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Recovery Stories Blog

Revisiting Old Memories, Part 6: WGCADA Christmas Party (2002)


I have previously written about how after I closed down my neuroscience laboratory in 2000, I spent a good deal of time visiting an addiction treatment agency in Swansea, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGADA). I became good friends with a number of the practitioners there, some of whom were in recovery, and I learnt a good deal about addiction and recovery from them and the people who had accessed the agency for help.

I loved the community spirit at WGADA. It was very special. This community spit was well evidenced in the video I made of the 2002 WGCADA Christmas Party in Swansea.

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Pat Deegan: ‘Loneliness: a call to generosity’

Here’s some wise words from one of my favourite people working in the mental health recovery field, Pat Deegan. This blog first appeared on Pat’s CommonGround website on 27 February 2011. Pat also reads the blog post to a slideshow. The post has appeared twice on Recovery Stories, in 2013 and 2014.

‘Like many people, I experienced periods of intense loneliness during my recovery after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Over time, I learned that my loneliness was a call for me to be more generous and to give of myself. Here’s what I mean:

Loneliness and being alone are two different things. In my early recovery, being alone was an important self-care strategy for me.

At that time, being around people and being involved in the complexities of relationships was too much for me. I liked living in a single room in a boarding house. Closing my door, listening to music, and shutting people out helped me relax and feel safe.

Over time I learned that isolating for too long was not good and that I had to venture out into the world of people every few hours. In effect, I learned the right balance of being around people and being in my room.

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New Articles Posted on Website

Over the past year, I’ve been writing new articles for Wired In, as well modifying some of the old articles. I’ve also made pdf documents for each article. I hope you will find some of the articles of value and enjoy reading them. Please feel free to download the pdf documents and pass around to other people.

There are now seven articles in this section that relate to the research that my colleagues (students, ex-students, people in recovery) and I conducted when I was running the grassroots initiative Wired In. There are also nine other articles relating to various topics.

Here are eight new articles:

Factors That Facilitate Addiction Recovery

Recovery is something done by the person with the substance use problem, not by a treatment practitioner or anyone else. Whilst there are a multitude of pathways to recovery, there are a number of key factors that facilitate recovery from serious substance use problems. (9,545 words)

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Revisiting Old Memories, Part 5: Launch of Wired In To Recovery

I was greatly inspired by the book Community Building on the Web by Amy Jo Kim back in 2002, before Facebook was launched. Through reading this book, I became convinced of the power of web communities for helping tackle social issues. My vision was to build a Wired In virtual meeting place for peers to communicate with, and help, each other. A place where ideas could be developed and exchanged, and stories told.

However, I was never able to raise the funding required to develop such a web community. After taking early retirement from my Professorial position in the Department of Psychology, University of Swansea in late-2006, I made the decision to use some of my redundancy payment to finance the development of a web community focused on addiction recovery, which we would call Wired In To Recovery

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The Challenges of Recovering From Heroin Addiction

When you ask people what difficulties a person faces when trying to overcome heroin addiction, most will focus on the early withdrawal symptoms, which comprise both physical and psychological elements.

There are potentially far greater challenges that lie ahead in a journey to recovery from heroin addiction. It is important that people know this (users, family members, practitioners, etc), although it is also important that people with a heroin problem are not put off by these challenges. Many people have overcome heroin addiction.

One of my favourite pieces of addiction research focuses on the recovery journey from heroin addiction and I have described this research in the article section of this website. In the 1980s, Patrick Biernacki interviewed over 100 people in the USA who had overcome their heroin addiction without treatment. These were some of the major challenges these people faced:

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Revisiting Old Memories, Part 4: Wired In Charter

In October 2006, I took early retirement from my Professorial position in the Department of Psychology at Swansea University in South Wales, in part to focus full-time on developing our Wired In grassroots initiative. In January 2008, I settled down to develop a new Wired In strategy, as well as write a Wired In Charter, which was published in April. I wanted people to get a better feel for what we were about. Here is that Charter:

1. Wired In exists because of the problems that drugs and alcohol can sometimes cause for individuals and their families.

2. Wired In is founded upon Trust: we are independent, objective and honest. Wired In is about being creative, and having the courage to challenge.

