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This is my very first blog post (inside and outside of the RSA) and it seems fitting that my opener is on a subject about which I am fiercely passionate.

As one half of the Recovery Capital Project internship team, my focus over the next three months will be to come up with organise a range of artistic (I use this term loosely) activities to engage and inspire current and former problem substance users in Peterborough. The time-frame is dizzyingly short, but having had a look at the creative endeavours the city already boasts, I feel confident that we can pull this off.

The idea that artistic expression can be an effective way to spark, support or even sustain recovery has become increasingly accepted on the treatment circuit. Art therapy and relapse prevention role-play are often included in the programmes of facilities that take clients beyond detox – although I hear these will be the first for the chop in the wake of spending cuts. Beyond treatment, there are a number of independent theatre companies that champion recovery and produce impressive, widely respected work – just look at The Outside Edge Theatre Company.

But what’s in it for the service-user? I can only relate my own experience, but the creative arts were an invaluable part of my own early recovery. Whilst I might not have taken it wholly seriously at the time, I only have fond memories of the art therapy sessions I attended in my first weeks of treatment. It is the sense of fun, the sudden exposure to colour and the license to create and emote without censure that was so appealing. Others found their artistic home in moderated creative writing sessions, where some of the pieces produced were mind-blowingly dark, beautiful, poetic or a combination of all three. I know of still others who regained their confidence (and their sense of humour!) through participating in the aforementioned relapse prevention role-plays. Further down the line, I was lucky enough to get involved with Clean Break, a theatre company that works exclusively with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. They support women of a shared experience to develop personal, social, artistic and professional skills and provide opportunities to enter into further education or work placements.

The point is, there is everything to gain and nothing to lose when it comes to getting creative in early recovery. Whether it is an opportunity to share your experience, connect with others, play to your strengths, regain self-esteem or just break the isolation of active addiction, the creative arts provide a non-discriminatory outlet.  Anyone can get involved and no-one can get it wrong – essential when you consider the shame and sense of judgement an addict might feel about his or her past and present.

My hope is that by bringing similar activities to Peterborough, together with the collaboration of the city’s thriving artistic community, we can start to change the tide of how recovery is experienced and viewed.

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