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!