Michael Scott: 45 Years Recovery Today

What a day for a very special man here in Canning Vale, Perth, Western Australia. My good friend Michael Scott is celebrating his 45th Recovery Birthday. A wonderful achievement! Congratulations, Michael. I remember vividly Michael’s description of his last drink, written ten years ago in his Recovery Story The Power of Empathy and Compassion.

‘I made the decision to stop drinking on April 10th, 1978, three years after my parents had died. My last drinking session took place at the Shenton Park Hotel. I finished my last drink and slammed the glass down, saying to myself that this was it! ‘No more drinking!’ I have not had a drop of alcohol since then.

I walked home and called an ambulance, saying that I had an alcohol problem and needed help.  The ambulance took me to Sir Charles Gardner Hospital where a doctor started shaking his head in dismay (and probably disgust) at the sight of his wretched-looking patient. I was terribly thin (bordering on anorexic), scruffy, dirty and smelt badly. He referred me to the D20 psychiatry ward at Charlie Gardner’s and I spent a night in this infamous facility.

On the following day, I was taken to the local detox/rehab unit on Ord Street in Perth. I remember this long walk vividly, probably the longest walk I have ever taken. I was completely shot, burnt out by years of drinking, but struggled on, as I knew that I had to do this….’

Here is another section from Michael’s Story, reflecting on what he thought about the treatment in Perth back in 2013.

‘7. Reflections on recovery and the system in WA
Recovering people need empathy and TLC (Tender Loving Care). Rapport with the patient is key to helping them recover. In my opinion, good rapport should be a given working in this field—it is what I experienced in rehab and what helped me get better, and it is what I aim for with my clients.

I chat with them about their Recovery Plan and their Recovery Goals. I emphasise to them that recovery must be fun; they don’t want to be hanging on for grim death in their recovery. I encourage them to get out and do things. I love movies and often encourage clients to go to the cinema. Sadly, there are not enough recovery-related activities going on in the local community of Perth, which is a major shortcoming in our current care system for people with substance use problems.

I believe that socialisation—the learning of interpersonal and interactive skills that a person requires to interact with other people—is one of the most important aspects of recovery and recovery-based care. Sadly, my management believes that our unit must focus on the medical detox, and our client’s underlying psychological and social issues should be addressed further down the track, post-detox in an outpatient or rehab setting.

The patients really appreciate the simple activities I organise in the unit, including scrabble, Wii and Bocce, which are used to facilitate relationships and communication, and help take people’s minds off their troubles. Such social activities help our patients overcome the psychological isolation that is so often intimately linked with addiction.

Learning simple social skills helps them interact with other people and survive in the outside world. I used to take our patients for an outing once a week, such as having a Devonshire tea in a nearby suburb (which they paid for), and they really appreciated this. Sadly, management has stopped this activity. We used to have daily walks, but these have been shortened and curtailed to four a week.

I love my job and working with the clients. Sure, it can be hard work sometimes, particularly with the difficult and chaotic patients. Those who want to take the journey to recovery, or have their eyes opened to that possibility, are great to work with (as are some of the difficult clients) and I get real pleasure in seeing them make even small improvements in the time they are with us. I have to confess that I get very much more pleasure interacting with the clients than interacting with some of our staff, particularly some of the managers.

I’ve been working in this business a long time and I can say without sounding too arrogant, I know what clients want. Sadly, new nurses come into our place as managers and have no idea of what is required to help people get better. They have no idea about recovery, recovery-based care, and the power of connecting people. Some come into the job as real control freaks, expecting you to work in the way they want and to the standards they require. The problem is that they have no idea what needs to be done to help a person recover—and they have no standards that they work to themselves.

Now, I’m not saying that the clients are not treated well in our place—in fact, they are treated very well—but the staff are often not treated well by some other members of staff. I am just surprised that such people are given jobs in a caring industry. They have no empathy or understanding, and manipulate the situation for their own ends to keep their job.

