Guest : Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution and Families

Welcome to a guest post from Tracy.  I'm not sure that any of you will have encountered Tracy before as she tweets on a locked account simply because of the nature of her job - more of that in a minute.  I know Tracy from a forum we both joined many moons ago.  Neither of us post on the forum any more but our friendship continues.  When you read her post, you'll understand why I'm in awe at what she does, so naturally, every day of her working life.

Tracy doesn't have a blog but she should - she's such an amazing writer.  Please join her in a discussion in the comment section.

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Firstly - I want to thank Nickie very much indeed for asking me if I would like to write a post for her blog. Having been a friend of Nickie’s now for quite a few years, I have watched her endeavours grow, blossom and become massive successes all due to her hard work, commitment and amazingly infectious energy for life. I am so very proud of her, and am equally honoured and daunted to be writing on the mighty Nickie’s site! Note to Nickie - you’d better keep this bit in, no editing, ok? ;-)

I have decided to write about the work I do to see if we can have an honest discussion about the difficulties some people have, and how positive changes can be made. I’ll give you a brief history of my professional background. I loved reading tarot cards when I was a teenager, and when I was 18 I started reading them over the phone. It was minimum wage - the phone call rate per minute for customers was probably more than I was paid in an hour! - but I adored it, and quickly realised that I was 10% tarot card reader, 90% agony aunt. I would hear the most heartbreaking stories from people who had endured so much pain and loss, and I became aware of my own skills in being able to make people feel better. And it’s as simple as that, 13 years later - I’m good at making people feel better. I’m not good at many things, but I know I’m good at that. I don’t know how, I don’t know my technique, I don’t know any theory behind it, I just know that it’s there, it has led me down many paths since and I’m very grateful for it. I don’t know what I would have done with my life had I not shuffled my cards and jumped in with both feet!

So - fast tracking through the years from sitting at my little table with my tarot cards to where I am today - I’ve worked in mental health, homelessness, rehabs, addiction services, and I’m currently working with families affected by substance misuse. I also work in my second, part time job with women involved in prostitution. I’ve seen it all, and heard it all, yet I’m still stunned and distraught when I hear someone’s traumatic story that I haven’t heard before. Deaths, rapes, murders, suicides, overdoses are all commonplace, and at times I question why I choose to surround myself with such despair, heartache, misery and hopelessness. I daydream sometimes about opening a little café, or a boutique, and spending my days chatting to customers about my lovely new stock or what beautiful weather we’re having, and then I very quickly remember my journey over the years to where I am now, and I know that I need to continue because this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Does that make sense? It’s all very well imagining a life of arranging flowers and fancy lunches, but it’s not reality - life is a living hell for so many people, it’s happening right under our noses and ignoring it does not make it go away. I’d rather be right in amongst it, trying to make a difference than watching helplessly from the sidelines.

My job entails working with families who have a history of not engaging with any other services - people who simply will not answer their door to anyone, social services included. My job is to get them to answer their door. Sometimes I ask nicely, sometimes I write lovely wee notes and pop them through the door, sometimes I bring cake, and sometimes I shout like a mad woman through the letterbox. I wear them all down at some point, guaranteed. Think Patrick Swayze singing to Demi Moore in Ghost :-) Once I’m in, we set about planning how to improve all areas of every single family member’s lives - drug/alcohol consumption reduction, detox, medication prescribing, routines, budgeting, parenting, accessing services, counselling, group-work - the list is endless. The most important thing I do, no matter where I go, is listen. I listen intently, non-judgementally, and respectfully, even when sometimes I know that they are not telling me the whole truth. Because that comes in time, and these people have very often never been given time, respect and a listening ear. We’ve all done it - scoffed at the Jeremy Kyle contestants, tutted at the steaming drunk couple arguing on the street, glanced disapprovingly at the group of rough looking girls in scruffy clothes standing at the street corner. But when you start to peel away the layers of these people, what you discover is a life history so horrendous that many of us wouldn’t survived it.

Prostitution - the mere mention of it stirs up strong emotions in people, and it’s no wonder - it has been thrown around the political arena more times than any other subject I can think of. It’s a living hell being part of this ‘profession’, and Belle Du Jour hasn’t done the industry any favours in portraying it so glamorously and inaccurately. If that’s her true experience of it, then she’s one lucky lady! I provide needle exchange, condom supplies, sexual health information, and tons and tons of support to some of the most marginalised and chaotic women who have no-one else to turn to. Again - deaths, rapes, murders, suicides, overdoses - that’s the absolute reality that these beautiful, vulnerable, damaged girls endure every single day. For every single incident you hear about in the news, there’s numerous others that the media just don’t pick up on. It’s utterly heartbreaking.

But it’s not all doom and gloom - there’s humour in the darkest of places. While out doing community visits in one of the local housing schemes, I had the misfortune of being bitten on the leg by a wayward scruffy dog. It turns out the dog really enjoyed biting lots of people, it was a real passionate hobby that he tried to indulge in as much as he could. A court case ensued, resulting in the case being thrown out due to the police failing to line up an identity parade to identify the scruffy dog. There were just too many wayward scruffy dogs roaming that particular housing estate to choose from! I can laugh about that now, though at the time I can remember being quite miffed about the money wasted on a court case that was never going to be successful in the first place! I’m certain I’d have been able to recognise him though ;-)

I sincerely hope that this post hasn’t come across as patronising or pious - one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt in life is that I’m no smarter or better than any of the service users I’ve met - just lucky that fate has dealt me a better hand.

Anyway. I’ve waffled on a lot about myself, and the point of my post is that I want to start up a real lively, insightful discussion about what your own experiences are of drugs, alcohol, prostitution and all related problems. Where do you live? What’s the drug problem like in your area? What services are in place? Do they work? If not, why not? Is alcohol a major problem? How do you feel about children being exposed to these? What about prostitution? Is it going on near you? What’s your honest thoughts and opinions on any of these issues? Are there any relevant stories you would like to share? If you could do anything at all to help, what would you do? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts, and would love to know how you think these issues should be tackled. Thank you for reading!