From addiction to advocacy – my lived experience story

From the outside looking in, Michaela Jones had it all; the job, the house, the car and the busy social life. But behind a picture-perfect life an addiction to alcohol was soon to take its toll. In this guest blog, Michaela, who is now National Lived Experience Officer for the Scottish Recovery Consortium, tells us about her journey from addiction to advocacy and why she is proud to be part of an organisation that this week received £50,000 of National Lottery funding to support people with Lived Experience to become leaders in giving a voice to their communities.

“I was just coming up to 40 when my whole world collapsed. I had, for a very long time, successfully managed to negotiate a demanding job alongside an ever increasing dependence on alcohol. I had the house in London, a good salary and all that goes along with that. I was also dying inside.

To cut a long story short the collapse, when it came, was total. I lost the house in London, the job, my sanity and my health. I found myself in Manchester, a whisker away from homelessness, having survived a suicide attempt and finally recognising that alcohol was not, and never would be, my friend.

Michaela is National Lived Experience Officer for the Scottish Recovery Consortium

In an ideal world this revelation – which comes to many of us who encounter problematic substance use – would have marked the end of a long struggle. In reality, it was just the beginning. And my experiences at that time have fundamentally changed my life and the person I am today – 11 years in recovery and passionate about the role of Lived Experience in creating social change.

The simple fact of the matter is that I spent much of my previous life prior living in blissful ignorance of what it is like to fall from grace and find yourself desperately in need of help and support. I had believed there was a safety net – and that net would catch people at their lowest ebb and nurture them back to health. The reality was shockingly different.

It is hard to talk about my experiences of the welfare system, housing services, treatment services etc. without sounding as though the people that work within them are at fault. I want to stress that I do not think this is the case, there are many caring and compassionate people who are unable to exercise this compassion because of the way systems work. We are in an unenviable situation where those that seek to access support are unable to get what they need, and those that wish to give this support are restricted in what they can offer. A no-win situation.

Michaela (left) says her lived experience has shaped the person she is today

Fast-forward to today and many years of activity in the recovery movement and I believe I have learned some valuable lessons. And perhaps the most fundamental of these is that if we continue to design systems and make policy decisions that do not take into account the voices of people who are directly impacted by those decisions, then we will continue to fail. And within the world of addiction and recovery that failure means people are dying in ever increasing numbers.

So, it does feel that there is some sort of bizarre synchronicity at work to find myself writing this blog today as National Lived Experience Officer for the Scottish Recovery Consortium. And on top of that to have been awarded funding by the National Lottery’s Lived Experience Leaders Pilot Programme to develop the voice of people with Lived Experience of problematic substance use across Scotland. These new Leaders have the potential to create a society where nobody has to lose it all.”

The Scottish Recovery Forum is one of 20 organisations across the UK to be awarded funding as part of The National Lottery Community Fund’s Lived Experience Leader Pilot Programme , an initiative set up to enable organisations to put people with first-hand experience of social issues – lived experience – in the lead.

Find out more about the successful Scottish initiatives here.

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