‘There is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’ exclaimed Ratty in The Wind in the Willows.
And so it was when a motley crew was pressed into action and took to the high seas (Mote Park lake in Kent), in a quest for riches; while a land raiding party prised gold and silver coins from the dry, land lubbers watching the battles on deep blue (murky green really) take place.
But this was not just any scurvy bunch.
It was led by the infamous Captain Mad Sea Swashbuckler (aka the RSA’s Susie Pascoe according to a random pirate name generator), this rag-tail rabble was banded together from the three hubs (Maidstone, Gravesend and Tonbridge) of the West Kent Recovery Service. This was the first time the trio had connected for a community event.
The crew of 26 was made up of people in recovery from alcohol and drug misuse, staff and peer mentors from CRI (one of the RSA’s partners in the initiative), and of course other members of the RSA’s Whole Person Recovery team, namely able-seaman Jack Robson and the not-so-able yours truly. But to quote Martin Luther King, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now”. Read more
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us,” Albert Schweitzer
At the beginning of 2014 my life changed beyond all recognition. I, for the first time was brutally honest with myself and I realised that I needed help. My cocaine addiction had taken me to a point from which I thought there was no return.
Mounting debt, breakdown in relationships, the deception both to myself and others and my worsening mental health had meant I was out of control.
I self-referred to Priority House and spent two weeks in a mental health unit. When I came out I was clean, but realised that I could not continue on my own any further and needed external support, I self-referred into the West Kent Recovery Service and started to attend Aspire2be meetings. Read more
There is nothing quite as quintessentially British as a group of people sitting together enjoying a picnic. Sitting on the grass in the grounds of the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone, not a stone’s throw away from William Shipley’s tomb sat such a group of folk.
‘Morning Trevor, you alright?’
‘I’m alright Doug, you alright?’
‘Yea, I’m alright’.
Some mornings, of course, they were alright. But how often does your conversation go like this?
You ok? Yes, I’m ok. (No, I am not ok. My Nan has died, my goldfish is depressed, and actually, things aren’t going well in general).
The links between alcohol consumption and offending are well-documented, at least at a topline level. Over a fifth of prisoners surveyed in 2012 reported an alcohol problem when they began their sentence (a survey which was likely to underestimate the prevalence of alcohol problems among offenders due to under-reporting and recognition of problems), and an earlier survey in 2010 found that three fifths of those entering prison with an alcohol problem would also leave with one.
This week the RSA asked how we might break the cycle of alcohol-related criminal behaviour. Informing the debate was a new survey from Addaction’s Alcohol and Crime Commission, which found that almost two fifths of respondents believed they had a ‘big drinking problem’, with almost three-quarters of them (some 25% of all respondents) reporting that they had been drinking at the time of committing the offence for which they were sentenced.
This is a guest blog by Steve Bodycomb. Steve is involved with the West Kent Recovery Service and a member of the service’s Research and Innovation Team.
There are good days; very occasionally there are great days. To an addict in recovery every day they stay safe is a good day.
It was psychiatrist Carl Jung who said there were two ways people could find recovery from addiction; through ‘religious experience’ or the ‘protective wall of human community’. This story is definitely the latter and the human community is family. Not blood-relatives but a growing family of recovering addicts helping each other.
So what makes a good day great? Let me elucidate…
After a bad night’s sleep, I was not in the best of humour and the 5am start to the day did little to enhance my grumblings. Getting up and hobbling to the shower on my crutches, I slipped and fell backwards. Knowing I could not stop myself falling, I had no option but to use my one good leg to propel myself onto the bed, rather than risk more serious injury. Fortunately, the landing was a success although not dignified; flat on my back, legs akimbo, with crutches spread even wider like some helpless, flailing insect turned-turtle by a mischievous child.
By the time I had composed myself, made it through the shower, dressed and limped downstairs my daughter had rung to say she had missed the train so could I run her to school. Rather than her be late I agreed, collecting her before heading off in the opposite direction to where I needed to go adding some 40 minutes to my journey. Seeing the bus leave as I neared the stop, the 15 minute wait for the next one turned to a 28-minute wait in the cold wind and rain. After a walk, or hobble, of more than a mile on my crutches I arrived at the Maidstone hub of West Kent Recovery Service where I was due to greet and serve at the breakfast club organised by the RSA’s Whole Person Recovery programme.
Cold, damp and in pain I was, obviously, not in the best frame of mind and after the inauspicious start to the day it certainly wasn’t looking like being a great day.
Whether it was the effect of attending the ‘Action on Addiction’ seminar on the effectiveness of Mutual Aid recently I don’t know, but in the couple of hours following my arrival I witnessed something quite remarkable that had a profound effect on me.