I’ve seen a lot of bullying in our place and heard of many other instances in the Health Department. And I’ve seen members of our staff really badly affected by the bullying. In fact, I’ve been badly affected by bullying and had to get some external help to deal with the matter.

The bullying affects your self-esteem—so you cannot give the client your best—and you are always have to watch your back. Bullying leads to valued members of staff leaving the job. I’ve now learnt a lot about bullying and help other people deal with it—I also know that you need to stand up to bullies. Management needs to do something about bullying!

In 2001, Western Australia had a Drug Summit and it was decided that our unit’s role was to dispense drugs – it organises all methadone prescriptions distributed by GPs in Perth—and provide medical detoxes. It was also decided that the voluntary sector treatment services would provide rehab, counselling and other services.

I feel confident that when I refer someone on to a place like Cyrenian they will be treated well, since I know they have a good outpatient programme and I know some of the counsellors. However, at the end of the day, I don’t know what happens to people in the long-term, whether they recover form their problems or not. Sometimes, I see people back at our place because they have relapsed and sometimes I come across someone who has recovered or is still recovering.

I think back to the earlier stages of my recovery, where for eight years I sat at home alone. It was such a lonely time of my life and many people in that situation would have relapsed.

However, whilst I felt isolated, I was so fearful of my health that I would not drink. I got out of my apartment by studying and socialising on campus. I stayed out late because I didn’t want to go home and stare at four walls. Often, I’d be offered free food by two of the ladies working in the canteen—they probably felt sorry for me. I would visit a restaurant, buy a tea and sit there for ages reading the newspaper.

I needed to interact with other people and I believe that this is a key element of recovery. Connecting with people and engaging in meaningful activities, interacting with others and communicating. I’d love to see more recovery-related activities in my hometown, and once they were initiated I am sure they would flourish. People in treatment would be connected to these recovery communities and we’d see many more people recover from addiction.’

Finally, here is how Michael and I got to meet each other.

8. Wired In on the internet
In 2002, I started reading Daily Dose on the web, a portal which provided the latest news and information from the around the world about drugs and alcohol. I contacted Wired In (or WIRED as it was then), who ran the service, to thank them and to say it was great hearing from the other side of the world on a regular basis. I continued using the website daily over the years.

In January 2009, I received an email from David Clark (Director of Wired In) asking if I would like to go for a cup of tea. I pointed out the reality to him, that we were on different sides of the world. “No,”he said, ‘I now live in Perth and my partner (Linda) works in a building next door to you.’

We had our cup of tea and continued having lunch at Cravings, a local café, every week for many months. More recently, David and Linda were looking for a house to buy and I suggested that they look around where I live, which is very nice. They now live just down the road and David and I meet once a week to talk about recovery and related matters.

I visited the online recovery community Wired In To Recovery from the day it launched late in 2008 until it closed. Following the evolution of this community, and all its components, has been both exciting and rewarding for me. I used to get heaps from the community. I read stories and blogs, gained new knowledge and understanding, picked up new concepts, watched films, and skyped and discussed with other people.

In a sense, it was like going to a University; in fact, it was better! I got to hear about real-life experiences, read the latest research and clinical practice ideas, gained access to self-management tools, kept track of the latest recovery news from around the world and much, much more. And it was absolutely free!!  I certainly couldn’t have gone anywhere here in Perth to get such knowledge.

It really annoyed me that Wired In To Recovery had to close because it received so little funding. It was a crime! I kept telling David that it’s amazing that people will not contribute funding to such a valuable resource. Even I know the potential for what could be achieved with Wired In To Recovery is phenomenal. I know that I am going on about this (and don’t want to embarrass David), but I cannot emphasise enough how strongly I still feel about this issue.’

The photographs below were taken when my partner Linda and I went to Broome (Paradise!) in the north-west of Western Australia with Michael and his wife Andrea to celebrate their 30th Wedding Anniversary.