Powerlessness: Wendy Dossett

I was fascinated by Wendy Dossett’s interview with my colleague Wulf Livingston, in particular the discussions around the 12-Step Fellowship. Her research has provided some important insights into the 12-Step Fellowship. The film below follows on from an earlier one of Wendy’s that I have posted, The Nature of Addiction, where she describes acknowledging her own powerlessness over her addiction.

Wendy describes powerlessness as being a central concept in 12-step fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is argued that if control of substance use is beyond your own willpower, then there has to be some other power that is going to bring about abstinence. For example, step 1 states ‘We admitted we were powerless over alcohol…’, whilst step 2 states ‘Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.’

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Inspired by Natalie’s Story

Two years ago, I was interviewed by Huseyin Djemil for the Towards Recovery Journeys Podcast. Towards Recovery is a recovery community in Henley-on-Thames that Huseyin founded back in 2012. I edited this interview into 12 film clips and last week I posted them into the Recovery Voices section of this website. Here is one of the edited films which relates to Natalie, the young lady I first met back in 2000 and who inspired me to start writing stories about recovery.

David describes meeting ‘Natalie’, a former heroin addict, in his early days of working in the field. He reads a section of her Story that is posted on the his Recovery Stories website.

‘There were about fifteen people in my first group session, one of whom was an ex-heroin user who had been clean for about 16 years. She came over to talk to me and I was in awe. She had done exactly what I was doing and she had gotten through it. From that moment on, I didn’t feel so alone. She had done exactly what I was doing and she had gotten through it. It was a Light Bulb Moment.’

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Gifts of Knowledge That Recovering People Can Bestow: Bill White

‘Recovery Rising is the professional memoirs of William (Bill) L White who, over the span of five decades, evolved through several diverse roles to emerge as the addiction fields preeminent historian and one of its most visionary voices and prolific writers.’

The contains so many pearls of wisdom, and is an essential read for anyone interested in addiction recovery. Here are a few pearls, including a verylarge one. [NB. I have broken up Bill’s longest paragraph to make it easier to read online.]

‘The most obvious gifts of knowledge that recovering people can bestow on our communities are our stories—stories that unveil the experience of addiction, stories that communicate the reality and hope of full recovery, and stories detailing how such recovery can be initiated and sustained. Five ideas about recovery need to be inculcated within communities across America.

  1. Addiction recovery is a reality—it is everywhere.
  2. There are many paths to recovery.
  3. Recovery flourishes in supportive communities.
  4. Recovery is a voluntary process.
  5. Recovering and recovered people are part of the solution; recovery gives back what addiction has taken.

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My Second Recovery Voices Interview With Wulf Livingston

In a second interview with my co-founder of Recovery Voices, Wulf Livingston describes the national addiction recovery movement which grew up in the UK between 2008-12, and then how this initiative faded at a national level over later years. What we see today in terms of recovery is very different to what occurred at this earlier time.

Wulf goes on to talk about the development of North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) in Bangor, North Wales, one of a number of exciting recovery community initiatives dotted around the UK, and its Founder, James Deakin. Wulf has been closely associated with James and NWRC since its development. I loved hearing about various aspects of the development and current status of this really exciting recovery initiative.

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My Second Interview With James Deakin of North Wales Recovery Communities

My second interview with James Deakin, Founder of North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC), took place on 16 June 2023. It involved Perth, Western Australia, linking up with Bangor, North Wales, on Zoom, with a seven-hour time difference. I edited 11 films from the interview, totalling just under 58 minutes.

We covered a range of topics relating to the functioning of NWRC. These topics included NWRC trying to create as many recovery pathways as possible, involving various mutual aid groups holding meetings at NWRC’s Penrhyn House; the power of ‘the group’ in helping individuals; the importance of being committed to, and engaged with, the various activities offered by NWRC; the importance of service to the community and further afield (with examples, including a project in Kenya); education; and dealing with trauma and its impact.

I’m fascinated and excited by what is going on at NWRC. I hope our films involving NWRC—33 Voices Films totalling over three hours of film—illustrate what can be achieved with a peer-led recovery service, and provide insights into the nature of recovery.

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Interview With My Recovery Voices Colleague, Wulf Livingston

In an interview with my Recovery Voices colleague Wulf Livingston, he talks about his early hedonistic drug and alcohol use, life as a successful chef, and qualification as a social worker. He then worked with the drug and alcohol charity Lifeline, the drug treatment charity CAIS in North Wales, and the Probation Service.

Wulf later joined academia, eventually becoming Professor of Alcohol Studies at Glyndwr University in Wrexham. He believes what really makes a difference to people’s lives is what occurs beyond the addiction treatment phase.

I am enthralled by Wulf’s passion for social justice, his knowledge about what is needed to help more people recover from addiction, and his commitment to helping create positive societal change. The interview was edited into 16 short films, totally just under 80 minutes. Here is one of those films:

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What’s the Magic at Towards Recovery?: Huseyin Djemil

Huseyin says the magic at Towards Recovery is the connection. Members of Towards Recovery have connectedness and a shared sense of purpose. They support other people’s autonomy and agency. It’s about ‘… being visible, being connected, having a relationship.’ 25 March 2023.

