mentor training with Mel (Peer Mentor Co-ordinator). After 15 weeks, I became a peer mentor and I now facilitate a couple of groups at Inspire, which I love.
I do some outreach work, as well as community work. I am also in my first year of an alcohol and substance misuse degree. Whilst at Inspire, I was asked to help out on a BME community project in collaboration with Change Grow Live, which I agreed to. The project aimed to open up the subject of addiction within the South Asian community. Addiction was becoming a problem, but, because it is a culturally taboo subject, people were not asking for help.
As part of the project, I went to film a video for Change Grow Live and One Voice’s website with some service users, but unfortunately none of the other five service users turned up because they were ashamed or scared. When the video went live, (receiving 1. 5million hits) it was just of me telling my story. It was picked up by two newspapers without my knowledge. I first found out when two Asian men threw a paper at my face whilst I was out shopping. I did have some abuse from the community, but I have also had so many people coming to Inspire asking to talk to about their addiction. I have had women come into service because of me, especially a few Asian women who have told me that I am their inspiration. The women from One Voice (the women’s network) have been so supportive, I now see them as friends. They were the ones that honoured me with the award. My life is so much better since I arrived at Inspire and, most of all, I now feel accepted by a community.”