Observations on Peer Support at Drink Wise, Age Well

Posted 24.09.2018

Each of our Mutual Aid Partnership (MAP) meetings started with an empty room.

We would pick a place and show up at the same time every week. Some meetings took longer to get established than others. Each of them relied on the bravery of people to walk through the door, often at their most vulnerable or fragile. Each person who attends our meetings was brave enough to come to a place they had never been, walk into a room full of strangers and speak honestly and openly about their alcohol use.

Our meetings are facilitated, structured and recovery focused. Within that structure there is the recognition that each person’s recovery journey is unique and individual to them. This allows us to meet the needs of a broad range of people and bring people with different experiences together.

Safe and confidential space

Mutual Aid meetings are a safe confidential space that allows group members to support one another through shared experience.  The knowledge, experience and understanding that each individual brings is the foundation that each of our groups are built upon.

Our meetings are age specific and alcohol specific.  People have advised that this made them feel more comfortable when coming for the first time, knowing that the group was made up of people their own age who have had similar experiences and struggles with their alcohol use.

The common piece of feedback I receive from people who attend a group for the first time is “I thought it was just me”.  I have seen numerous people moved to tears at the revelation that they are no longer alone. This seems to give people hope and is often a paradigm shift in how they view their own potential and their own recovery.

Life changes

As our groups are for people who are 50 and older, there is always a lot of empathy and understanding in the room when discussion turns to the various life changes that older adults go through.  Divorce, bereavement, retirement, redundancy, ill health and chronic pain are some of topics that come up regularly. We often discuss how Mutual Aid is a platform to discuss these age-related issues with people who have experienced them.  People will often tell us that alcohol became a coping mechanism for them during these difficult times.

Through a combination of group discussion and by taking a Cognitive Behavioural Approach we aim to help people find alternative coping strategies they can use to help them meet their recovery goals.

This sharing of knowledge, skills and experience between peers makes Mutual Aid a powerful tool in the fight against the stigma of older adults and alcohol problems. It is very powerful to hear older adults speak openly and honestly about their alcohol use and it is a credit to the individuals who attend our meetings that they have created a “safe space” to address the often-hidden problem of older adults at risk of alcohol related harm. Our group members regularly challenge the idea that someone can be “too old to change” or that people should feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for help or seeking treatment.

Our meetings are a great compliment to the  one-to-one support we offer as well as a great way for people to stay connected to the service once their one-to-one support has come to an end.

Our meetings can support and empower people to have the knowledge, skills and confidence to be in control of their own recovery.

Common outcomes we see for the people who attend our groups:

  • Increased well-being
  • Increased Involvement in meaningful activities – as an example our Co-Production group was formed by people who had attend MAP and wanted to become more involved in the service and in helping others
  • An increased sense of purpose
  • Improved social support network.
  • People often achieve their goals whether that be harm reduction or long-term abstinence

Below is some feedback from some of the people who regularly attend our groups. I told them I was “writing a thing to maybe go on the website” and was looking for some feedback or thoughts on MAP because they would say it better than me.  This is what they said.

“I’m still alive. Without the meetings I don’t know if I would be. I don’t know what would have happened. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me getting involved with Drink Wise, Age Well.” – Willie McGarril

“When I first came I was apprehensive and gradually I came out my shell…I started speaking. I now go to two a week. It’s really helped in my recovery, I feel like it’s brought me back to the land of the living. I’m involved in so many things now. I would never have done any of this last year. I’m much more confident.” – Carol Watson

“The meetings have been a massive part of my recovery, they’re brilliant. I volunteer now and help to facilitate them.” – Willie McCarthy

“It gives me a focus in my life and it boosts my confidence. I’ve made friends and learned lots, it’s brilliant. It’s stopped me from being isolated and wanting to drink. The group feels like a family. It’s so supportive” – Catherine Kelly

Each of our Mutual Aid Partnership (MAP) meetings are filled with incredible people like Willie, Carol, Willie and Cathy.