‘The monkey on my back’ by Recovery Coach

Here’s some powerful writing from one of our bloggers on Wired In To Recovery when it was running between 2008 and 2012.

‘Most people have heard the words ‘monkey on my back’ used as a term for defining addiction. Personally, I find the word ‘addiction’ too soft a word to describe the monster every addict or alcoholic battles in daily life. It’s too clinical, too sterile, and just doesn’t pack the same punch as the monkey analogy.

As a hardcore alcoholic for more than half my life, I learned a few things about the monkey.

First, he never knows when to keep his mouth shut. It’s not that he’s loud. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The monkey prefers to whisper, at least during the early stages of addiction.

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The Nature of Addiction: Wendy Dossett

Interviewer Wulf Livingston asks Wendy whether she is very particular about the language around addiction, in the same way as she is nuanced with language used around the word ‘recovery’. Wendy responds by saying that she was utterly powerless over her addictive behaviour. She identifies with the concept and experience of powerlessness, and is quite comfortable relating it to addiction.

Addiction is that ‘desperate need for oblivion, desperate need to change how I feel… a total lack of control.’ She has so many memories of the desperate desire not to do what she was doing, but being unable to desist, until ‘I acknowledged my own powerlessness.’

Bio: Dr Wendy Dossett is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Chester and Principal Investigator of the Higher Power Project. Wendy’s research explores religious, spiritual and secular language in addiction recovery modalities, including Twelve Step and Buddhist approaches. She’s also an activist for Visible Recovery, and she contributes to the ‘Recovery-Friendly University’ movement in the UK. She’s a person grateful to be in recovery herself.

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My Addiction & Recovery: Dr. Wendy Dossett

Wendy identifies as a person in recovery from addiction. She describes herself as recovering, rather than recovered, as she believes that if she were to drink alcohol again, she would quite likely eventually return to the same position she was in at the height of her drinking problem.

At that time, her life was unravelling, she was experiencing a lot of suicidal ideation and attempting suicide, and was clinging on to a job with ‘splintering finger nails’. She was living in a mouldy touring caravan in a field, showering in the university she worked at, and trying to pretend everything was okay. She thought alcohol was keeping her alive.

When Wendy reached what she considered was her rock bottom, a time of absolute agony, she reached out for help. She didn’t go to treatment, and attributes her recovery to mutual aid. As her sobriety continued, her mental health improved incrementally.

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‘Hope in Addiction: Understanding and Helping Those Caught in Its Grip’ by Andy Partington

Andy Partington’s new book, Hope in Addiction: Understanding and Helping Those Caught in Its Grip, is well worth a read. Here are two endorsements I wrote for the book, a long and a short one.

‘Addiction to drugs and alcohol, and to various activities such as gambling, has increased markedly in recent times. These addictions have not only wrecked the lives of individuals, but have also impacted negatively on entire families and even whole communities.

Andy Partington’s insightful and thought-provoking book takes us on a journey of discovery into how we can help people overcome addiction, and also reduce the incidence of addiction. In helping us to understand the nature of addiction and recovery from addiction.

Andy introduces us to moving personal stories of hope and leading research findings that educate and inspire. He describes features of modern life that nourish mass addiction, particularly in modern Western capitalist society—past and present adversities, including childhood traumas (neglect, abuse and household dysfunction); social disconnection; feelings of emptiness, loneliness and dissatisfaction; and a sense of hopelessness and despair about what the future holds.

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Stigma, Addiction and Recovery

Here is the section ‘Overcoming Stigma’ in my article Factors That Facilitate Addiction Recovery on this website. I have followed it with links to various of my blog posts relating to other people’s work on stigma which I have featured on this website. I hope you find this content of interest and help.

‘Stigma can be defined as social disapproval of personal characteristics, actions or beliefs that go against the cultural norm. It can occur at a variety of levels in society, i.e. individuals, groups, organisations and systems. A person can be labelled by their problem (e.g. addiction to drugs and/or alcohol) and they are no longer seen as an individual, but as part of a stereotyped group, e.g. a ‘junkie’, ‘alkie’, etc. Negative attitudes and beliefs toward this group create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination.

For example, people addicted to heroin are often considered to be carriers of hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses, thieves who rob old ladies of their handbags, and dirty, weak-willed junkies who will never get over their problems.

‘Once a junkie, always a junkie’ is a saying I’ve even heard in discussions amongst drug treatment agency workers. Our Wired In research has not only shown the strong prejudice that exists towards heroin users, but also towards recovering heroin addicts.

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The Culture of Addiction, Part 2

This article is the follow-up to the first part of The Culture of Addiction.

