My Journey: 21. Wired In To Recovery

I finish a very rewarding period as External Examiner for the Foundation Degree on Addictions Counselling run by Action on Addiction and the University of Bath. The Wired In team and volunteers work hard in the period leading up to the launch of Wired In To Recovery. We launch our online community on 19 November 2008, with me lying in bed with a serious back injury.  I eventually decide to move to Perth in Western Australia to be with my new partner Linda. (2,828 words)

1. Romance in Western Australia

During my trip to Australia with my children in 2007/8 (Chapter 17), we spent some time with a good friend of one of my old schoolmates. Linda and her daughter Sophie got on really well with my children. Just before we left Australia, Linda, who had separated from her husband some years earlier, invited me out to dinner at a restaurant overlooking Cottesloe Beach. We enjoyed the dinner and sunset, and realised we had a lot of common interests. We then took a romantic stroll along the beach. It was the first romantic evening I had experienced in years.

Linda, along with Sophie, attended our farewell the night before our departure, and she and I agreed to email and Skype each other. Eventually, we decided I would visit her and my sister’s family in late June. 

Linda on Sunset Cruise, Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia, 14 July 2008.

I had a wonderful time in Western Australia in June/July. Linda surprised me by booking us a 10-day holiday in Broome, a magical town located just over 1,000 miles north of Perth. The weather was great, high 20s and dry (no humidity) every day. I fell in love with Cable Beach (just down the road from where we are staying), the town, the crocodiles (in a crocodile park), our hotel, the swimming pool… and, most importantly, Linda.

On my birthday, Bastille Day, we enjoyed one of Broome’s fabulous sunsets on The Willie, an old pearl lugger. Before my departure to the UK, we decided that Linda would visit me in Wales in September.  

I returned to the UK on 22 July and saw Ben, Sam and Natasha in Reading. We then spent a special time together in Cowbridge, before they left for Dubai in late August. I was devastated. 

2. Impressed and Inspired

At the end of August, I finished my three-year tenure as External Examiner for the Foundation Degree on Addictions Counselling run by Action on Addiction and the Division for Lifelong Learning at the University of Bath. I finished this role with some sadness, handing over to new External Examiner, leading recovery advocate and researcher David Best. 

It was a pleasure and privilege working with the Action on Addiction and University of Bath teams. I pointed out early on the amount of work covered in the Foundation degree (two years) was far more than a normal three-year Honours degree. And some of the students were exceptional.

I was really amazed how much work the Action on Addiction team (led by Tim Leighton) put into the course, and in helping and stimulating the students. The team recognised the urgent need to greatly improve the level of knowledge and understanding in the treatment field, including how we help people move from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery.

I had two great benefits in working with the Action on Addiction team, other than spending time with some really nice people. Firstly, the time I spent discussing the field with Tim Leighton and his introducing me to the work of US recovery advocate, historian and researcher William L (Bill) White. Tim is one of the most knowledgeable and inspirational people I have met in the addiction recovery field. I really enjoyed my discussions with Tim whenever I visited Clouds House in East Knoyle, and later Action of Addiction’s Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies in Warminster.

Secondly, Tim asked me if I would supervise the degree project of one of the students who lived not far from me in South Wales. Wynford Ellis Owen came over to Cowbridge, and we immediately got along well. He later gained a Churchill Fellowship to travel around America visiting recovery centres and recovery advocates. This experience helped him set up the Living Room, a community-based recovery centre in Cardiff.

Wynford, who is over 30 years in recovery, has been a close friend since that initial meeting. His book No Room To Live: a journey from addiction to recovery is a great read. I loved visiting Living Room Cardiff—it was a very special place of healing. [NB. Wynford is no longer CEO of Living Room Cardiff. It is run by Adferiad, an organisation which appears to offer services in a wide range of fields.]

3. A Visitor from Afar

Linda came over from Perth in mid-September and I showed her around Gower and Cardiff, and introduced her to Kevin and Lucie and other friends. She attended a talk I gave on recovery at a ‘Who Cares?’ Carers’s conference in Gloucester.

With Ian and Irene MacDonald in the outskirts of Cheltenham, 18 September 2008.

I had been invited to give a talk at the conference by Andrea Wilson, and Ian and Irene MacDonald, and was given a 90-minute slot. Ian had first contacted me some years earlier and we had met several times over the years. He and Irene had lost their son Robin to a heroin overdose, and since then they had set up Carer and Parent Support Gloucestershire (CPSG), which provided one-to-one support sessions.

