‘I feel free - I’ve never felt that before’ - a celebration of recovery

PUSH is an organisation set up by recovering people for recovering people. Those who have recovered from addiction gather at the Guildhall, Portsmouth, to march to Southsea Common.  Picture: Allan Hutchings (151560-252)
PUSH is an organisation set up by recovering people for recovering people. Those who have recovered from addiction gather at the Guildhall, Portsmouth, to march to Southsea Common. Picture: Allan Hutchings (151560-252)
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With the sound of laughter filling the air, children running around in high spirits and live music, it was a laid-back carnival atmosphere for the families gathered on Southsea Common.

They were there to celebrate some very special journeys.

Everyone had one thing in common – they were either recovering addicts or friends and loved ones of recovering addicts.

The event, which began with an exuberant march from Portsmouth Guildhall at midday, was organised by Push.

Push, or Portsmouth User Self Help Group is probably the most successful drugs support group you have never heard of.

Since it was set up in 2006 thousands of people have been supported through training and education and been given their lives back.

The march and the party afterwards were a way of celebrating the incredibly tough journeys and the end results – to show that recovered addicts are valuable members of the community.

Danny Sullivan, from Push, said: ‘For people coming from addiction the stigma is often the greatest barrier to moving forward.

‘Today they live completely different lives but stigma is still a huge barrier.

‘They want jobs, they want to be fully paid-up citizens but it’s almost like it’s against the grain.

‘People in addiction seem to serve society well as scapegoats. To shake that off once you’re in recovery is quite a challenge.

‘But everybody in this community has a really positive impact on this community. Everybody knows about the dark stuff, the criminality, death and misery.

‘But nobody really knows about recovery and the really positive stuff going on here in Portsmouth.

‘This is about celebrating recovery and getting the concept of recovery out there to the general public.

‘Few people realise in the early stages of recovery the challenge in front of them.

‘Part of that challenge is trying to transcend the shame brought on by the stigma of addiction.’

One of the key traits of people with addiction is that they’re not able to take responsibility for their actions so the first thing that Push looks to achieve is to make them realise they are in charge of their own life and then in turn to take responsibility for running Push.

This gives them the skills needed to be able to integrate into society, by gaining employment and training.

Being given responsibility for managing part of the group is incredibly empowering and crucial to their recovery.

Addiction can shatter relationships with loved-ones – parents, siblings, children.

Claire-Marie Paton, 39, has been clean for three years and is now helping others, through Push, to turn their lives around.

She has an infectious smile which is even brighter as she fusses around her niece and her father puts a big loving arm around her, showing how proud he is of her.

She said: ‘Push is very special. They never turn people away and it’s brought me to where I am today. And I’m able to carry on doing that for the next people who come along. People learn to stay strong, learn to trust each other and have real friendships.

‘Now there is real friendship and real love and there is so much support there. It’s just a beautiful place to be.’

WHEN Jamie Stevens came out of prison two years ago he was finally clean and had somewhere to live.

But the challenge was – what next?

Going along to Push changed his life and he is now chairman of the organisation and helping negotiate the complex route to becoming a charitable incorporated organisation.

The 40-year-old, from Southsea, said: ‘I remember seeing a couple of my peers I knew before I went to prison. I hadn’t seen them for years.

‘I saw the way they carried themselves. They looked more confident, a lot more together.

‘I thought to myself, “Hang on a minute. They didn’t look like that the last time I saw them”.

‘And it turned out it was because of Push.

‘I went there with a bit more enthusiasm. Push’s greatest resource is peer recovery support.

‘You see people who are in the same boat as you, recovering from addiction, and they’re doing all right.

‘You think, “I can do that”.’

One of the things that makes Push so special is that everyone is equal. Although Jamie is employed by Push he sees the ideas of new members just as valid as his own.

He said: ‘There is a strong sense of equality. Everyone is working towards a common goal.

‘If someone has an idea one day, they can talk to the group and put it into action the next day. It gives you a sense of self-worth and integrity.’

‘I feel free, and I’ve never felt that before,’ says Rebecca Stanley.

The 27-year-old is about to embark on a university course in psychology - three years after becoming free of drugs thanks to Push.

What started as dabbling in drink and marijuana as a teenager led to a dependency on heroin and crack cocaine.

There were arrests for shoplifting until one day she decided to get help.

After detoxing , it was Push she turned to.

Rebecca, from Portsmouth, who now works for Push, said: ‘My life was chaotic, I was a mess really. Drugs were my only focus. They came before everything.

‘Push gave me the opportunity for growth.

‘It offers the opportunity to challenge yourself and develop your skills and new ones.

Just being in a room with people without drugs in your system can be nerve-wracking.

‘But Push is where I learned to be human again.

‘I completed health and social care and recovery broker courses, and that sparked something in me.

‘I continued with my education and in January I’m going to university.

‘Eventually I want to specialise in dual diagnosis – where there is substance misuse and mental health issues.’

Push is based on the third floor of the central library.

The open forum every Tuesday generally has about 50 people attending.

The women-only support group is now on Wednesday morning.

Integrated Offender Management is part of the Moving Forward project that Push is working on in partnership with the Probation Service.

Previously, people in prison did not get addiction support if their sentence was less than a year, so repeat offenders of minor crimes serving short sentences were not being able to break the habit of addiction, which would often play a part in them reoffending.

Push also visits the Job Centre and homeless shelters.

There is advocacy and a wide-range of services Push staff carry out in the community.

For more information go to pushrecoverycommunity.org.