Society makes judgements about different types of psychoactive drug. As Bill White points out in his book Pathways from the Culture of Addiction to the Culture of Recovery, the social status and value attached to a particular drug by society influence several things:

  • The risks associated with use of the drug
  • The organisation of ‘tribes’ within the culture of addiction
  • The characteristics of each tribe and the impairments that members experience from both the drug and the culture itself.

Clearly, there are likely to be differences in a variety of factors for drugs that are legal (e.g. alcohol) and those that are prohibited by law (e.g. heroin). Simply by using a prohibited drug, a person increases the risks associated with this drug, relative to what it would be if the drug could be legally obtained. Whilst society applies technology to reduce the risks of using legal substances, it often withdraws technology to increase risks from use of prohibited drugs.

‘We prohibit a ‘bad’ drug on the rationale that it is dangerous, and then construct social policies that assure high risks related to the drug’s use.’ William L White

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The Culture of Addiction: Part 1

This is the first of two blog posts on the culture of addiction that I first uploaded to the website back in 2013. They are strongly based on the seminal writings of William (Bill) White, in particular from his stimulating book Pathways from the Culture of Addiction to the Culture of Recovery. In this book, Bill provides key insights into how we can help people move cultures—essential in their journey along the path to recovery.

‘Culture’ generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Wikipedia

Drug users often seek out and build relationships with other people whose drug use is similar to their own. They become part of small groups within which they can nurture the rituals of drug use. These groups interact with other drug-using groups, ultimately forming a broader network of users who share common goals and attributes. These social networks constitute a fully organised culture, one that has an existence and power that transcends individual membership.

In his book, Bill White emphasises the importance of understanding the culture of addiction. He emphasises that many addicts find it easier to break their physiological relationship with the drug than to break their relationship with the culture in which they use the drug. Clearly, one needs to understand how to move someone from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery.

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Recovery Guide Films of Beth Burgess

A series of six short films on key issues by Recovery Coach, NLP practitioner & recoveree Beth Burgess. You can read Beth’s Recovery Story on this website, and find many more of Beth’s film clips on her YouTube channel.

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Addiction, Recovery, and Treatment: An Introduction

A brief look at the nature of addiction, the main types of help that facilitate recovery from addiction, the stages of behavioural change, and some of the features of addiction treatment. (1,911 words)

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It’s Not Just About the Drug

The effects of a drug depend on an interaction between drug, person (set)  and social context (setting). These three factors also influence the likelihood of addiction and recovery from addiction (2,662 words).

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Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong: Johann Hari

‘The core of that message, “You’re not alone, we love you,” has to be at every level of how we respond to addicts socially, politically and individually. For one hundred years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts. I think all along we should have been singing love songs to them… because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.’

I loved this TED talk by Johann Hari years ago when I first viewed it. And after watching it early this morning, I still love it! Watching the film again reminded me of the words of Tim, a professional working in the field who is also in recovery from addiction, one of the storytellers in our Recovery Stories project.

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Bill White on Stigma and the Recovery Advocacy Movement

Here is a powerful 2014 film clip on the Faces & Voices of Recovery Vimeo channel from leading addiction recovery advocate Bill White about stigma and how we can tackle the problem.

‘Almost everyone in America know someone in recovery. The problem historically is that they did not know they were in recovery which means that they can continue to maintain incredible stereotypes about who are the people who develop alcohol and other drug problems in this country and who are the people who recover and don’t recover.

There are a lot of issues about stigma that I cannot educate you out of. I can give you all the facts. I can read all the books to you. I can show you documentaries but nothing is going to change that embedded prejudice until you encounter personally someone in recovery who means something to you and hear their story.’

William (Bill) White is Emeritus Senior Research Consultant, Chestnut Health Systems. He has served as a volunteer consultant to Faces & Voices of Recovery since its founding. He has a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies and has worked in the addictions field since 1969. He has authored or coauthored more than 350 articles and monographs and fifteen books including Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America and Let’s Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement. Check out an online library of his writings at williamwhitepapers.com. Faces & Voices of Recovery, 2014. [5’44”]

Addiction and Psychological Pain: Some Reflections

During the many years I spent working in the addiction and mental health field, first as a neuroscientist and later (2000-2008) in the UK helping empower people to facilitate their recovery (healing), I rarely heard the word ‘trauma’ being used.

Few practitioners I met mentioned that the person with the substance use problem might be self-medicating to ameliorate psychological pain. And yet in society, there were plenty of people visiting their doctor and obtaining a prescription of benzodiazepines such as librium, which are highly addictive substances, or antidepressants, which also produce problems, to help them deal with unpleasant psychological states of anxiety or depression.

When I sat down and talked to people who were on their journey to recovery from substance use problems, they would sometimes mention problems in their life that pre-dated their excessive use of substances and often were the reason they started to use the substance in question. This was particularly the case with former heroin users.