I was thrilled by the response to my talk, which I broke up with a short version of Kevin’s Story. I felt genuine interest (and excitement!) in the room during and after the talk. I later received many positive responses, my favourite being that I (or my message) should be bottled and passed around services (treatment agencies and generic) in the area. I thought at the time: ‘If someone wants to “bottle me” to get the recovery message out there and improve matters for people directly or indirectly affected by substance use problems, then so be it!’ Interestingly, the NTA representative at the conference never approached me during the day.

Two days later, Linda and I flew up to Edinburgh, where she met my daughter Annalie and her boyfriend Max. They got on very well with Linda. Before leaving Edinburgh, Annalie took me aside and said that she could see that Linda and I were in love. She pointed out that rather than regularly sitting around for two weeks waiting for my three youngsters’ visit, I would now be waiting around several months between each relatively short visit they made from Dubai. And that could go on for years.

I’ll never forget the words she then said: ‘Dad, you need to get a life.’ I could tell that Annalie cared greatly and was very worried about me.

Linda and I then drove around some of my favourite places in Scotland for 11 days, starting in Dinnet (cf. Chapter 15) and then meandering our way to Skye where we stayed with friends and explored the island for three days. We then headed back to Edinburgh, via Glasgow, where we dropped in on Neil McKeganey in Glasgow. Sadly, he was not at work.

Before Linda left for Australia, we talked about our future. She wanted me to move to Australia, but fully understood if I could not make that commitment. I had spoken with my three youngest before they left for Dubai and asked if they would approve me moving if I ever wanted to do that. They really liked Linda and said that I should move to be with her if that is what I wanted. I’m not sure whether the youngest two fully appreciated the situation, but they all were enthusiastic about being able to visit Perth regularly and see family and friends they had there. I spoke to them on Skype after Linda left and they were still enthusiastic. They wanted me to be happy, they said.

Of course, my three youngest weren’t the only issue. I was still committed to Wired In and to funding Lucie and Kevan. I knew that I could oversee Wired In To Recovery from Australia, keep in touch with other recovery advocates and our volunteers, and make trips back to the UK to see people. I had additional savings from selling my house that could be used, but I really needed to raise external funding to keep things going.

And of course there was my beloved dog Tessa, who had not only been my faithful companion for the past 15 years, but had also helped me keep sane after the children had moved to Reading… and then to Dubai. However, Tessa was now struggling with her back legs and the vet who had known her all her life had pointed out to me she didn’t have long to be with us. Anyway, I told Linda that I needed to talk to people, including my mother, and think things through. She understood.

4. Launch of Wired In To Recovery

Nathan now handed over the Wired In To Recovery content management system for testing and uploading content. He had built the system from scratch and a great deal of programming was involved. As I started to upload content, I found programme bugs, which is what I had expected. I had spent some years computer programming when I ran my neuroscience laboratory, so I was well used to testing new software and finding bugs. It’s all part of the process. And I loved it. 

A few days later, Kevin, Lucie and Jim went on holiday and I was left holding the Wired In, Wired In To Recovery, and Daily Dose forts. I loaded over 200 blog posts and related written material from our Google blogs… then there was new content to write, and our films needed to be linked to. I also had sections like Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy to write. And of course, I continued to test functionality of the website.

Now, please don’t get me wrong and think I was moaning at the time. Far from it! I loved what I was doing and taking up the challenge. I also had the opportunity to read Kevin’s blogs again and I realised the talents of this young man. Amazing to think that this former heroin addict had already done so much for Wired In and for the new recovery advocacy movement in the UK. I was so proud of him. 

I now gave our volunteers, both local and around the country, access to the website. They were able to set up their own profile, view content, which included that content in which they had been involved in generating (e.g. their Personal Story), and comment when they wished. They were also part of the testing process—a number of the volunteers told me that they felt privileged to be in that situation.

I had decided back in April that it was time that I joined a gym, as I was fast losing the fitness I once had, and I was putting on weight. I thought I should do weights as well as lots of cardio exercise, even though I had always found the thought of weightlifting very boring.

I was also concerned about my back, which sometimes had caused great concern in the past due to deterioration at the bottom of my spine. Therefore, I decided to hire a personal trainer for some of my gym sessions, to ensure that I didn’t do anything silly, and also to monitor and motivate me. What a great decision, as Lewis was a godsend! He pushed me to some extremes and I really loved it. We had long talks about the nature of motivation, and his sister eventually became a volunteer with us.

