Startups

Anna's journey from being an alcoholic mother to launching her addiction counselling business

Anna Elston: “I did try to end my life. I just couldn’t see any way forward." Picture: Dorset Biz News.

By Staff Reporter [email protected]

Published: October 26, 2022 | Updated: 27th October 2022

Anna Elston is the first to admit that she wasn’t the stereotypical alcoholic.

As she says: “I went to public school, middle class, leafy background in a surburban village with a house and mortgage.

“I think it just shows that it could happen to anybody.”

For ten years the mother of three was Head of Creative Arts, and Head of Music, in a secondary school.

And it was there that things came to a head.

She said: “I don’t remember drinking every day, but the habit crept in.

“By the time I gave birth to my eldest son, it was a bottle a day.

“I was in complete denial.

“Everyone around me knew before I did and the pupils certainly noticed.

“On school trips, such as going to France, I was buying 72 bottles of beer.

“Towards the end of that job I was shaking a lot when I was taking the register.”

Anna’s youngest son was born suddenly at 25 weeks, weighing just 1lb 12oz, only nine months after the birth of his older brother.

All three boys were taken into foster care in 2007 because of a turbulent marriage fuelled by alcohol.

Anna said: “My first year of recovery was a blur of treatment services, fellowship meetings, visiting my boys, filing for divorce and working with children’s services to convince them that I was well enough to ensure that they were returned to me.

“The odds weren’t great.

“Approximately 0.5 per cent of children with addicted parents are returned to their care, so I was delighted when the court agreed that all three boys could come home a year later.”

Looking back, Anna credits her ‘boys’ with giving her the determination to tackle her alcoholism.

She said: “Like many alcoholics I had to experience some really rock bottoms and feel emotionally done.

“For me, it was the fact that my children were being taken away.

“I did try to end my life and ended up on life support.

“I just couldn’t see any way forward.

“That was the moment that I knew I needed to get help.

“The medical detox is quite horrendous.

“Alcohol is the worst to get off.

“You’re shaking, sweating, wetting the bed, curled up and with stomach cramp.

“It was an utterly despairing time.”

Anna had her last alcoholic drink on August 14, 2007.

She’s since completely turned her life around.

After two years of getting used to being a single mum of three young children, she retrained as an Addictions Counsellor.

In 2015, Anna achieved a first-class honours degree in addictions counselling from the University of Bath.

The day after her graduation she shared her story to a room full of VIPS, media and HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of Action on Addiction, now renamed Forward Trust.

Having worked at two of the UK’s leading residential rehabilitation units as an Addictions Counsellor, Anna became Co-ordinator of the Amy Winehouse Foundation Resilience Programme – the largest ever randomised control trial on young people and substance misuse.

She trained over 100 people in recovery from substance misuse to deliver workshops on self-esteem, peer pressure and risky behaviour.

Collectively, they reached over 22,000 students.

In 2016, Anna received the Marsh Christian Trust award for ‘Exceptional Individual in the Field of Recovery’ at Addaction’s national conference.

Media interest led to a Channel Five documentary, numerous interviews and even a stint as the editorial advisor for a plot line in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers.

Now, after three years with Carer Support Dorset as Dorset Services Manager, Anna has launched her own addictions counselling business.

She said: “I’ve just turned 50, celebrated 15 years in recovery and felt it’s a case of now or never.

“I know I’ve got so much to offer.

“I don’t believe people in recovery who retrain as counsellors have a monopoly on empathy.

“But I do think that sometimes it helps to disclose that I’ve been through similar experiences.

“I do understand how they’re feeling, what they’re going through, particularly, but not exclusively, when they’re single parents and especially mothers.

“I get such a buzz from seeing someone get clean and happy and contented.”

Many treatment centres, or structured day programmes, will only take people who have been clean or sober for a certain period of time.

Anna said: “Trying to get someone to the point of entering that treatment is where I think there’s a gap.

“People are drinking and don’t know how to stop and yet they can’t access services because they’re not sober.

“According to government statistics, about eighty per cent of people who are alcohol dependent and need treatment don’t access it.

“They’re the people I hope I can reach out to.

“There needs to be more women like me in recovery to talk about it.

“It’s the only way people will feel brave enough to come forward and get some help in a confidential setting where no-one will judge them.“

Anna’s sons are now 15, 16 and 20 – and she couldn’t be prouder of them.

Happily living in Christchurch with her partner, BAFTA-nominated screenwriter Jake Riddell, she celebrated 15 years of being sober with a trip to Verona in Italy which included seeing the opera, Carmen.

Anna, who also offers public speaking and advocacy, said: “I was literally pinching myself and thinking how did I get here?

“From being on the floor and drinking around the clock.

“I can’t begin to tell you the fun I’ve had in the last 15 years.

“They have been the best 15 years of my entire life.”

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