My Journey: 20. On The Road and Filmmaking

Lucie James, Kevin Manley and I meet recovery advocates, and people on their recovery journey, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester. I write about problems in the treatment system in my Google blog. Members of our Cardiff Recovery Community tell their stories, start posting on their personal blog, and participate in Wired In films made by our colleague Jonathan Kerr-Smith. One of our YouTube films now has over 300,000 views. (2,789 words)

1. Scotland

Lucie, Kevin and I headed to Scotland in early June to visit Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme  (LEAP), run by Dr David McCartney, and to attend a conference in Glasgow. Here’s what Kevin had to say about the former: 

‘Firstly, I visited LEAP in Edinburgh and was amazed by everything about the place. I sat in on the morning group and the guys there made me very welcome and then got straight down to business—honesty, frankness and companionship were the order of the day. LEAP has only been open since the end of last year, but is having a massive impact on the local scene already. I think they’ve got the balance of structure/supervision and freedom of the clients as close to perfect as I’ve seen.

This is hard to explain but the guys there had light and goodness emanating from them; they were totally unashamedly, themselves. Not pretending to be something they weren’t, like we see all too often on the street! It was captivating, and it’s because they have found/come to terms with their real self, that they are going to make it in their recovery.

To be honest, the field of substance misuse in Wales was getting me down a bit. I think a lot of people can see that the emphasis is in the wrong area. All of our eggs have been in the one basket! I just hope and pray that the rest of the UK can follow Scotland’s example and listen to the recovering addicts and alcoholics, and find out what they think might help others into recovery.

Recovery communities are the way forward, real life survivors supporting others in the same boat. Of course, there are many other facets to a sustained recovery, but I’m leaning more and more towards support from like-minded people being up towards the top of the list! In supporting others (and that doesn’t mean much, just listening will do!), you are building up both your confidence and self-esteem, which then carries you through the tough times too. Simple but effective! Wired In is hoping we’ll get the chance to work a lot closer with LEAP in the near future—fingers crossed!’

And here is what I had to say in my blog post of 12 June:

‘Lucie could not get over the energy that she felt in LEAP. The welcoming atmosphere was special, although clients thought that Kev and Lucie were there for their first session [as clients]. Lots of people came up to them, and were positive and open about what they would receive at LEAP. Lucie could not get over the fact that LEAP offered a two-year aftercare programme. Now, this is a serious recovery-orientated programme, as far as we can see. They have what seems to matter, positive community spirit. Can’t wait to work with them!

We then moved on to Glasgow for the ‘Drugs and Alcohol Today’ conference, armed with lots of pieces of paper (e.g. Personal Stories, Wired In ‘Way Forward’ document), DVDs, and a Mac to show the films and Blogs. We were thrilled with the response that we had at the meeting. Treatment workers really wanted to get involved with what we were doing, and wanted to be able to get their clients involved. A number of workers, as well as service users, signed up to the Wired In Recovery Movement. Lucie pointed out that lots of people were talking about recovery, sorry Recovery. They were excited!’

2. Propaganda

Kevin’s comment about Wales rang true with me. Dr Brian Gibbons, the Welsh Assembly Government minister in charge of the substance misuse agenda—he who did not respond to my emails—had been on a week of spin during the National Tackling Drugs Week. He stated that there have been ‘massive strides forward’ in tackling the drugs problem in Wales. ‘Utter poppycock!’, I wrote on my post of 26 May.

I very rarely ever heard anyone pay a compliment about the Assembly’s efforts to help people overcome substance use problems, except those people working for the Assembly, and I was always hearing criticisms. The real sad thing is that Welsh practitioners told me that they are frightened to speak out in case their treatment agency lost money. There was a climate of fear and Wired In was not the only organisation to hear these criticisms and concerns.

I also spoke out (18 June) about a comment made in the Guardian newspaper by Paul Hayes, that the criticisms he received about his claims that the NTA treatment programme was working came from ‘a few academics, politicians and ideologies stoked up by the media.’ He also stated that the ‘idea that treatment based on harm reduction could be replaced in future by an “abstentionist” approach, where success is measured primarily by the number of addicts “cured”, is misguided…’

I pointed out that there were many people out there—users, ex-users, family members, practitioners, commissioners, members of the general public—who knew that the current treatment system was not working and was causing damage to many people. My criticism of the NTA’s treatment approach was not of the use of methadone per se, it was the fact that their strategy focused on the use of this drug at the expense of other treatment options.

