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Recovery Stories Blog

Factors Facilitating Recovery: (Gaining) Recovery Capital

Here’s the last of the 11 factors facilitating recovery that I wrote about in my book Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol AddictionJust because it is last, does not mean it is the least important factor. In fact, it is one of the most important!

Recovery is better predicted by someone’s assets and strengths, rather than their ‘pathologies’, deficits and weaknesses. People can make progress by identifying and building on their personal assets and strengths. Interventions to facilitate recovery must focus on helping individuals build their recovery strengths, more often referred to as ‘recovery capital’. 

Recovery capital is the quantity and quality of internal and external resources that one can bring to bear on the initiation and maintenance of recovery [1]. It takes three main forms:

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Anna’s Moment of Clarity

In two recent blog posts starting here, I focused on a qualitative research project we conducted with family members who have been indirectly affected by substance use problems.

Years after this research was conducted, I received a story written by Anna, who lives here in Australia, which relates how her family coped with her brother’s heroin addiction. I published Anna’s Story on  Recovery Stories and recently updated it in my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Anna’s story highlights the need for family members to accept that they cannot take ownership of their loved one’s addiction. They are not responsible for the addiction and they cannot do recovery for their loved one.

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Recovery Stories Weekly, Issue 2

Welcome to the second of my Recovery Stories Weekly reviews. My blog posts during the past week covered a wide range of topics:

Factors Facilitating Recovery: Overcoming Stigma: Stigma can impact on a person with a substance use problem, or someone on a recovery journey, in various ways. It can create feelings of shame, blame, self-disgust, self-hatred and hopelessness, and impact badly on self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Voices of Loved Ones Indirectly Affected by Substance Use Problems: Family members face initial confusion about the nature of the substance use, imbalance as the problem takes over, a barrage of negative and contradictory emotions, the stigma associated with substance use, and problems associated with the treatment system.

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Ruby’s Healing Story

It’s hard to believe that it is over seven years ago since I launched Sharing Culture, an educational initiative to facilitate the healing of intergenerational trauma. [I don’t upload new content on the website now, but the content is still there for viewing.]

It is also over seven years since Michael Liu and I went out with Professor Marion Kickett to her home country in York to film her describing her life, country, culture, spirituality, family, education and resilience. Marion is a Noongar Elder from the Balardong language group, who is Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth.

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Should Recreational Drug Use Be Criminalised?

Douglas Husak, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University in the US, combines hard fact and rigorous moral reasoning in his cogent analysis of the drug law debate in his excellent book Legalize This! The case for decriminalising drugs. In this two part series (from Background Briefings section of website), I summarise his arguments to help the reader decide how they feel about the central question of the justice of drug laws. While Husak argues about the situation in the US, much of what is said is relevant to the UK and to many other countries.

Husak points out that we need to ask the right question when looking at drug policy. He emphasises that the onus has always been on those who want to change drug laws to justify why there should be changes. In fact, the onus should be on those who support current policy to justify their position. This rarely happens.

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Factors Facilitating Recovery: Overcoming Withdrawal Symptoms

People who decide to stop taking drugs or drinking alcohol after using or drinking for long periods of time, need to be aware that they might experience withdrawal effects which can be irritating, debilitating and even life-threatening.

Many of these withdrawal signs, which can be psychological and physical in nature, are generally opposite to the effects the person experienced when the drug was being taken. For example, abrupt withdrawal from long-term use of Valium (diazepam) and other benzodiazepines, drugs which are prescribed to alleviate anxiety and insomnia, can lead to pronounced anxiety, insomnia, agitation, intrusive thoughts and panic attacks.

In addition, people withdrawing from benzodiazepines can experience physical withdrawal signs, such as burning sensations, feeling of electric shocks, and full-blown seizures. The duration and strength of these withdrawal signs is in part dependent on the amounts of drug having been used and the duration of time the person has been using the drug. 

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Voices of Loved Ones Indirectly Affected by Substance Use Problems, Part 2

Continuing the qualitative research project conducted by Gemma Salter, a talented undergraduate student working with me back in 2004. The research involved interviewing nine parents and one grandparent (who had assumed the role of parent) of people with a drug and/or alcohol problem. The participants were recruited from West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea and Drug and Alcohol Family Support (DAFS) in Blaenau Gwent, South Wales.

…. It doesn’t take long for the effects of stress to manifest itself in physical and psychological health problems. Physical symptoms come in the form of eating and sleeping problems, high blood pressure, stomach problems, irritable bowel syndrome and tension aches. Some parents are prescribed antidepressants by their GPs.

