I’m alive, despite everything I’ve been through,” says Emma, when I ask her to start by telling me something good about her life. She says that God has helped through the Sewing Seeds church ministry at Stockton and other people, such as Tonia of the TEES charity, have helped along the way.
Emma trained as a chef, so there was a drinking culture at work both during and at the end of shifts. Her grandparents died quite close together and she found that alcohol numbed her grief. Her grandma was an alcoholic. She was even more distressed when her mum died. She felt she had no-one. This was in 2017, when Emma was thirty-four. Her mum knew about her drinking; it was a little secret between them.
“Alcohol took over after she died. Mum hated alcohol as my grandma died of alcoholism, but I was like a rabid dog – anything for a drink,” she says. “My dad knew I was thieving to get a drink. He did his best, but he pushed me away to cope. We’re getting on better now, though.”
After her mum died, her property wasn’t available to Emma to rent and she moved to Carlin How. There a relationship went wrong and alcohol took hold of her. She lost her job and the property she was renting. On the streets, she was then living alongside heroin and crack addicts, although she’s never been either herself.
“I was given a room at Stages Academy in Middlesbrough next, but I didn’t feel it was a safe place to be,” remembers Emma. “It didn’t help. I ended up in James Cook Hospital with my stomach bleeding and my heart and kidneys failing. Unexpectedly, my liver was okay.”
Sewing Seeds church ministry stepped in and Natasha, the Director, found her a six month place at a Christian rehab centre near Derby. Emma credits Sewing Seeds for their belief that she was ‘worth saving’. She says that they introduced her to God and she determined to give up drinking.
When she came back to Teesside clean, the Council gave her accommodation in what she calls ‘a hell hole’ and within days, she relapsed. Although she’s not a drug user, other residents were. She says she muddled through for another year, but struggled so much during lockdown that she needed to go back into rehab. She stayed in a Christian centre near Hexham for another six months.
Now she’s holding her own, working as a chef again. She says she needs to keep off alcohol and she’s not dependent on it. The thought that she would take it up again scares her. “Alcoholism is not okay. It’s lonely being an addict; it’s not nice.”
Emma feels very fortunate that she’s got a career she can go back to. She’s seen so many people who only know alcoholism, drugs and prostitution. She was helping a man in Redcar who killed another man when he was ‘off his head with drugs’ and is very frustrated that there’s not enough help for people who need to reintegrate into society. “Charities often just advise you to moderate your drinking and even with Government funding, they can’t find you a safe place to be,” she says.
When things were really bad for Emma, Tonia was asked if she could help her. Tonia called and gave her a safe place to talk and listened in a non-judgmental way. She’s been doing this for the last three or four years. “Tonia was helping me and Danny, an alcohol and drugs user, but he’s since lost his life,” remembers Emma. “We sat talking initially and I told her what could help people in my situation and this led to the TEES charity being born. I was right there at the beginning.”
Emma says that what’s needed for people coming out of rehab is a decent, safe place to live, with support 24/7, so they can get their lives back on track. They need support to find work, pay the rent and get their life skills back. “I thrive on routine and having a structured day. Now I’m up at 7.00 a.m., I work, I go to church and I enjoy movie time,” she explains. “I’ve had to fight my way back from nothing.”
Emma says she still carries a lot of grief. She has booked in for counselling, but it either doesn’t happen at all or is offered in a different place that she can’t get to. She has seen so many people die: at AA she’s met young people who despite going to rehab, haven’t made it.
Emma’s message to teenagers would be to tell them not to fall to peer pressure and take drinking to extremes. “It’s a dark, destructive path and not attractive at all,” she’d say.
Every day is still a challenge to her. She says she’s not completely beaten it, but she feels she’s got a chance. At her lowest in the past, she never dreamt that she’d sleep in a warm bed again, but she took a bit of help and started fighting back. She feels she’s been given opportunities and having had earlier training as a chef, she’s had a career to go back to.
Emma moved to Filey for the job and to try somewhere fresh. Earning some money has allowed her to pay her way. She’s pleased she studied and had a good family, but it shows alcohol addiction can happen to anyone. “A lot of people hide it, but they need to be listened to without being judged,” she says.