One day, I was lying on a bench pushing up a massive weight, or at least as I thought. I then looked to my side and was surprised to see Scott Gibbs, one of the great all-time Welsh rugby players, pushing a weight that made mine look like nothing. I mentioned this to Lewis after the session and he said I had seen nothing yet. If I came in next week he would introduce me to a current Welsh rugby player, Lee Byrne I think it was, who pushed the heaviest weights of anyone in the gym. I was excited!

By this time, Tessa has passed away, and I had decided to move to Australia. I was slowly getting rid of my furniture. My neighbour came around on the Sunday before I would meet Lee and asked if we could move the wardrobe I was giving him. I ran upstairs and without any preparation started to lift the wardrobe. Snap! My back went completely. I couldn’t get up off the floor initially. I had to drag myself to the loo and then scream in pain as I lifted myself onto my knees to urinate. And this happened just three days before we were due to launch Wired In Recovery. I was lying in bed when:

‘We soft-launch the Wired In online recovery community at 17.00 on Weds, 19 November 2008. No fan-fair about it, Nathan just strips off the ‘/site’ from the domain name and goes live. Lucie and I high-five and she heads off to run her recovery support group. It’s almost anti-climactic…. I spend the evening “lurking around” the site, too drained and in pain to do much else… I feel very proud of what we have achieved. My long-lasting dream and vision has been realised—at least the first stage.’  Blog Post, 19 November

Dr. David McCartney is one of the first to come through with a congratulations. Pavel Nepustil writes a new blog in both English and Czech! At this stage, we have 57 community members. An early email from Bill White that makes my day, ‘Congratulations on the site launch.  It looks fabulous!’ 

Peter McDermott says, ‘… I’m seriously impressed by the commitment that it must have taken to invest your retirement fund in the project. I’m always complaining about how self-centred and lacking in vision practitioners are, but clearly nobody could ever accuse you of that!’

And Nathan sends through an email from the web community world, ‘Incredibly impressive site! Fantastic and monolithic…Awesome work!’

Soon after Wired In To Recovery was launched, I started fund-raising efforts for Wired In.

5. Farewells

I had earlier sent off 12 standard crates, containing mainly books and DVDs (Linda reminds me), and a specially made crate for my large Apple monitor, to Perth. Now, I had to sell and give away the rest of my belongings, which wasn’t easy when I was hobbling around with my injured back. One lady, who had bought various items off me, came back and offered to take the remains of my very large book collection to a charity shop, if I allowed her to choose what she wanted for herself. I agreed, but the only problem was that there were only two boxes. So, we carried box after box of books to her car and just piled them in. She took off with a car-full of books.

With Dave Watkins (left) and Keith Morgan of WGCADA, along with Keith’s children Tamin and Fern, at my farewell. 17 December 2008.

Natasha, Sam and Ben had returned from Dubai, and I rented a house in Reynoldston, just down the road from our old place. I organised a farewell party in the restaurant at the King Arthur Hotel in the village, which was attended by various Wired In members (Becky Hancock, Sarah Davies, Lucie James, and Kevin Manley), my good friends at WGCADA (including Keith Morgan, Dave Watkins, Angie Welch and Esther Mead), and my old schoolmate Jeff Zorko and his wife Marian and daughter Rosie.

It was a very emotional time, not just leaving such good friends, but also knowing that my children would be missed, as they were loved by all who attended the farewell. I felt so grateful to have worked with these good friends, and to share so many fond memories. 

After dropping the children off in Reading, I headed to Fareham to say goodbye to my brother and his family, and drop off my car which I sold back to the Honda garage where it had been purchased. I then caught the train to Brighton to say goodbye to Annalie and her mother Jenny. On the day of my flight, they insisted on taking me to Gatwick airport and transporting my luggage to the check-in desk. They were so worried that I might injure my back again. When I reached the front of the queue, I was told there was a problem. The economy seats were all taken… ‘would I mind being upgraded to business class?’ I smiled.

My new life adventure had begun. And I knew I would be seeing Annalie and my three youngest in a few months time. 

Our online community Wired In To Recovery home page in early December 2008. We later changed the structure of the website so that the three categories on the right did not exist.

> 22. Two Sides of the World

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)