Despite the hot summer days, the workshops in Riga for men continue. The following short insight into a music and art workshop provides a glimpse of the activity.
It is Monday afternoon and all the participants are seated in a circle. This time there are five men. All of them have participated also in the previous workshops and they are not surprised when asked to choose an instrument which best suits one’s mood on this day. Although there is a wide range of musical instruments, they act quickly. The participants are very different in their preferences – they choose from the loud drums to the whisper-like sound of the "rain tree". Each person is invited to justify his choice. Then each of the participants names three things that would help them to overcome bad mood and start feeling happier. The answer is not simple, especially for these men with alcohol addiction in the past. One participant is confused because alcohol and drugs were his support in past but what could substitute them at this moment? Friends, family, religion, work..? Another participants mentions music, conversations with friends (but then he sadly remarks that there is no longer any friends outside the centre). Other men mention also need to stay in silence with one’s thoughts. The next task is to make the same "dark day" symbolically bright - the three things already mentioned are to be put on a black sheet of paper so that the overall impression is light. The men are very eager to make their drawings and choose the crayons. Afterwards the men try to explain their ideas and drawings. Then two drawings are selected to be “played out”. Everybody has to choose and “play” some musical instrument, altogether creating a common “orchestra”. At the same time it is to be kept in mind that one has to play in such a way as not to disturb the others. And it really works! Men are really interested and try to play while listening to others. And quite unexpectedly the workshop has come to the end.
The goal of these of activities is to build strong internal resources – a sense of personal control over a situation. Such kind of activities also help to raise awareness that the surrounding people and society can be supportive and helpful to deal with dark moods and complicated situations.
During June we have had four peer group meetings. Together with the clients we have eaten self-made fish soup, fixed bikes and played a typical Finnish outdoor summer game called Mölkky.
The number of participants in the peer group meetings has varied from zero to six. It seems that few men have committed to the group. The others come and go, appear in the meetings and then disappear. Some of them respond to messages that we send to them to inform them about coming peer group meetings. Some of them even call us. We might have long telephone conversations with them, but when it is time to come to the meetings the men are not there – even though on the phone they have promised to be there. Also, some of the men have lost their phone connections in a couple of weeks’ time and we have lost the contact with them.
We discussed these problems with our colleagues from our local partners, Sininauha Oy and A-kilta, which are organizations that work with substance abusing clients or former alcoholics. The colleagues agreed with us: it is a very typical phenomenon among the clients of this target group. The clients have difficulties with committing to the group meetings or other activities. The summer time highlights these problems. During winter many clients take part in this kind of activities more actively but in the summer time they find something else to do – or don’t do anything special, which is more common.
Sometimes even getting out of one’s own home can be a huge psychological effort for our clients. It’s typical that they have decided and promised beforehand to attend some activity – and they have truly believed that they are really going to do that. But when they should leave their homes they just can’t do it, for one reason or another. There are also more practical explanations why our clients don’t always show up even though they have said that they will. They have told us that they don’t have money to buy bus tickets or they don’t want – or they don’t know how – to use public transport.
If it’s rainy or the sun is shining too warmly they don’t want to come by bike. Also that the biking route through the city centre is full of temptations that they feel they can’t resist. It’s not yet easy for them to bypass all those pubs and beer gardens. On the contrary, one of the men told us that he had biked to a beer garden straight after our peer group meeting. He explained that the weather was so nice that all his old bad habits came back to his mind and his addiction took the control. As we know it’s a long and bumpy road to overcome alcoholism.
Our clients, middle-aged men with past – or not so past – drinking problems – are mostly people who have had no “normal “hobbies (beside drinking) in their adulthood. They are not familiar with the idea of committing themselves to some activity regularly. Some of them are also shy and they suffer from a lack of social skills. For them it is not easy to come to a group where they don’t know other participants beforehand and it takes time to make them feel comfortable enough to join the meetings.
Attending these Much More peer group meetings are not tied to any financial benefits of the clients. So their livelihood doesn’t depend on taking part in these meetings. That means that our clients have to want to come to the meetings totally voluntarily – so they must feel our group so meaningful that they will come again and again. For us it means that we have to manage to form a group that the clients feel important for them themselves.
How can we make that happen? That’s the question and a major challenge for us professionals. After all, we have decided to find out how we can do that with the Much More project. Together with our clients we have made some plans for the next peer group meetings: we are going fishing, bowling and playing billiards together. That’s what our clients suggested.
In May the Blue Ribbon Association had their meeting outside and made it a barbecue. The weather was nice and the sun was shining.
During the meeting the men started to talk about why they didn’t find watching sports fun anymore. They told that watching sports reminds them about drinking beer because in their past watching sports was always connected to drinking. Nowadays, when they are trying to live without alcohol they don’t want to watch sports anymore because they are afraid that it could be a trigger that makes them drink again. The men said that it is quite easy to become sober but it is so hard to stay and live sober if drinking has been the number one activity of the everyday life.
Later the discussion turned to the life stories of the men and their family and relationship problems. Due to their drinking some of the men had totally lost contact with their children. They felt deeply sad, sorry and guilty because of that but some of them had accepted to live without their children.
Some of the men, for their part, meet their kids regularly. For them building good relationships with their children has been the main reason why they wanted to quit drinking.
After all this eating and talking we planned our next group meeting. The men decided that they would like to fix their bikes next time. They had enjoyed this meeting very much and expressed an interest to continue attending the group.
We started our project here in Turku by a meeting with our local partners from three different organizations that work with substance-abusing clients. Those organizations were: Sininauha Oy, A-kilta and Tietu ry.
Sininauha Oy is a company that works with clients who have had drinking, drug or mental health problems and who have lost their homes. It provides supported rented accommodation for their clients. The work is based on the housing first principle, which means that housing is the primary need. According to this framework housing is the first step of the social rehabilitation for substance abusers. In the meeting we agreed with the Sininauha Oy that their social instructors will encourage some of their male clients to attend our Much More -peer group. The social instructors pick the clients that would benefit our Much More -group and take them to our first meetings.
A-kilta is a non-governmental grass roots support organization. It offers services and support to recovering substance abusers and to their families. A-kilta promotes a substance free lifestyle by day-time activities and peer groups. We are going to co-operate with A-kilta by visiting their unit and by persuading their male clients to attend our Much More -group. We also agreed that Much More -project will organize some small events like barbeque evenings in the A-kilta house to make their clients familiar with Much More -project.
Like A-kilta, Tietu ry is a non-governmental grass roots support organization that provides services and support to people with addictions problems. It provides low-threshold substance abuse counselling. They will try to persuade their male clients to attend our group. They will also offer some professional guidance to our Much More -project if needed.