‘Women: Drinking and Recovery’ by Dr David McCartney

My good friend Michael Scott, of Michael’s Recovery Story, and I attended a Public Awareness Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in a Perth suburb today. I was asked to talk for five minutes about my recovery work over the years. I also described some of the factors that facilitate recovery.

We listened to a number of AA members share their stories and I have to say that I was blown away by the high quality of the shares. They were moving, inspirational and insightful. More women than men spoke. It was such a good meeting and I really enjoyed talking to people after the actual meeting ended.

Imagine my surprise when I got home to find that my good friend Dr David McCartney had just uploaded a blog post about women, drinking and recovery.

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‘A Journey Toward Recovery: From the Inside Out’ by Dale Walsh

I’ve been away visiting family this weekend and haven’t had a chance to prepare a new set of blog posts for this week. I therefore thought I would re-post some of my old favourites from the past this week, which will give me time to prepare new ones for next week. 

One of my favourite articles about recovery was written by Dale Walsh back in 1996 which really summed up what recovery and recovery principles mean to a person who has been suffering from mental health problems. I thought I would highlight some of the main points here. 

The Problem
‘For many years I believed in a traditional medical model. I had a disease. I was sick. I was told I was mentally ill, that I should learn to cope with my anxiety, my depression, my pain, and my panic. I never told anyone about the voices, but they were there, too. I was told I should change my expectations of myself and realize I would always have to live a very restricted life.

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Voices of Loved Ones Indirectly Affected by Substance Use Problems

Continuing to look back at my career in the addiction recovery field and what I have learnt. After reading the excellent book Beating the Dragon: The Recovery from Dependent Drug Use by James McIntosh and Neil McKeganey in 2003, I made the decision to start a research programme involving qualitative analysis of interviews. The first piece of research, which focused on the effects of substance use problems on the family, was conducted by Gemma Salter, a third year undergraduate. Gemma was awarded the prize for the project of the year in my Psychology department.

Gemma’s research involved semi-structured interviews (lasting 42 – 129 minutes) with nine parents and one grandparent (who had assumed the role of parent) of people with a drug and/or alcohol problem. The participants were recruited from West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea and Drug and Alcohol Family Support (DAFS) in Blaenau Gwent, South Wales.

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Factors Facilitating Recovery: Overcoming Stigma

This is eighth post in this particular Series, which comes from my book Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol AddictionIt ties in nicely with a previous blog, Nothing to mourn; just a drug addict, by Dr David McCartney.

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. 

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A Parent’s Story

I met Mike Blanche in around 2003 and he was the first person to help me understand the impact of a person’s substance use problem on family members. Mike was an inspiring figure who had played a key role in the setting up of Drug and Alcohol Family Support (DAFS) in Blaenau Gwent in South Wales. He organised a conference, Families in Focus, at which the following talk was given. We first posted this talk on our SubstanceMisuse website back in 2003.

‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am a mother and I have been invited here today to talk about my experiences as a service user. I have a son who is living at home with my husband and myself. He is addicted to drugs.

He first started dabbling with substances when he was still in school. At first it was ‘glue sniffing’, but it wasn’t long before he started experimenting with cannabis. When I tried to approach him to warn him of the dangers of drug abuse, his typical reaction was to say, ‘Don’t worry Mam, I can handle it.’

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‘Nothing to mourn; just a drug addict’ by Dr David McCartney

When I developed Wired In and worked in the addiction recovery field, I was living in South Wales. When my daughter Annalie was in medical school in Edinburgh, I used to fly up from Cardiff to visit her. I soon came to love Edinburgh. That positive feeling for the city increased greatly when I met Dr David McCartney.

David ran Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP), a programme that offered structured treatment based in the community using a blend of evidence-based interventions. The patient group in treatment operated as a therapeutic community. David was in recovery himself. I loved visiting LEAP every time I was in Edinburgh, and meeting the patients and staff. I’d sit in on group sessions and spend time talking to the patients. David and I became good friends and I hold him in the highest regard.

I’ve recently been checking out David’s blog on Recovery Review. He writes so well and covers a number of key themes relating to addiction recovery. Here is David’s latest post, ‘Nothing to mourn; just a drug addict’, focused on the issue of stigma.

