I originally trained as a psychologist, but then spent 25 years as a neuroscientist studying brain mechanisms underlying behaviour, including addiction to drugs and alcohol.
I was then lucky enough to live in Sweden - where I worked with someone who was later to win a Nobel Prize for medicine - and the US, before returning to the UK to set up my own research laboratory. I eventually settled in a beautiful area, the Gower Peninsula in South Wales.
In the late 1990s, I decided to change field, realising that I wanted to help people with their problems - and neuroscience wasn’t actually helping anyone recover from addiction. In brief, I closed down my laboratory in 2000 and set up the Wired In initiative, which has focused on empowering individuals, families and communities to tackle substance use problems.
I became particularly concerned in advocating for recovery and recovery-based care. I challenged the care system in the UK over a number of years - most of this system is crisis-oriented, and focuses on personal deficits and managing symptoms - to focus on helping people find long-term recovery.
My approach was based on the following:
- Empower people to recover from addiction and its consequences, by providing hope, understanding and a sense of belonging;
- Connect recovering people so that they inspire, learn from and support each other, and engage in meaningful activities that enable a sense of agency;
- Create recovery-supportive environments that build on the strengths and resilience of people as they take responsibility for their wellbeing.
Over the past 15 years, I have played many roles including writer, storyteller, educator, researcher, website and web community developer (e.g. Daily Dose, Wired In To Recovery, Recovery Stories), film producer, recovery advocate and recovery coach. I also became inspired by the recovery advocacy movement in the US and played a role in the development of the UK recovery advocacy movement.
I took early retirement from my University in 2006 so I could focus on, and fund, Wired In. At the end of 2008, I moved to Perth, Australia, where I continued to run and later oversee the running of my web community, Wired In To Recovery. This community had over 4,000 members and generated over 7,5000 blogs. Sadly, I had to close the community down in 2012 due to lack of funding.
When I moved to Perth, I had hoped to be able to inspire people about recovery and recovery-based care. Sadly, this did not turn out to be the case.
Few people had heard about the shift to recovery-based care in the US and UK, and even fewer were interested. There was a great resistance to change and the medicalisation of addiction treatment - and associated focus on symptom management - continued to predominate. [Addiction is not a medical problem] The same situation was apparent in the mental health field. There was also far too little support in the community to help people find long-term recovery.
I found this all very frustrating. And I was greatly saddened by the fact that our system of care was not providing the best opportunities for people to get better and overcome their addiction and mental health problems. Not only was their a strong resistance to change, but also people who were advocating recovery-based care - like David Best in Melbourne - were under considerable attack.
I eventually decided to focus on the international stage and launched a new website, Recovery Stories, an environment where role models and their personal narratives play an important role in helping people recover from addiction and mental health problems.
And then a series of events happened that is to change my life. Firstly, I met Noongar leader Marion Kickett here in Perth. Secondly, I read Judy Atkinson’s book Trauma Trails. And thirdly, I discovered groups of people who had a better handle on what is required to help people overcome addiction and mental health problems - Aboriginal people here in Australia and indigenous and First Nations people in other countries. They understand the need for healing based on an holistic approach.
I’ll tell you more of my Story tomorrow - and introduce you to Marion and Judy, and my good friend and colleague Mike Liu. Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about me, then you can check out the About Us section of Recovery Stories.
Bye for now. [PS. The photo is from some years ago, my dog Tessa and I overlooking Rhossilli beach on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales]