My Journey: 18. A Charter, Vision and Film

I develop the Wired In Charter and a new strategy early in 2008, and launch ‘the prof speaks out’ blog. At the first Service User Conference organised by Drink and Drugs News (DDN), NTA CEO Paul Hayes says that ‘as drug users are seen as a threat, the government is prepared to spend money on drug treatment.’ Kevin Manley launches his ‘I did it my way’ blog, and Wired In realises a 35-minute film of his Recovery Story, made by Jonathan Kerr-Smith in association with Lucie James. (2,451 words)

1. Wired In Charter

On my return from Australia with my children on 22 January 2008, I settled down to develop a new Wired In strategy, as well as a Wired In Charter, which was published in April. I wanted people to get a better feel for what we were about. I felt very strongly about the second point below.

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.

4. We treat people with respect and dignity, and work as a mutually supportive team, in a spirit that we hope inspires others.

5. Wired In is an inclusive, non-competitive initiative that seeks to enhance the impact and reach of the best practice of successful organisations.

6. We are not about a quick fix, but realise that positive change often takes time. Poor systems and protocols must be improved to ensure that people get the help that they deserve.

7. We challenge society over the stigmatisation and stereotyping of people affected by substance use problems.

8. We believe it is essential to provide information and support and to people experiencing all levels of substance use problems, rather than simply focusing on those with the most serious needs.

9. We do not promote any one particular philosophy or treatment intervention. We take an approach that focuses upon key principles that are known to lead to behavioural change and facilitate the path to recovery.

10. The energy and experience of people affected by substance use problems is at the core of what we do. We harness this to give them a voice, enabling them to help themselves and others, and influence practice and policy and the views of society.

2. Community Development and Blogs

I had been dreaming about developing an online recovery community since reading Amy Jo Kim’s book Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities in 2001. I’d never raised the funding to build such a community, but now I realised I had no option but to continue to use my early retirement funds.

Nathan Pitman of Nine Four was hired to develop the Wired In To Recovery website and its underlying content management system, since Ash Whitney, who I had worked with for over seven years, did not have the appropriate programming skills at that time. I continued to hire Lucie James and Kevin Manley as my core Wired In team, with filmmaker Jonathan Kerr-Smith hired on a consultancy basis. Sarah Davies (now Vaile) was sadly ill for the best part of a year and did not join us in our new venture for some time. She was sorely missed.

We did not expect the content management system to be built until much later in the year, so in the meantime I developed a new blog on the Google Web Creators Community called ‘the prof speaks out.’ In my first post of 23 March 2008, I stated ‘It’s time to join the blogging world and speak out for the people who are affected by substance use problems. There are nowhere enough people doing this… I also want to keep you in touch with what is happening at Wired In.’  

I also pointed out that we were now changing our name from the original WIRED to Wired In, as suggested by my old school mate Tom Wragg. We also revealed a new logo which had been developed for us by a leading sign-writer recruited by our collaborator Geoff Allman of Spoken Image. The title of this blog, and later other blogs, was added to the core logo image, which itself was later used for our online community.

Kevin Manley started his own blog, ‘I did it my way’, in March which used the same core logo image. The idea was for us both to post regularly and all posts would later be added to the Wired In To Recovery content management system ready for our online community launch. As it turned out, we were not able to launch the website until late 2008. A good deal of content was prepared by this time by our core team and volunteers. 

I had struggled raising funding for Daily Dose ever since it was launched in early 2001. I now couldn’t keep paying Jim Young out of my own money, as I had recently been doing, and therefore I stated on Daily Dose, and on my new blog, that I had no option but to close the news portal unless we could attract serious sponsorship quickly.

I was thrilled by the heart-warming response, in the form of e-mails of support and suggestions, along with some donations. Two weeks later, our target sum of sponsorship was reached! 

The other good news at the end of March was the Scottish Government stating that recovery would be key in their new drugs strategy. In my Well done Scotland! post of 28 March I wrote:

‘It’s going to take time to educate and train people to understand recovery and how we can move people from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery. Wired In is committed to educating, training and informing people about recovery, and in supporting recovery communities.

We must prevent people getting bogged down in the issue of ‘abstinence vs. harm reduction’. So many people who do not understand recovery want to reduce things to a simplistic black and white. This must stop. Pushing the recovery agenda does NOT mean attacking harm reduction or harm minimisation—unless the person intends that to be the case.’

3. Service User Conference

Earlier in February, I had been thrilled to attend, with Kevin and Lucie, the first DDN / Alliance Service User Conference, which was organised by Claire Brown and Ian Ralph of DDN and held in Birmingham.

Around 500 people attended, two-thirds of them service users, a very successful conference. The three of us certainly enjoyed our day and made some new friends. A special issue of DDN was devoted to the conference. Prejudice towards service users was obviously an issue that was discussed during the afternoon’s discussion tables.

One speech during the conference caused me great concern. The NTA CEO Paul Hayes emphasised that service users had to understand the reality of the world in which they operated, rather than having a ‘rose-tinted view’. He pointed out that service users as a group were unpopular with the public, ‘compared to old ladies who need hip replacements or babies in incubators. They are seen as the authors of your own misfortune—there is no way we can hide from that.’

Paul continued by saying that, ‘substance misusers’ were also far from a priority in the NHS, as tobacco and alcohol were seen as far greater issues from a health harm perspective. Drug users were more likely to be seen as a danger to public health, community safety and the economy.

