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Helping those at rock bottom

Lockdown has been driving some people into addiction and turning them into high-functioning alcoholics, says recovery charity Kennedy Street, as it reports huge jump in calls for help. 

Actor and musician Kevin Kennedy, perhaps best known for playing Curly Watts on ITV’s Coronation Street (1983-2003) has built up a successful stage career since leaving the famous soap. Before his soap fame he was in a band with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke, both of whom went on to form another band, The Smiths.

For several years he and his wife, Clare, based in Brighton, have also been supporting people in recovery from addiction.

Since he started his recovery Kevin has spoken publicly about his own addiction, which led him and Clare to establish their charity Kennedy Street.

They spoke to the Irish World about the charity, the work, its work within the community and their summer fundraiser.

Kevin: “When we first became sober, we found that there was no information and no one to turn to for support so Clare and I began looking at ways we could help ourselves and others.

“This led us to forming Kennedy Street which has been there from the beginning all be it in various guises.

“Since the pandemic we have been inundated with calls from people looking for support as they are stuck at home and self-medicating.

“They start off with maybe a bottle of wine by the computer whilst working. Then it seems to progress and, of course, there is no regulation when you are working from home.

“We are finding that is increasingly becoming a problem. They have no one to govern them, no routine and I think that we are going to have a lot of problems when we come out the other side of this pandemic.

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“Most think the definition of a drunk as being that person lying on a park bench- but that is only a tiny percentage of people.

Kevin in character as Curly Watts with Sarah Lancashire who played Raquel.

“It’s the others who are high functioning, holding down a job, maintaining relationships and paying the bills – but chained to the bottle.

“Addiction is a mental illness regardless of whatever substances you are taking.

“It’s the stuff that comes afterwards, it’s the mental torture of it all, and the obsession, that’s the difficult bit.

“Once you put the bottle down your body starts to heal itself quite quickly.

“It’s the mental torture of wanting to drink again that seems to be the main problem.

“That’s where our team comes in, the mental health side.

“As most people know I initially spent four weeks in The Priory but that really was just the beginning for me

“Those four weeks gave me the tools I needed to survive on the outside and to help me combat the mental obsession with drink.

“It isn’t easy when all that really matters is the drink and everything else gets pushed to the side.

“Trying to juggle a successful career and a family when you are like that is hellish and eventually something must give.

“When you look at the alternative…it is death – and it’s not a quick one, it’s painful and it strips you of everything before it eventually kills you. If you die quickly it’s a blessing.

“Our charity is there for anyone to call and contact us if they need help and support.

“We have been there, in that place and know what it is like. There is no judgement.

“We can signpost them to the right people and who we know who will suit their needs within the community.

“Our aim is to help people who are functioning. We can assign recovery coaches to look after them during their recovery.

“It doesn’t matter where you live, we will find you the support.

“Our aim is to get people, who have some recovery under their belt, back into the community.

“People who have been ravaged by addiction are a whole untapped source of incredible skills. You only need look at your average (drug) dealer: they obviously have a good business brain.

“We try to harness these skills and point them in the right direction and, in turn, help others.

“It’s a strange thing but the only way this works is to give it away and this seems to keep you on the straight and narrow.

“We also have help groups that look after families of the addict. They also need signposting on how to deal with an addict.

“For everyone addicted there are at least six other people who are directly affected by their addiction. We do our best to address this as much as we can.

“My own recovery is a physical, spiritual and mental attitude.

“For some this can happen quickly and for others more slowly. We all get there in the end.”

Clare joined in with some more information about the charity and their latest fundraising event for it: “We have both been in recovery for over twenty years and actively working in the community with others since then.

“It’s only since moving to Brighton eight years ago that I set up a social enterprise project with a view to opening a dry bar.

“What we eventually found was that there were a lot of younger people who didn’t drink that were using the bar and who wanted to support what we were doing.

“I have always been passionate about businesses that have a social mission that pay it forward, with some of their profits going to good causes.

“That is one of the reasons we have chosen to waive our anonymity – it is so important that people know that recovery exists. What recovery has taught both of us is that we all have ‘stuff ’ – that stigma and shame often stops people from getting the help they need.

Kevin and Clare

“When Kevin came out of The Priory, he was absolutely terrified. One of the first things he had to do was an interview on Richard and Judy to talk about his time in there.

“We were both in the Green Room and a priest came in and sat down. He noticed how stressed Kevin was, and asked if he was ‘ok’. Kevin said, ‘No, not really, I’m terrified going on the show to talk about something I don’t really know anything about’.

“The priest said, ‘Just go on there, be yourself and be honest, that’s all people want, they just want to hear that you are ok’.

“Anyway, he did. He was completely honest in the interview.

“When he came back to the Green Room the priest said to him, ‘Well done, if you only affect one person’s life your work here is done’.

“Kevin just smiled and thanked him, but he felt better after the chat. A while later a young lad came up to Kev while we were still in the Green Room and whispered something to him and I saw Kevin suddenly turn white.

“I asked him what wrong? He said that lad had said ‘thanks for being so honest I was going to go and score this afternoon but after hearing that interview I’m going to go to a meeting instead’. We both thought, ‘wow!’, instant payback.

“That was as real awakening for Kevin. The priest said, ‘Kevin you don’t have the gift of anonymity, but you can use it for good and that is your Twelfth Steps work helping someone else’.

“We are only a small charity and rely on fundraising and donations to keep us afloat.

“What the pandemic has highlighted is the great need out there.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic our calls have gone from five to over a hundred a week.

“We have people calling from all over – including a man from Peru and another from Namibia.

“During August we have a fundraiser going on called #Road2Recovery 5k.

“Participants can walk, run, cycle, swim. Every kilometre is counted. This is a virtual event where participants sign up, donate and select how many kilometres they want to travel on behalf of #KennedyStCiO.

“Participants can share their stories on social media while our #Road2Recovery team calculates the collective distance we have travelled from Brighton and throughout Europe.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and due to all funded services and local projects closing temporarily, we have been inundated with over 700 calls from desperate individuals and families who are really struggling, seeking support and guidance with substance and addiction issues.

“Our project, thanks to some small amounts of funding, was able to go online overnight. We offer a peer-led helpline, covered by trained recovery coaches, all in active recovery, who offer free virtual recovery coaching support, signposting and recovery connection virtual workshops.

“At the workshops guest speakers from recovery fellowships talk and share information on their chosen fellowships.

“Others who have responded quickly, post-Covid, include CA, AA, NA, AlAnon but the nature of anonymous groups makes them a little harder to find, hence the need for our virtual recovery connections support.

“We also discovered, thanks to our new helpline and virtual recovery support, that there’s is a variety of hidden groups very much in need of recovery support.

“But due to the nature of their issues, they cannot normally access regular community-based recovery fellowship support – ‘stay at home’ parents with small children, people living with disabilities, aged people.

“During the lockdown our helpline and online recovery connectors supported single parents, people with disabilities and many older people, onto a recovery pathway.

“We also helped others to be more educated about which recovery resources are available in their communities.

“The funding raised will help us to continue to develop this much needed telephone and online support for people who have their hand up for recovery.

“It will also help us to develop our online recovery connections coaching programme, aimed at those in long term recovery, interested in volunteering and developing their employment opportunities.”

For more information, click here.

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