What Is Recovery?

‘Recovery’ is the buzz-word of the moment in drug treatment in Britain. There are ‘Recovery Champions’ and ‘Recovery Access Points’ and you need ‘Recovery Capital’ to help you make it. But what do people mean – and what does the government mean – when they talk about people being in recovery?

As I mentioned in a previous post, which you can read here, when I first started my job as a drug and alcohol trainer with the NHS, attitudes to 12-step fellowships in drug and alcohol services were generally fairly negative. Over the last few years that has changed dramatically, with 12-step meetings being advertised, promoted and even hosted by drug and alcohol services.

But here we hit a problem. Recovery in 12-step terms means abstinence, yet this is not necessarily the only way that recovery can be defined. The UK Drug Policy Commission, a well respected independent, charity funded body whose aim is to stimulate informed, evidence-based debate about drug policy, got together a group of 16 people with various perspectives on recovery, to try to reach a consensus on what constitutes recovery from problematic drug and alcohol use. The ‘vision statement’ they came up with is:

The process of recovery from problematic substance use is characterised by voluntarily-sustained control over substance use which maximises health and wellbeing and participation in the rights, roles and responsibilities of society.

You can read their report here. Continue reading

The Start of NA in Lancaster

Until 1986 there were very few Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the North West. I was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous at this time but I was having some problems with individuals in the meetings who objected to my mentioning drugs in my shares (there were also objections to any mention of sex). I didn’t see, and still don’t, how I could share my experience, strength and hope without talking about the other drugs I had also had serious problems with. In this I was not alone and a group of us (seven if I remember correctly) decided to look into starting an NA group.

By the way, I’m not going to mention any names as, although I am not concerned about my own anonymity (obviously as I am writing this), other people’s anonymity is their responsibility.

Anyway, we looked at what meetings there were. As far as I remember there was a meeting in Manchester, some 60 miles away, and one in Blackpool which was much nearer. We decided to visit the Blackpool meeting to try to get a better idea of how NA meetings were run. It was an eye-opener. It was a small meeting made up, if I remember correctly, of mainly middle-aged women, and the person doing the main share (this was just after Christmas), talked about having a glass of wine with her Christmas dinner, “not that I would advise you to do that”, she made a point of saying.

So we came away with a good idea of how not to do it. Continue reading

Addiction – It’s not about the drugs

When I first went to Alcoholics Anonymous, which you can read about here, I thought that everyone was there because they had a problem with alcohol and that, having stopped drinking, they were now okay. I knew my problems were deeper than that so I soon dropped out.

Eventually the penny dropped, they weren’t there because they had a problem with alcohol, but because their lives were unbearable with or without alcohol. The same for Narcotics Anonymous and drugs (I went to lots of NA meetings as well).

What I realised over time was that alcohol and other drugs (and by the way I don’t think of alcohol separately from other drugs but, if I just write ‘drugs’, some people will think I’m not also writing about alcohol; they’re all ‘drugs’), anyway, what I realised that alcohol and drugs were what I used to try and fix what was wrong with me and, being the person I am (see herehere and here), they eventually became problems in themselves. So, in order to do anything about the underlying fears and phobias and insecurities, I needed to stop drinking and using. Continue reading

Why am I in Recovery While Others Didn’t Make It? (part 2)

I started writing about this in my previous post which you can read here.

So I ended up sitting on Sandylands Promenade, between Heysham and Morecambe, on the morning of April 22nd 1984 (I always thought it was the 21st until I checked on Google Calendar).

 

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Called Sunshine Slopes on the photo but known to me as Sunny Slopes

Anyway, there I was, no money, nothing to drink, not sure if I had any baccy or papers but I certainly felt as though I was at the end of something.

And it was then that things changed. Continue reading

Why Am I in Recovery While Others Didn’t Make It? (part 1)

me-at-superspirit

Why me?

I thought I would cover this in one post but I realise that I’ve quite a bit to say about ‘Why Me’. So I’ll be writing more over the next few days.

I sometimes think about the question “Why me?” Why did I recover from my addictions and others didn’t? I’ve seen enough people die along the way, people who seemed to struggle with addiction as much as I had, and had gone through worse experiences than me; who had gone to 12 step meetings, dropped out, come back, gone into treatment (something I never did), taken overdoses, walked into Morecambe Bay and drowned, or were just found dead in bed.

So what was it about me? What did I do that made me different? The answer? I don’t really know. Honestly. That’s not some sort of false modesty or attempt to be enigmatic. I genuinely don’t know.

I can look at how it happened and make a stab to some answers, at what I believe led to my recovery. Continue reading

Why I don’t just write about addiction and recovery

One thing I remember from my time in AA is the phrase “A bridge to normal living”. As to how far my life is ‘normal’ is not for me to judge. I certainly do lots of normal things like washing up, cooking, cleaning, shopping and providing a taxi service for my 16-year-old daughter (she’ll be 17 on Monday and at the moment has some school friends round for pizzas and drinks and Denise’s brother sent a bottle of champagne for them to drink to their successes at GCSE and the start of sixth form – for me it will be coke).

For pleasure I read (voraciously), play my guitar (not as much as I should), write this blog and spend time with my family.

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That’s me with the bald head. We were at Superspirit Camp which I’ll write about at some point

Addiction doesn’t take up a huge amount of my time today, except when I’m thinking and writing about it for this blog.

So these other things are, in a sense, my recovery. I didn’t recover to spend my time thinking about alcohol and other drugs; I spent enough time doing that when I was using.

No, today I’m on that ‘bridge to normal living’, not that I believe I’ll ever get to the other side. But I’ll tell you something, the view from here is pretty good.

Take care

12 Step Fellowships – How attitudes have changed

Disclaimer

I need to make clear at the start that I am not a member of any 12 step fellowship. I did get my recovery through AA and NA and went to meetings, on and off for about 5 years before I got into recovery, and then two or three times a week after that. I haven’t been to a meeting for, it must be, 15 years, so that will be around the time this story starts.

I wanted to clear that up because I don’t want anyone to think I am breaking my anonymity (a very important 12 step principle).

So, on with the story.

My job as a drug and alcohol trainer

In the late 90s I started work as a drug and alcohol trainer with a local NHS Trust. One of the reasons I got the job was because of my experience of addiction and recovery. On my first day I met with my manager. She said that, as this was a new post, I needed to visit local drug and alcohol agencies to get some idea of what training was needed and how I could be of use.

So I did, and it was an interesting experience!

I’ve always been pretty open about my addiction and recovery so I had no hesitation about telling various drug and alcohol workers and managers that my recovery was due to 12 step fellowships.

The response was striking. As soon as I mentioned 12 step I could almost see them looking around in panic for cloves of garlic and wooden stakes! Here was this brainwashed religious fanatic coming in to poison their minds, and those of their clients. Continue reading