The breakfast club had been going for about 15 minutes when a key worker appeared with a shy and anxious client. They had travelled from another service where they currently have no breakfast club or mutual self-help groups, such as Aspire2Be – a peer support group in Maidstone – and he felt his client would benefit from such groups.
Now I have to break away from the story for a minute; as I feel it only fair to say that the only reason I refer to the persons as the key worker and the client is to respect their anonymity. It is not a case of us and them. In reality it’s all of us together, as equals, no-one being more or less important than anyone else in the group.
Anyway back to the story….
I welcomed the client, introduced myself and the other club members nearby and offered to make them a hot drink. While they sat with their key worker, it was obvious that they were anxious and very nervous. Who wouldn’t be meeting a group of total strangers for the first time? I told her a little about the group and other activities at the hub with her key worker interjecting along with some of the other breakfast club members.
That’s when the magic started….
The client started relaxing, becoming visibly less anxious and started to engage with the group. Soon they were taking an equal part of the conversations. There were lots of smiles and jocularity as there always is at breakfast club. Help and advice being freely exchanged along with experiences, hopes, aspirations, fears and dreams.
We have a saying in recovery that ‘No one understands an addict like another addict’. Within 90 minutes of being at a mutual self-help group, a shy, highly anxious and stressed person was fully engaging with members of the group to the point of discussing which other groups and activities people did and arranging with some to meet at the meetings. New friendships formed in minutes, with the client telling the key worker that they felt safe and happy. They said that within the time they had been there they felt welcomed, listened to and part of the community. New friends that actually listened, understood and knew how they felt.
They also told the key worker that he need not stay as they felt okay to be left with their new friends and had indeed decided to stay on after the breakfast club and try out the Lazy Energy Workshop that followed.
I was still in the building when the participants were leaving the workshop and there were lots of smiles, goodbyes and see you on such-a-such night. The client also made a point to come and say goodbye to me saying that they had really enjoyed their time with us and couldn’t wait till the next breakfast club. They had also signed up to the Aspire2Be sessions.
Whether or not they do return, time will tell, but I have no reason to doubt they will, seeing the smiles as they left. They saw in that short time, that recovery is possible and life in recovery from addiction can be fun and fulfilling. The very worst case scenario is that they were safe for the half-day they spent with us.
Personally I have always known the power of mutual self-help groups whether they be Fellowship 12-step higher power groups or non-secular groups such as Aspire2Be, or the even more informal breakfast clubs.
People helping people for the simple reason of wanting to give back what they have received. Real altruism in action.
The work and involvement of the RSA in the help and support of these mutual self-help groups cannot be quantified by me, other than anecdotally. All I can say is stories like the one in this blog happen far too often to be a mere coincidence. This isn’t some clever smoke and mirror trickery; designed to fool those whose only interest is the data on a spreadsheet. This is real, tactile, holistic healing. For those of us fortunate enough to witness, and be part of the power of these groups we have only one word to describe it….
And the people who were once the story are now telling and sharing the story. And with the continued support and encouragement from organisations such as the RSA (part of the West Kent Recovery Service), this amazing self-help community will continue to grow and flourish.
Myself, I am honoured and humbled to be able to serve and know such amazing people. So what started out as a good day turned into a great day. And the secret of its success?
Well, it’s a kind of magic!
March has been National Bed Month.
For me, this is an event that I can really get into, so to speak. I have always taken a professional and personal interest in sleep quality, even more so since having a child, when life and sleep can become so disrupted that you hardly know which way is up, let alone have the energy to venture there to find your bed.
There’s a wealth of research into how quality of sleep affects us, and many an argument as to how much of it we need. But the general consensus is that poor sleep equals poor health, reduced performance and less effective coping.
In the recovery field, there is a commonly used acronym – HALT. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, and it’s what you are supposed to stop and assess yourself for if you are struggling with cravings. I don’t know where it originated from but I’ve found it to be of immense value, not only working in the recovery field, but relevant to my action around my own wellbeing.
Although not necessarily easy, I find the first three to be the most immediately solvable issues. Hunger, of course, can be remedied by paying attention to diet and eating regularly. Anger, can be resolved by dealing with the situation, either directly or by finding ways of letting it go – counselling, meditation or physical activity for example. Loneliness can be a huge challenge for people – but Apps like Social Mirror can be of benefit, and most communities offer social groups if you are willing and able to get out there and engage. Tiredness, I think, can be the most challenging of these issues to control.
There are of course, many natural ways to improve the quality of your sleep. In recovery, the use of ‘sleep tea’, a combination of herbs such as chamomile and lavender is commonly used. Sour cherry juice has also been proffered as a proven natural way to improve sleep. Yoga and meditation is used for relaxation and to reduce anxiety. But how many of us, in recovery or elsewhere, make getting quality sleep a daily focus? If you are anything like me, sleeping is not the period of the day that I attend to the most, but it is probably what I should prioritise. Anxiety about specific events can keep me awake at night, and that is the time that a person needs sleep the most.
