Rising from the mire of dependency

THE planned development of an addiction treatment centre on a remote part of the rugged Rathlin Island, off the coast of Co Antrim, will be a case of bringing it all back home to her father’s birthplace for one of Ireland’s top performers.

Frances Black is probably best known as a singer, a sister of Mary and a member of the renowned musical family whose father was a native of Rathlin Island.

But Frances is also arriving at a stage in her life where she is becoming equally well-known for her work in the field of addiction treatment, most especially with her self-founded charitable organisation, RISE (Recovery In a Safe Environment).

The organisation has deemed this week to be RISE Week, aimed at increasing awareness about the impact of addiction. Equally important for Black will be the effort to raise funds for a variety of addiction treatment programmes, residential and non-residential, along with the Rathlin Islandproject.

“And I’d really like to start paying people,” says Black. “Up to now, all our people are volunteering.”

Black founded RISE in 2008, and the organisation has a strong focus on the families of those in addiction — not just alcohol and drugs but also gambling, eating disorders and sex addiction.

“Whenever people hear the word ‘addiction’, they always focus in on the person with the addiction as opposed to the family. I look at addiction as a family disease even though there’s only one person in it but the impact on families is just as devastating.

“Everybody circles warily around the addict, forgetting about themselves or relating to each other. I also think Ireland has huge addiction problems but rather than trying to target the addicts who are mostly going around in a haze, why not focus on the families?

“Teaching them how to cope with it, how not to enable the addict, how to put boundaries in place and maybe that person might then wind up getting help quicker. But even if they don’t, the family will be in some sort of healing or recovery and aware of their own thinking. Some people don’t even realise they have a problem and that’s what I’m trying to bring to the fore.

“And it’s not just drinking or drugs. For example, if you have a child with an eating disorder, bulimic, anorexic, bulimorexic, overeating — there’s still the same heartache.”

Among the initiatives promoting RISE week are a record and a book put together especially for the organisation. The album features contributions from Irish performers such as U2, Snow Patrol and Christy Moore, while the book, You Are Not Alone: Personal Stories in Surviving the Impact of Addiction, has accounts by addicts and their families.

Alongside the tales from ordinary people are the contributions of singer Mary Coughlan, Paul McGrath, Ben Dunne and Jimmy MacCarthy.

Black quit drinking in 1988. “I hadn’t hit my rock bottom when I stopped. I went to a counsellor and said I don’t really think I have a problem but I’m having trouble stopping drinking. The counsellor said you DO have a problem.”

Rock bottom for Black arrived in 2001, a long time after she quit drinking, illustrating her point that alcohol is merely one facet of the tapestry of addictions that people experience.

“When my mother became very ill,” says Black, “I was taking sleeping tablets for a short time and I do believe I got addicted to them because the feeling I had then — they just got me so low, so down, no motivation and I didn’t know what was wrong.

“It’s amazing how insidious addiction can be. That’s when I went in for treatment and that was the most amazing experience of my life. I did go to a treatment centre by day first time around. Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant but it just wasn’t the same for me as the second time around.”

Does she have a very addictive personality? “I do indeed,” says Black with a rueful chuckle. “But that’s the nature of it, I have to watch myself constantly. I have a fantastic team of people around me who I can tap into for support if I ever feel I need it. And when I realised there are people out there like that, who understand and can provide support, that was life-changing for me.”

Black had originally left school at 16, and returned to college to train as an addiction therapist and then went on to work at the Rutland St treatment centre.

“Doing gigs, I’d have people coming up to me afterwards saying, ‘I heard you are in recovery, How do I go about getting treatment?’ or more often coming up asking how they could get help for a loved one.

“I don’t have all the answers. I wish I had all the answers, that I could say do this, this and this and it’ll all be fine, but I don’t. So I thought, ‘I can’t fix it for you but I can set up an organisation. I decided I had to do something about it.

“I’m seriously worried about our country. There’s one in 10 people are alcoholics,” Black claims. “And that’s just final stages alcoholism, not the people on their way to full-blown alcoholism. And for every one person with an addiction, there’s four to six people around them devastated by that addiction. And that’s only drinking. This work gives me purpose — it fulfills me when I see someone’s life changing dramatically. I call it ‘soul-work’.”

* www.therisefoundation.ie.

To donate to RISE, text FAMILIES to 57080. Texts cost €2 and a minimum of €1.58 will be donated. The service provider is Return2Sender, 01-6790640.

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