3. We aim to create an environment of opportunity, choice and hope for people affected by substance use problems.

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A Genesis of Hope: Dr. David McCartney

I hold Dr. David McCartney in my highest regard. He not only overcame his serious alcohol problem, but also set up Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP), a programme that offers structured treatment based in the community using a blend of evidence-based interventions. The patient group in treatment operates as a therapeutic community. I used to love visiting LEAP in my Wired In days, interacting with staff and patients as described in my last blog post.

David is very knowledgeable about addiction and recovery, and posts content to the Recovery Review blog, as part of a community of recovery-oriented experts who write about recovery and related matters. In April 2021, he appeared in a podcast about his addiction and recovery.

‘Switching from doctor to patient was not an easy transition for me. My first attempt at recovery was medically assisted, but only got me so far. What I needed was something more profound: hope, healing and connection to other recovering people. In this podcast for the National Wellbeing Hub, Dr Claire Fyvie interviews me about my own experience of addiction and recovery – warts, wonder and all.’

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Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 10 (Dr. David McCartney & LEAP)

After visiting Ian and Irene MacDonald, I headed back to my usual base when I am visiting the UK, the Beech House Hotel in Reading. It’s a wonderful family-run hotel that I have been staying in for over a decade whilst I visit my three youngest children. The next morning, I delivered my hire car back to the main office, and then headed to Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh.

I was soon on my way to my favourite UK city where I would be meeting some of my favourite people, the staff and patients at Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP), led by my close friend Dr David McCartney. I first visited LEAP in 2007, at a time when my eldest daughter Annalie was a medical student at the university. For some years, even after I moved to Australia, I would spend the day talking with staff and patients. My discussions with David and his Clinical Lead Eddy Conroy were enjoyable, thought-provoking, and inspiring.

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‘A Letter to Alcohol’ by Beth Burgess

One of the most powerful pieces of writing I have come across about a person’s relationship with alcohol was written by Beth Burgess, a UK Recovery Coach from Smyls. I first posted this letter on Recovery Stories in May 2013.

‘Dear Alcohol,

Well it’s been a while now, and although you are a bad influence, I do miss you sometimes. I miss our secret relationship, the way that no-one else was part of it and could never get in on it. I miss the way you comfort me when I’m down. It sometimes creeps up on me unexpectedly how much I miss you. And other times I am glad you are gone.

Of course you have changed – and I know that. You’re not fun any more. But I seem to forget that when we’re not together. I don’t know why my memory is so short and why I always remember the good times with such intensity. It hasn’t been that way for a while.

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Revisiting Old Memories, Part 3: WIRED

In a previous blog post in this series, I described how Claire Brown of Drink and Drugs News (DDN) commissioned me to write articles for the magazine that she and Ian Ralph had launched. Here is an article I wrote on WIRED (later called Wired In) that was published in that very first issue of DDN (1 November, 2004). WIRED was the grassroots initiative that I developed back in 1999.

‘Up close: WIRED

WIRED is becoming valued as a unique grassroots initiative to tackle drug and alcohol misuse that merges real world activities with a high profile web based communication system. We asked its creator, Professor David Clark, how WIRED developed.

The concept of WIRED was developed five years ago as a way of empowering people to tackle substance misuse. I felt that the internet was not being used innovatively to help the field. Its potential for supporting an integrated resource of information, support, education, training and research, as well as bringing together expertise from both within and outside the field, needed to be realised.

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‘Living Through Our Son’s Addiction and Death: Our Journey to Recovery’: Ian and Irene’s Story Update

In my last blog post, I described how I met Ian and Irene MacDonald at their home on the outskirts of Cheltenham during my last trip to the UK in September 2022.

Ian and Irene had lost their 27-year-old son Robin to an accidental heroin overdose in November 1997. In response to this loss, they set up CPSG (Carer and Parent Support Gloucestershire), a free and confidential service that was available to anyone concerned about another person’s substance use.

