Priory peer supporter: “I am worth it after all”
Entering residential treatment and going into the unknown, can be a difficult and scary time for patients. Peer supporters have walked in these shoes. They have nervously opened the door to Priory for the first time, undertook treatment and all that it entailed, and have taken that leap to implementing what they have learnt into their everyday lives. The support and understanding they can offer is truly unique. Hear from a patient, turned peer supporter at Priory Hospital North London.
As I was standing outside Priory after my wife dropped me off, not really knowing why I was there but knowing deep down I needed to be, I never thought that I would ever be going back regularly as a peer supporter. Not in a million years. I was too mired in my own issues to contemplate anything other than surviving the next 28 days.
I was sitting in my first group therapy session, trying desperately to avoid catching anyone’s eye and having the group focus on me. There was a peer supporter there too. I think I remember who it was, but what I do definitely remember is their wisdom, their calmness, their understanding and empathy and, above all, their feedback.
Over the next 28 days I met many peer supporters, both during the day, and also in the evening sessions, each the same yet different. Each bringing their own unique perspectives to the group and inspiring us to succeed with their stories, anecdotes and experience.
As my time in the addiction treatment programme came to an end, I would seek out some of the peer supporters I’d met if they were at the evening fellowship meetings to try to extract every pearl of wisdom and advice I could, before venturing back into the real world. They helped where they could, with a smile and a guiding word, as they had too been there themselves.
On leaving Priory, I attended aftercare and it was here that the peer supporters were invaluable to me. They were able to talk about their experiences of coping with life on the outside and give guidance on how to react and deal with all the daily troubles life throws at you.
It was after a year of sobriety that I started to think about giving something back both to Priory and also to the patients within the addiction treatment programme. Whilst there is altruism in this, there is also selfishness. Naturally, my initial reaction was “I am not good enough to do it”, “I can’t really have anything to contribute”, but of course I can. We can all contribute in our own way, even just by being in the room with the patients; you are showing that the programme works. You are the one that they now see as the calm, collected, ‘together’ person sitting there smiling, or frowning. You are that person who they can look towards for comfort and reassurance. Being a peer supporter is an integral part of my ongoing recovery; walking back into the addiction group therapy room grounds me and reminds me of the journey I started on, what I went through and makes me extremely grateful to be where I am now.
My 28 days in Priory saved my life and I do not just mean physically. The work of the therapists, my fellow patients and the peer supporters, all helped me to start to restore my emotional and spiritual wellbeing, my relationships with family and friends, and gave me the tools to deal with life, and for this, I owe a great debt.
The role of a peer supporter and the help you can give changes depending on what you are doing. Being there for the whole day, working with the therapists and patients is very, very different to doing aftercare or the evening sessions; the experience you can share and the way you share it needs to be different so that you can offer the maximum help that you are able.
Do I always enjoy it? Honestly, no. Do I always leave feeling that I have helped, even in a small way? Absolutely, yes. Do I still want to jump in and try to rescue everyone? Sometimes…co-dependency is still there, but I can now manage it and do not react. I am triggered sometimes by discussion, especially in group therapy, but the therapists are always on hand to help you process, if needed.
I can never undo the past, all I can do is look forward and continue to live a good life, and without the peer support work and the network of peers, this would be much harder than it is. I can hold on to the feeling of being proud of myself and knowing that by achieving what I have, I can now contribute back – I am worth it after all.