My Journey: 15. Wired In Ups and Downs, Part 2

My funding applications  to build an online recovery community to help people overcome substance use problems, and to help SMART Recovery ‘spread’ their approach in the UK, are unsuccessful. We launch our first Wired In film, the story of Mark Saunders, and I spend time with the inspiring self-change expert Linda Sobell in the US and Scotland. I start collaborating with the team at Clouds House, where I hear about the leading US recovery advocate Bill White.

1. Online Community Development

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 potential 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.

I talked over my ideas with my web-developer Ash Whitney and Anni Stonebridge, the former local evaluator for the North Wales DAAT during the DATF evaluation (cf. Chapter 6). Anni had moved to Aberdeenshire in 2003 and became the Drug & Alcohol Development Officer for Aberdeenshire Council. We had remained in touch and Anni had become a member of our Wired In team. She was conducting a range of interesting projects in Scotland which we publicised on our websites. 

Anni and I started to plan the development of a web community for family members affected by their loved one’s substance use problems. She arranged for us to meet with people in the Scottish Government to discuss our ideas and explore the possibility of funding. They seemed enthusiastic about the initiative and said they would get back to us.

Meanwhile, I met Tony Roberts of Datasmith Ltd., who had developed an internet-based system that allowed the gambling addiction charity Gordon House to provide 24-hour online counselling, support, and aftercare. Tony’s brother Kevin, a social worker and CEO of Gordon House, had masterminded the therapeutic elements of the service. Unlike other similar systems at that time, Datasmith’s technology (which had a patent pending) was completely secure and confidential.

Simon Shepherd and I agreed to ask Tony if he would be willing to develop a new system for Wired In and FDAP, which we would call Virtual Outreach, if we were able to raise the funding. Anni Stonebridge would be an integral part of the project. 

I now started to spend more time in Scotland. Anni arranged for me to stay as a B&B guest at beautiful Dinnet House, on the River Dee, which was located a few miles from where she lived. Sabrina and Marcus Humphrey were perfect hosts and the former was very encouraging about what I was doing with Wired In.

Anni and I worked on our Wired In plans in Sabrina’s magnificent lounge. Whilst in Edinburgh during one trip, I met with a Scottish Government civil servant about Virtual Outreach and he was encouraging about the possibility of providing funding. 

My daughter Annalie started studying medicine at The University of Edinburgh in September 2004, so there was an added reason to visit Scotland regularly. I love Edinburgh!

In June 2005, I travelled with Anni Stonebridge to Loch Ness to meet John Sinclair, former keyboard player with Uriah Heep and Ozzy Osbourne’s band, who was now in recovery from addiction and working with troubled youngsters. I loved my meeting with John and the philosophy behind his work.

He thought that today’s youngsters, ‘… were born into an increasingly cold and indifferent world, thus being easily driven {and often resorting} to making irrational choices to establish some sense of self-worth.’ He aimed to provide a musical environment that helped enhance essential life skills such as motivation, communication, determination, and self-worth.

In September, I took Keith Morgan of WGCADA up with me to Dinnet, and he, Anni and I then travelled to see John Sinclair at his home. Keith and John started jamming together soon after we arrived. They planned to write about recovery together. It was amazing to see their interaction.

Unbeknownst to Keith, WGCADA had invited John to give a talk at their Annual General Meeting some months later. They asked Keith to pick up their speaker at Bristol airport. Keith was thrilled to find that the speaker was John Sinclair, and the pair had a great time together in Swansea.

Meanwhile, Anni had been very busy on our collaborative projects. She had convinced Aberdeenshire Alcohol and Drug Action Team (ADAT) to provide some funding for Wired In to develop content for our planned family web community. Aimee Hopkins started preparing content based on the SMART Recovery approach (see below).

However, the Scottish Government failed to come through with the additional support that was needed. Although we were unable to raise any other support for this specific project, we thought that the content could be used on Virtual Outreach.