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Voices of Loved Ones Indirectly Affected by Substance Use Problems

Continuing to look back at my career in the addiction recovery field and what I have learnt. After reading the excellent book Beating the Dragon: The Recovery from Dependent Drug Use by James McIntosh and Neil McKeganey in 2003, I made the decision to start a research programme involving qualitative analysis of interviews. The first piece of research, which focused on the effects of substance use problems on the family, was conducted by Gemma Salter, a third year undergraduate. Gemma was awarded the prize for the project of the year in my Psychology department.

Gemma’s research involved semi-structured interviews (lasting 42 – 129 minutes) with nine parents and one grandparent (who had assumed the role of parent) of people with a drug and/or alcohol problem. The participants were recruited from West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea and Drug and Alcohol Family Support (DAFS) in Blaenau Gwent, South Wales.

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Factors Facilitating Recovery: Overcoming Stigma

This is eighth post in this particular Series, which comes from my book Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol AddictionIt ties in nicely with a previous blog, Nothing to mourn; just a drug addict, by Dr David McCartney.

Stigma can be defined as social disapproval of personal characteristics, actions or beliefs that go against the cultural norm. It can occur at a variety of levels in society, i.e. individuals, groups, organisations and systems. A person can be labelled by their problem (e.g. addiction to drugs and/or alcohol) and they are no longer seen as an individual, but as part of a stereotyped group, e.g. a junkie, alkie, etc. Negative attitudes and beliefs toward this group create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination. 

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Recovery Stories Weekly, Issue 1

I thought I’d start a weekly column linking to the blog posts and other content loaded on Recovery Stories in the past week. I’ll also include any other news. It will give readers a chance to catch up on what has been going on.

I started blogging regularly again on Recovery Stories on 29 March 2021 after a six year hiatus. The original content, generated from May 2013 and including over 700 blog posts, had still been available during my break. Since my return, I’ve added 60 blog posts, along with other content. I have also launched the eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction on the 9th April 2021. So here is this past week’s content:

Blog: this week’s posts on my blog.

‘Hope is the Word That Can Free Us From Addiction’ by o2b3: A short story about recovery from the days of our online community Wired In To Recovery.

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A Parent’s Story

I met Mike Blanche in around 2003 and he was the first person to help me understand the impact of a person’s substance use problem on family members. Mike was an inspiring figure who had played a key role in the setting up of Drug and Alcohol Family Support (DAFS) in Blaenau Gwent in South Wales. He organised a conference, Families in Focus, at which the following talk was given. We first posted this talk on our SubstanceMisuse website back in 2003.

‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am a mother and I have been invited here today to talk about my experiences as a service user. I have a son who is living at home with my husband and myself. He is addicted to drugs.

He first started dabbling with substances when he was still in school. At first it was ‘glue sniffing’, but it wasn’t long before he started experimenting with cannabis. When I tried to approach him to warn him of the dangers of drug abuse, his typical reaction was to say, ‘Don’t worry Mam, I can handle it.’

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Bill White’s Norman E. Zinberg Memorial Lecture, 2012

Researcher, historian, practitioner and recovery advocate William (Bill) L White has been the most prolific writer in the addiction recovery field. Bill’s fascinating book Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America is a classic. You can see the Table of Contents here.

As many can testify, Bill is an amazing public speaker. Here is the Norman E. Zinberg Memorial Lecture, Experiencing Recovery, he gave at the Harvard Addiction Conference in 2012. Bill’s lecture is on YouTube, divided into ten parts:

Part 1: Early History of Recovery in the U.S.

Bill describes just how far back recovery goes historically in the US—to Native American Indians in the 1730s! (13’36”)

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The Regulation and Control of Drugs

Throughout history there have been all sorts of attempts to regulate or control the use of certain drugs. It is generally assumed and rarely argued that it is all done for the greatest good, to help reduce the health and social problems caused by drugs. However, a closer look at the origins of prohibition reveals a more complicated picture. Ideological, political and economic interests play a major role.

The earliest form of prohibitionist thought can probably be accredited to an Egyptian Priest who in 2000 BC wrote, ‘I, thy superior, forbid thee to go the taverns. Thou art degraded like the beasts.’

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The Stolen Generations

When I came to live in Australia in December 2008, I knew little about the past government policy of removing Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. This policy was introduced by Federal and State government acts in order to assimilate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into the white-dominated society of Australia. In essence, to help ‘make’ these children ’white’. Children taken from their families as a result of this policy are now known as the ‘Stolen Generations’.

