A World of Recovery

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“The greatest and noblest pleasure which we have in this world is to discover new truths, and the next is to shake off old prejudices.” Frederick The Great

The global world of recovery is a remarkable place; a place of heroes. People who have found beauty and simplicity through sobriety and are passing on this truth, offering support, advice and a listening ear in those dark moments of the soul that all addicts endure. In my role as Recovery Coordinator at The Edge Café, I talk about recovery every day. I talk to people in recovery and their families; people in addiction searching for answers; professionals and volunteers.

What I find really interesting are the opinions of the customers of the café. Civilians, I call them. We are based on the site of a small hospital. Consequently, The Edge is patronised by professionals such as doctors, nurses and therapists including the staff of Inclusion, the Drug and Alcohol treatment centre based next door; patients and their families; builders from the nearby construction sites and people from the local community. Before we opened, we were concerned about the attitude of these people to a café run by addicts. Okay, we are in recovery but ‘addict’ is a pejorative word that conjures pictures of aggressive street drunks and junkies in alleyways

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Our fears have been proved to be unfounded. To start with, people love the café. The food and coffee are great and we are constantly complimented on the positive ambience of the place. We have a postcard (above) on every table explaining our work. This card has started many conversations with staff about addiction and recovery. People are interested and, through these conversations, knowledge is broadened and innate human compassion and empathy is activated. So much of our opinion and belief system is built on words and the pictures they bring to our minds. Through true knowledge comes understanding.

In my daily conversations about recovery, I hear heroic and inspiring tales, I see understanding grow and the joy of people discovering the safe space we have created at The Edge. I have watched their confidence grow. I also hear tragic tales of relapse and death. I listen to families in despair and without hope. I offer support through our activities but know that it is the addict who must decide to change. Their families are powerless.

The world of recovery can also be a place of villains. Some of the most judgmental things I have heard about addiction and recovery come from people who should know better. People in recovery themselves and professionals involved in their treatment. I have heard people with years of sobriety being called ‘dry drunks’. This describes a person who no longer drinks or abuses drugs, but continues to behave in dysfunctional ways. Any human claiming not to be dysfunctional in some way is deluded. I also recently heard the term ‘thirteenth steppers’. These are people with years of sobriety who prey on vulnerable people in early recovery. I was disappointed but not surprised.

We have recently founded The Edge Recovery Support Group. It is for people like me who can no longer access the Inclusion groups as their treatment has ended, and offers an alternative to more traditional support options. My hope is for it to be a conversation. So far, it has been a place of shared stories, empathy, friendship and laughter. Long may it continue in this fashion. Recovery is about people. Recovery is about connection.

Due to the all-encompassing nature of my role in the world of recovery, with all its highs and lows, The Edge Board of Directors have arranged for me to have counselling to give me support. I am very grateful for this. It is always nice to talk about yourself to someone who is paid to listen. I am half hoping for some answers though. Last year, I completed a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I had no blinding moment of self-realisation but felt it validated my views on reasons for my frequent descent into addiction. However, I am all too aware that this self-validation could merely be my addict brain continuing to choreograph my dance.

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

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The A Word

Anger Rage Hate by vanTol777 on DeviantArt

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”  Mark Twain

Okay, I have delayed writing this one. The A word I am writing about is not alcoholic or addict, it is anger. Anger, a subject suggested by my wife, was one of the topics I noted down when I started this blog well over a year ago. I have, so far, successfully avoided the subject, doubtless a hangover from my addict’s shame.

There is nothing uglier than an angry addict. Nothing is their fault. It is everyone else, circumstances or bad luck that are to blame. I was an angry addict. This anger was born in my shame, magnifying what would otherwise be everyday annoyances. The people that bore the brunt of my behaviour were those closest to me: my wife and daughter.

Addicts who get angry alienate whoever is on the receiving end of their aggressive behaviour and those who witness it. During their addict lives most succeed in losing friends, and alienating or losing their partners and children. Families of alcoholics suffer the most from physical assaults or angry, sarcastic, irrational, verbal attacks and they have no way out until the addict truly admits to having a problem and begins to address it.

What would make me angriest was when my wife dared to suggest that I had been drinking. Full of righteous indignation I would protest: “How can you say that? You never trust me.” I would aggressively deny that I had been drinking, when the fact was obvious. Even now, it doesn’t ring true when I write that my anger was born of shame. I still believe I should have been bigger than that. It came very close to costing me my marriage and my relationship with my daughter.

My 10-year-old daughter has recently begun writing about being the child of an alcoholic. In her first post she writes:

“I heard some loud noises coming from the kitchen and I realised that, oh yes, he was drinking. I was scared. To start off, I tried to ignore it but after about 5 seconds I was panicking like hell. I ran upstairs and grabbed the landline phone and found my mum’s number and tried to call her repeatedly, but I forgot she was in a meeting. So, then I just worried and worried until I asked Dad when Mum will be home and he got upset (like crying) then he stopped and told me.”

This was not an isolated incident. I don’t know whether I will ever be free from the shame of my behaviour.

There is nothing wrong with justified anger. Any emotion can be focused positively into change. The anger of an addict however, cannot be justified. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcoholics struggle with recognising and understanding anger. Some alcoholics also struggle with expressing anger productively and recognising that they’re actually angry with themselves. I, however, always knew who I was furious with. For the addict in recovery, learning to process anger is an essential skill. Drugs and alcohol affect different people in different ways, but the angry alcoholic has become a stereotype for a reason. Anger and aggression are regular themes in the lives of many alcoholics, and finding ways to moderate these is central to overcoming their addiction.

In my recovery, I cannot truly say that I am totally free from anger but I try to limit it to other drivers. I now enjoy the role of grumpy curmudgeon, a family joke (I hope) I play to with relish. Working through cognitive behavioural therapy, I identified the possible roots of my anger and, apart from the greed and hypocrisy of some humans, freedom from alcoholism has meant, so far, that my family are liberated from worrying about my moods. This alone gives me the reason I need to stay sober.

“You will not be punished for you anger, you will be punished by your anger.”  Buddha

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