Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 10 (Dr. David McCartney & LEAP)

After visiting Ian and Irene MacDonald, I headed back to my usual base when I am visiting the UK, the Beech House Hotel in Reading. It’s a wonderful family-run hotel that I have been staying in for over a decade whilst I visit my three youngest children. The next morning, I delivered my hire car back to the main office, and then headed to Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh.

I was soon on my way to my favourite UK city where I would be meeting some of my favourite people, the staff and patients at Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP), led by my close friend Dr David McCartney. I first visited LEAP in 2007, at a time when my eldest daughter Annalie was a medical student at the university. For some years, even after I moved to Australia, I would spend the day talking with staff and patients. My discussions with David and his Clinical Lead Eddy Conroy were enjoyable, thought-provoking, and inspiring.

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Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 7 (Wulf Livingston)

On Friday 23 September, I left Gower and headed to Tregarth in North Wales, via Aberystwyth and Dolgellau (where one of my ancestors was born), to stay with Wulf Livingston and his lovely wife Melanie. As I had such a tight schedule, I was due to stay there only one day, but my cousin Emma (my next visit) had just tested positive for Covid, so I ended up staying two days with Wulf and Mel.

I hadn’t seen Wulf in person for nearly 20 years, although we’ve been conversing on Facetime for the last year or so. I first met Wulf in 2000 when Becky Hancock and I were conducting the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) evaluation in Wales. The local evaluator for North Wales, Annie Stonebridge, used to organise our meetings when we visited the region, and always arranged for us to meet Wulf, as we got on so well and we were learning so much from him. Wulf was Community Services Manager for the treatment service CAIS at the time. I was always impressed that he used go out and meet service users in their homes or other places of their choice, rather than have them come to visit in the formal surrounds of the treatment service, which was the general practice in the field.

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Visiting UK Recovery Friends, Part 3 (Wynford Ellis Owen)

After visiting my eldest daughter Annalie and family in Manchester, and seeing recovery advocates Kevan Martin and Mark Gilman, I headed down to Reading. The next day, my youngest daughter Natasha and I flew to Rome for a week to visit one of my best friends at City of London Polytechnic (where I did my Psychology degree in the first half of the 1970s) Saifullah Syed and his lovely wife Francoise. There, I also met Jeff Simpson, one of my other best mates from the Poly, someone I hadn’t seen for 45 years!

After Rome, I visited my eldest son Ben in Southampton for a couple of days and then hired a car in Reading to travel to and around Wales. First stop was Creigiau, where I stayed for the weekend with Wynford Ellis Owen and his wonderful wife Meira.

I first met Wynford in 2007 through my role 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. Tim Leighton of Action on Addiction, who was in charge of the Foundation Degree course, asked if I would supervise the degree project of one of the students who lived not far from me in South Wales.

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‘None of them will ever get better’ by Dr David McCartney

I love Dr David McCartney’s blogs. He writes so well about issues that really matter. He’s also a great guy who cares passionately about addiction recovery and recovering people. And he’s someone I always enjoy visiting when I am in the UK. [Can’t wait until the next visit!] Anyway, here’s David’s latest post on the Recovery Review blog.

Therapeutic nihilism

“None of them will ever get better”, the addiction doctor said to me of her patients, “As soon as you accept that, this job gets easier.”

This caution was given to me in a packed MAT (medication assisted treatment) clinic during my visit to a different city from the one I work in now. This was many years ago and I was attempting to get an understanding of how their services worked. I don’t know exactly what was going on for that doctor, but it wasn’t good. (I surmise burnout, systemic issues, lack of resources and little experience of seeing recovery happen).

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Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 6

I earlier began a series of blog posts (starting here) describing what I learnt about addiction, addiction recovery and addiction treatment after I had closed down my neuroscience laboratory in the early 2000s. I started visiting a local treatment agency, local treatment agency West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA), in Swansea, South Wales. At the same time, I was conducting an evaluation of projects supported by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund in Wales.

I continue this series of blog posts by describing what happened, and what I learnt, after I first visited the treatment agency BAC O’Connor in 2004. Here is the start of a new story, one where I saw recovery literally oozing out of the walls of a building.

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Journeys – Making Recovery from Addiction Visible

Huseyin Djemil from the UK has this week launched a new podcast focused on recovery from addiction, which he describes as such:

‘A new series from Towards Recovery CIC – making recovery from addiction visible.

Huseyin Djemil speaks to people who have lived experience of recovery from addiction, people who have been affected by addiction and those working in the addiction and recovery field – in its many contexts. There is a lot of information about addiction, but people get better and their stories need to be visible to give others hope.

Recovery is not a linear path from A to B, it’s more of a winding road and we want to explore those journeys and get those stories heard, because our stories have power.’

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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.

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Bill White’s Talk in London, 2009

Film from William L White’s talk at an addiction recovery conference on 18 March 2009 in London organised by Action on Addiction and Wired In. Six clips focus on recovery advocacy, recovery communities, recovery management and treatment. 

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‘Dr Mark and The Village’ by Mark Ragins

Unknown-3Here is an article by one of my favourite people in the mental health field, Mark Ragins on Mad in America. Mark is the Medical Director at the MHA Village Integrated Service Agency, a model of recovery based mental health care.  His practice has been grounded in 20 years+ with some of the most underserved and difficult to engage people in our community.