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My Journey: 1. A Career in Neuroscience

Outlines my neuroscience career, from a three-year Postdoctoral Fellowship with Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson in Sweden to running my own research laboratory for 14 years in the UK. Our laboratory’s  research was focused on the regulation and function of brain dopamine systems, with a particular interest in addiction. In 2000, I closed my laboratory, as I did not think that neuroscience research was helping people overcome addiction. (3,492 words)


1. Learning About Drugs and the Brain

In the third year of my Psychology undergraduate degree at the City of London Polytechnic (now London Guildhall University) in the mid-1970s, I did not know whether I wanted to go on to become a Clinical Psychologist or conduct research in Psychopharmacology (study of brain function, and the effects of drugs on brain and behaviour).

I loved my undergraduate Abnormal Psychology course—although I now hate the words ‘abnormal’ psychology—and decided that I ultimately wanted to help people overcome psychological problems.

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Finding Natalie Logan McLean

Every now and again I come across someone in the recovery field who really inspires and excites me with their Story and the work they are doing. Earlier this week, I introduced you to Meghann Perry from the USA and the wonderful work she is doing.

Today, I want to introduce you Natalie Logan McLean from Scotland. I came across Natalie’s 2022 TEDxCumbernauldWomen talk, Who Is Natalie?, on Sunday. I was just blown away by her Story!

To hear about the terrible trauma that she experienced as a child, and then the awful traumatic experiences she went through as an adult. How on earth did she come though all of that? No wonder she took to alcohol and drugs in a serious fashion.

Not only did Natalie survive those experiences, she is over 11 years in recovery. Moreover, she set up and is Chief Executive of SISCO (Sustainable Interventions Supporting Change Outside), which is ‘Helping Prisoners Build a Bridge Between Prison and the Community’. Wow!

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Recovery Storytelling – A Powerful Tool for Advocacy: Meghann Perry

On Sunday, I uploaded a blog post about recovery advocate Meghann Perry. In 2009, Meghann ‘was in jail, facing a 5-year prison sentence for selling crack, after decades of profound chaotic substance use and everything that comes with it.’ In 2011, she changed her relationship with substances and started to rebuild her life.

Today, Meghann has her own successful business as a consultant, curriculum developer, and facilitator. She says on her website:

‘Through unique, creative, authentic training, workshops, and programs, I’m changing the culture through new approaches to support individuals and organizations in their process of transformation from survival, to thriving. This is recovery.’

One of Meghann’s approaches involves storytelling—her initiative really excites me. I’m also thrilled to see that Meghann has been working with CCAR (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery), whose Executive Director is Phil Valentine. I’ll be returning to this relationship in a future blog post.

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Recovery Stories on Website Updated

Our Recovery Stories BookThe Recovery Stories on this website were written in 2012, ready for our launch in 2013. Some of these Stories were written by the person, whilst others I wrote after interviewing the person (or people) on a number of occasions. In these latter cases, the stories went back and forth across the world, as most involved people lived in the UK and I had moved to Australia.

In 2020, I decided that it would be good to update the stories—I was still in touch with most of the people. Most agreed to the update which would appear in my 2021 eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys From Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

I recently decided to add these updates to each Story onto the website, along with a pdf document of each full Story. Please check out the Stories and feel free to pass around the pdf documents. I believe each of these Stories is inspirational and can teach us a lot about addiction, recovery and treatment.

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Who is Natalie?: Natalie Logan McLean

Natalie charts her life and decisions reeling from one adverse childhood experience after another, what triggered lasting change, and her commitment to removing stigma in order to reconnect with all the parts of ourselves as a society. Natalie set up Sisco, a charity whose main objective is to build a bridge between prisoners and society. From peer lead recovery cafés in the Scottish Prison Service to soccer training in the community, Sisco’s model is built on trust, integrity and honesty. TEDxCumbernauldWomen. 25 February 2022. [15’49”]

Climbing out of addiction and depression: Margo Talbot at TEDxCanmore

‘Current research suggests that addiction and depression are symptoms of emotional distress, not causes of it, forging the link between childhood trauma and mental illness. Margo Talbot’s journey supports these studies. Diagnosed Bi Polar at age twenty-two, Margo spent the next fifteen years in suicidal depression before discovering the healing power of presence as the antidote to emotional trauma. Being present to our thoughts and emotions, not running the other way or masking them. Where best to practice the art of presence than the frozen world of ice climbing…’ 16 November 2016. [10’29”] Check out Margo’s website and her ‘Margo Speaking Demo Reel’ short film.

The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power: Gabor Maté at TEDxRio+20

Canadian physician Gabor Maté’s theme at TEDxRio+20 was addiction – from drugs to power. From the lack of love to the desire to escape oneself, from susceptibility of the being to interior power – nothing escapes. And he risks a generic and generous prescription: “Find your nature and be nice to yourself.” TEDx Talks. [18’46”]