People needed choice. Recovery advocates like myself were not arguing for replacing harm reduction policies, or for an ‘abstentionist approach’, or talking about addicts being ‘cured’. Paul was either talking rubbish or was trying to confuse the issue, a strategy used by other people attacking addiction recovery advocates in the UK.

This blog post attracted a large number of visitors and comments. In one of my comments, I pointed out that we had conducted a survey on Daily Dose which included one question: ‘Do you believe the current UK drug strategy is addressing substance use problems effectively?’ Of 204 respondents, 194 (95%) replied ‘No’. 

A major aim of our work was to tell us many people as possible about the recovery advocacy movement in the US and the incredible work being done by Bill White. I was thrilled when Bill agreed to join our Wired In International Advisory Board in May, and when I was able to speak with him on the phone for 45 minutes in early June.

3. North-West of England

In mid-June, Lucie, Kevin and I visited the North-West of England, where there was a fast-growing Recovery Movement. We initially travelled to Manchester where we met Geoff Allman, Director of Spoken Image. Geoff was kind enough to drive us around for two days, which gave him the opportunity to see some things happening in the field.

We stayed two nights in a bed & breakfast run by a close friend of Geoff’s. When I headed down to the kitchen on the first morning, Lucie asked if I recognised the room. I didn’t. She told me to look around again, but still no recognition. Finally, she had to point out that I was in Pete and Jenny’s kitchen from Cold Feet, one of my favourite TV shows. Lucie then asked if I had recognised my bedroom. I hadn’t. She told me that I had slept in the room that Adam had woken up in at the beginning of the first ever episode. Our host’s house had been used for two of the ‘Cold Feet houses’.

On the first day, we visited Jacquie Johnston-Lynch who ran SHARP Liverpool, which offered a structured day recovery programme based on the 12-Step approach. We talked with the SHARP clients in a group session and Kevin and I were both greatly moved by the occasion (I had tears in my eyes). The session emphasised to me the power of the supportive community or social network. I just felt the empathy and positive feeling throughout the room.

We also met Mark Gilman of the NTA, a man committed to the development of a recovery culture, and Peter Naylor of the Spider Project, a creative arts wellbeing recovery community project. Mark not only has a wealth of knowledge, but is one of the funniest people I have ever met. I was fascinated by the ideas behind the Spider Project, which still runs today. They offered a range of Creative Arts Courses, Holistic Therapies, and Physical Exercise sessions.

Mark Gilman arranged for us to join him and a group of recovery advocates in a Manchester café—Stuart Honor (researcher and recovery advocate), John Hopkins (ADAS/Acorn in Stockport), Colin Wiseley (Commissioner, Salford DAT) and Ian Wardle (Lifeline Project).

When some of us moved to another café, two lads who were sitting across from us on a nearby table recognised me from my DDN photo and Kevin from his film—and then Stuart, an old mate. We were thrilled that this wonderful coincidence had linked us to Paul Hutchins and Jason of the Thomas Project in Blackburn. Stuart was pleased to see them doing so well in their recovery.

Our trip to the North West had enabled us to interact with an inspiring group of Recovery Carriers, a term used by US recovery advocate Bill White.

It was a long trip back to Cowbridge, and I was pretty tired by the time I got home at 21.15. No rest for the wicked though, since Kevin Skyped me two hours later. He was absolutely ‘buzzing’. He pointed out to me that he wanted to develop a Recovery Community here in Cardiff, although I had to remind him he had already started the process. There was an expression on his face I had not seen before—a sort of serenity.

I realised how much fun it was talking to, and working with, people in recovery. I was lucky and proud to be associated with such people. 

4. Wired In Recovery Community

A few days later, Kevin posted a blog which launched the Wired In Recovery Community (‘Our Community’)—eight members in Cardiff and surrounds, and one in Luton—on to the Google Web Creators Community. In addition to the main Our Community page, each member had their own personal page with an introduction and other posts.

Members were Chris Goodge (Luton), Chris Hobbs, Chris Ling, Patrick M, Kerry Manley, Kevin Manley, Mark Saunders, Brian White, and David Wright (all Cardiff or thereabouts). Here is how Chris Hobbs introduced himself:

‘Last summer, after meeting the Wired In team, I decided to do my Personal Story. I wanted others to learn about addiction from someone who had experienced it themselves. I’ve experienced the depths of addiction and I hoped that my story would put people off going down the same route as I did. For those trapped in the cycle of addiction, I hope that my story shows you that there is a way out.