We see sleep problems a lot in this sector, especially in the period after people have detoxed from substances. Waiting for your body to reach a state of equilibrium again can be an arduous process, and people describe waking in a sweat following dreams where they have drunk alcohol or used drugs, when that is the exact thing they are working so hard to avoid. Often GPs will prescribe sleeping tablets, but these of course are not meant to be a long term solution, and do not serve to provide any sort of ‘sleep training’ or encourage us to think further about our own role in getting good sleep.
The New Economics Foundation created a list of five everyday actions that people can take to improve wellbeing. So much of our own work within Whole Person Recovery is anecdotal, but based on that, and my own experience, I would add a sixth ‘way to wellbeing’ – work to improve your sleep.
Perhaps, if we all spared thirty minutes a day to take action around our sleep – taking a warm bath before bed, meditating, writing down our thought summary of the day, or doing some active relaxation, our wakeful periods may be enhanced, and we could really focus on the other five ways.
Hopefully, you have managed to stay awake whilst reading this blog……………
We all have those days. The ones when we wonder why we do our jobs. Why we manage a team, take our place on a factory plant line, or decided to be a stay at home parent. Those days that are frustrating, unfulfilling and unproductive. Many of us do our jobs because we need a steady pay cheque. Some of us do our jobs because most days it’s not too bad. The lucky amongst us do our jobs because we generally enjoy it.
When I have those bad days, I tend to think about the people I work with. This tends to extend way beyond the team here at the RSA who will always pick me up when my day has been challenging, to the recovery community that I work so closely in West Kent. I have often heard people in this sector say something along the lines of ‘one person committed to their recovery can make up for ten that are not yet ready to change’.
I work with an amazing team of volunteers. The other day, one of them sent me a passage of text that he had posted on a social media website (through which he has many professional contacts including his employer). What struck me most about this was not only the amazing change he has been through, but how proud he is of the journey he has made. Using volunteers and peer mentors who are in recovery in the West Kent Recovery Service is a visible and inspiring demonstration that recovery can happen, but many people still remain anxious and concerned about the stigma placed on addiction and recovery in the wider community. For me, this was an inspiring account of change. Someone who has not only faced their problems and sought out the support they needed, but is not afraid to talk about it, to anyone.
Here is what he wrote:
“Addiction is not something you decide to do. It’s an illness and unfortunately there is NO cure. Some of us are lucky and learn to live and control the condition BUT ask any addict – it is a battle that is very difficult to fight. Many addicts relapse and when they do the addiction takes even stronger hold. It is so easy for non-addicts to judge and say it’s easy to stop. But to all you non-addicts, imagine trying to live your life, constantly swimming against the tide. Every now and then the tide is too strong and carries you back downstream. Some of us lucky ones manage to start swimming upstream again. Unfortunately far too many don’t get another chance. It doesn’t matter what the substance or thing; addiction is addiction.
In a previous part of my life I used no substances whatsoever but was going to the gym three times a day and taking a run at stupid o’clock at night. I now begin to understand; same addiction different substance. For years I kept my addictions secret thinking I was somehow at fault or had no self-control; not knowing that I was wired differently from those non-addicts around me. For me, one of anything was never enough.
I now am learning to live with a co-existence of addiction and other mental health issues. At the moment I am in remission but each day, every breath, every step is a battle to keep my head above water. Every day I can think of a good reason to use. And every day I then find a better reason NOT to.
So to you all. Get this straight. I am an addict! I am currently in a period of remission BUT know I’ll be an addict for the rest of my life. I will fight the fight not to use and take each day as it comes. I’ve accepted my fate and have no secrets from anybody”.
So that’s what will inspire me, for today at least. I hope that everyone finds the same sort of inspiration in their work. I wish you an inspiring rest of your week.
We are bombarded with encouragement to help our neighbours, to participate in our communities and to fight for change in our towns. But how many of us stop to consider whether our actions are the most effective use of the money, time or energy that we are able to give? Maidstone hosts one of the West Kent Recovery Service hubs where the RSA’s Whole Person Recovery project focuses on supporting people to move away from problematic drug and alcohol use and to become responsible and contributory members of society. It is a lovely town, with an abundance of public services and yet also seems to have a disproportionate amount of people who are rough sleeping.
The Council in Maidstone has recently followed a number of other boroughs and launched the controversial campaign ‘your kindness could kill’, aimed at educating people that sometimes providing hand-outs to people who don’t have the skills or willingness to make healthy choices is not the best use of cash. The narrative attached to this campaign is extreme – the inference that if you choose to give money then you are choosing to put someone else at risk. I wonder how successful a campaign like this is, and how exactly success would be measured. Publicity around the campaign states the aim is ‘to tackle begging’ and ‘get homeless people off the streets’, but one wonders what the real motive is behind such an arresting call to action. Undoubtedly, some people are forced into rough sleeping and this is for a myriad of reasons. Britain has a shortage of social housing and in some areas there are reported twenty year waiting lists for appropriate housing. The Maidstone Day Centre, who provide direct services for homeless people, state on their website that they are aware of 25-30 people who will be sleeping rough in Maidstone tonight. Isn’t this what we should be focussing on?
