I’ve been out and about trying to learn more and hopefully put my walk where my talk is this week. To this end, I watched, visited and met several brilliant examples of the new recovery advocacy movement. This sea change in attitudes to addiction, sobriety and recovery seems to be sweeping rapidly across the Atlantic to us here in the UK, and to me it seems like the proverbial breath of fresh air.
First up, the watching:
The Anonymous People is a new documentary, currently available to rent or buy on Vimeo. It features interviews with some of the main movers and shakers in the new advocacy movement. This is a campaign to get addiction moved away from the stigma of moral failing and into the light of recovery viewed as a positive change of which recovering people can be proud. One of the key messages is the importance of language, especially when dealing without the ‘outside’ world. This means while its fine to admit to ourselves that we are addicts or alcoholics, we are encouraged to say to others ‘I am a person in recovery, for me this means […]. For example, I would say, ‘for me this means I have been abstinent from alcohol for 20 months’. This form of statement also allows for recovery to be self-defining. One person might want to describe themselves as in recovery if they have stopped heroin and still drink (for example). Although this might not fit with many 12 step programmes, it does allow the definition of recovery its widest possible range. After all, if many of us still admit a reliance on sugar, or sex, or gambling or cigarettes after quitting drink, isn’t it essential that recovery is self-defined? The film has many such points of interest for a sober person to mull over. The sober High Schools and college dorms were a revelation to me, and again brought home how completely alien sobriety is to the UK culture. If anyone knows of any UK Universities with a sobriety or recovery student society, let alone a Halls of Residence, I’d be really happy to hear about this! The film is completely US orientated but still very inspiring. Hopefully I will get to be involved in organising a screening in my home town soon. If you would like to do this near you, details are on the website.
The day after the watching, the visiting:
The Brink is one of a slowly growing number of dry bars opening around the country. It’s located down a side street not far from the bustling Bold St. in Liverpool city centre. We called in on a Monday lunch time and I had a lovely vegetarian breakfast, pots of tea and cake (the sugar and caffeine addictions remain undefeated as yet). I’d like to call again on one of the evening events as I don’t think we got much of a ‘bar’ vibe from the place. It was much more of an upmarket version of a community cafe. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love community cafes – and knowing that the people serving and most of the people shooting the breeze were in recovery meant a lot to me. I even had a little cry when they played this over the stereo.
However, it’s somewhere to hang in the evening I am really craving, somewhere safe and welcoming where I won’t have to listen to what Jackie O’Hagan describes as ‘people shouting their own names at each other, over and over’ (precise starting time: 10.05pm). The Brink do a staggeringly wonderful drinks selection, with much prominence given in the bar to Mr Fitzpatricks. Mr Fitzpatricks is based in the last of the old Temperance bars in the UK, a tiny shop located in Rossendale. I visited there last month and purchased some of their wares to drink hot in the shop and cold at home. The fizzy ready made mocktails I found a little sweet but the cordials are excellent, luxuriously viscous in the bottle (all that sugar, again!) and full of flavour when diluted. The Brink often host entertainment nights, so I’ll be trying to sample a few of their own mocktails while checking out some live music or comedy soon.
What I’d like most in the world, of course, is to have a dry bar as my local. The Brink is run as a social enterprise, and as part of that they offer courses in how to set up your own venue. Having 10 years experience helping to run alcohol fuelled venues, and being in a job now that is predominantly events management, of course my little brain is ticking over with dreams and aspirations that I might one day be able to be involved in something like this… who knows what’s possible with sobriety on my side?
So finally, to the meeting:
The UK Recovery Walk is a charity that is very much about bringing recovery advocacy out onto the streets. In its 7th year, it will be bringing 8 to 10,000 people to the streets of Manchester to celebrate their and their loved ones’ recovery. It will conclude with a big party in the Castlefield basin. I met two of the organisers this week and am really looking forward to volunteering and getting more involved with this kind of work. Advocacy is becoming more and more important to me (of course, look at the title I chose for my blog!). As I said in this meeting, I grew up in a house where everyone drank, all the time. Both my parents were dead by the time they were 57, and for myself I never for a minute thought that life without alcohol was an option. I know that if I couldn’t see any other way of life, there are plenty of other people out there still in the same leaky and disaster-prone boat. It’s only by constantly speaking up and identifying myself as a sober person that those people can be reached. In the typical way that we joke about out addictions, I have a fridge magnet that says ‘If nothing else, I can always serve as a bad example’. I bought it in New York, on a trip with some of the worst drunken repercussions of my life. I think it may be time to throw that one away. This week an old friend I met for coffee to celebrate the completion of their PhD texted me to say that our conversation had caused them to sit down with their partner and plan some drastic cutting down. I’ll take that for starters, and keep walking.