Recovery Voices: David Clark w/Huseyin Djemil

This is an interview I did in June 2021 with Huseyin Djemil of Towards Recovery for his Journeys Podcast. I later edited the interview into 12 clips which you can see below. I thought I would sneak this interview into our Recovery Voices collection to, at least temporarily, avoid having to edit more film of myself. Huseyin takes me through various parts of my journey, including my neuroscience career, recovery advocacy work (Wired In), and the writing of an eBook about Aboriginal child artists which relates to the healing of trauma. We cover a range of recovery-related topics, including the power of story, the impact of trauma, recovery as self-healing, and the power of human connection. [12 films, 69 mins 56 secs]

1. Personal Introduction [4’31”]
David describes how he changed from being a neuroscientist to become an addiction recovery advocate and launch the grassroots initiative Wired In. After moving to Perth, Western Australia, in 2008, he became interested in the healing of transgenerational trauma amongst Aboriginal peoples. He describes his disillusionment with the biomedical view of addiction propagated by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the US and by other groups.

2. Addiction Recovery and Treatment [6’48”]
After researching biological mechanisms underlying addiction for many years, David decided to spend time with practitioners and clients at a local addiction treatment agency in Swansea, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA), where he learnt a good deal about the nature of recovery and the elements that facilitate treatment. This world was very different to the world of neuroscience. He closed his neuroscience laboratory in 2001 and started working in the community.

3. Change of Career [3’54”]
David describes some of the highlights of his neuroscience career, and then explains some of the reasons why he decided to leave that field. The most important reason is that he wanted to help people overcome their personal problems, which he didn’t feel he was doing as a neuroscientist. He made the announcement that he was changing ‘career’ at his Professorial Inaugural talk at Swansea University in 2001.

4. Daily Dose and Wired In [5’14”]
David describes how he was initially approached by the Welsh Development Agency to develop an educational resource on drugs. As a result, he developed Daily Dose (with web developer Ash Whitney), a news portal focused on drugs and alcohol, as part of the grassroots initiative WIRED—Web Based Information Resource on Drugs—that he had launched. WIRED was later called Wired In. David and Ash also developed and, these websites including some of the agency profiles David and his colleague Becky Hancock wrote as part of their national evaluation of the Welsh Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund they conducted from 2000 t0 2002. 

5. Inspired by Natalie’s Story [3’32”]
David describes meeting ‘Natalie’, a former heroin addict, in his early days of working in the field. He reads a section of her Story that is posted on the his Recovery Stories website. ‘There were about fifteen people in my first group session, one of whom was an ex-heroin user who had been clean for about 16 years. She came over to talk to me and I was in awe. She had done exactly what I was doing and she had gotten through it. From that moment on, I didn’t feel so alone. She had done exactly what I was doing and she had gotten through it. It was a Light Bulb Moment.’

Natalie also explained that when she was using heroin she didn’t ever meet anyone who had given up using the drug. She couldn’t find any information on the internet about stopping using heroin. ‘I had to carry on doing what I was doing.’ Natalie told David that if he wanted to help people with serious substance use problems, he should tell stories of addiction and recovery. He asked her if he could tell her story and she agreed. Natalie is now over 20 years in recovery. David has written later versions of Natalie’s Story, the last of which reveals Natalie’s traumatic experiences prior to her starting to use heroin. 

6. What Happened To You? [3’48”]
Hüseyin talks about his own recovery and reflects on the impact of trauma. ‘It’s not just about trauma causing addiction, but trauma causing a dislocation of me from myself… the drugs and all the other stuff that came after that is a searching to reconnect to myself somehow. And you just end up kind of more lost than ever.’ He also emphasises that we must be looking at ‘What happened to you’, ‘Not what is wrong with you.’

Huseyin stresses the importance of stories, and points out that people can sometimes get a better idea of what happened to them that led to their addiction by writing or reflecting on their story. David describes a quote that is at the top of the home page of his Sharing Culture website (on which he no longer posts blogs): “How many times have you heard, ‘What is WRONG with that person?’ There is nothing wrong with that person, things are HAPPENING or have HAPPENED to that person.” Dr Carlie Atkinson, We-Al li Programs

David emphasises that drugs and alcohol service a function for many people—‘killing pain’.

7. My Past has Become my Future [3’49”]
Huseyin talks about the early Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research of Vincent Felitti and colleagues which revealed that many people have childhood traumatic experiences which go on to impact adversely in their later life. He goes on to point out how people with substance use problems, many of whom have experienced trauma in their past, are demonised in society. 

Huseyin takes some comfort in knowing that his addiction came about from the traumatic experiences he had as a child. He believes that as there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with him, he could make changes in his life and get on to a different path. He wasn’t genetically ‘disabled’ in some way. A benefit for him is that his past and the trauma he experienced has allowed him to work in the field, meet interesting people, and enjoy the life he has now. His past has become his future. He wouldn’t change his past.

