In 2017, Tina’s life had spiralled out of all control and her health was seriously at risk after years of drug and alcohol misuse. Three years on, Tina is sober and determined to help other women with shared life experiences. In October, she was named We Are With You South West Volunteer of the Year for her service to others. Tina tells us about the difficult journey that led her to this incredible achievement.

Tell us a bit about your journey with addiction. When did you decide that something had to change?

“I spent 30 years of my life addicted to heroin, crack and alcohol. I’d been in and out of treatment since 1995, including four treatment centres and 11 detoxes. I lost all contact with my family and when my life became completely unmanageable, I lost my children. I went through a lot of toxic relationships and never really knew life without drink or drugs.

“Eventually I ended up homeless. My health deteriorated badly – I was malnourished, I lost my teeth, and my hair was falling out. I was told that my organs were starting to shut down. It was a really terrifying time and I knew that I needed to change my life or I would die.”

You then moved to We Are With You at Chy. How was that for you? 

“To be honest, I hated it to start with. Cornwall felt like the ends of the earth after living in London. I felt too far away from everything I knew. 

“Because I was so weak, I was unable to leave. This was actually a godsend, as it stopped me walking out the door and meant that I got the help I needed.

“When I came off drugs, everything was extremely overwhelming. I felt intense guilt and shame of the carnage I had created, and found it really hard to come to terms with the life I had lived. 

“The staff there were so loving and kind and I didn’t feel worthy of it. I was very angry and frightened. I had no goals, I just knew I couldn’t use anymore.”

How did you first come into contact with the Positive People programme? Tell us about your experience with the project.

“I met Mark from Positive People – he was from London and we had a little chat. It was a simple conversation and he told me about his own experience and showed me that recovery was do-able. He was the first person that gave me hope that I could change. 

“Then I met Michelle (Positive People Team Leader). The first thing she said to me was ‘What goals do you have?’ and I cried. I was 52 and I had no idea what I was doing. She took me under her wing and I always felt like she was watching me from a distance. Michelle has been a mentor and a role model to me; I’ve learned a lot from her.

“Michelle encouraged me to do the confidence course and bushcraft day with Maisie. At first I didn’t want to get on the minibus. By the time it was over, we were all singing songs on the way home. It was the first time I had enjoyed feeling clean and sober with other people. Maisie was so understanding, kind and encouraging. She never judged me or asked anything of me that was too much.

“Since then, with the help of my Change Coaches Cat and Trudy, I’ve done so many courses and activities. I am a peer advocate for Cornwall Housing and I’ve just completed my Peer Mentor training with The Open Project at The Women’s Centre Cornwall. It was a big achievement for me and I am really proud of myself.

“I am very inspired by the Positive People team – I have grown to respect and trust them. They believed in me before I could believe in myself and did for me what I couldn’t do for myself at the time. They held me and I felt safe.”

What made you want to start volunteering and helping others?

“Whenever I was at Positive People events and activities, I would sit and talk to other women and I realised that I was helping them just by talking about my lived experiences.

“Something in me changed. I never saw it happening, I wasn’t aware of it happening but I became very driven. I wanted to live, and I woke up everyday feeling grateful and able to help others.

“I started doing presentations for families of addicts and prisoners. I’ve had a lifetime of experience with crime, abuse, addiction and homelessness; I’ve been through quite a lot. To be able to say to someone that I was where they are, and to be able to give them hope is really powerful. I’m very passionate about it.

“I decided to do volunteer training with We Are With You and peer mentor training with Positive People, and everything just went from there.

“My recovery is still something I work on 24 hours a day, but I’m not ashamed anymore. I can turn the negatives of my past into a positive by helping others.

How does it feel to be We Are With You South West Volunteer of the Year?

“When I found out I had won, I was lost for words for the first time ever. It’s a big achievement for me. I wasn’t expecting it at all, so I am just embracing it. 

“It’s great to feel appreciated, but that’s not why I do it. It’s a privilege for me to be able to volunteer and be in service to others. I love being able to help women who have been through things that I’ve been through.

“I never did any of this on my own. It was with the help of all the staff at Positive People and We Are With You that I am where I am today. The opportunities and support I’ve had from We Are With You, Positive People, the Women’s Centre, NA and AA is amazing.

What are your plans for the future?

“I’ll continue to share my story with groups, individuals and professionals, and carry on mentoring women. Eventually, I want to learn to drive.

“I’m still working on myself. I look in the mirror and try to love and appreciate myself. I am always learning. 

“I’m so grateful I’ve got my family back. I’m building relationships with my children and my sister. We are getting to know each other all over again.

Any last words?

“There are no words I can say for the gratitude I have for being in Cornwall (I love it now) and Positive People. Without them – I wouldn’t have made it on my own. They go above and beyond. Eventually, I would like to be in a position to do that too.

“I want to thank Michelle, Maisie and Tink (St Petrocs) – they were the first three women who I looked up to and it made me start trusting people again. I also want to mention Mark and Billy (We Are With You), who taught me so many life skills and that not all men are the same”.