The Go-To Addict

The Breath of The True Self, Painting No. 34 by Swav

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson

My recovery has been a huge experiential journey during which I have rediscovered long-buried facets of my personality. I am certain that I am not alone in this. In recovery, things can change very quickly! I have metamorphosed from a ‘secret’ alcoholic, constantly hiding and denying my drinking, to one of my home town’s most visible addicts in recovery.

Like most addicts, in the beginning I was so deep in a hole of shame and guilt, that I still hid my situation from all but those closest to me. I had only just begun telling the truth and was starting to free myself from a world of deception and delusion. The first step, or the first truth, is always acknowledging you have a problem. The liberation from the constant anxiety that surrounds all the lies became almost intoxicating – I have written before about the simplicity of an honest life.

I then began participating in the groups at Inclusion and I started to get used to telling my story truthfully. I also shared my recovery with friends, but I could still hide what I wanted from the wider world. When I started writing this blog, I shared it on my Facebook page. I also discovered the power of stating openly that I was a recovering addict. I began to refuse drinks I was offered by saying, “No thank you. I am an alcoholic.” When you say these words, someone will invariably want to speak to you. Addiction touches so many people and most of them need to talk about it.

In February this year, I began my job as Recovery Coordinator at The Edge Café. Part of my job is promoting our work. This is not difficult as we are a very positive ‘good-news’ story. I told my story to journalists and local television reporters with the same honesty. My recovery story was now in the public domain, hidden from nobody. Teachers at my daughter’s school told her they had seen me on the television. Fellow parents told me the same, so I began to have great concerns for my daughter’s feelings. This was a huge line crossed. It was an emotional moment when she told me that she didn’t mind as she was proud of me and my recovery.

I am now contacted by the local media to comment on addiction-related news stories. My wife calls me Cambridge’s ‘go-to’ addict. I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t prefer anonymity some days, but it is vital for people like me to stand up and be counted. We are a visible demonstration that recovery is not only possible but rewarding and fun. As I have said before, you never know when your words will reach somebody who needs to talk, be they a struggling addict, or a family member or friend of an addict. It would also be false if I said there was no pressure attached to being the public face of recovery in Cambridge, but the team here at The Edge is so supportive and nurturing that this has yet to become an issue. I also have complete support at home from my family. I am happy and grateful to be Cambridge’s ‘go-to’ addict.

“Self-control, openness, the ability to engage with others, to plan and persist – these are the attributes that get people in the door and on the job, and lead to productive lives.” James Heckman

A Life In A Day

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“The long days are no happier than the short ones.” Philip James Bailey

Friday 21 April started, as most schooldays do, with getting my daughter Rubi ready, fed and delivered to school. I love starting the day this way; it is an instant reminder of my priorities. I then drove to The Edge Café for what was to be an extraordinary day.

Not long after I arrived, I had a meeting with a young woman offering to run another art workshop for us. She was bright and brimming with ideas – a positive start to the day. The café then got very busy. Eighteen builders turned up, all wanting a full breakfast. The Edge kitchen is fast and professional but numbers like that all at once put a strain on our single hob!

In the middle of my washing up and waiter duties, my 10:30 meeting arrived: Sarah from the NHS Sexual Health team, to discuss us being named a Centre for distributing free condoms to young women registered with them. I really wanted to achieve this as promoting safe sexual health fits in completely with our ethos. We discussed the rather complicated procedure for getting involved until my washing up skills were required again. More builders!

I was then informed that there was another woman wanting to talk to me. She had come to discuss holding events for an organisation she is involved with locally called Death Café –a monthly gathering where people can talk about death and grief. I am becoming less surprised when people and groups are drawn to The Edge’s magnet. As I talked about our work with people in recovery she was very moved and tearful. She felt she had found the perfect venue for the Cambridge Death Café. I had to agree.