Huseyin Djemil developed Towards Recovery, a recovery community in Henley-on-Thames, UK, in 2012. He has worked as a freelance consultant in the addiction field since 2007. Huseyin has held roles as drug worker, service manager, drug action team coordinator, commissioner, London regional lead for prisons and a number of other advisory roles both paid and pro bono.  Huseyin is in long-term recovery from an addiction to Class A drugs.

People Need Choice & Opportunity: Dr. David McCartney

Another film clip from my stimulating and moving interview with Dr. David McCartney, Founder of Lothian and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP).

David experienced a sudden and profound change in the quality of his life, and he felt an immense gratitude for ‘having another shot of life’. At one stage, he couldn’t have cared if he had gone to sleep and not woken up. He then suddenly had his enthusiasm and spirit back—things fired him up and he was looking forward to so much.

At the same time, he felt he needed to atone, make amends, for his past behaviour. He also felt concerned that he had not gotten the help that really mattered in facilitating recovery during his ‘first time around’. He felt strongly that people needed to be aware of all the options that were available so they could make an informed choice.

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On Being ‘Ballsy’: James Deakin

I’ve been busy recently editing film from the second interview I had with James Deakin, Founder of North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) in Bangor. I’m so impressed by what is happening at NWRC.

Whilst editing, I remembered I wanted to post a blog on James’s film where he discusses being ‘ballsy’. In my humble opinion, you need a chunk of ‘ballsiness’ to get some things done in the recovery field and climb over the barriers that the system sometimes puts in the way.

James is often accused of being an ‘ego-merchant’. He think there’s a fine line between ‘being ego’ and ‘being ballsy’. He believe he is the latter. He says to his community members, ‘I’m not afraid to fail. I’m afraid of not trying.’ David points out that we need people who are ‘ballsy’ in the recovery field.

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Dr. Wendy Dossett’s Recovery Voices Teaser

I’m thrilled to introduce you to the third of our Recovery Voices Teasers, this one belonging to Dr. Wendy Dossett. I loved Wendy’s interview with my colleague Wulf Livingston, which resulted in 16 Story films totalling just under 86 minutes.

In the above series of films, Wendy describes how she reached out for help 18 years ago at a time when she was in absolute agony due to her drinking problem. She has not had a drink of alcohol since that time.

In their fascinating discussion, Wendy and Wulf cover a wide range of topics, including the nature of addiction, a wide variety of aspects related to the 12-Step Fellowship, foundations of recovery, grassroots community, recovery advocacy and the system, and recovery friendly universities.

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Carrying the Message: James Deakin

In Monday’s blog post, I described how James Deakin, Founder of North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC), was incredibly intimidated by academics at one time. He got over that and today he is working with a number of us academics—in my case, a former academic.

James believes that both people with lived experience, and academics, have a role to play in the recovery field. For individuals on their recovery journey, storytelling is more relevant, but academic research is needed to influence funders and drive policy change.

James says that the upside of people with lived experience is that they are able to support people much more effectively, compassionately, and in a quicker manner. The downside of it is that ‘we’re also an ex-bunch of addicts and alcoholics, and it’s really easy to discount what we say, and what we think, and what we stand for, and what we advocate.’

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Overwhelmed by Shame: Dr. David McCartney

Shame plays a significant role in addiction. It is also a barrier to recovery. One can alleviate the feelings of shame by taking the drug and/or drink that led to the development of shame in the first place. Here’s a film of David McCartney, Founder of LEAP (Lothian and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme), talking about his drinking problem and his personal experiences of shame.

As David’s drinking increased, his interests and hobbies started to disappear. Eventually, he was only interested in activities that involved alcohol in some way. More and more the people he interacted with were either drinkers, or people he knew would not criticise his drinking.

His personal honesty eroded as he lied as to why he could not go into work. A mountain of shame grew, and his self-esteem diminished greatly, as he was living against all his personal values. He was a man who desperately needed to ask for, and access, help. Instead, he hid behind the thin veneer of being a doctor.

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There’s a Place for Me: James Deakin

Last week, I posted the Recovery Voices Teaser I edited for James Deakin, Founder of North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) which is located in Bangor, North Wales. This film quickly became the most viewed Recovery Voices film clip. The Teaser was created from an interview that James had with his good friend Wulf Livingston, who is my co-founder of the Recovery Voices initiative.

I was really excited to recently interview James, as part of a follow-up series to Wulf’s interview. I have now edited eight films from that first Zoom interview, summaries and links of which you can find here.

I decided to show this particular clip first, in which James describes how he was incredibly intimidated by academics initially. However, he later learnt that there was no need to be intimidated—he could play an important role in the addiction recovery field. And so he has! Mark Gilman played an important role here. How many times have I heard this of Mark? He has inspired many!

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Demoralisation in a Treatment Service: Huseyin Djemil

Huseyin Djemil, Founder of Towards Recovery, has done a good deal of consultancy work over the years. Here’s an example of the sort of work he has done within the treatment system.