‘My name is Mark Ragins.  Most people at The Village call me Dr. Mark, except those who have known me long enough to forego that pedestal and just call me Mark.  I’m a psychiatrist, a story teller, and the kid who used to drive his parents and teachers crazy asking “Why?” unendingly and then, never satisfied with their answers, looked for my own answers and returned to tell them that their answers were wrong.

When I meet someone new I usually try not to tell them I’m a psychiatrist too soon.  There are so many strange and scary ideas about psychiatrists and mental illnesses out there that I’m afraid I’ll be rejected before I even have a chance.

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‘Addiction Treatment (By Itself) is Not Enough’ by Bill White

‘I have spent more than four decades providing, studying, promoting, and defending addiction treatment, but remain acutely aware of its limitations. As currently conceived and delivered, most addiction treatment programs facilitate detoxification, recovery initiation, and early recovery stabilization more effectively and more safely than ever achieved in history, but most fall woefully short in supporting the transition to recovery maintenance and the later stages of recovery, particularly for those who need it the most – those with the most severe and complex problems and the least recovery support within their natural environment.

Addiction treatment as a stand-alone intervention is an inadequate strategy for achieving long-term recovery for individuals and families characterized by high problem severity, complexity, and chronicity and low recovery capital.  In isolation, addiction treatment is equally inadequate as a national strategy to lower the social costs of alcohol and other drug-related problems.  Here’s why.

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‘Recovery in an Age of Cynicism’ by Bill White

Recovery in an Age of Cynicism ImageThere’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”
For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Lyrics by Stephen Stills

Recovery in an age of cynicism requires seeking the less traveled path.

We live in a strange era.  Pessimism seems to be seeping into every aspect of global culture – fed by leaders who divide rather than unite, who pander rather than educate and elevate, and who ply the politics of destruction to mask their own impotence to create.

Poisoned by such cynicism, we as a people act too often without thinking, speak too often without listening, and engage too often to confront and condemn rather than to communicate, until in our own loss of hope, we lapse into disillusioned detachment and silence – shrinking our world to a small circle we vow to protect. 

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Excerpt from Brad’s Recovery Story: A Spiritual Awakening

stories-04Here’s an excerpt from Brad’s Story. Brad was in the process of breaking away from a life of drinking, crime and violence.

‘3. Starting with The Breakfast Club
In 2006, Thames Valley Police informed me that Paula had taken her own life. This made me angry. I thought she was selfish leaving three kids behind, although I’d left my kids behind years ago.

I continued drinking and six months to the day my best friend Mick died in my arms at Calderdale Royal, having fallen and banged his head. Mick’s death crushed me. It was this was the first time I can remember showing any real emotion. To this day, I shed a tear when talking about him, as I am now. We had done everything together.

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Stuart Honor Talking at Recovery AM Conference

Start time of Stuart’s excellent talk (40 mins 20 secs)

In my humble opinion, Stuart Honor is one of the very special people in the UK addiction recovery field. Stuart has been doing research on recovery in communities for about a decade and has accumulated more data than anyone else in the UK. Stuart’s research addresses key recovery-related issues and he is never afraid to speak as he sees it… and challenge the system.

I remember years ago when Stuart first contacted me and invited me up to see The Breakfast Club he had set up in Halifax. I was really impressed by what I saw and by what Stuart was trying to develop – a genuine recovery community. You now know this place as The Basement Recovery Project, the CEO of whom is Michelle Foster. Stuart still plays a role.

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‘Beautiful Boy: More Than An Addict’ by Jim Contopulos

The beauty of the Santa Rosa Ecological Reserve in southern California provides the backdrop for a father’s lament upon losing his beautiful son to addiction and mental illness.

Walk alongside him, as together, we who survive dream of a better day, sustained and inspired by the pain, brokenness and courage of those who live with the unrelenting weight of mental illness and addiction.

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‘Recovery: what matters?’ by David McCartney

IMG_2315Here’s an interesting Wired In To Recovery blog from David McCartney from September 2013 about the importance of social relationships.

‘If you wanted to live a long and healthy life, what measures could you take to achieve your goals? Stop smoking? Lose weight? Exercise? Drop your blood pressure? We have evidence that all of these make a difference, but a recent analysis of 148 studies on the subject found two things that made more of a difference to mortality than anything else. What were they?

Well, having strong social relationships and being integrated socially seem to protect against death. This analysis was not specifically about addiction, but suffering from addiction is strongly associated with increased death rates and it seems very likely that if we could promote strong social links in those seeking help it will reduce the risk of relapse and ultimately of early death.

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‘The Four Stages of Recovery’, from Mark Ragins

IMG_3040Mark Ragins is a leading recovery figure in the mental health field. He was a pioneer in setting up MHA Village, a recovery community based in Los Angeles. His writings are well worth a read. Here is what Mark has to say about the four stages of recovery in an article entitled The Road to Recovery. What Mark says here is just as relevant to people recovering from addiction.

‘Recovery has four stages: (1) hope, (2) empowerment, (3) self-responsibility and (4) a meaningful role in life.

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