Annabelle Mcpherson: Second chances through community justice can change lives
My name is Annabelle Mcpherson and I'm a recovering alcoholic.
You may read this and wonder why I say recovering and not recovered. Alcoholism is something I will carry for the rest of my life and it is a daily battle which I deal with one day at a time.
I cannot do it alone but thankfully I have been able to reach out for help and after working with Scottish charity Venture Trust and the continuing support of Alcoholics Anonymous I am able to do this.
In 2014, I crashed my car on the M6 motorway. I was three times over the drink-drive limit. Fortunately, nobody was hurt but there is never a day that goes by when I don’t regret my actions. As a result of this I was given a five-year ban, 200 hours community service, court costs and 12 weeks suspended sentence.
Already at a low point in my life, I was now in the criminal justice system.
Through the community justice pathway, I was offered the chance to attend a women's group to begin my rehabilitation.
It was at one of my group meetings that I met some staff from an organisation that would change my life. The organisation was Venture Trust. Two outreach workers came and spoke to the group about the Next Steps programme for women.
Venture Trust provides evidence led and impact driven criminal justice programmes across Scotland. The three-phase personal and social development programme is offered in communities across Scotland and the Scottish wilderness.
The focus is on development in three aspects of life and society aiming to allow everyone to lead a healthy, happy and fulfilling life irrespective of their past. These aspects are wellbeing, prevention and rehabilitation and skills to be ready for work and future learning.
I had been a practicing alcoholic for many years with countless vain attempts to get sober and beat this disease. It took me to many dark places: attempted suicide, psychiatric care, lost driving licence, hurt family and friends, broken promises, the list is endless and worst of all my two daughters taken away to live with their dad because alcohol had become more important to me and I was unable to look after them.
When you are a practicing alcoholic, life becomes a long, black, endless hole. Venture Trust put edges to that and a light at the end which made it no longer an abyss, but a tunnel I could get out of.
The five-day wilderness journey and residential brought many challenging activities, and a lot of soul bearing. There were tears, laughs and shared moments. But after the five days, it brought hope. Most of all hope and many friends made for life.
Venture Trust is an amazing charity comprised of wonderful caring professional people who truly are there to put broken individuals back together and help them move forward to a brighter future.
The organisation has been an enormous part of me getting to where I am today - teaching me self-worth, positivity, confidence, hope, belief in myself and many more life skills.
I am not going to even pretend that everything was plain sailing because it wasn't. There were slips and trips of sobriety along the way, but it was easier to be sober for longer, and to eventually stay sober. Venture Trust was there every step of the way and I was able to do a mentoring course to help others in a similar position to me.
In 2017 I decided to do a sponsored swim in aid of Venture Trust to try and show my gratitude in a small way for everything they have done for me and so many others. I swam the length of the River Tweed – my local river in my local pool in Duns. In two months, after 6144 lengths I completed the 96 miles. As a “hopeless” alcoholic who would sit in the house for days on end, barely able to walk, no job, or family, my life and health all on a knife edge, I had come or swum a long way. The support and generosity from the staff at the pool, all my friends, family and the community was incredible and helped me raise over £1800.
It’s still one day at a time - but I am grabbing my second chance with both hands. My girls have come back to live with me of their own choice. We have just moved into a lovely three-bedroom house, I have respect from family and friends and a job that I Iove. But most of all I have my own self-respect and today I can look in the mirror and love who is looking back!
Annabelle Mcpherson is a former Venture Trust participant.
First published in The Scotsman - Friday 08 March 2019
For more information about Venture Trust’s programmes visit: www.venturetrust.org.uk