I started writing to a large number of drug and alcohol rehabs in the UK to inform them about our work and to see if they would be interested in funding Wired In. I pointed out that we could develop an aftercare system (which could involve on-line counselling, information provision, stories) for which all their ex-clients could benefit.

I received only one reply, from Nick Barton of Clouds House. This communication was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with Nick Barton and his team at Clouds House. The failure to receive any other replies from rehabs was both surprising and very disappointing.  

Anni pointed out to me that Virtual Outreach would be an ideal tool for organisations located in rural regions and islands of Scotland. Following meetings and discussions with various members of the Remote and Rural Subgroup of the Scottish DAT Association, she assembled a list of ten areas which had expressed serious interest in offering a service supplied via Virtual Outreach. Each of the areas described ways in which they would like to use our proposed new tool. 

We submitted a proposal to the Scottish Government to fund the development of Virtual Outreach, for which Distance Therapy were generously going to charge a minimal amount, and a one-year pilot during which the ten areas would use the tool in a variety of ways and help provide feedback so that we could write a final evaluation report. Despite their initial interest and my trips up to Scotland to meet relevant civil servants, for which I paid the airfares, the Scottish Government did not fund the project.

In early November, I gave an invited talk at the Scottish Association of Alcohol Action Team Expert Seminar on ‘Rural Issues in Scotland’ in Glasgow. I talked about Virtual Outreach and the project for which we were trying to get funding. I was approached by George Howie of Health Scotland and asked to submit the original Scottish Government proposal to his organisation, as he was sure they would fund the project. 

I submitted the proposal in late November, only to have it rejected. Other efforts to fund development of Virtual Outreach also failed. This was all so disappointing, not just because of what could have been achieved in helping people with this important tool, but also that it would eventually have become self-funding.

Simon Shepherd and I agreed that Virtual Outreach had to be quality assured, and therefore professionals or organisations wishing to use it would need to become Associated Members of FDAP (Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals] and abide by their Codes of Practice. They would pay for use of the tool either by the hour, or by a fixed sum for 24x7x365 use. Sadly, Virtual Outreach was not going to happen.

2. Film Projects

The Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) provided funding for Wired In to engage and empower people who were, or had been, homeless and were misusing illicit drugs and/or alcohol. The project was conceived as a way to engage homeless people to: find out factors that facilitate their engagement in treatment for substance use problems; provide them with the opportunity to acquire social and practical skills; and involve them in a project that would enhance public awareness of ‘addiction on the streets.’

Sarah Davies and young filmmaker Simon Roberts spent a good deal of time getting to know the twenty homeless people who would eventually speak on film, and this stood the project in good stead. Sarah and Simon also worked with nine organisations in Cardiff and Swansea, as well as a Swansea street nurse. They collected over 24 hours of footage which was passed on to the WCVA. Simon edited a promotional piece using clips that were selected by homeless people who were involved in the project.

Lucie James and a talented filmmaker friend of hers from Penarth, Jonathan Kerr-Smith, made a 10-minute film, The Personal Story of Mark Saunders.

Mark was a Wired In volunteer and former heroin addict. We had met him through Angela Brinkworth, a drama therapist who ran an organisation called Make a Change that worked with people who had a substance use problem and had committed criminal offences. These young people gave something back to the community by sharing their knowledge and experience of drug addiction through Forum Theatre to schools, youth groups, young offender groups, and to inmates in a prison. 

Mark’s film was first shown publicly at a Make a Change conference on empowerment in Newport in December 2005, where I gave a talk on ‘Empowering Others’. We decided that Mark’s Story should be the first of a series of Wired In film stories and when the National Treatment Agency (NTA) later asked for submissions for funding of new projects, I submitted an application for this project. Sadly, the proposal was rejected.

Forum Theatre, developed by Augusto Boal in Brazil, often deals with social justice issues, and involves spectators influencing and engaging with the performance as both spectators and actors, termed ‘spect-actors’, with the power to stop and change the performance.

