This story is my WHY
We are After the Storm founder, Verity Hart, shares her story as to why she decided to form this unique business:
We are After the Storm is a product of my personal experience throughout my life, but was triggered during lockdown, when I realised the vast scale of the impact on people in so many different aspects of their life. I could see the rising alcohol intake, the panic and the confusion and knew that now was the right time to bring After the Storm together.
So, the question I guess is why? Why do I know this is needed and understand the impact it could have?
In the last four years I have lost both my parents - my dad in 2016 and my mum in 2019. That experience was harrowing, disorientating and incredibly challenging for me and my family.
There is a need for people to be supported but actually on my journey through my life-changing events I've struggled to find the support I needed so I'm going to go back through some pretty prominent events in my life with you now, from when I was a teenager to today, because I think that will help tell the story and explain the plight that I had, why I struggled and why I believe that After the Storm is so needed.
Growing up I was always aware that my parents had an interesting relationship with alcohol. It framed our experiences and my dad’s drinking in particular was a cause of so much anxiety. I remember worrying about them driving to work the morning after they had been drinking and had no one to talk to about my worries. I had no idea how to help them, or stop them.
For me, I developed a terrible relationship with food and my early twenties was controlled by that relationship. I found myself in place where my eating disorder had gotten out of hand and I had to accept that I was suffering from bulimia. I’d learnt that being sick wasn't good but I couldn't stop my binge eating and my weight spiralled out of control. Both my sister and I were on the same path, getting bigger and bigger. I was incredibly lucky that my husband, who is my rock, was able to help me and support me but it did not get completely better for me until after my children were born.
After my second child was born in 2009, my sister was experiencing enormous difficulties with her weight and, after reaching 26 stone, opted to pay for a gastric bypass. She struggled to get support for mindset, health and fitness and felt surgery was her only way out. I decided at this point to learn neuro-linguistic programming because I was suffering from intense panic attacks and could not support my cycles and patterns of behaviour, let alone my sisters.
Sadly, my sister replaced her addiction to food with an addiction to alcohol and spending. I found myself getting increasingly angry and frustrated with her because she was doing nothing to help herself. We are such different personalities and I wanted more than anything for her to find the strength to pull herself through. Part of my pain, however, came from a visceral understanding of where this self-abuse comes from.
Through all this turbulence and personal upheaval, my relationship suffered and it is this point in my life that also carved a path to After the Storm. I felt at that time that the only place anybody knew about is Relate so there was no other option for us to explore. I know now that there are plenty of other relationship counsellors or people that could support. Relate do amazing work but it's really difficult to get in because they are a charity and under a lot of pressure. We did manage to get three sessions eventually and we started on a path together that has, I am very thankful to say, has made us much stronger.
So, let's skip on a few years to after my children were born the point in time where I realised that to be a decent Mum to my kids I needed to be fit and healthy; I couldn't be and I didn't want to be the fat mum sat on the sidelines, which is what I was. So, I went to Slimming World and I started to exercise and I got really into it. I can’t express enough the incredible benefit of fitness to my wellness, both mentally and physically. In fact, my fitness has been a driving force in my ability to overcome the challenges that I have faced in the past four years, and given me an escape.
Now, is the time for me to talk about my dad. My dad was my world – for all of his faults, which I briefly touched upon earlier, I loved him with all of my heart. He frustrated me too, mainly because, despite his intelligence, he didn’t quite achieve all that he was capable of. This may, of course, be why he drank, which caused so many problems in our family. It is the week he died, however, that I am going to talk about now, despite how painful it is to do so. My dad’s death is possibly the most shocking and traumatic thing I have been through.
It started with a fall after which the hospital sent him home, reporting no issues. I went to see him the next day and he looked awful so I made him promise to go back to get his arm seen to. The doctor discovered a break in his arm and a scratch that, within a few days, had gone septic. He was rushed into hospital and then very quickly he went into complete organ failure from the years of self neglect as much as anything else. Within a week of the fall, my dad passed away and watching him die was one of the most horrific things I have ever witnessed, only compounded by returning home and having to tell my three small children that their grandad had gone.
The aftermath was one of emotional devastation as I struggled to help my children understand and I raged at my mother’s inability to acknowledge our grief. When you lose one parent, you lose both for a time. It was such a difficult time and I did not know how to find the right bereavement support and there seemed to be an expectation all around me that after a couple of weeks I could just return to my job and everything would be business as usual in all aspects of my life. It really wasn’t business as usual but I learnt a lot about myself, about resilience and about the need for support and connectivity.