‘Huseyin provided a one-day training course on opiates for practitioners of a well-known treatment provider. He finished his presentation slides by lunchtime. He wondered what was he going to do for the rest of the day?

He discovered that there were no opiate groups for clients, despite the fact that 51% of them were opiate users. When he started to discuss this matter with practitioners in the afternoon, he was told that the clients didn’t want anything other than methadone. Huseyin explored with the practitioners in an innovative way whether this was actually the case. He came up with some interesting findings.’

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James Deakin’s Recovery Voices Teaser

I’m really pleased to post the second of our Recovery Voices Teasers, that of James Deakin, the Founder of North Wales Recovery Communities (NWRC) in Bangor, North Wales. Having edited the film of my colleague Wulf Livingston’s ‘s interview of James, and then interviewed James myself, I’m really impressed by him and what he and his colleagues have achieved at NWRC.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Wulf to NWRC’s Penrhyn House and to their restaurant/cafe Bwyd Da Bangor (Good Food Bangor) in September last year. I had a really good breakfast at the latter. Sadly, James was out of town. I look forward to meeting him on my next visit. For now, we’ll be chatting on Zoom.

James has been in recovery for 15 years and is now sharing his experiences of active addiction and offending to support other people to bring a positive change to their own lives. He believes strongly in the concepts of mutual aid and shared experience, and these are underlying foundations of NWRC, which he founded in 2014.

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The Nature of Addiction: Wendy Dossett

Interviewer Wulf Livingston asks Wendy whether she is very particular about the language around addiction, in the same way as she is nuanced with language used around the word ‘recovery’. Wendy responds by saying that she was utterly powerless over her addictive behaviour. She identifies with the concept and experience of powerlessness, and is quite comfortable relating it to addiction.

Addiction is that ‘desperate need for oblivion, desperate need to change how I feel… a total lack of control.’ She has so many memories of the desperate desire not to do what she was doing, but being unable to desist, until ‘I acknowledged my own powerlessness.’

Bio: Dr Wendy Dossett is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Chester and Principal Investigator of the Higher Power Project. Wendy’s research explores religious, spiritual and secular language in addiction recovery modalities, including Twelve Step and Buddhist approaches. She’s also an activist for Visible Recovery, and she contributes to the ‘Recovery-Friendly University’ movement in the UK. She’s a person grateful to be in recovery herself.

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Dr. David McCartney’s Recovery Voices Teaser

I am thrilled to release the first of our Recovery Voices Teasers, that of Dr. David McCartney, the Founder of Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP).

I have known David since around 2007 and we continued to meet every time I was in Edinburgh, where my eldest daughter Annalie was doing her medical training in the early days. I loved visiting LEAP and spending time with the patients and staff. It was so good to be there last year, after a number of years away.

I edited my interview with David into a series of 15 films (totalling 76 minutes) which are posted on YouTube. These films cover the development of David’s drinking problem and an unsuccessful attempt at sobriety, the latter involving a medical approach focused on prescribing.

In crisis, he later called the Sick Doctors Trust Helpline and was told a doctor’s personal recovery story. That telephone call gave him hope and the opportunity to take his own journey to recovery. David talks about setting up LEAP and about facilitating recovery in the community.

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Let Love In!: Phil Valentine

A huge congratulations to Phil Valentine of Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery (CCAR), who recently received a Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from Faces & Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) in the US.

Here is a beautifully made short film on Instagram of Phil. In relation to Phil’s acceptance speech, the post reads: ‘This speech, filled with poise and humility, sheds light on how deserving Phil is of this award.’

Phil’s parting words in his speech: ‘Recovery is love. Letting love in and the ability to love and care for others. So my parting words to all of you: Let love in. Self-care is letting love in. If your soul is a well of love, how full is your well.’

A simply amazing man! Such a deeply moving film!!

Anxiety, Craving & Insomnia: Dr. David McCartney

I am so grateful to David for sharing the story of his addiction and recovery journey with me for the Recovery Voices Initiative. This film includes the time when David first accessed help for his drinking problem.

‘David eventually asked his GP to sign him off work through stress, as he thought he could tackle his problematic drinking when avoiding work. Instead, he started drinking in the mornings, as there was no reason not to!

David confessed his problem to his GP who told him he ‘wasn’t a drinker’—he had been drinking problematically for a decade by now!! He visited a psychiatrist who diagnosed his problematic drinking and referred him to an addictions psychiatrist who in turn arranged a community detox, involving librium and various other drugs. At one stage, David was taking between 20 and 30 pills a day.

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Secret Shoppers: Huseyin Djemil

During his commissioning days, Huseyin set up a ‘Secret Shopper’ project, as he was not convinced that what he and his colleagues were being told by a contracted service provider was actually the reality. Ex-service users were trained to play a number of different roles and told to take various actions with the service. The service provider was informed that Secret Shoppers would be visiting them. The service was provided with a copy of the final report. Huseyin describes some of the experiences of the Secret Shoppers.

Please check out more of Huseyin’s Recovery Voices films.

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