Rolling out Mutual Aid

My first experience of asking for help was to visit my doctor in Bradford. All she wanted to do was quiz me about the fact I stunk of booze and had driven there. I left feeling threatened, rejected and misunderstood. I remember her saying, “As a doctor I have a duty of care to my community…” and the implied words “I should therefore shop you to the police the minute you leave the surgery”. I left and drank for another three years, in which time I lost my job, my marriage, my home and all self-respect – I just wanted to die.

Of course my doctor was right, she did have a duty of care… and so did I. Somewhere along the line I had become an irresponsible, arrogant alcoholic – I no longer cared about myself, never mind my community.

I ended up in Halifax by mistake, just needed a roof over my head after the marital home has been sold, and I found one here. I was at rock bottom. Another call to a doctors and I was referred into treatment where I spent a year and a half trying to “control” my drinking. I even managed a home detox and five months sober – but the inevitable happened, I went back to drinking.

I’d just about given up again when it was suggested I tried The Basement Recovery Project (TBRP). Within the first five minutes of my assessment I knew this place was different. I was talking to someone who seemed to understand me. Actually, they seemed to know more about me than I did. Why? Because they were an addict just like me. That’s what was wrong with me; I was an addict, an alcoholic.

After all these years I had finally met someone else like me. Knowing I was not alone and not the only one who felt as I did seemed a huge thing. Not only that, there were many more like me too. I attended the TBRP programme which helped explain, and for me to understand and accept, why I am like I am. Through this process I was also able to meet and talk to others, people who understood how my head worked, people who had been where I was and people who had got well.
I never knew it at the time, but this was “Mutual Aid” – the process of giving and receiving non-clinical and non-professional help to achieve long-term recovery from addiction, in this case, one addict talking to another – and it works! I’ve not had a drink since July 2009 and I’m now one of those who offers my time helping others just as it was offered to me.

As soon as I walked through the doors of TBRP I had joined a recovery community, and according to research by Robert Putnam I had just cut my risk of dying by 50%. He states “if you belong to no groups and decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year by 50%”. Well the only group I knew of at that time was the group of 4 packs sitting in my fridge.

There are many models of mutual aid, with varying approaches. The most widespread are the “12-Step” fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Al-Anon, Families Anonymous etc.) with SMART Recovery and other locally based programmes now growing throughout the region.

So what if the doctors and other professionals I had seen over the years knew more about mutual aid? Would this have helped me back then? The evidence suggests it would. But doctors are extremely busy people and learning about addiction and recovery is certainly challenging and time consuming. I often refer to something Phil Valentine (CCAR) once said “the more I learn about addiction the more I realise just how little I know”. TBRP recognised that a simple referral into mutual aid is often ineffective as some people either do not attend or drop out quickly, partly due to a lack of understanding and also being unable to have a meaningful chat about it prior to attending.

With a grant from the NHS Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) TBRP has developed and are currently rolling out a Mutual Aid Facilitation programme aimed at educating both the professional and the service user on the benefits of mutual aid and how to engage.

I asked Rab how it was going – “To date we have trained forty plus workers from front line services on mutual aid facilitation, with future training days booked for the coming months. The general feedback so far is that people have found it to be very insightful and has enabled them to grasp a better understanding of how mutual aid meetings and the fellowships of mutual aid function. It was also stated that they felt more confident to engage in the topic of mutual aid with their clients due to the clarity they gained from the training. We have also found that a lot of the staff who have attended the training are now sign-posting clients to mutual aid meetings and also asking for assistance from mutual aid facilitators in their engagements with their clients. We currently have two mutual aid facilitators engaging with people twice a week in the waiting room at the local substance misuse service to highlight the fact that mutual aid meetings are taking place across Calderdale and to explain the benefits of attending”.

Article by Heath

Article featured in RecoveryTimes issue  7

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