Every family in Northern Ireland is affected by alcohol abuse in some way says musician Sheila Smyth.
And it’s this stark fact that inspires her to devote her life to helping people stay sober once they’ve beaten their addiction.
“Through life’s pains people can turn to the wrong thing,” says Sheila. “But when you see someone like that recover, it’s like liquid gold. It’s beautiful.”
Sheila’s devotion to her work at The Right Key, a musical group for recovering alcoholics at The Recovery Cafe in Dromore, Co Down , has made her another deserving Local Lidl Hero .
The group, backed recently by the Big Lottery People and Communities Fund, brings people together to sing and play music – and vitally provide a social outlet when old groups of friends won’t help recovery.
“We help people rebuild their lives,” says Sheila, a poet, composer and songwriter.
“Those things that went when they were drinking, we help them get back. We use music for health, healing and recovery.
“Those recovering from addiction are now a musical singing voice of around 25 people who perform at conferences, theatres and concert venues throughout the UK and further afield. They challenge the stigma of alcohol addiction, and offer hope to others.
“They also impart knowledge of what it really feels like to be caught in the grip of addiction, and how best to find help and break free. They are a very honest, courageous and gifted bunch of people, and a complete pleasure to work with.”
Sheila, who also works with current and ex-prisoners as well as dementia and cross-culture groups, says it’s vital to show how people can get better too.
“In reality people we see come from every single background, there are lots of professionals, functioning alcoholics,” she says.
“The stigma doesn’t help. And virtually every family in Northern Ireland is affected in some shape or form, either a member of your family or your extended family.
“I’ve seen it firsthand. The impact is not just on the addict but on the whole family, especially children. For us, it’s not reducing alcohol, it’s not damage reduction.
“It has to be nothing. The people we work with had to stop or they’d die. It was that serious, either that or prison. Because that’s where addiction leads.”
One of the main aims of the group is to help them stay off alcohol. They must be off before they join.
“In every circumstance you can find a victory song,” says Sheila. “And here we find a victory song and help people find a way through.”