Chrissy came to Alabaré and stayed with us for a year at two Alabaré’s properties in 2018, initially for five days of emergency housing following a period of homelessness. This followed many years of drug and alcohol addiction during which time she lost custody of her son. The interview took place over lockdown while she was home-schooling her son.
So, Chrissy, a little bit of a QA really, your story and where you were and where you are now if you're comfortable sharing that?
Yeah, I’m fine and (name) is fine being here, he knows my story and he says he loves it when he hears me doing things like this because it makes him really proud. Yesterday, we did a video for Turning Point for their recovery channel, he does the videoing and I do the talking.
So, tell me a little bit more about your move into supported housing?
Before joining Alabaré, I was homeless. I had five days in Unity House, in Chippenham which was a crisis five-day accommodation. Luckily then it snowed. So due to the weather being below freezing, I was able to stay at Unity House until a room was available in Alabaré Place in Salisbury. I was using drink and drugs and my life had spiralled out of control, and I wasn't able to manage my life.
When you say you were homeless, were you sofa surfing or were you out on the streets?
I was in between, I was living in a car and then I was just wherever I could sleep really. I slept rough as well.
The perception can be when we are talking about homeless, that it's always about sleeping rough, but there's an awful lot of people who are struggling in other ways?
Yes, there's grabbing a bed where they can that sometimes make things worse rather than making it better. You become a victim of your own circumstances, even more, I think.
What was the biggest takeaway from your involvement with us that you still use today?
One word that describes it all Alabaré gave me hope. Hope.
I mean my family had pretty much disowned me. Everybody had written me off and I was in the hospital with pneumonia and all my organs failed, I was in an induced coma and I still came out and drank alcohol, I was pretty near to death before I came to Alabaré.
What would you perhaps say to others who may be facing perhaps the same difficulties that you have?
I think that it's never too late to change your behaviour. I think once people get to a certain age and they've travelled a path for so long they think that's the only path that's open to them, but there is a different way. You've always got a choice in life. You've got to make the first step, there are people to support you, but you've got to want to change yourself and want a different and better way of life.
I’ve seen life from the very bottom, the grim reality, the harsh reality of being a drug addict, living on the street and it isn't a good place to be. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s definitely not easy, but there's always another way.
How are we able to assist you at Alabaré?
First and foremost, it was a roof over my head. It was shelter. It was warmth. It was food. It was kindness. If you're struggling for somewhere to sleep and something to eat, you don't start thinking about changing your behaviour.
Then it was down to individuals at Alabaré, who inspired me and sometimes gave me some tough love. One key member of staff through conversations with me showed me that there was another way and that it was possible to change my life around.
So, how's your life changed as a result?
Well. Wow. I'm coming up to three years clean. So, I work for a charity called Richmond Fellowship, supporting people with mental health and housing issues. I work three and a half days a week doing this visiting person in crisis. I’m a full-time mum and I peer mentor for Nelsons Trust and Turning Point. I've completely changed my life around. It's completely different from how it was pre-Alabaré.
Life still has its struggles, but now I don't think having a bottle of vodka is going to solve those problems. Now work through my issues as, as they come up like any other person does. Life's full of ups and downs. I feel I'm living my life now, whereas before I was just existing to a certain extent.
What would you say is your hope for the future and that of your family?
I have to take my life one day at a time, that's sobriety for me. Otherwise for my son to do well and to continue doing the kind of work that I do.
I know now I will always work myself in a support role to others because I feel the lived-in experience I’ve got and the rewards I feel from supporting others is what fills my emotional tank now, and just to continue on this path of sobriety because that’s the most important thing. It's okay to live one day at a time, it's better to live your life like that than it is drinking or taking drugs. I'm happy with that.
What else do you think would have been helpful if we'd have been able to provide it?
I definitely found engaging with key workers easier at St Barnabus House because there was an open-door office where they welcomed you in for chats. I found Alabaré Place too hectic in my early days of recovery when I didn't want to hang out with people who were still using. Having others on my wavelength I could talk to every day really stabilised me; that open-door office policy was probably my saviour.
Is there anything else you'd like to add before we close?
Just to express my gratitude really, not just to Alabaré but to those who go above and beyond in their roles who genuinely want to help people recover. Sometimes I'll be doing something like decorating the Christmas tree and I get this overwhelming sense of gratitude.
I won't go into my childhood, but that's where all the trauma began For many, addiction is sparked by childhood trauma, which mine was. It's an amazing thing to recovery. Sometimes I feel like Jesus preaching about recovery! But it really is a miracle, for somebody who's been lost for so long.