More than 100 people recovering from substance misuse issues in Sheffield have now found work thanks to specialist support from the city’s mental health NHS services.
The Individual Placement and Support (IPS) service, within the drug and alcohol service run by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, has hit a century of job placements since it was created in October 2019.
Carmen Smith, 50, received support from the service and is one of the hundred who are now plying their trade after recovering from addiction.
“I had quite a rough childhood to say the least and I started drinking at a very young age,” she said. “My mum used to give me alcohol from about eight years old. She threw me out when I was 11 then I lost my way totally. I did drugs and alcohol has always been ‘my friend’.”
Carmen has suffered violence, miscarriages and self-harm as she followed her mother’s path into alcoholism, but after three stints at rehab over 23 years she is now sober.
She said: “I’m 51 years old nearly and finally the penny has dropped. I think the last time, if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be here now. It totally took over my life. I was suicidal, and these people here, they’ve been my rock. Obviously I’ve done the hard work but without these people I wouldn’t be here.
“But now I feel great. I’ve never felt like this before even though I’ve come off before. I’m excited to wake up every day and be sober. I didn’t think it was possible, I really, really didn’t.”
Carmen was supported by the IPS team with a completely personalised service looking at her skills, experience and requirements. They helped with her CV, applications, interview technique and job hunting.
Above all else, the team helped Carmen regain her self-confidence and motivation.
“At first she was a little ball of nerves and we watched her grow. Even though she was very anxious and it was hard to draw it out, she had so many qualities,” said Calum Boyce, employment specialist at the substance misuse service.
“People come to us with a tiny fire and we add wood to it and build it up until it’s ready to burn. That’s the final piece of the puzzle and then they sail into the sunset,” he said.
After coming out of rehab in August 2022, Carmen started working with Calum straight away and after two months of dedication she got her first job offer. Three offers actually came at once after Carmen had taken the brave step to go and talk to employers herself. She settled on a café role in the Moor Market. The quick pace and flowing conversation comes naturally to Carmen, and she prides herself on her BEST (bacon, egg, sausage and tomato) sandwich.
Others who have been supported by the team have become care assistants, landscape gardeners, chefs, butchers, traders, and many more. It’s an important part of a recovery journey, giving people structure in their daily lives, a sense of purpose, accountability and goals to achieve.
It also reduces isolation and helps people to build up a social network. Most importantly though it increases self-respect, self-esteem and confidence – and helps people to continue a life without addiction.
It is the thought of all this hard work going to waste, the happiness she has found in her new life and the memories of the old that help Carmen to get past any trigger moments.
When she lost her purse, and irreplaceable childhood photos with it, she almost cracked.
She said: “What I tend to do now is fast forward to picking that first drink up and then I fast forward to what I used to do to myself and then I go ‘no’. I don’t need it. I don’t miss it. I’m better than that. I feel free.”
In the future, Carmen has an eye on working for the substance misuse service herself, helping others like her to turn their lives around.
“I never in a million years thought that I could feel like this and I want to shout it from the rooftops to other people because it is possible,” she said. “I want them to feel as good as I do. I’m living proof that it can be done and I can be happy, and who better to help others than somebody who’s bought the t-shirt?”
Looking back from this new-found happiness, what would she say to her former self?
“I would say sweetheart, none of this is your fault and you can now be in charge of your future, and you’re doing a good job. Don’t beat yourself up anymore. I used to blame myself for lots of things and I don’t anymore. I’m a good girl.”
Find out more about Sheffield’s drug and alcohol service at: www.shsc.nhs.uk/services/sheffield-treatment-and-recovery-team-start