When I finally had time to check the post, there was a letter for me. I had been waiting for a response concerning a potential donation to The Edge from someone I had met at a charity event in February. When I told him what my job was he was immediately interested and told me that there had been alcohol addiction and substance abuse in his family. He also informed me that he worked for a charitable trust and that I should email him. I did, and had sincebeen waiting for a reply. As soon as I picked up the envelope I knew what it was. I then went into a state of shock. Enclosed was a cheque for a five-figure sum made payable to The Edge Café.

I barely had time for this to sink in before I had to make my way home and then to London for an evening of ambient music with The Orb at the Royal Festival Hall. I had been looking forward to this for some time, especially as I was going with a very old friend. Also, it was some much needed downtime for me. The music was splendid, as was the company. It made me very nostalgic for my London life.

On the train back to Cambridge, just after midnight, I received a text from another very dear friend. Someone I knew from my London days was dead. He had hung himself. Absolute shock. Everything else from my eventful day left my mind. When I knew him, he was a coke dealer, or I should say wholesaler, with whom I did business. I don’t know whether he was still doing this, but my life has moved on so much in the fourteen years since I last saw him I find it difficult to imagine anyone would still be in that place. A place of substance use and addiction.

Wherever he was, he was in pain. And the pain he leaves behind is measureless. Suicide like addiction is a place of isolation and despair. Both are selfish. Both can destroy the lives of family and friends. Those left behind are haunted by unanswerable questions. My father used to volunteer for Samaritans. My respect is boundless for anyone who makes themselves available to those in crisis. It is priceless to know that someone is always there to listen. We survive by telling our stories, sharing our experiences.

After a day of such highs I was numb, then full of sadness; finally I was left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Grateful for being involved in The Edge, where we are connecting with so many people and changing lives with our positivity. Our recovery hub is building a community where our experiences and differences are understood and celebrated. I am grateful, too, that I am still free of addiction. I am blessed.

 

“I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.” Paul Theroux

Games We Play

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“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of becoming” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

It is somewhat ironic that the roots of transactional analysis come from the mind of a cocaine addict, lying as they do in Sigmund Freud’s theories of personality. Freud believed that the human personality has three components, all of which must work together to enable our complex behaviour: the Id, Ego, and the Superego. According to Freud, these need to be balanced to produce ‘reasonable’ mental health and stability. The Id functions in the irrational and emotional part of the mind, the Ego as the rational part, and the Superego is thought of as the moral part. Each individual mind possesses all three and they frequently collide with each other. The collisions and interactions between these elements of personality manifest themselves as an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.

Transactional analysis, developed by Eric Berne, is a form of modern psychology that examines a person’s interactions and relationships. Inspired by Freud’s theories of personality, Berne combined them with his own observations of human interaction to develop transactional analysis. In therapy, it is used to address a person’s interactions and communications to establish and underpin the idea that every individual has value and has the capacity for positive change and growth. Transactional analysis is based on the idea that a person’s behaviour and social relationships reflect an interchange between the Superego, the Ego, and the Id. These aspects of personality are established early in life.

The application of transactional analysis to rehab and other recovery programmes is comparatively straightforward. The first thing the professional does is establish an agreement with the client – that they are going to address their addiction – to ensure that the two communicate as adults during their sessions. The professional then strengthens the client’s ‘adult’ and observes the transactions the person has with others. This can be used to discover how their personal issues might be causing their addiction. Transactional analysis helps during alcohol and drug recovery by allowing the person to make rational decisions rather than relying on the irrational elements of their mind.

When I remember the crazed version of me that arrived at my first appointment at the Inclusion Drug and Alcohol Service, I am glad that there was at least one adult in the room. I had taken a drink or two before I arrived, telling myself it was for Dutch courage. I was rumbled almost immediately, breathalysed, and warned that I had to take my treatment seriously or it would be withdrawn. In other words, I had to approach my recovery as an adult. Lesson one.