Begging is an emotive issue. Is it better for a person to beg others for money than to commit crime? The aim of the campaign is ostensibly to deter people from donating money to those that may not in fact be homeless and would use it to buy drugs or alcohol, but it seems to me that this micromanagement of the wider problem is a little lacklustre. Is the aim to deter people from begging by cutting them off at the source? Is it to reduce substance misuse amongst the population or is it an attempt to drive funding towards those charitable organisations that are struggling to fill the void created by public service cuts with a harsh reduction in available funding? One of the main problems not identified by those behind the campaign is that giving money to someone in the street is reactive and immediately gratifying, while giving money to a charity often requires planning and is easier to put off or forget about. I wonder at what point it was considered a better idea to try this convoluted campaign over channeling resources into a more direct approach – say more resources for the support homeless services directly, or for street wardens and Police staff. Perhaps street wardens could carry a charity box that the public could immediately divert their funds into?
Just how naïve are people who choose to give money in this way? One comment on the local newspaper’s website stated “there was me thinking every time I bunged a beggar a quid or 2 that they were running straight to the bank to pop into an ISA account”. Even though the public is aware of the risks, they clearly still choose to give.
My concern is that this type of campaign further stigmatise a group of people who already face extreme challenges. Is it the case that people who would give cash to beggars will find a more appropriate way to give? I would be interested to see if the charities that offer homeless support report an increase in charitable donations as a result of this campaign.
If you would like to get involved with any of the wonderful causes that help to support homeless people in Maidstone click here for information, or you could just pop down to the town and start handing out 20p pieces. But that’s for you to decide.
In May 2013, the RSA and Drugscope convened a meeting of the providers that deliver the eight national ‘Payment by Results’ (PbR) substance misuse pilots. The RSA wore two hats: one reflecting our role as a think tank with a now longstanding concern for substance misuse policy and practice; and one reflecting our role as one of the providers. (As readers of this blog will know, the RSA is part of a consortium lead by CRI and including Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which delivers the West Kent PbR substance misuse pilot.)
The purpose of the summit was to explore the provider experience over the first 12 months of operation from April 2012, and in doing so to highlight good practice and identify practical recommendations for implementing PbR schemes. You can download a short summary of the themes discussed and the learning points that emerged below:
I will not summarise or repeat the main points here, but I want to add a reflection on some conversations I had very recently about these points and what they mean for PbR. The pilots represent significant system change, that is happening within significant wider system change, that is happening within wider change still. The move to recovery-oriented systems, delivered through PbR mechanisms in the case of the pilots, is happening in the context of wider health-system change (move to public health, introduction of Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health and Wellbeing Boards, and so on), which is occurring in the context of multiple and complex changes to public services and the welfare system and wider economic stress for many groups and areas (all of which impacts on ‘recovery outcomes’ to varying degrees). Levels of public service performance can often dip after major re-organisations, so isolating the effect of PbR specifically appears difficult.
Further, it was interesting to note that when providers spoke at the summit of the ‘effect of PbR’ in terms of the value-adding change it had made to service delivery and emerging outcomes for service users, it was usually difficult to see how PbR itself had actually brought about this change. Rather, PbR had acted as a catalyst for change – something to shake up the system; a stimulus or opportunity for new thinking and innovation. It seemed that changes could have been brought about by some other catalyst (and in most cases, it seemed that these changes would have happened anyway, given local capabilities and concerns, and as the focus on recovery given by the national drugs strategy washes through the sector). Again, any change measured will be difficult to attribute to the impact of the financial mechanisms and incentives of PbR. The diversity of PbR designs in the pilot sites (and the corresponding diversity of the responses delivered by the providers), and the wider roll out of PbR into other (non-pilot) sites make comparisons across areas difficult. Even with a sophisticated realistic evaluation design, it will be difficult to take account of this much noise. The risk is therefore that we mis-interpret what PbR does (both positively and problematically), and do not consider whether there are better mechanisms for driving transformation, innovation and improved outcomes. At least the pilots are generating a significant amount of data that can help to unpick the puzzle (this is PbR without the black box in practice).
The RSA will be publishing a report in the Autumn that will explore our experience of delivering under PbR arrangements. In the meantime, one clear lesson to emerge from the summit is around the speed of the PbR design phase and the turbulence encountered in the early stage of delivery. Transforming Rehabilitation should take note.