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Article: BSUG Attend UKRF Conference

On Friday 7th May members of the Blackpool service user group along with workers from inward house and the board of commissioners travelled to Preston to attend a recovery conference held by ''UK recovery federation'' in the following article BSUG member Sean F expresses his personal opinion about the events and UKRF as an organisation.


If I'm honest, I am a fairly cynical chap. When somebody comes to me with a bombastic name like ''UK RECOVERY FEDERATION'' I instantly have questions about the projected legitimacy of the organisation. It sounds like it wants to be in charge of the recovery of everybody in the UK. And whilst the affable Alistair Sinclair was giving the welcome and introduction I was very soon thinking what's in it for you mate? After all, Alistair gotta eat and I ain't paying for a happy meal.

UKRF aspires to being a grass roots, of-the-people recovery movement. One of the problems with running peer led drug and alcohol group or support group is the transitional nature of the people involved. As addicts we will often start out on benefits in early recovery and have the free time available to attend and help out with groups. If we are on the right track, eventually we will be ready for employment or voluntary work and perhaps become unavailable for the group. It is a well known issue, people move on. The same goes for agency workers. That being the case, who are the organisers of UKFC and why are they involved? Fortunately this organisation does seem fairly open and transparent and we were supplied with an information pack which answered some of my questions when I actually looked through it after the conference. Prior to that I continued in the tried and true style of Victor Meldrew.

The UKRF has a key group of founding members that come from various treatment centres and support organisations across the UK. Only really a few months old, its a new organisation that seems to be formed as a service provider side response to the shift in policy approach from the NTA which seeks to puts focus on recovery communities, and better multi-agency co-operation. At this point in the article it would be pertinent to consider that during the farewell speech to a diminished audience at the end of the conference it was mentioned that the organisers were to develop a consultancy business using the UKRF as a spring board, none who were invited to attend from Blackpool received consultation fees. Although, the conference was free to attend with half decent scram at lunch time.

Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced as I don't believe that NTA honcho Mark Gillman would be giving the endeavour his stamp of approval if it was something other than the UKRF Vision sets out. In his introduction speech Alistair explained that they had identified that clear ideological foundation is perhaps the most important aspect of any organisation, and to my mind he is correct if you think of the re-emergence of the state of Israel, thousands of years after its destruction you see that ideological beliefs can give power to an organisation even after many of the physical resources of the group have been destroyed. Among the list of principles, what first made my ears prick up was this – ''There are many pathways to Recovery and no individual or organisation has the right to claim ownership of the 'right pathway' ''. Mainly because it seemed to be a response to the tendency in 12 step groups to take the view that recovery is only possible via the steps. Perhaps that was the case back in the 30's when 12 step was the only game in town, since then tools such as CBT, REBT and various other psychology theories have been invented and prove effective for many addicts. If that was the intention behind the principle then It reflects my view that some 12 steppers could be more responsible and open minded by recognizing other pathways to recovery. This is especially true given what the fellowship has to offer in terms of its strength and popularity in recovery communities. I also got the feeling that UKFC was seeking to promote all models of recovery including 12 step.

But for every hit there was a misfire. Principle 5 claims that ''recovery involves a continual process of change and self redefinition for individuals, communities and organisations''. Reading from his blog on Alistair contends that recovery is something that never ends. I don't believe that recovery from addiction requires me to continually change and redefine myself after I have overcome the physical and psychological elements of my addiction issues. I have had years of introspection after deciding to quit drugs and those things took place. That experience has really benefited me. But just because I had a problem once, does not mean I am necessarily wedded to recovery for the rest of time. In my view, by projecting this no-escape principle of recovery the UKRF is potentially victimizing the people they are trying to help. It strikes me as co-dependant. It's as if the organisation needs people to presume they will never leave recovery in order to achieve its goals of creating a massive conglomerate of service users it wants to call a community, in the much the same way as 12 step meetings. Alistair did mention that this list was tentative and open to development and I hope this is one principle they will reconsider.

Next Mark gave a talk I had heard previously at the NTA Conference in March, but saved the day with a couple of decent jokes. Outlining the policies that are turning the NTA to support the idea of growing recovery communities as opposed to a pumping money into residential treatment programs at vast expense to the tax payer. And expense is the real driver behind this shift as we all know that spending cuts are going to be fierce over the next few years, so if you were to view it from that angle you might be sceptical that this policy is a step forward, but those of us who have experienced recovery without the help of a residential rehab feel confident about it. The idea that only a detox/rehab stint can sort you out is something of a popular myth, saturated in a lack of self belief. The benefits are clear to those of us who have found recovery in our own communities, as we found one of the fundamentals to be; when we have no self belief, there is someone on the other end of the phone, or at the meeting, that believes we can do it. This goes back to the 12 step model and as they say ''the power of one addict helping another''. To support this Mark showed us a graph that claimed to depict the average progress of an addict in recovery, demonstrating that once at a threshold of about 5 years in recovery, we attain stability and become an asset to the recovery community. Sure, it sounds reasonable to me, but since getting into recovery my critical thinking skills have improved, and when I am presented a simple graph as ''proof'' of something, without providing very much information about the source or even some basic statistics that were used, I ask why are you showing me this comic book? Just a niggle.