I invited Mark to create a piece of Forum Theatre for the students attending my Clinical Masters course on addiction that focused on the dilemmas faced by people recovering from heroin addiction. The class was a huge success, and Mark was really touched by the positive reception and feedback he received from the students. He really gained a powerful sense of agency! Mind you, I’m not sure that some of the staff in my department would have appreciated a former heroin addict taking a class! I loved it!!

3. SMART Recovery and Linda Sobell

I was invited to attend the SMART Recovery Annual Meeting in Chicago, US, in October 2005. SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training), founded in 1994, is the largest of the non-12-step mutual help groups. It differs to the 12-step approach in viewing addiction as a dysfunctional habit, rather than a disease.

The organisation emphasises four areas in the process of recovery: build and maintain motivation; cope with cravings and urges; manage thoughts, feelings and behaviours; and live a balanced life. Participants are empowered to help themselves and others using a variety of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational tools and techniques. SMART Recovery meetings, which are educational, supportive and involve open discussions, are free.

I learnt a great deal at this conference and was inspired by a number of people I met, in particular the current SMART Recovery President Tom Horvath and Executive Director Shari Allwood. Whilst I was there, the SMART Board invited Wired In to develop and promote a SMART programme in the UK and Europe. This was a wonderful opportunity for our team to be involved in rolling out a major self-help approach, although we would need to raise funding to make it happen.

Fraser Ross, a SMART Board member from Inverness in Scotland, and Anni Stonebridge helped me develop a strategy to enable a programme of activities. The Robertson Trust, a Scottish charity, seemed very interested in funding the project—yes, another flight to Scotland for discussions—but eventually rejected our application. 

These rejections were becoming commonplace. Charities would hear about the work we were doing and tell me how interested they were in supporting us to do something different to what was being done by government.  They would express a keen interest in our grassroots approach. However, once I’d submitted an application they would tell me that Wired In should be following the government approach. 

I haven’t mentioned to date, but I had also written to a large number of companies and to some well-known individuals (e.g. Richard Branson) over the years, in an effort to raise funding for Wired In, but without success. It would have been easy to lose faith at this stage, but I knew of people I held in high regard who really loved what we were doing. Surely, we would have a break-through soon?

Just prior to the SMART Recovery conference, I attended a one-day session on Motivational Enhancement Therapy—a directive, person-centred approach to therapy that focuses on improving an individual’s motivation to change—run by Linda Sobell. Linda was a world-leading figure in the addictions field, and recipient of a number of prestigious awards for her research and activities related to self-change and motivational interventions. 

Linda and I were to meet again just two weeks later, where we had both been invited to give talks at a conference in Aberdeen, Alcohol Recovery: A Natural Progression. Other invited speakers included SMART members Barry Grant and Rich Dowling, along with John Sinclair.

Anni Stonebridge, who was involved in the setting up of the conference, and I arranged for Linda, Barry and Rich to stay at my favourite Dinnet House. They were enamoured by the place, and completely taken aback by the wonderful dinner that Sabrina cooked for us to celebrate their stay.

We all attended Linda’s one-day session on Motivational Enhancement Therapy prior to the conference. The real highlight of the conference for me was an amazing talk by Barry Grant. Barry had overcome 23 years of criminal and addictive behaviour—and a five year prison sentence—to become a professional counsellor with a master’s degree in human services, and a global ambassador for SMART Recovery. His talk was truly inspirational—I had not known that Barry was a well-known motivational speaker.

Linda and I spent a good deal of time talking about Wired In. She was very excited by what we were doing and thought that Wired In had a great future. She asked if I had read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, which refers to ‘that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviors cross a threshold, tip and spread like wild fire.’

Gladwell points out that three types of people are critical for social epidemics to occur: Connectors (who know lots of people from different areas of life), Mavens (knowledge collectors who want to help others and know how to pass on knowledge); and Salesmen (self-explanatory).

