Meet the Community – Coolmine Project Worker
As part of our ongoing ‘Meet the Community’ series, we chatted to one of our incredible Project Workers. Our Project Workers work to help each of our clients through their specific recovery journeys. They are lifelines and pillars of support for many of our clients.
What I do
I work in Coolmine’s Stabilisation Programme as a Project Worker. I’ve worked in Coolmine for 11 years. For ten of those years I worked with drug free people, and I’ve been working with the Stabilisation Group for a year.
Twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2pm) we run info sessions in Anna Liffey and, from those, people join our stabilisation programme. That’s where I come in. I’ll be told that someone new is joining and will be told a bit of their story – what has brought them to Coolmine etc. I’ll meet with them initially to explain our process in Coolmine, take them through our Client Contract and allocate a Big Brother or Big Sister to them. These are people who’ve been with us for a while and they show the new client the ropes and support them through their recovery.
As part of our Stabilisation Programme, I meet one-on-one with these clients and facilitate group sessions. I’ll meet with each individual once every fortnight to check in on their progress – we’ll look at their happiness scale and do a general settling in chat and then I’ll work with them to set goals for the coming two weeks. I’m there to offer support.
I also run weekly workshops for the Stabilisation Group – we recently finished a five week Alcohol Awareness workshop and have just started a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy series of workshops. We give out certs at the end of these and, for some clients, this will be the first time they’ve ever completed a course and it’s a fantastic achievement.
A new way of thinking
It can be difficult initially for new clients. We have certain rules in here that aid recovery and promote the community-led services, but they are hard for many of our new clients. For example, we don’t encourage street image or talk. And we need people to be open and honest. Otherwise they can’t properly address the root of their addiction.
The other area that people initially struggle with is that they have to agree not to enable others to use. So, if you know that someone else in the group is using drugs, you have to let a staff member know. And that obviously is a way of looking out for that person but a common reaction I get to that rule when people first arrive is “I’m not doing that, that’s ratting!” so it can take a while for people to see that they’re actually helping their peer.
Another part of the Stabilisation Programme is that each week we have GESE which is our Group Evaluation, Self-Evaluation session. So, each Wednesday everyone is sent home with a form where they fill out any concerns them have about both themselves and someone else in the group. A concern can be anything – you could be worried that someone has been very withdrawn or that you think they might be back using, and the only rule is that you have to sit and listen to the concerns. Because they’re pointed out to help you get to the behavioural root of your addiction. It can be tough though. And it’s tough for the clients because they want to be nice to each other and – though this is the best way they can help each other – it’s hard to do.
A big part of addiction recovery is introducing routine and organisation into lives that are usually chaotic. As part of this, if someone doesn’t turn up for group, I’ll call them to find out why and to check that they’re ok. I do this as much for my own peace of mind as for them.
What I’ve learned
I worked for ten years with drug free people but for the last year I’ve been working with people who are still on drugs. And they’ve taught me so much.
I was quite nervous when I first took on this role. I was worried I wouldn’t have enough information for clients – I didn’t know all the services they could access, or information about medical cards, detox etc. But when these questions come up in group, the clients help out. And it means that they’ve taught me so much about other services and supports available.
It’s completely different working with people who are still taking drugs. It makes for a very different experience in the groups – there’s a lot more chat. However the Coolmine approach of ‘Community as Method’ is still strong. Our Stabilisation group is like a family. They support each other and they need each other to get through this part of their journey. Along with the stabilisation support, I think a lot of the people who come to the group come here to feel like they belong somewhere.
Being totally honest, this has been an amazing year for me; I’ve seen people achieve their dreams. People who never used to let themselves even have dreams. I’ve seen first-hand someone go from sitting on O’Connell Bridge to becoming a drug free person and a role model to staff and clients. That person went from having no hope or purpose to being someone who is now so full of gratitude and humility and purpose.
In the last 12 months, I’ve had more inspirational moments than challenging ones. You meet someone in Stabilisation and then, a few months later, you meet them again in the Drug-Free programme and Aftercare and you’re meeting a completely different person. It’s unbelievable.
What needs to happen in Ireland now
From my experience. The drugs that are causing the biggest problem in Ireland at the moment are benzos, crack cocaine and alcohol. But they’re not the ones getting the supportive funding. Also, in my time in Coolmine, I’ve come to see that the biggest reasons for relapse are alcohol and relationships. People will tell me that they never had an alcohol problem until they tried to give up drugs. It’s extremely tough.
How I look after myself
I go to church every week. And my own personal therapy is that I write all the time. Each night I’ll write about my day. I also like colouring and the mindfulness and mind rest that comes with that. I make use of the EAP therapy service that Coolmine provides to staff members. And I have the support from my family, friends and colleagues. And I love going on holidays and the relaxation that comes with that. But writing is definitely the thing that helps me the most to process my thoughts and calms my mind.
I’ve gotten into the habit of leaving work at work and – the flip side of that – leaving all my personal worries at home. As I walk into work, I like to imagine a little angel that takes all my external worries off me – so I can totally immerse myself in work. Our clients work so hard on their recovery that they deserve that we, their project workers, are totally focussed on supporting them.
I love working in Coolmine, I really do. Over the last 11 years a lot, both professionally and personally has gone on in my life; bereavements and changes in my roles etc. And Coolmine has supported me every step of the way. Working in Coolmine is not just a professional journey, it’s a personal one. It’s been a very healing experience for me, working here. No money can buy the experience of working with clients and I’m so grateful that I get to do it.