Volunteers’ Week: John’s Reader Story

The second in our series of Reader Stories for Volunteers’ Week comes from John who first found Shared Reading while recovering from addiction.

“There’s been a sea change in my life and I can’t go back to where I was before…”

John* is a Reader volunteer. He first joined a Shared Reading group in a residential service two years ago when he was in rehabilitation for his addiction. He then joined a community group and after completing The Reader’s Care Home Reader training, began running a group in a dementia care home. John now facilitates a community Shared Reading group and has found full time paid work.

This is his Reader Story in his own words:

I’m more comfortable in general. I’ve definitely gained something… without a doubt. I think I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now without what I’ve done, it’s brought me on no end.

“I don’t want to put myself down, but I have changed as a person, since getting involved with The Reader, definitely, and I realise that myself and I never used to realise stuff like that.”

Even down to now, my job, I think that’s a big part down to my volunteering opportunity with The Reader, not just cos I can put it on my CV. I think when I was in the interview and talking about it, people can just see if you’re passionate about something can’t they?

So… I think that was a massive part of why I was successful in getting my job, my full time job. I just can’t believe that I get paid for going to work, it’s so good, I thought that would go away, but this is like week five, and it’s still… I’m getting paid for what I’d do.

I don’t think I understood when I started volunteering that the sort of job I wanted to go for would value volunteering more than qualifications or current employment.

“I have a criminal record and it’s just nice to lay it all on the table when I’m applying for jobs, and now I’ve got one and I’ve not had to be dishonest about anything – its liberating.”

There’d have been points in the past where I wouldn’t have said I’d got a criminal record, I’d have just lied about it. Having the confidence to be honest about it now, cause that’s who I am and it’s nice not have to hide anything anymore. I have confidence now.

And when I think back to that first Shared Reading session I sat in on and I wanted to read and I was too scared, I just think wow, that’s when I see the change from there. Yeah. I like being read to, that’s something I’ve realised.

Being brutally honest, and it’s not something I enjoy admitting, but I was probably quite… a sarcastic person… sometimes I could be hurtful and since doing this, I’m more open generally in my whole life, not just in the reading groups, I’m open to the way people think differently to me, whereas before, I’d like ‘you’re wrong I’m right’ now I’m a lot more open to different things, different ideas, different points of view… I don’t correct people on their spelling, or their grammar now, as long as you can understand it, that’s good enough. I’m not as judgemental as I used to be. I mean we’re all judgemental, everyone is, but I’m just a different person.

“I was in quite a dark place when I started the reading groups, really, but it was about myself, and I think because I felt that about myself that was what I went out into the world with. Now I’ve got some love from somewhere, not just for me but for everything. And I appreciate things. I appreciate people, which is… massive.”

This is all from The Reader. I‘m going to get upset now… because I used to value material stuff, quite a lot, don’t get me wrong I still like nice things, but the connections I’ve got with people these days, you know, I can buy a new sofa, or whatever, but I think there’s been a sea change in my life and I can’t go back to where I was before, it’s hard to even remember being like that. So, not trying to be melodramatic but I have changed since doing it altogether and I feel it, like, in there (pointing to his chest).

“I’m a lot more compassionate with people and understanding, which… I sound daft saying it!… but I can empathise with people now, where before I was lacking that. And I think that all started with Shared Reading.”

Sounds like a grand claim, but everything I’ve got in my life is from that really, this is where it all started, and it weren’t always easy, there were some weeks when I didn’t want to come in, and I thought, oh no…some weeks I’d dread it, but when I did, I forced myself and it’s been alright, I’ve sort of done that in other parts of my life as well, whereas before I might have given up.

I think what’s changed is I’m comfortable with me. And that comes across in whatever I’m doing now, whether it be, trying to support people at work, challenging people when they need challenging. I think I just trust my instincts now. I just deal with things a lot differently than I ever have done before, things come natural now. Whereas before it may have been fake or forced or I had to try and do it, now it’s just me… yeah.

Since I’ve changed as a person, and it wasn’t like a slap bang thing, it wasn’t like I was a bad person and now I’m good, or I had dark thoughts now they’re light. I think gradually as I’ve come round, just the way I am now, as that changed, my life has changed along with it.

“So when I did start to think more positively about everything, positive things started to happen. When I used to think negatively, bad things would happen, like I was willing it. Now… it’s strange the things that I always thought would make me happy don’t even come into play anymore.”

It was always, one thing, either the future or the past haunting me… now neither really comes in to play. I think everything I do every day will make tomorrow better. I do believe that, sounds corny I know. But, it’s been working for the past couple of years. I’m at the point now, where I’m doing really hard complicated things, as well as managing my own life and it’s easier than it was. I do tasks now that would’ve scared the life out of me 18 months ago. I wouldn’t have dreamed… I’m so organised. I think that attitude makes stuff easier. They’re not as complex… I think the complexity was in my head.

Please note: Names have been changed.


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