User involvement at the 8th service user conference

Sophie StrachanIn the spotlight

Sophie Sherrington came to the conference as a delegate but found herself on stage singing True Colours to rapturous applause

I came to the conference representing PUSH Portsmouth recovery community and Phoenix Futures. I started my recovery journey in June 2014
with an alcohol detox in Cardiff, followed by residential rehab. It’s been a very rocky road and I’ve struggled since leaving treatment in November, but I’ve been fortunate to have a massive recovery network wrapped around me who lovingly supported me through this difficult time.

I was thoroughly pleased to be given the opportunity to attend the DDN conference and I found the whole day inspiring, educational, informative and fun. When the final speaker, Richard McCann, took the stage the atmosphere was upbeat and exciting as he started to deliver his talk. I felt very engaged as I listened to his heartfelt, tragic experience. He managed to incorporate humour and kept the audience captivated throughout. It wasn’t long before he started to make jokes about the colour of his hair (being ginger) and asked if there were any fellow members in the audience. I put my hand up and he said that he was going to ask six (ginger) people to join him on stage and that they would have to sing.

At the time of coming to the conference I was having some personal issues and was feeling very uncomfortable in my own skin, but the way Richard was delivering to his audience made me feel very relaxed and involved. I didn’t actually think I would have to get up on stage, and when he said he was joking I felt relieved. However, ten minutes later, he turned his attention to me in the audience and invited me to join him on the stage.

Final sessionThis is when the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. I was full of fear and very nervous, but somehow I managed to suppress these feelings and when I sang I imagined that I couldn’t see anyone, although it was very apparent I was standing in front of about 500 strangers. The only other time I have sung in front of people was in Cardiff’s Penarth in the Park when I was in the depths of my illness. So to do this drug-free and sober and then sit through positive feedback was a little overwhelming. Yet this experience showed me that I may be able to do things I thought I could never do – it’s even given me some encouragement that I may want to pursue singing at some point.

In the last four years I have been hospital­ised 30 times with chronic pancreatitis, and with a heavy heroin addiction and medicated at 90mls of methadone at the time of entering treatment, I nearly lost my life. But most of all I lost my soul. Today not only do I not have to battle my addiction and risk my life finding ways to get drugs to see me through the day, but I can attend a conference on a subject which is so very close to my heart without using substances. My parents say I have that glow back and the twinkle in my eye that they never thought they would see again.