I felt embarrassed that I did not know more about the Stolen Generations. However, I was soon to realise that I was just one of a vast majority of people outside Australia who knew nothing about Australia’s policy of removing Aboriginal children (in particular children of mixed race) from their families. In fact, I know few people outside of Australia who have heard of this policy. It is one of Australia’s best kept ‘secrets’.

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Factors Facilitating Recovery: Gaining a Positive Identity

People with serious substance use problems lose a lot of the roles or personal characteristics that help define their normal identity (e.g. loving son, athlete, generosity, intelligence) as their dependence on their substance(s) increases, relationships wither and isolation increases. Eventually, their identity as viewed by others may become ‘a useless, dirty addict’. They will also have personal views of what they have become and these views can lead to lowered self-esteem or even intense hatred of oneself.

On the basis of qualitative research with over 100 heroin addicts who had recovered from their addiction without professional treatment, Patrick Biernacki argued that: ‘To change their lives successfully, addicts must fashion new identities, perspectives and social world involvements wherein the addict identity is excluded or dramatically depreciated.’ [1]

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‘Hope is the Word That Can Free Us From Addiction’ by o2b3

One of the things I will be doing over the coming months is to ‘bring back’ some of the classic blogs from our online community Wired In To Recovery, which ran from 2008 – 2012. People who know me will tell you that I always keep banging on about hope. Yes, hope is essential for recovery! Here’s a real powerful blog about hope which o2b3 submitted to Wired In To Recovery back in 2010.

‘I always thought that the word hope didnʼt apply to me! From where I come from I was never shown or given any hope. I was always put down and told, ‘Thereʼs no hope for you. You are no good. Youʼre bad, you are a liar. You are worthless and rotten to the core.’ When you keep hearing that said to you time and time again, you start to believe in what those people say. That this is you and thatʼs what you are. So I became the person that everyone said I was. I became all of the above, just to get back at those people that hurt me and put me down.

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12 Principles of Indigenous Healing

When I first became interested in Indigenous healing a number of years ago, I did a great deal of reading about the healing of trauma and intergenerational trauma. I summarised what I considered to be 12 principles of healing, which are relevant to Aboriginal people here in Australia and other Indigenous peoples around the world. I first posted about these principles on Sharing Culture in 2014 and then on The Carrolup Story in 2018.

1. The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be recognised and respected
Recognition of, and respect for, the Human Rights of Indigenous peoples is fundamental to improving their health and wellbeing. Society must ensure that Indigenous peoples have full and effective participation in decisions that directly or indirectly affect their lives.

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Recovery Moments: Ian and Irene’s Story

Two of my favourite people that I have met on my Wired In journey are Ian and Irene MacDonald. I first met Ian in 2007 at a Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) meeting, although we had been corresponding earlier. Ian and Irene had lost their son Robin to a heroin overdose in 1997 and were now running a family support group, CPSG (Carer and Parent Support Gloucestershire).

Ian later asked if I would give a talk to family members in Cheltenham and I happily agreed. The talk took place in September 2008. I was still living in Cowbridge in South Wales at the time. My new partner Linda was visiting from Australia, so she came to Cheltenham with me. We spent a lovely evening with Ian and Irene. I remember thinking at the time how would I ever recover from losing a child?

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Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)


Here’s an article on asset-based community development which I wrote some years ago. This approach can facilitate healing in a community.

“Mental health is not a product of pharmacology or a service that can be singularly provided by an institution: it is a condition that is more determined by our community assets than our medication or access to professional interventions more generally. There are functions that only people living in families and communities can perform to promote mental health and wellbeing, and if they do not do those things; they will not get done, since, there simply is no substitute for genuine citizen-led community care (not to be confused with volunteer mentoring schemes).” Cormac Russell

There are two alternative ways to build a community in a neighborhood.

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‘A bright light in a dark world’ by Maddie

One of the highlights of my career has been the development of Wired In To Recovery. Our online recovery community attracted over 4,000 members, who were from around the world and had a diverse range of backgrounds. A significant number (over 1,000) of community members blogged, generating over 7,500 blogs and 35,000 comments!

I loved reading the blog posts and had many favourites. Here is just one of the moving posts I was lucky enough to read.

“I’m almost nine months into my recovery journey, during which time I have not had a drop of alcohol. I’ve been reflecting back to my past, the time that I was drinking very heavily. Today, I can’t imagine drinking every day as I did, waking up with a hangover every morning. My mind just can’t seem to go back there.

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