The next chapter takes us to two years ago (a couple of years after my dad’s death) and my mum was playing an increasing integral role in our lives, supporting us enormously with the kids. She started complaining of pain in her stomach and was in an increasingly bad way. A year or two before dad died mum had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which fortunately she had recovered from following surgery. That experience, however, meant that mum knew that the pain she was experiencing now was wrong and so we pushed for tests. After a series of tests, mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to her liver. She was given 2-12 months with the strongest chemotherapy, with the treatment adding no more than 6 months to her life expectancy.
I had seen and supported friends when their parents had undergone chemotherapy and the quality of life was so awful at the end. I battled internally about this and then with my mum and sister who were united in their desire for the treatment so on 25th September 2018 mum started chemotherapy and she died on 15th July 2019. She was amazingly stoic throughout, even continuing her role as Deputy Mayor for the majority of it. At the halfway point we were told that there had been no change or progression, but by February, mum was in constant pain.
What we learnt at this point was that her spine had started to crumble as a result of osteoporosis and there was a piece of her spine resting on the nerve. They wouldn’t operate because of the cancer, so the pain led to a deterioration in her mental state, which was the start of the end, and an extraordinarily harrowing three months.
Even during this time though, she amazed me. She had always wanted to be mayor and in May 2019 she was sworn in to honour her incredible service to the community. She rehearsed and managed to stand to make the speech. We were all so proud. One of her main public engagements at this point, despite her being incredibly sick, was to greet the walkers home in the local 22 mile Walk. I was away on this day but a good friend, who is also part of After the Storm, messaged me to say that she had seen a photo of mum on Facebook and she looked yellow.
As soon as I was home we spoke to the outreach nurse and as mum was due an appointment with the consultant that day, she warned that he might admit mum, and he did. As we waited to be seen, mum took my hand and thanked me for being there for her and said that should couldn't have made it this far with out me. Things went downhill from that point and there is too much to discuss here. What I do want to say is that the NHS did and do an incredible job but there was so much that happened in the ensuing weeks that made things so much more challenging. Some of the hurdles I faced came about because it was so hard to get straight answers and the whole process of supporting a dying loved one is disorientating and confusing that it becomes almost impossible to balance the pragmatic approach with the emotional response. Perhaps more than anything, this experience of the grief that followed for me and my kids, is the core trigger for wanting to set up After the Storm. At a time of immense trauma, I wish I had had someone to signpost me to all the information, resource and support I needed.
Mum died on a Tuesday and we had the funeral a few weeks later on a Friday and then we flew to Cyprus as a family on the Saturday. It felt like the right thing – to disappear with the kids after such trauma and find a space to create some positive memories. It was the wrong decision, however, because after getting back and returning straight back to work and school, we all started to unravel. My eldest daughter, usually a beacon of calm and resolve, slapped a friend’s face in anger. My youngest daughter who struggles with her emotions anyway, became emotionally unstable and full of rage and sadness. Seeing my girls suffer made me realise that I had to find support for them. I didn’t know where to start, however, and it was only when a member of staff at my daughters’ school recommended bereavement counselling did I start to reach out and get the support needed to navigate this new landscape defined by our collective but very individual grief.
I wish I could say that this is where recovery for us all began but sadly my sister needs to come back into the narrative at this point – not that she ever left it.
In the weeks following mum’s death, the tennancy was up on her rental property. She revealed at that point that she was in a complete financial mess and was struggling with her alcohol addiction. It was a nightmare and I was angry with her for dominating that time as well. I offered to act as a guarantor on the property but as we were going through this process we discovered she had county court judgements against her and so the landlord wouldn't take her. She opted to move into mum and dad’s at this point and our relationship suffered further.
Her drinking was out of control and she completely trashed mum and dad’s house. After a few weeks I walked in to discover bags of rubbish everywhere, dirty food packages, empty bottles…. I can’t even describe how awful it was and how angry I felt. She spiralled at this point after an accident at home and being sent home from work – both drink related. The doctor who looked after my sister after her fall signposted us to rehab support for her and this was a huge relief to have someone else involved in her wellbeing as I was struggling. It was only short lived, though, and we are still on a journey together, as she is with herself. Through my research for After the Storm, I’ve now discovered support services out there for individuals who are trying to recover from the trauma of having an addict in the family, provide strategies for coping with and strategies for dealing with them. I wish I had had this information years before but feel motivated to give others access to this information now.
So, that is my story. I am the sum of all these parts and so much more. I have experienced everything that we are looking to support through We are After the Storm. This story is my WHY.