Every addict lives as a child. It is a desperate and cruel existence, but is inherently selfish and self-serving. The addict gives childish excuses for their childlike behaviour. Simply telling an addict that they have to grow up would probably provoke an unpredictable and potentially violent reaction, but the simple truth is that recovery is the realm of adults. The time has come to put away childish things. It is a process of learning, or relearning, that problems and issues must be faced before they can be addressed and solved. Recovery is a process of learning that anything is possible.

This is why I love all my new sober friends. They are adults. They look life in the eye and say, “You haven’t beaten me before and you’re not beating me now.” They have all experienced true rock bottom. Every person in recovery is my hero. They all still undergo the struggles and travails that are part of the human condition, but they are also closely in touch with their capacity to win. In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. It also adds to its strength.

“Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future.”  Eric Berne, Games People Play

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Build a Magnet – The Edge Café

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Recovery is like any puzzle – you start at the Edge.

I love my job. Wait a minute, I don’t think I’ve stated that with enough emphasis. I LOVE MY JOB! If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you will be aware of my involvement with The Edge Café, a ground-breaking new recovery café which has just opened in Cambridge. The Edge is a community café with a recovery heart; our aim is to provide individuals in recovery from substance misuse a safe and supportive space to meet, connect, develop skills, rebuild lost confidence and generate opportunities for positive change. We provide a visible demonstration of the possibility of recovery from substance misuse and addiction.

We have a range of arts and crafts workshops, skills-share and wellbeing groups in development which will run out of the café including ‘Knit and Natter’, Poetry and Reading, Art, Mindfulness and Meditation, IT Skills, Job Application and CV writing, and Pilates. We also have a conference room in the building, ‘The Hayman Room’, which is fully equipped for meetings and can be rented out by the community, local groups or businesses. The room was named after a much loved local recovery worker who tragically died recently. AA, NA and OA fellowships are already using it for their weekly meetings.

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I became involved as a volunteer, sanding down tables and painting during the up-cycling of donated furniture, and immediately met a group of new friends. As is typical in the recovery community, this was a group of tenacious, determined and passionate people with a wide variety of skill-sets, all with the café’s success as their goal: creating a peer-led, recovery hub for the community. People in recovery are truly amazing. It is just a matter of refocusing the planning and organisational skills that being an addict demands. The café is managed by Sarah, also in recovery, whose delicious, healthy food and great coffee are already bringing people back for more.

I now have a job there as Recovery Coordinator. At last, a job in recovery. Something I have wanted for a long time. My role is to develop the peer mentor program, arrange workshops and exhibitions, apply for funding, build links with the local community and nurture the recovery of everyone involved with the project. The response so far has been truly heart-warming. I have previously written a piece for this blog called How to Become a Magnet; now, with a remarkable team of people, I have been involved in building a magnet. Every day people walk through the door of the Edge Café offering to help or wanting to be a part of this awesome project. Some people simply want to come and enjoy our wonderful food and coffee and soak up the positive aura. People can just come in for a hug!

We have a working group, or committee, called Closer to the Edge, which is entirely comprised of people various stages of recovery. They are an inspiring group of people with amazing skills, who have already become close and deeply respected friends – and I don’t make true friends easily. The aim of our current and wonderfully understanding board is that the board itself will eventually be made up of people in recovery. Addicts are doing it for themselves! Teamwork, togetherness and a true passion for the project to succeed have built something quite phenomenal. You can become a magnet. You can build a magnet.

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Gratitude

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As 2017 begins it is natural to look back and contemplate the last twelve months. 2016 has been a horrendous year for many people, but for me it has been a year of rebirth, family, connection and abstinence. To coin a phrase, not only is it possible and attainable – transformation is real. With overwhelming love and support I have turned my life around. My new life is very uncomplicated. I love its simplicity. Here is a glimpse into my Gratitude Diary for 2016.

I write this on the day we celebrate a year in our new home – a tangible manifestation of the stability that underpins my new life. My wife and I care for my mother who has problems with mobility. In 2015 we still lived in her big old house which was crumbling and falling down around us. My mother could not make it upstairs so it had been three years since she had enjoyed a shower. She celebrated her 90th birthday in November, in her purpose-built annex to our new home, complete with made-to-measure wet-room. This is a blessing brought to my heart and mind by 2016.