‘Because you are seen as a threat, the government is prepared to spend money on drug treatment.’

While I can understand Paul Hayes thinking he needed to portray the reality as he saw it, I thought his message caused much more harm than good. In fact, I found it rather offensive. It was sad to hear the CEO of the government department in charge of most of the country’s drug addiction treatment services stating that the only reason service users were helped was because they committed crimes.

The UK drugs strategy itself, and the way it was being implemented and portrayed, was in reality demonising people with substance use problems, and those people on the journey to recovery, thereby reducing the likelihood that they would be accepted as normal by so-called ‘normal’ society and also gain employment. They were fuelling the fire of prejudice towards a vulnerable population, and creating/maintaining a barrier to recovery.

By the nature of his comments, Paul Hayes was indirectly implying that people who took heroin and did not commit crime, were not a priority for treatment… even if they needed and wanted help. 

I was touched by a letter from Hayley Brooks in the 10 March edition of DDN, in which she challenged Paul Hayes’s statement that people at the conference needed to reject the fantasy ‘that if everyone would stop stigmatising you everything would be all right.’

Hayley had stopped using illicit drugs seven years earlier and had been off methadone for four years. She was finishing her final year on a social work degree but was having great difficulty finding a job because of her past heroin using career and criminal record. Apparently, she was considered ‘vulnerable’. She went on to say:

‘I am constantly faced with this type of discrimination from people. I am determined to succeed and have a successful career. In response to Mr Hayes, I feel that he is the one who needs a reality check, as I am a prime example of someone who has turned their life around and battles on a regular basis against prejudice, due to past mistakes.

I can indeed sometimes understand why some service users feel that there is no point in changing, as I thought I had won the battle by staying clean. However, the real battle begins when you have to constantly fight for your rights to be treated as an equal, especially when you work hard to achieve a career and are constantly faced with brick walls.’

If you want to read more about prejudice towards drug users, please read my article Recovery, Reintegration, and Anti-Discrimination: Julian Buchanan.

4. Kevin’s Personal Story: Film

On 11 May, we released the film version of Kevin’s Personal Story, made by Jonathan Kerr-Smith in association with Lucie James, which focused on Kevin’s 15-year addiction to illicit drugs and subsequent experiences in finding his path to recovery.

During the film, Kevin’s mother Kerry talked about the ‘hell’ that the family had experienced during his problems, and her feelings about his recovery. We had to break up the 35-minute film into eight parts to fit it onto YouTube, as one couldn’t post long films at that time. We also uploaded an 8-minute version of the film. [The first part of the 8-part version, all parts of which are available, can be found on our wiredinrecovery YouTube channel.]

I loved the film that the team had created—I say the team, but I can take no credit, other than providing finance and support. The film still brings tears to my eyes watching it. Two days after Kevin’s film was released, I said in my blog post:

‘… I have been totally infected by the passion that exists in this field. I see people overcome substantial problems, and I am humbled by the incredible courage that they show. And I see the same people being unjustly stigmatised.

I also see so much good quality work going on in this field, so many talented people, so many great ideas. But so much of this is not getting the credit it deserves, and it is not impacting to the extent that it could. One of the major messages this field must give is ‘hope’. We don’t do it enough, and well enough. All this must change! As a field, we have what it takes to do so much better and help many more people overcome their problems. Let’s do it!…’

Kevin wrote the following blog post on 23 June, My Wired In experience [NB. I have shortened the length of Kevin’s paragraphs.]:

‘It was early 2005 when I first had any contact with Wired In. At the time, I was a chaotic drug addict and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t quit using. In fact, I had given up even trying. I just wanted everything to end; I’d simply had enough of life on my knees.

Then I met Sarah, who worked for Wired In; we got talking and hit it off. I could see that she genuinely cared and that really surprised me. She was young, pretty and she wanted to spend time talking to me, a no-good drug addict (that was how I felt about myself). Very strange!

I then started to volunteer with Wired In, but I didn’t really do a lot at first, as my life was so chaotic. Usually, I would just meet up with Sarah and have a good chat. I think that was what I really needed at the time. Sarah helped me to realise that there was more to the world than just darkness and pain. She had no ulterior motives for being my friend, it was only because she cared about what I was going through and wanted to support me.

It was when I realised this, that my outlook on life started to change. For me to accept, and believe I was actually worth that friendship was a huge step for me. In fact, it was the first step on the pathway to my recovery.

Since then I have got involved in lots of different activities with Wired In, and all of them served to increase my self-esteem, confidence, knowledge and skills. In fact, I learnt a lot of new skills—public speaking, facilitating group sessions, conducting filmed interviews, and about addiction/recovery as a whole, but more important than this I also learnt a lot about myself—my strengths, weaknesses, even who I really was and what I wanted to do with my life.

It soon became clear to me that I wanted to work full-time in the substance misuse field and in October 2007, I secured a paid post with The Salvation Army as a Substance Misuse Worker. I’ve recently changed jobs and now work as the Community Development Co-ordinator with Wired In. My job is both challenging and very rewarding; I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Volunteering for Wired In has changed my life in so many, positive ways, I am indebted to all of the team, Sarah especially. I am now living a happy, fulfilled life and volunteering with Wired In was one of the main factors that helped me to turn my life around.’

> 19. Factors Involved in Facilitating Change

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)