Some Magical Words About Recovery: Tim

I’d like you to ‘meet’ Tim, a medical doctor who found recovery from addiction. He is one of the Storytellers in my new book Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. In the seven-year update to his original Story, ‘Doctor in Recovery’, Tim wrote some magical words about recovery that I include below. But first, a brief summary of Tim’s original story, using some of his sentences.

‘Growing up in an alcoholic home is a challenge for any child and I was no different. I found school a haven from the unpredictability of my home life. I started to drink to deal with the stresses of work after medical school. Over time, my drinking became worse and worse.’

One morning, as I took the cornflakes and a bottle of whiskey off a shelf together, I thought, ‘This isn’t quite right.’ My first experience of treatment was medical-based—it had prescriptions, but lacked hope! I experienced terrible anxiety and cravings. After relapsing, I made the ‘discovery’ that opiates abolish craving for alcohol… and developed an opiate addiction as well.

I called the Sick Doctors Trust who suggested I go to residential treatment. There, I learnt more about addiction and recovery than I thought possible, the most valuable stuff coming from my peers and other recovering people. I learnt so much about myself, and what I needed to do to travel the road to recovery. I got back into work eventually through the kindness of colleagues. I now work in the addictions field and believe that recovery is self-generating and constantly spreading.’

Here is a quote from what Tim wrote about recovery in his Story update in Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction:

‘As I reflect on what’s changed and what’s been learned in this recovery journey, I’ve had to accept that we professionals are only a small part in a bigger equation that leads to recovery. I’m in no doubt that going through residential rehab in our service has changed the lives of hundreds of people and their families. I am equally sure that many more have found recovery without rehab. At the heart of the process is connection. 

Addiction is about disconnection and loss. Disconnection from loved ones and from self. Loss of values and self-worth. 

Recovery is about the opposite. Those connections are found most readily through others making the same journey. Sometimes the connections happen suddenly in epiphanies, but mostly they happen gradually—like a slow dawn. While we professionals can catalyse the process through treatment, I believe the most important thing we can do is to actively connect recovering people into recovery communities.

That’s where the magic happens. As someone trained in science, I would have been reluctant to use such woolly terminology in the past, but the truth is you need a bit of magic, some faith, some hope. Essential as they are, these qualities are not measurable and get little mention in policy or treatment. You find them in abundance in recovery communities though.

The service I work in is full of recovering people—staff and peer supporters alike who model recovery to others. When we create an environment where recovery is the foundation of our work, where the language of recovery is freely spoken, when we hold the highest aspirations for patients, a special environment is created. It’s an environment where transformation regularly occurs. Transformation is relatively rare in medical practice, but I see it regularly now. It’s been a huge privilege to work in such a place….  

… Knowledge of the science of addiction and recovery is not complete if the power of connection is discounted. While I needed my own drivers and motivation, I needed others—other recovering people—to help me on my way. The recovery phrase ‘I alone can do it, but I can’t do it alone’ is spot on. The sense of relief when I finally spoke to another doctor in recovery was amazing. It was inspiring and it was healing. It was connection.

Our Recovery Stories BookI have seen patients with the most distressing histories of trauma, with major mental health problems, with no family, no home and no possessions, find a little bit of courage and hope and begin to experience transformation in treatment. They are supported by the recovery community, like I was, to start to get better, to build self-esteem and to heal. It is connection. There is something both humbling and exhilarating about that. Such stories of recovery are told by recovering people to others who need hope. It’s infectious—recovery leads to recovery.

As patients have been connected up to local mutual aid groups and other recovery groups, those groups have grown. People we have treated have become active participants, holding positions of responsibility in meetings and organisations. The recovery community has mushroomed. Recovery has become more visible. People seeking treatment now generally know others in recovery—something that was rare in my early days….’ Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Copyright © 2021 by David Clark

Photograph by Robert Lukeman, shown on Unsplash, a source of free high resolution photographs.