Linda pointed out that I was all three ‘characters wrapped up in one’, which was very unusual. I had not read Gladwell’s book and was humbled, and rather excited, by what Linda had to say. However, I did not consider myself a good salesman, at least when trying to convince people to fund Wired In! 

Anyway, Linda suggested that I set up an International Advisory Board for Wired In and offered herself and husband Mark as members. She also suggested that I contact Carlo Di Clemente of Stages and Processes of Change fame and Harold Klingemann of Switzerland, who was a leading figure in the addiction self-change field. They both accepted my invite, as did Barry Grant. The Advisory Board eventually numbered 13 and included Nick Barton, Neil McKeganey and Simon Shepherd who I have previously mentioned. 

As soon as the Aberdeen conference ended, I headed to Edinburgh Airport, where I bought a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, to catch a flight to London where I was to give a talk at the FDAP Annual Conference. I enjoyed giving the FDAP talk and the celebration afterwards with Claire, Ian and Simon for DDN’s 1st Anniversary.

However, I had to be up early to catch a flight to Glasgow for my talk that day at the Scottish Association of Alcohol Action Teams Expert Seminar on ‘Rural Issues’. It was a busy time and I was glad to get home to Wales. As an aside, I should point out that I had finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book by the time I reached my hotel in London on the day I left Edinburgh. It was a fascinating read and I was greatly inspired.

4. Professional Roles

I had taken on several administrative roles in the field during the year. Simon Shepherd had invited me to be Chair of The Professional Certification Advisory Panel for FDAP, and I had also been invited to be a member of the Accreditation Panel for the European Association of Treatment Agencies (EATA).

I had started visiting Clouds House, the residential rehab run by Action on Addiction, and discussed potential collaborative projects with Nick Barton and Tim Leighton. In 2004, I was appointed as External Examiner for their two-year Foundation degree in Addiction Counselling, which was linked to Bath University.

This meant that after I had helped them plan the degree (as External Assessor), I ‘oversaw’ the marking of students’ work each year. I was thrilled to be asked to act in this role, as the field desperately needed a course like this delivered by experts like Tim Leighton and his colleagues.

I loved visiting Clouds. Tim, one of the most knowledgeable and inspiring people I have ever met in the field, and I couldn’t wait until I had finished my official examination work during a visit, so that we could sit down and catch up with all that each of us had read and seen since our last meeting. It was Tim who first introduced me to the amazing writings of William (Bill) L. White, the leading addiction recovery advocate in the US.

5. A Break

As you might imagine, 2005 was a very busy time for me. In addition to my Wired In work, I had my teaching and administrative duties at the university. Moreover, there was a lot going on in my personal life that had a huge emotional impact on me. 

In June 2004, my partner Karen and I had our third child Natasha Elena Maria Clark, who I still call my beautiful Indian Princess. (My mother was born in Madras, now known as Chennai, in India.) Three months later, Karen said she was leaving me, taking the children with her. She left in February 2005. I was devastated by the loss of my children.

However, I travelled every other week up to Reading from the Gower on a Friday to pick up Ben, Sam and Natasha, and delivered them back on a Sunday, a total of 650 miles. The children spent part of the school holidays with me. I was trying to sell our house, lived in just by my loyal dog Tessa and I most of the time, but to no avail.

Eventually, I decided to take a break and visit my sister Susan and her family in Western Australia. I had spent five years living in Perth as a child. My parents were £10 Poms, but had decided to return to the UK in 1968, before oscillating between the two countries a couple of times. Eventually, Sue got married and settled down in Narrogin, a small country town located about 110 miles south-east of Perth. 

I set off for Perth in early December. During my visit, I spent a good deal of my time with my niece Katherine and her boyfriend Brad in Perth. I had a wonderful time. My Australian family knew I was hurting and did their best to cheer me up. The break certainly helped, to an extent.

> My Journey: 16. A Major Life Change

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)