Without the unconditional love, support and encouragement of my beautiful wife, Munizha, I would not be sober today. The death throes of my addiction nearly ended my marriage. It was her determination and faith in me that pulled me through. Her capacity for patience and forgiveness will never cease to amaze me. It took us twelve years from first meeting and falling in love till we got married. We recently celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. This last year, my first in recovery, has brought us closer than we have ever been. This is a blessing that I am working hard to deserve.

I am wrapped in the loving arms of my family. Most mornings I get my 10-year-old daughter out of bed. Any parent will understand that this is not always a calm process but my daughter now wants me to carry out this task whenever I am not working. Her curiosity and enthusiasm for life is inspiring. Being her father, a sober and present father, brings me more joy than I can find words to describe. Her growing trust in our relationship and in my sobriety is a blessing that has flourished in 2016.

In 2015 we lost my beautiful sister Diana after her inspirational four-year battle with cancer. She left three beautiful daughters in their twenties and thirties. They are strong and independent women who have the strength of their own conviction to follow their personal path. This is my sister’s legacy; she taught them to have the confidence to be themselves, so they are three very different women. My nieces bring me much joy. I am so proud to be their uncle and it is a blessing for me to be there to support and encourage them. Doing this keeps my sister close to me.

From the despair and isolation of an addict’s life, every day now brings new connections. I now have the time and will to invest in these connections and the result is an ever expanding source of inspiration and support – to name a few: Nicola from I Love Recovery Cafe, Chris from Recovery Revolution Online, Adam – the Sober Companion and Chris from Sober Command. Their support and guidance has been an essential part of my recovery. Sobriety has also led to many new projects, which feeds my essential need to be creative, which I had lost sight of in addiction. I am grateful to every single person involved in my recovery. Your presence in my life is a blessing.

I love my new, simple life. I am free from the tangled web of deception and shame. I am content just to be a husband, father, uncle, son and friend. Saying this, my recovery has brought me new goals and new ambitions; things I thought I had closed the book on. Do I have any resolutions for 2017? I have many; in fact I aim to make resolution my watchword. I still have to tell myself that I can’t do everything, but I have a building excitement to discover what 2017 has in store.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings”  William Arthur Ward

Call Me Addict

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“In some cases, the name given at birth is only the first of several names a person will bear throughout life. When this happens, the new names are given either to mark important milestones in life or to ward off evil spirits by tricking them into thinking that the person with the old name has disappeared. Regardless of when, why, or how often it happens, though, the giving and receiving of a name is an event of major importance.” H. Edward Deluzain, Behind the Name

As I have gone through my first year of recovery I have been forced to question my identity. Who am I now that many of the things that defined me have been left behind? And why, throughout my life, have I been given so many names?

My name is Andrew William Ahmad-Cooke, but I was christened plain Andrew William Cooke. I was called Andrew because my mother liked the name and William after my paternal grandfather, Bill Cook.  My family have always called me Andrew. At school, for obvious reasons, I was called Cookie by fellow pupils and teachers alike. ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles’ and other cookery based nicknames followed me through my school years. I hated being called Cookie.

When I was about 19 and playing keyboards and synthesizers in local bands, a friend came up with the nickname ‘Android’, which soon got shortened to Droid. To be honest, I liked this new nomenclature. I felt it had grainy Fritz Lang feel which went with my role in the band: all knobs, buttons and electronica. On the whole, Droid was a comparatively clean living lad. I smoked cannabis, occasionally I would take a tab of acid, some mushrooms or a line of speed, but I never drank alcohol. All my friends called me Droid until I moved to London in 1984; there, I reverted to being Andrew or Andy. However, since moving back to Cambridge in 2003, I have again been playing in a band with my oldest friend Hutty (another story), who still calls me Droid. Consequently, he introduces me as Droid and this old name is spreading to new acquaintances. I am Droid again.