I posted Ian and Irene’s Recovery Story, Living Through Our Son’s Addiction and Death: Our Journey to Recovery, on this website in 2013. We updated this Story in 2021 for my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Here is that update:

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Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 9 (Ian and Irene MacDonald)

After leaving Wulf and Melanie Livingstone’s house in North Wales, I headed to Ian and Irene MacDonald’s home in the outskirts of Cheltenham. I first met Ian Macdonald at the FDAP (Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals) Annual conference in 2007; we had previously corresponded about a few articles that I posted on our news portal Daily Dose. We hit it off immediately. Ian told me how he and Irene had he had lost their 27-year-old son Robin to an accidental heroin overdose in November 1997.

After a long period trying to get their lives back on track after Robin’s death, Ian and Irene realised that their lives would never be the same again and accepted that their lives would not be bad, just different. They then began to wonder if there was any possibility of something positive coming from Robin’s death.

They spoke to each other about this for a long time, until one night it occurred to them that what they could was to provide what they had wanted when they first discovered their son’s addiction to heroin—’quite simply, someone to talk to, understand what we were going through, be non-judgemental, have a knowledge of drugs and addiction, and be able to act as a signpost to further help.’

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Factors Facilitating Addiction Recovery

In my last blog post, The Nature of Addiction Recovery, I finished by saying that I would describe the key factors that facilitate recovery from addiction in today’s blog post. In fact, I’m going to summarise these factors and provide links to my relevant blog posts of 2022 which provide much more detail. The descriptions linked to have come from a chapter of my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

Hope: This hope is based on a sense that life can hold more for one than it currently does, and it inspires a desire and motivation to improve one’s lot in life and pursue recovery.

Empowerment: To move forward, recovering people need to have a sense of their own capability, their own power.

Self-Responsibility: Setting one’s own goals and pathways, taking one’s own risks, and learning one’s own lessons are essential parts of a recovery journey.

A Sense of Belonging: People recovering from addiction need to feel the acceptance, care and love of other people, and to be considered a person of value and worth.

(Gaining) 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.

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The Nature of Addiction Recovery

There have been various definitions of addiction recovery proposed over the years. For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to use a definition proposed by leading addiction recovery advocate William (Bill) L White [1]:

‘Recovery is the experience (a process and a sustained status) through which individuals, families, and communities impacted by severe alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems utilize internal and external resources to voluntarily resolve these problems, heal the wounds inflicted by AOD-related problems, actively manage their continued vulnerability to such problems, and develop a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.’

There are a number of features about addiction recovery that need to be understood. Firstly, recovery is something done by the person with the substance use problem, not by a treatment practitioner or anyone else. Professional treatment or engagement in mutual aid groups may facilitate recovery, but they do so by catalysing and supporting natural processes of recovery in the individual.

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Revisiting Old Memories, Part 2: Adam Brookes’s Recovery Speech

In July 2011, I gave an invited talk, Transforming Health Care Systems to be Recovery-Focused, at the Fresh Start Recovery Seminar in Perth. A good friend of mine, Adam Brookes, who was in recovery from addiction, gave a five-minute speech to open the day’s event. Adam’s speech is one of my endearing memories from the time I have spent working in the addiction recovery field. Here is that speech:

‘I am deeply honoured to be here today, opening this meeting. I thank my good friends and colleagues at Fresh Start for asking me to give this little speech, and for helping save my life. Just over five years ago, I had a moment of clarity as I walked through Mandurah. I looked at a gravestone and suddenly knew I was facing death or a long period in jail.

I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol, amphetamine and cannabis. I was homeless, carrying two black bags containing my only possessions, ten dollars and a cask of wine. I was cornered and in deep psychological pain. I couldn’t escape the consequences of my addiction anymore and there was nowhere I could turn… other than to the Salvation Army in Mandurah.

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My Name is Jim and I’m a Recovery Ally: Jim LaPierre

I came across this wonderful blog post by Jim LaPierre back in 2011 and wrote about it on Wired In To Recovery. It’s well worth a read. On his Linked In page, Jim describes himself as ‘a seasoned mental health therapist and substance abuse counselor. I am the clinical director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine.’

‘My name is Jim and I’m a recovery ally. People in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse don’t expect me to be able to understand them. I don’t blame them one bit. I’ve never been an alcoholic and my drug addictions are limited to caffeine and nicotine. These are not exactly conditions that make a person’s life unmanageable, at least not in any short order. Worse, I am seen as less likely to understand because I am a professional in the addictions field. My friends in recovery have too often received poor quality of services, judgment, and been generally shamed by people in my line of work. This must stop. Being a recovery ally means that I seek to be part of the solution to all of the problems associated with the disease of addiction.