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Pathways from Heroin Addiction: Recovery Without Treatment, Part 4

The research conducted by Patrick Biernacki, with 101 former heroin addicts, showed some of the courses that people take in their lives when they give up using the drug without the aid of treatment. This is the last part of this series of blog posts.

When people resolve to stop using heroin, they face a variety of problems that go beyond the cravings for the drug and the temptation to use again. These additional problems are related to their attempts to fashion new identities and social involvements in worlds that are not associated with drug use.

As Biernacki pointed out, ‘The manner of termination and the course [or courses] that follow withdrawal from opiates are closely related to the degree that the addicts were involved in the world of addiction, to the exclusion of activities in other, more ordinary worlds, and to the extent that they had ruined conventional social relationships and spoiled the identities situated in them.’

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‘Our Recovery Stories’ Update

I just wanted to let you know that the eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction will be available from 9th April 2021. It will be available via Apple, Amazon or Kobo (price: £4.99, A$8.99, US$6.99, €5.99). I will provide links and any other relevant information shortly.

I have chosen this date for release, as it is my youngest son Sam’s birthday and is a day before Michael Scott’s, of Michael’s Story, 43rd Sober Anniversary. And I then learn that the 9th April is the 60th birthday of Kevan Martin, of Kevan’s Story. Couldn’t have chosen a better date.

Please note that the book will have to be read on a phone, tablet or a computer. I hope to publish a hard copy version at a later date. Here is what I have said in the publicity material:

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Beth’s Reflections

A series of blogs from recovery coach Beth Burgess of Smyls. Beth has written articles about addiction recovery for the Huffington Post which means she has had a large audience.

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I Am Not Anonymous: Ellie, ‘Come With Me’

EllieTextBlog-1024x682A Story from the excellent I Am Not Anonymous website is long overdue. Here is Ellie’s Story“:

‘When I was drinking, my life was ruled by shame.  It’s exhausting, living a double life. On the outside I was a put-together, active, intelligent woman.  I made sure my outside always looked okay, so nobody would look too closely at what was really going on, at my dirty secret.

Inside, I was a crumbling mess.  I felt less-than, unworthy and insecure.  I strove for perfection in all things, which of course is unattainable, and this left me feeling empty and ashamed.

I drank to fill the cracks, the emptiness.  I drank to numb out, escape.  I drank to feel okay with myself.  I found myself in my late thirties, a shell of a person, hollow and feeling desperately alone, even though I had a beautiful family, a job, and people who loved me. 

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‘Is Depression Who I Am or What I Have?’ by Douglas Bloch

In this video, author and depression counselor Douglas Bloch talks about separating your feelings about being depressed from your sense of self worth.

The role of GPs in the recovery process

I’m pleased that the RSA have been involved in advocating for recovery-based care over the past few years. Here’s a film they produced in collaboration with the SMMGP in 2012.

‘We set out to make a short film for local GPs and other primary care practitioners featuring local people in recovery talking about their positive and negative experiences of approaching their GPs for help.

It fast became a much more ambitious pilot thanks to the collaboration with the Substance Misuse Management in General Practice – SMMGP – which recognised the potential for this film to be an engagement tool for GPs beyond those at the two project sites.

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I Am Not Anonymous: Lauren’s Story, ‘Will To Bear Discomfort’

LaurenText-1024x682(pp_w1000_h666)I’m starting 2015 with some powerful writing from the I Am Not Anonymous website.

‘When I walked into the door to rehab in early 2008 at the age of 29, I was given a lengthy input questionnaire. I decided it was time to be honest for once.

There was just one question I had to leave blank. I pondered it for the better part of a day and kept returning to it with no decent answer.

What is spirituality? I didn’t have a clue. I reluctantly left it blank. By the time I left rehab almost three months later to return to the life I had left, I had a much better understanding of what spirituality was and how it could help me.

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Classic Blog: ‘The Four Walls’ by Mark Ragins

rsz_markHere’s some great earlier writing on recovery from Mark Ragins, who set up The Village in California. This is what recovery is about!

‘In 1989, the California State Legislature authorized the funding for three model mental health programs, including the Village Integrated Service Agency in Long Beach, in part to answer the question, “Does anything work?”

We created a radical departure from traditional mental health services basing our entire system on psychosocial rehabilitation principles, quality of life outcomes and community integration. Arguably, we have created the most comprehensive, integrated and effective recovery based mental health program anywhere.