In 1988 I started a new job recording and producing audio books for the blind. Another Andrew started the same week as me so we were both given alternative random names. He became ‘Des’ and I received the new name ‘Hank’. This name stuck for the five years I worked there but as I met my future wife at this job, her family still call me Hank, along with the ex-colleagues I am still in touch with. All my souvenir copies of the books I recorded and produced with celebrities are dedicated to Hank. Hank too, only really smoked cannabis. Although it was at this time I became friends with people who regularly used cocaine and ecstasy, so it was not long before I was using these every weekend.

I left this job in 1993 and became plain ‘Andy’ for a few years until 1996 when I met the beautiful people with whom I formed the band Juttajaw and started running our Dirty Cow parties. One of these new friends was my future best ‘man’, DJ Kelly Lee, who dubbed me Alan Barry. Under her influence the name caught on fast. Later when I started DJing, there was already an Andy C, so I became Alan B. Since then I have used Alan B as my musician/DJ name. As Alan, I had also begun using ecstasy and cocaine nearly every day. In fact it would have been unheard of for Alan to deny himself any drug experience. It was at this time that I began using and became addicted to heroin. When I stopped using heroin I moved back to Cambridge. It was then that I started drinking.

When my wife and I got married we decided to share our names, so I became Andrew Ahmad-Cooke. I love my new surname and I’m proud to have this tangible link to my wife’s family and their heritage. However, I do have to spell out this new name over the phone, whenever I quote it, which has given me a small insight into the immigrant’s condition: white people struggling with their funny sounding names. My wife calls me The Bear. I won’t dwell on this. My daughter’s nicknames for me are ‘Trans Fatty Acid’ and ‘Diabeety’ to remind me of my struggles with the demon sugar and my medical condition. A couple of old friends from my teenage years still call me Minty, as I always used to say I’d be round After Eight. This became ironic to me when later, as an alcoholic, I would always have a packet of mints on me in the vain attempt to hide the smell of booze on my breath.

According to Wikipedia, “a mononymous person is an individual who is known and addressed by a mononym, or single name… that name has been selected by the individual, who may have originally been given a polynym, or multiple names”. So I am polynymous. That sounds cool. My wife says it’s because I think I’m David Bowie but I didn’t give myself these names, other people did.

I do have two Facebook accounts. Andrew Ahmad-Cooke has one; his friends are his aunties, cousins, nieces and old school friends. Alan Derek Barry also has an account. All my musical, creative and counter-culture intimates are friends with Alan, as are all my new recovery friends. I have ‘outed’ myself as addict2016 a couple of times on Andrew’s page but I do most of my recovery work on Alan’s page. I accept that this may seem confusing and potentially worrying from the outside, but I like this separation. It allows me to maintain some necessary boundaries. I am not doing this to hide my past addictions. I am proud of my recovery. I have nothing to hide.

I don’t think I’ll ever know why people have given me so many different names, or why I liked it so much. Maybe it was about exploring and compartmentalising different facets of my personality or about not being truly myself. In sobriety everything is different and my multiple names have become a complication when meeting new people in the wonderful internet world of recovery. My recovery and my blog are about authenticity and honesty. All the disparate strands of my personality and my history are being drawn together. I am one person and feel that I am now truly connecting with my self. My recovery has given me a new life. My new name is addict2016…but it’s nearly 2017…do I change it?

“Nicknames are the most essential in life, more valuable than names.”  Chespirito

Mark Renshaw – SURRENDER

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I recently watched Saga Flight International’s film Surrender, a disturbing glimpse into an addict’s life spiralling out of control. The film’s protagonist is Dave. The film’s website states, “Dave is trapped in a surreal and frightening world where his inner demons appear real and he is haunted by his worst fears. He struggles to keep his sanity and live a normal life but must overcome his greatest adversary first – himself.” I spoke with Mark Renshaw, the film’s writer and executive producer.

addict2016: My first question is always the same, are you currently using?

