Helping people to get back on their feet in Thetford

The Matthew Project in Thetford offers support and guidance to victims of substance misuse and the Christmas and New Year period can be difficult for them.

Some face the prospect of a first festive season without alcohol or drugs, while others will be on their own or spending time in difficult family circumstances.

The service, on Tanner Street, offers users as much support as possible and has a dedicated 24-hour helpline open during Christmas, but many will have to rely on themselves while it is closed.

Speaking at a regular Recovery Cafe session, a drop-in event held once a week for people to meet and talk about their problems or anything else they want to get off their chest, several people said they found Christmas Day difficult, while others were hopeful they could enjoy the day as a recovering addict for the first time.

Substance Misuse team manager Nicola Lambert said: “A lot of them are ‘bar humbug’ about Christmas but they do think about it and how it’s going to be and make some plans.

“It’s a difficult time for them. A lot of them have personal issues. They may have lost children or loved ones which may have caused them to come into substance misuse, or their substance misuse may have caused them to have lost their children and it all comes to the front at Christmas.

“We’re all doing our Christmas stuff as usual and it does make you realise ‘I’m very grateful for my family and my circumstances’.

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“I’ve learnt more about how capable they are, though, and what my limits are. I’ve learnt I’m not God so if we’ve done our best and are doing our best that’s all we can do. They know where to get us if they need us but they are able and they do survive.”

The charity, which works in conjunction with the NHS-run Community Alcohol and Drugs Service (CADS) and NORCAS, which helps people with drug, alcohol and gambling problems, runs daily drop-in sessions and a needle exchange, and holds group and one-to-one sessions.

“It’s a safe place for them to come and be social and encourage each other,” Ms Lambert added.

“When somebody’s just stopping drinking and taking drugs they find they have a lot of time on their hands and they come here and they don’t bump into people who may encourage them to use and they can talk to people.

“The Recovery Cafe started because it was what the service users wanted. It’s what we call a low-intensity interaction and we’re encouraging them to get to know each other. Hopefully that then supports their ongoing recovery because it’s about stopping using the substance and rebuilding their lives.”

Sean, who asked only to use his first name, a recovering alcoholic, has been sober for nearly nine months and stopped taking cannabis a month ago.

He began substance misuse about 12 years ago and at his worst was drinking up to 12 cans of lager a day.

The 40-year-old, from Thetford, said he was looking forward to a Christmas and New Year without drink and drugs. “I’ve not had many where I’ve not drunk or smoked,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ve had enough of addiction – I didn’t realise the danger it could do to your mental health. You end up with a flat-lined life.