In recent years, encouraged by our success, both our attention and the legislature’s have turned to the further question of “How can our whole system be more like the Village?” Undoubtedly, there are numerous serious beaurocratic, funding, and system design issues relevant to that question, but I would like to focus on the personal issues staff must face.

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‘A Discussion of Labels, Part One: Disability’ by Melissa Bond

mbondI’m very wary of labels in health. Here’s a great blog and beautiful writing from Melissa Bond on the Mad in America website on labels.

‘When my son was born six years ago, the word “disabled” was suddenly all around me. It came from everywhere – the nurses, the doctors, the physical and occupational therapists, friends and family.

I remember looking into his ice blue eyes and so marveling at the lines of white that extended so symmetrically from his irises that I began calling him Star Boy. I felt a new mother’s sense of protection. The label surrounding my Star Boy was a smoke so thick I felt I could barely breathe.

Disabled. My boy with an extra chromosome was disabled. He wore a label that expressed negation, a subtraction. He was defined by the world at large by the Latin prefix denoting “apart,” “away,” or “having a privative and reversing force.”

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‘Stigma Reduction Through Recovery Contact’ by Bill White, Tom Hill and Greg Williams

Silence PosterMore insightful writing from Bill White and colleagues.

‘Debates continue on whether the stigma attached to persons experiencing alcohol and other drug (AOD)-related problems has a positive or negative social effect on the nature and magnitude of these problems.  Stigma promoters argue that public castigation of excessive AOD users prevents such use at a cultural level and exerts pressure for AOD deceleration/cessation among those with AOD problems.

Stigma detractors argue that such castigation inhibits help-seeking, forces excessive AOD users into subterranean drug cultures, promotes their sequestration through mass incarceration, poses barriers for the reentry of people seeking recovery into mainstream society, and places undue blame on individuals and groups while ignoring the ecology of addiction – the environmental conditions in which alcohol and other drug problems flourish.   

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Russell Brand: my life without drugs

26th Annual ARIA Awards 2012 - Award Winner PortraitsA great article in the Guardian by Russell Brand. He’s doing some great work.

Russell Brand has not used drugs for 10 years. He has a job, a house, a cat, good friends. But temptation is never far away. He wants to help other addicts, but first he wants us to feel compassion for those affected.

The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received “an inconvenient truth” from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change – I’m not that ecologically switched on – she told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.

I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car as an external conduit for the surging melancholy, and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills, the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.

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Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness — from the inside

“Is it okay if I totally trash your office?” It’s a question Elyn Saks once asked her doctor, and it wasn’t a joke.

A legal scholar, in 2007 Saks came forward with her own story of schizophrenia, controlled by drugs and therapy but ever-present. In this powerful talk, she asks us to see people with mental illness clearly, honestly and compassionately.

‘Stigma and Service Integration’ by Bill White

Stigma and Service Integration ImageIn his latest blog, Bill White emphasises the importance of Recovery Stories and their value in tackling stigma.

‘One of the emerging trends of U.S. health care reform is the tri-directional integration of addiction treatment, mental health services, and primary health care.  This is evident in the growing integration of addiction and psychiatric treatment under the rubric of “behavioral health care,” efforts to integrate primary health care within addiction treatment settings, and increased delivery of addiction-related services within primary health care settings, e.g., physician offices, health clinics, and hospitals.

Considerable resources have been invested in creating policy frameworks for such integration (e.g., provisions for office-based treatment of opioid dependence) and developing technological innovations (e.g., screening, assessment, and treatment protocol) to facilitate such integration, but history would suggest a far greater obstacle to service integration:  social and professional stigma.

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‘Patient Centred-Care Doesn’t Go Far Enough: We Need Patient-Perspective Care’ by Tim Carey

timAn excellent article by Tim Carey on Mad in America.

‘A growing appreciation of the importance of involving people in their own health care has seen the development of initiatives such as “patient-centred care.” Patient-centred care has been defined as “providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.” (Institute of Medicine, 2014)

While this definition seems reasonable enough, it appears to be very difficult to translate into practice; particularly in the area of mental health.

It is not always clear in mental health, for instance, that it is patients’ values that guide all clinical decisions. I experienced some of this when I began to develop a system of mental health service delivery which I came to call “patient-led” treatment.

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