MR: I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’m pleased to say I’ve been sober for 3 years and 10 months now but, for me, this involves going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working a recovery program on a daily basis.  Surrender is partially based on my own experiences but a lot of it comes from the many stories I’ve heard in the AA rooms from other alcoholics.

addict2016: Everybody in recovery has a story to tell. Through my blog I have connected with storytellers worldwide.

MR: I checked out your blog and enjoyed it. I identified a lot with the answers you wrote for the How I Got Sober magazine article. I once had a go at writing a blog, I gave up after 5 days when it hadn’t gone viral. This was back when I was drinking and expecting the world to operate based on my expectations.

addict2016: Surrender attempts to look at alcohol addiction from a different angle. What motivated you to write the film in this way?

MR: When I wrote the script, I didn’t just want to show a guy drinking all the time and living rough on the streets. I wanted to show an earlier stage of the addiction. I wanted to show a functioning alcoholic (which I was) who has a lovely family, decent job and an OK life, yet everything is falling apart due to his increasing dependence on alcohol.

addict2016: The film depicts the protagonist’s struggle with reality as nightmarish hallucinations follow his day. Was this nod to the horror genre a conscious decision?

MR: I wanted to show the terror of facing the normal world while recovering from the last binge. All the anxiety, fear, guilt and pain. The director and I decided we would use symbolic visual elements to do this, giving the film some horror elements.

addict2016: Without wanting to spoil the ending, the film has a positive climax.

MR: In the end I wanted to also show that there’s hope. I wanted to leave the impression that no matter how far down the ladder one might have fallen, there’s still a chance to crawl back up, if you are willing. The question is, as Dave says in the end, how?

MR:  I’ve also entered the film into a bunch of film festivals around the world. So far it has been showcased at two festivals. The first was the Depth of Field International Film Festival where it won four awards. This was an online festival but still, it was nice to get some exposure and recognition.  The second was the Awareness Festival which is run by a charity called Heal One World. This was in an actual cinema over in Los Angeles. The film was only released in September and I’ve submitted it to quite a few festivals spread out over the next 12 months.

addict2016: Surrender is dedicated to suffering alcoholics and their families. Did you have any further ambitions for Surrender, other than making a beautiful film?

MR: My hope for Surrender is that it reaches out to people affected by addiction and touches them in some way.

addict2016: Thank you.

MR: Thanks. I’m really glad you love Surrender.

Surrender was an official selection for the Depth of Field International Film Festival 2016 and it deserved to be. The film itself won an Exceptional Merit Award. Awards also went to, Best Lead Actor: Aram Hekinian, Excellence: Original Score: Zaalen Tallis, Excellence: Script/Writer: Mark Renshaw.

Directed by Christopher Carson Emmons, Surrender is a visually stunning film, aided by powerful performances from the lead actors Aram Hekinian, Jade Elysan and Marisa Roper.  Special mention must also go to Director of Photography, Nathaniel Haban. A truly eerie quality of disconnection haunts the film. Dave is as detached from the film’s narrative as his character is from reality. Many addicts will relate to the main character’s experience but, as a friend who watched the film with me remarked, “If you relate to this film as a drinker, you may need to get help!”

Here’s the link to watch Surrender. I will be very interested in your comments.

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By day, Mark is a mild-mannered business software tester who is married with two children. By night, or whenever he has a spare bit of time, he unleashes his imagination by writing scripts and stories. This is his hobby, his passion.

Sometimes he pops on a producer’s hat and breathes cinematic life into his creations. The first film he ever made, called I Am Peter Cushing, won an award at the Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester, England.  This also starred Mark in the leading role as a man who believes vampires are real and that he was the legendary vampire hunter, Peter Cushing.

Now Mark writes short scripts and stories, which he options to other producers via his website at www.mark-renshaw.com. Some of these have been produced and have gone onto win awards in film festivals and competitions. His dream is to one day quit the day job and work full-time as a writer.