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:

I ask Wulf how Lifeline shaped him for his way forward. The latter describes how impressed he was when Ian Wardle told him and a colleague that whilst he was now going to take them into a meeting where he may have to tell the commissioner that ‘he can stick the contract up his backside’, they would not lose their jobs. 

A number of aspects related to the ethos of Lifeline, and the way the charity operated, impacted on Wulf in a positive way. A number of the staff had ‘lived experience’ of drug-taking and some were on methadone scripts. Staff were in control of the amount of time they spent with the people they were helping, and they saw these people in the community rather than in their office. Wulf also learnt that there was very little risk, even if he had to have difficult social work conversations, if you built a relationship with a client by being genuine and honest. His time at Lifeline was a really rich experience.

Wulf learnt that the stuff that really makes a difference to people’s lives is what occurs beyond that treatment phase. The importance of peer and shared-lived experience was cemented for him during this time. An interaction with a medically-oriented practitioner, although often of value, is not a life-changing experience for a person trying to overcome addiction.

I emphasise that recovery does not occur in a practitioner’s office, it takes place in the person’s community. Wulf points out that people need choice on their recovery journey, but it is not the job of the practitioner to determine that choice. The choice must be made by the person seeking help. 

Wulf is currently Professor of Alcohol Studies at Glyndwr University, Wrexham, Wales. His journey to this point has been one from an adolescent and early adulthood of hedonistic alcohol and drug-taking, through a period as a chef, into qualified social work. His formative practice experiences have all been in alcohol and drugs service provision, before an increasing drift into teaching and research.

Today, he focuses on alcohol and drug research and publications. He is an active member of the North Wales Recovery Community. He likes nothing more than to be on a mountain or a beach, including with those friends walking through their recovery.