8. David’s Recovery Stories eBook [6’58”]
David talks about his eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction and how it developed. He describes how the 15 Stories were first launched on his Recovery Stories website  in 2013, and then how most were updated for the eBook seven years later. The book, which comprises 170,000 words, can be read on a computer, tablet or mobile phone. The full Stories are now available on the Recovery Stories website. 

The Recovery Stories are all of people that David has met on his journey—some the person wrote, others were written by David after multiple interviews. Three of the Stories turned out to be trauma Stories, something that was not evident from the first publication. David also wrote his Story of working in the field, and a chapter on the factors that facilitate recovery. [Sadly, one of the storytellers, Brad Miah-Phillips has since passed away.]

9. Recovering People and Their Stories [11’36”]
Hüseyin and David discuss people recovering from addiction, their journeys, and their stories. Huseyin talks about the aims of the small recovery community he set up, Towards Recovery. He points out that people recovering from addiction have a rich life experience and can benefit the community. Recovering people are an asset. They have generally come through a great deal of adversity and have much to teach other people, not just those trying to overcome addiction. 

Huseyin points out that at one time someone at Microsoft said that the company needed to hire people who have been through difficulties and adversity, and had come out through the other side. People with resilience. David emphasises that we can learn so much from people who are recovering from addiction—we need stories about recovery. Such stories drive his passion for the field. We need to be getting more recovering people together, and ensuring that their Stories are disseminated widely.

David makes reference to Lewis Mehl-Madrona, the Native American psychiatrist who wrote the fascinating book Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry. He reads Lewis’s words: ‘Stories help us develop empathy…. Stories give cognitive and emotional significance to experience. Stories enhance our creativity and help us beyond the here and now. Stories keep us connected in social networks, which build and shape our brain. And stories unlock the mysteries of psychological suffering that declarative facts cannot reveal.’

10. David’s Current Activities [7’11”]
Huseyin asks David what he is working on at present. David talks about his project focused on the story of traumatised Aboriginal children living in the squalor of a 1940s government settlement in Western Australia, who are inspired by their white schoolteacher to create beautiful landscape drawings that gain international acclaim, challenge a government’s racist policies, and inspire four generations of Noongar Aboriginal artists. David and his colleague John Stanton run a website devoted to this story (, whilst David has written a detailed eBook. The story is about trauma and the healing of trauma. 

David is now also writing and disseminating content relating to addiction recovery on his Recovery Stories website ( He points out that leading addiction recovery advocate Bill White emphasises the need for people working in the field to leave a legacy, otherwise key information will be lost. David is officially retired, living off his pension and the generosity of his partner Linda. He is excited by his ‘re-entry’ into the field and describes some of his future aims. 

David stresses the importance of his interactions with Aboriginal people in Australia, who have a more holistic approach to healing trauma and its consequences (e.g. addiction, mental health problems). He has learnt a great deal from Indigenous peoples. Huseyin believes that David’s work in Australia has been a ‘rich detour’ which can contribute positively to the addiction recovery field in the UK. 

11. Recovery is Self-Healing [7’59”]
Hüseyin and David discuss various issues relating to treatment and recovery. For example, Huseyin talks about how many treatment services view recovering people as an monetised asset that can be used to help attract more funding for their organisation, rather than focus on celebrating people’s recovery. ‘Here is our evidence that our way works, give us more money.’ 

He continues, ‘But what we as people in recovery really crave, is just to be people and just to have the reins of our life back in our own hands. And to be part of a community that helps and supports each other, and improves the soil of society for everyone else.’ Huseyin emphasises that parts of the system need more humanity in the way they interact with, and talk about, recovering people. 

David emphasises that recovery comes from the person. Recovery is self-healing. Practitioners don’t fix people; they catalyse and support the natural resources of the person. Too many practitioners think they are the one to have done the work. David refers back to his Wired In days, particularly the time when he and his colleagues were disseminating the powerful messages of Bill White and other leading recovery advocates. He describes how many mainstream treatment services eventually started to talk about their organisation doing recovery—whilst not actually changing the way they were working.  

12. Parting Comments [4’36”]
David summarises the three most important things he has learnt on his journey from neuroscience, addiction recovery advocacy, and Indigenous healing. In no particular order: 1. The strength of human spirit. 2. The power of human connection. 3. The healing impact of story. 

He emphasises the importance of empowerment and connection, and creating an environment of safety, to facilitate recovery. Environments must be created that facilitate learning, problem solving, and meaning-making. Belonging, and socialisation processes that facilitate belonging, are key for recovery.

David Clark is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Co-Founder of the Record Voices initiative. He received widespread recognition for his grassroots initiative Wired In, which empowered people to recover from substance use and associated problems, as well as for the online community Wired In To Recovery and Recovery Stories website. He later developed the Sharing Culture and The Carrolup Story (the latter with John Stanton), which focused on the healing of trauma. David was previously an award-winning neuroscientist who trained with the Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson. He now lives in Perth, Western Australia, having moved there from the UK in 2008.