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Revisiting Old Memories, Part 1: Drink and Drugs News (DDN)

I’ve just been reading through a chapter I have written for a book I am working on, tentatively called Those Who Came Before: A Personal Journey Into Understanding Drug Addiction and Addiction Recovery. In the chapter, I describe how I started writing for the magazine Drink and Drugs News in late 2004. I wrote a series called Background Briefings for nigh on four years. Here’s how it all started:

‘In the summer of 2004, Simon Shepherd of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) was approached by Claire Brown and Ian Ralph, who worked for a public health magazine. They asked him whether there was a case for a regular magazine focused on the treatment of substance use problems to be distributed bi-weekly for free to the field. The idea was for costs of the magazine to be covered by advertising. Together, they sketched out the bones of what the magazine might look like, and came up with the name Drink and Drugs News (DDN). 

Simon contacted me and asked if I would meet with Claire and Ian, as he thought that my community initiative WIRED (later known as Wired In) could play an important role in this venture. The four of us met and planned a strategy. Soon after, Claire and Ian left their jobs, rented a new office near the Thames River in London, and a special new venture began. 

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‘Why the empty seats at the free public health lunch?’ by Dr. David McCartney

When I worked in the addiction field in the UK in the first decade of this millennium, I was surprised how few treatment practitioners encouraged their ‘clients’ to access Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and other mutual aid groups. This fact was all the more puzzling in that the treatment services that were having the most success in helping people overcome substance use problems always strongly encouraged the people  who were seeking help to access mutual aid groups.

Here’s an excellent blog post on Recovery Review from one of my favourite bloggers, Dr David McCartney of Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme LEAP), about this issue:

‘A few years back in my first few months of working full time in addictions, I attended a seminar on mutual aid. Facilitated by an addiction psychiatrist, the meeting was packed with a variety of addiction treatment professionals.

The facilitator laid out the evidence base for mutual aid as it was at the time and discussed how assertively referring to mutual aid organisations could result in high take-up rates with benefits to patients. This was in the days when most groups were 12-step – SMART and other groups were still to be launched locally.

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Active ingredients within the processes of successful addiction treatment and recovery: Rudy Moos

Here is a very important blog post that I first uploaded to the website back in June 2013. It is essential reading for those people developing and running recovery communities, as well as people working in the treatment field:

“For nearly five decades, Rudy Moos, PhD, has been one of the giants of modern addiction research. I believe he has, more than any other research scientist, focused on questions of the greatest import to addiction counselors and the individuals and families they serve. His published studies have dramatically expanded our knowledge of addiction treatment and the processes of long-term addiction recovery.” William L White

That is one hell of an introduction to Rudolf Moos, in my humble opinion one of the great addiction researchers of our time. Bill White’s comments come at the beginning of a very interesting interview he conducted with Rudolf in 2011.

In this interview, Bill asks Rudolf if he would summarise the core principles that have been revealed by his research that illuminate the active ingredients within the processes of successful addiction treatment and recovery. Here is what Rudolf had to say (I’ve changed some of the paragraphs and omitted references for clarity purposes):

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Natalie’s Trauma Story: My Childhood Experiences

In my last blog post, I described my 2022 reunion with Natalie, a recovering heroin addict who first inspired me to start writing recovery stories back in the early 2000s. You can read the version of Natalie’s Recovery Story, I Didn’t Plan To Be An Addict, I initially wrote for this website back in 2013 here.

Natalie is now an inspiring senior practitioner in a treatment service and is over 20 years in recovery. In my last blog post, I said that I would describe Natalie’s childhood experiences that led to her becoming traumatised. This section is taken from my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction, which contains the latest version of Natalie’s Story.

‘I lived in a rural area with my Mum and Dad and brother and sister. I remember that my Dad would disappear to London for a week or two from time to time. When I was 11 years old, we moved to a city, although my Dad wasn’t there for the actual move. Within five days of the move, he was arrested for drug smuggling.

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