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Blackpool mother finally finds 'lifesaver' help after 30 years supporting son with drug and alcohol addiction

A mother who has supported her son for 30 years with drug and alcohol addiction problems says the support she has started receiving from her local carers centre has been “a lifesaver”, although many people in a similar position don’t know they can access help.

Pauleen, 73, says she never thought of herself as a carer until she was finally put in touch with Carla Talbott at Blackpool Carers Centre. Carla is part of Making Carers Count, a programme led by charity Carers Trust with its network partners aiming to identify and support carers who are under-represented among the community groups they currently reach.

Retired BT worker Pauleen and her husband have unfailingly supported their son Steve, 51, since he first revealed in 1994 he was addicted to heroin. Pauleen has always stood by her son and looked after him but says his addiction problems often leave her feeling like she’s “standing on the edge of a cliff waiting to fall off again”.

Pauleen explained: “He’s always been one of the lads and going out drinking. But in 1994 he met a particular girl who was already an addict and moved in with her. And within 12 months, he was the same. He came and told us that he had these problems and we did our best to get all the information we could from the doctor and everybody but no one was hopeful in those days that there was any help for addicts.”

Steve is a father-of-two, has a flat in Blackpool and is a qualified mechanic but Pauleen says he will often "yo-yo" back to his old habits. “He’ll have a few good months and some really bad months, he even had a full year, a couple of years ago. But he always gravitates back to the people who he knows are the same as him with these problems. It's a vicious cycle.”

Throughout the years, while Steve had received limited support from a local addiction agency, Pauleen had struggled to get any help herself. Alongside drugs, Steve has also struggled with alcohol, has spent time in prison and attempted suicide a number of times. On one terrifying occasion Pauleen arrived home to find the front door open, her granddaughter missing and Steve drunk on the floor with a knife beside him. When Pauleen’s husband tried to grab the blade, the pair ended up fighting on the ground and Pauleen had to call the police.

Pauleen said in 2021 she finally hit “rock bottom” as her son’s alcohol addiction became worse and her finances were drained trying to help him. “I rang our local hospital to see what help I could get for him, psychiatric help or anything. And someone gave me the number of Blackpool Carers Centre, which I’d never heard of. So I rang here and that's when I realised that there was help and he got into detox in the June of 2021.”

Steve was ok for six months and landed a new job with a company car. But when the pandemic saw him made redundant, the problems started up again. Pauleen says the support Carla and her ReFocus & ReCharge Peer Support Group has provided to both herself and Steve has been a source of strength in that time. The group offers one-to-one emotional support, advice, respite activities and involvement with treatment services to provide Pauleen’s son and others with the support they need.

Pauleen said: “Since I met Carla and I've been coming here, I met other people in my peer group going through the same things. It's brought me back into the real world as a person rather than someone just sheltering from the world and looking after this person who needs all our time and all our money.”

She added: “We’ve been on a journey all our lives looking after him but this has been a journey as well finding out more about what can be done and Carla getting other people involved to help all of us on that peer group. Some in the group have problems with family conditions -  one lady has schizophrenia, others have autism, others have housing problems - so it's been an eye opener, to see that there are people who will support us.”

Carla said the biggest challenges she faces are support services not realising families of loved ones with addiction problems need support too.

She said: “Pauleen has been missed by support services. She has been missed all along the way and all it needed was someone just simply saying to her ‘Are you alright? Do you need a bit of support with anything?’ That's all it needed to be.

"We've been in existence for 17 years here at Blackpool Carers Centre, so for a huge chunk of the time that Pauleen has been caring. For all those 17 years we could have taken her on and offered her support. But no one has identified or recognised her as a carer for her son. And all those key workers that Steve has had over many, many years, not one of them has just asked Pauleen those questions.”

Carla added that many people in Pauleen’s situation simply don’t recognise themselves as carers and therefore don’t realise they can access support. “Particularly with substance misuse, and mental health, it’s because it's less of a practical, caring role. People traditionally see carers as having a physical, practical, caring role - handling of personal care or people who have to take someone out in a wheelchair. But Pauleen and all the people that I'm supporting live in utter chaos, sometimes, around substance misuse. It's the emotional impact. It's the constant stress and anxiety.”

Since starting her project in October 2021, Carla’s encouragement of other services to pass her number on to those that need it has started to deliver results. In the 17 years before the Making Carers Count programme, the centre had just 20 referrals for people affected by substance misuse. In the past year alone there have been 90.

She said: “Another big piece of my work is creating an understanding around addiction and looking at the themes that run through that. So we provide information and advice around treatment, around recovery pathways, detox, enabling, we look at all different kinds of topics as part of that support plan and create that understanding around addiction.”

Pauleen added: “Once you come to somewhere like this, with the support, you realise that you can have another life. You can carry on doing what you're doing, looking after him. But in the background there's someone looking after you as well, waiting to catch you. You're not going to fall over and be lost. So it's a big support. It's a lifeline really.”


About the ReFocus and ReCharge Group

The ReFocus and ReCharge Group is a respite group for substance misuse carers who meet monthly at Blackpool Carers Centre. This relaxed group offers these carers a chance to offload and share experiences with like-minded people  who live and breathe the chaos which tends to come with caring for someone who misuses drugs or alcohol. Ten to twelve carers attend the group and they have all found it extremely beneficial.

The following are quotes from people who have been attending the group:

“The support has been a lifesaver in helping me care for my son in some very difficult times and without their care and support I would have gone under. The group has helped me a lot talking to others who are in similar situations. The Carers Centre is a wonderful happy place.”

“The peer support group has really helped. I wasn’t sure beforehand as I had never done a group before but speaking to others on similar journeys has helped. We have swapped our experiences and I think we have all learned something from each other. Thanks for setting the group up and for always keeping in touch, your support and advice has changed my life in coping with my son’s problems.”

“As a mother of two adult sons with dual diagnosis, I have been to hell and back on many occasions. To be able to come to the group has been a life saver. The group has been beneficial for me whilst also being somewhere safe to go. The group is a place where I can talk to other people that totally understand where I am coming from and to be able to give back to the group is also positive. I know we have only been going a few months but the group has helped me a lot, everyone is supportive and the staff are supportive and professional at all times.”


Making Carers Count


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