Challenging perceptions of women with substance misuse issues

Lemn Sissay and Charlotte Vincent
Lemn Sissay and Charlotte Vincent

The Art of Attachment, an evening of two new works made in collaboration with women and children at Brighton Oasis Project (Oasis) is to be performed alongside new work by poet Lemn Sissay in October.

There is widespread judgement around women and mothers who misuse drugs and alcohol and who risk losing their children into care. What are the real stories behind these chaotic lifestyles and all this potential loss?

The project works with women who have experience substance misuse issues

The project works with women who have experience substance misuse issues

Since February, I have been facilitating workshops with clients from substance misuse service Oasis, and interviewing professionals involved in attachment to explore the complex emotional bonds that exist between women in recovery and their partners, children, family and friends.

A core group of four Oasis women are creatively exploring their relationship with attachment and trauma, and, together with regular Vincent Dance Theatre performers Robert Clark and Antonia Grove, are creating a new production that begins to tell it how it is.

Whilst there is little understanding of attachment theory outside of specialist networks, it is influential in child protection settings where decisions are made daily about whether a child should be removed into care. Attachment theory describes the way in which a parent or carer can respond sensitively to their child’s needs at times of distress and fear in infancy. It is thought that children who are securely attached develop greater independence and self esteem than those who are not. However, some academics and practitioners have recognised that the application of attachment-based principles in practice has its limitations, particularly for families where there are recognised risks and vulnerabilities.

As Jo-Anne Welsh, director of Brighton Oasis Project, says: “There should be recognition that people can change and attachment-based principles should be used to support families to stay together wherever feasibly possible”.

To work imaginatively and creatively with vulnerable women and children and those professionals who support them, is personally moving and professionally challenging. There are personal, psychological, neurological, moral and socio-political issues at stake with this kind of work and my job is to try to create something that gives voice to the issues the women are facing in their lives and to articulate the possibility for change.

I have formed a strong rapport with the women and have a heartfelt understanding of the complexity of their individual journeys. I am hoping what we make together might allow anyone who sees it to better understand the paths these women’s lives have taken and why; and the empowering nature of the arts to heal, integrate, strengthen and empower women, many of whom have had a really tough start in life.

Whilst hard-hitting in terms of its subject matter, Art of Attachment is ultimately insightful and uplifting, celebrating the everyday resilience of women and children overcoming adversity whose stories demand to be seen and heard.

Art of Attachment is a one-night performance at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on October 18 at 7pm. Lemn Sissay will perform new work, informed by his poetry workshops with BOP and his own experience as a ‘child of the state’. And a collaboration between women from Oasis and performers from Vincent Dance Theatre combines real-life testimonies, movement and spoken word to evoke the emotional, personal and social impact of attachment.

For tickets, visit: www.attenboroughcentre.com

Charlotte Vincent is the artistic director of Brighton-based Vincent Dance Theatre.