First refusal candidate for his local Santa's Grotto, Rowdy Yates MBE is a senior research fellow of addiction studies at the university of sterling. One heavy weight professional consultant they have enlisted who seems to have decades in this game. He talked about the history of drug and alcohol addiction covering various concepts that societies have used in approaching the problem of addiction as well as the limitation of research into the field. What was interesting to me was hearing about a recovery movement in Native American culture during mid 19th century. I would have been interested in a deeper discussion of the subject, I found this became something of a refrain throughout the day as many of the events were too tightly scheduled.

So the structure of the day was this; Introductions from Luke, Han & Obi Wan and then on to a workshop group, then lunch, then two more groups then kaput. There were fifteen different workshops where the intention was for attendees to be involved in constructive discussion focussed on various topics such as Virtual Recovery Communities, Ethical Frameworks, Social Enterprise & Recovery. Offenders & Recovery was the first group I was assigned and its the one I'm going to write about in this article. I actually had the opportunity to select preference for the workshops that were of interest to me and I purposefully chose topics that were unfamiliar so that I would have something new to report back to BSUG. Three questions seemed to pan across every group; 1. What works about the current system? 2. How could this be improved? 3. What are the gaps in the current system? But the facilitators were eager to generate discussion so in this first group a more open approach was adopted.

Anybody was invited to comment about the topic and first somebody raised an issue surround the ''chitty system'' which is a method of registering that an offender has attended a 12 step meeting, without compromising anonymity. The individual who raised the issue felt that the system should be more widespread, however, this garnered some opposition from another participant who felt that the system contravened the traditions of the fellowship, in that nobody should be forced to go to a meeting at any time. He thought that a judicial order enforcing attendance, whether preferable to the convicted party or not, would make attendance mandatory. This discussion actually became quite passionate as one side felt that exposing people to the 12 step groups was the most important factor in stimulating recovery and could in fact mean the difference between life and death for an individual. It seemed they considered the dismissal of the chitty system as a viable option to be almost depriving individuals of recovery. It was of course an over simplification and an example of the lack of awareness around other treatment options as mentioned previous. The opposing participant was quite incensed by the suggestion that he was trying to deny people recovery by his rejection of the chitty system. Oh to be young (in recovery) again.

This interaction went back and forth for a while. Fortunately somebody from probation services happened to be in the group, they offered some clarity around the use of the chitty system in places where It was being implemented. Rather than qualifying one side or the other, it emerged that the judicial system takes a more sensitive approach, seeking the right options for the individual and assessing each case based on their motivations. If somebody was to start an order where they agreed to go to meetings but decided it wasn't right them, they are able to go back to the table with probation and consider other options. It's not a situation where an offender will be offered meetings or else prison. Here you can see how the idea of bringing us all together for these kind of groups can result in meaningful enlightening discussion that really works. What followed after that was less useful.

Talk moved on to IDTS and IOMU's but I wasn't the only one to complain that background noise from 2 other groups in the large hall frustrated further discussion considerably so I hardly got to find out what these acronyms were all about. Sorry. Furthermore the other groups I attended were nothing to shout about. I got the impression that the facilitators were interpreting the contributions of the participants in terms of a preconceived model by using vague catch-all terms such as ''more choice'' and ''more flexibility'' between the vagueness and the specialized terms of reference such as Recovery Oriented Integrated Systems and Community Led Emerging Recovery Organisations you could be forgiven for thinking that its all complete bullshit. It's not bullshit, but it is a product of the situation where you have service providers trying to exploit the service users in an attempt to develop a uniform approach to recovery and the problem of addiction, which it then imposes back on those same service users. The whole thing seemed ass backwards because different towns and cities often have different problems. What works for Blackpool might not work in Blackburn. It doesn't require paying a consultancy firm with a board of CEOs to simply ask service users what they need. By trying to extract the varying opinion of thousands of people involved in services in order to create solutions you will either generate an infinite manual of if/then procedures, or ineffective lowest common denominator policies which defeat the idea of personal choice and self determination. In Blackpool our PCT has supported a group of service users such as myself who have put loads of effort into trying to improve services, we did this to support the agencies that gave us support when we needed it, and we did it to support our friends and future recovering addicts to come, we did not do it to buy happy meals.

I like the idea of the UKRF arranging events such as the recovery walk which will take place in Glasgow on September 25th. Events that broaden our horizons can be so positive for addicts, many of us have spent far too long in-doors on our own with the curtains pulled. If It can continue more in this direction and stay away from attempting to privatize recovery communities then it will really contribute something essential. I respect and admire the qualifications and experience of the professionals involved with UKRF, the views expressed here are my opinion based on the information I have currently. If I am making any grand errors here I am always willing to accept when I'm wrong.

BSUG will be taking a bus load of us up to the glasgow recovery march, contact Kev for details.

Last Updated (Saturday, 12 June 2010 09:40)

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