To start with, I didn’t really know what I was going to say. I sat down with Lucie and we decided that we would record us talking about my addiction and recovery and then write the story from the recording. I thought it would take about an hour. Six hours later, we were still going strong!

When I saw my story on paper I couldn’t believe it. It was quite hard reading through everything, although it did help me realise how far I had actually come since my drug-using days. I felt proud of what I had achieved, and it felt good to have the opportunity to show others that addiction can be overcome.

I now live with my girlfriend and beautiful baby boy. Don’t get me wrong, life is tough, but in comparison to my life in addiction, it is 1000% better. I hope that you enjoy reading my story. If you would like to get in touch with me please leave a comment on my blog. Thanks, Chris.’

Six of the Community were interviewed by Lucie, who wrote their Personal Story. Community members also posted on their personal blog pages their answers to the question What Recovery Means to Me, and participated in a Questions and Answer section. Mark Saunders, for example, covered three Q&A topics—Deciding to Change, Overdose and Methadone for the latter. These writings would later appear on Wired In To Recovery.

A number of the community members were also involved in our film work. On 1 June, we launched Our films blog page and the first two parts of a film project, Life as a Heroin Addict, that Jonathan Kerr-Smith, Lucie and Kevin had undertaken. This project involved three of our Community members, Chris Hobbs, Brian White and David Wright, along with six other recovering heroin addicts—David, John, Cerri, Andy, David and Donna.

They were interviewed in the place they were accessing treatment—either at Swansea Drugs Project, In 2 Change (Newport), or The Bridge Project, Salvation Army (Cardiff). Interviews were conducted by either Lucie or Kevin. While one did the interview, the other chatted to the next interviewee or other service users.

Here’s what Lucie said on Our films blog on 1 June:

‘Last summer, Wired In grabbed the camera and went to speak to some service users about their experiences with addiction, treatment and recovery. We were blown away by the footage we got, and the enthusiasm that our ‘film stars’ demonstrated. 

Initially, we were a bit concerned with whether people would want to be filmed—but our concerns were certainly not met!!! In fact, at one point we had people queuing out the door wanting to get involved!!

Once the footage had been edited, we met up with the service users again and showed them their film clips—their reactions were fantastic. Although some of the footage was hard for them to watch, they were all really pleased with what they had achieved. They were really excited to have the opportunity to educate others about addiction, treatment and recovery, and they hoped that others would learn from their experiences.

The amount of material that we got in just three days was astounding. We decided to cut the footage up into bite-size sections covering the topics that the service users felt were the most important.

Over the coming weeks we will be showing you this material. This week, we start by introducing you to the service users involved in our film. We will also be showing you a section where heroin use is discussed, in particular the reasons that people start using heroin in the first place, and then why that usage escalates into addiction.’

Two of these films—Introduction and Part 1—have over 308,000 and 159,000, respectively, YouTube views to date. We ended up posting ten films in this series totalling just over an hour of edited footage. Brian White was also interviewed for a nine-minute film entitled Recovery from heroin addiction.

The footage obtained from these interviews, along with film of other interviews, was edited into a various series of clips and posted on my Vimeo film channel. The topics were Recovery (19 films), Heroin Addiction (9), Life as a Heroin Addict (6), Stigma (2), Opiate Substitute Prescribing (4) and Treatment (6). It’s been quite an emotional experience looking at these clips again at the present time. I am very grateful to all those who were involved. [These films can also be found on the wiredinrecovery YouTube channel, although they are not organised in the above categories]

It had been a very busy and rewarding five months since my return from Australia. I was in much need of the break I had planned in Australia. I set off to Perth on 24 June. My personal life was about to change, in more ways than one. A month or two after my previous trip to Australia, I learned that my ex-partner Karen was intending to move to Dubai with our three children and her husband. She said she was willing to have the children come back to the UK each school holidays to spend time with me and she would share the cost of the flights. 

I was devastated by this news, more so when I soon learnt that there was nothing legally I could do to prevent this move. Unlike in Australia, men in the UK are unable to prevent their ex-partner from taking their shared children abroad permanently. Our children were also upset, not only being able to see their father regularly, but they would also miss their beloved dog Tessa. We had a very close relationship, so I knew it was going to be tough for the four of us.

> 21. Wired In To Recovery

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)