To Sobriety and beyond


As the (No)Buzz Lightyear”s that are the heroes of Dry January consider their missions into to sobriety and beyond (Parched March anyone?), we thought we would highlight some relatively new approaches in the recovery universe.

The 12 Step fellowships work for a lot of people. They will continue working for a lot more. There are, though, multiple paths in to recovery and each person needs to find their own way.

For an alcoholic of my type, the 12 Steps were a life saver, but what about some alternative paths?

The idea of moderation (drugs or alcohol) is anathema to many in the treatment world and the recovery community. But could attempted moderation convince a problem user how bad things are?

This seems to be the path common to three very different organisations. In the US, Allies In Recovery (AIR) and the Centre For Optimal Living (CFOL) and in the UK Club Soda.

Dominique Simon of AIR says “If your loved one believes they can moderate, there are two good reasons for you to go along with this. First of all, it may work. Second, if it doesn’t work, they will learn that they are unable to control their using – the problem is bigger than they initially thought.”

Founder of CFOL, Dr Andrew Tartarsky’s model, the Positive Change Pathway, help’s to create the individuals optimal relationship to substances—whether that means reduced, safer, more controlled use, or abstinence.

It would be fair to say that not everyone with a drinking or drug problem is an alcoholic or addict, they may still need to recover their lives!

Laura Willoughby of Club Soda in the UK wants “to help you make the change to your drinking that you want. They are continually developing tools and techniques, and support a growing social network.

To paraphrase Shakespeare “Be not afraid of sobriety. Some are born sober, some achieve sobriety, and others have sobriety thrust upon them.”






The Scottish Recovery Consortium (SRC) are at it again. One of our favourite recovery organisations in the world have announced yet another initiative to support recovery wherever you are. A free recovery workbook, free to everyone. Just click here and download the pdf.

The SRC’s innovative ideas and practices deserve attention everywhere. Since 2008 the SRC team have developed their charity with an ongoing “organisational” recovery practice.

Watch Kuladahrini talk about it here.

The SRC believe that not only can people recover from addiction, but their lives can be truly enhanced by the recovery process. Recovery results in a better way of living and a better life.

SRC have developed Recovery College, the Recovery Initiative Fund, Opiate Replacement Treatment Recovery and many other great ideas that support recovery in the community.With a vision to have a country in recovery, SRC march on, literally with helping organise the annual Recovery Walk in Scotland.

The SRC have put the idea of recovery at the heart of treatment and drug strategy advocating for a “recovery” model in dealing with the problems caused by addiction. There are now more than 100 Recovery Café’s across Scotland as well as sports clubs and other community support organisations that support recovery. The mindset is changing in Scotland and across the UK, a recovery “movement” is emerging.

The SRC’s free recovery workbook is, as they put it, “a gift from the recovery movement in Scotland, to people in early recovery from addictions everywhere. Our gift, like recovery itself, is free to you.”

You can read about SRC online, or you can watch some videos on Youtube, you can also keep coming back here and reading about recovery in Scotland, all over the UK, and from all around the world.

Image from SRC Recovery Gave Me poster campaign.



"Miracle pill, or blind alley?
“Miracle pill, or blind alley?

The “miracle pill”, baclofen has been on our radar for some time. Originally designed and widely used to treat muscle spasms it has been hailed by some as the cure for alcoholism. Like other harm reduction medications it has both supporters and detractors, but this new study from the Nederland provides some real evidence for the debate (always a good thing, debate and evidence).

Regular readers will know that whilst the Online Recovery Academy has an abstinence based approach to all addictions, including alcoholism, we are open to any other pathway to “recovery”, or any life change that an individual is seeking.

Like any medicinal intervention, whilst baclofen may reduce cravings and make not drinking easier, if drinking (or drug use) is done to mediate a problem then a medication aimed at stopping the mediation does little to address the problem.

For some alcoholics the problem might be as mundane as a low level anxiety, social or otherwise. The first few drinks ease the discomfort, but the drinking frequently continues with negative consequences. Obviously, there are many reasons for drinking (or using drugs), from delight in the euphoria to a desire for oblivion and all points in between.  Relieving the resulting problem with medication does nothing to alleviate the root need, or the root belief, that alcohol is the solution.

Like methadone programmes for heroin addicts, if a prescription drug can just “hold” you where you are, is it a cure for alcoholism? What do you do next? Talk to someone?

Reading this article, and according to the material from the study, it seems that the “talking cure”, psychosocial treatment often referred to as addiction counselling, has a greater effect.

Our experience suggests the same, but we continue to monitor as many alternatives as we can.


Addiction is a man-eating plant that demands to be fed. 
Addiction is a man-eating plant that demands to be fed.

When it comes to addiction the never-ending debate about “disease model” or brain disease, moral failing or trauma reaction causes a lot of confusion. The continued disagreements around the “causes”of addiction and the efficacy of addiction treatment, 12 Step programs, faith based solutions, medication and therapy models just add to the challenges facing those looking for information and help. It is refreshing to read a well thought through interview like this with Dr Drew Pinsky, clear thinking, information and informed opinion help people make choices.


“Each case [of addiction] has the potential to include pre-existing trauma issues, personality issues, psychiatric problems, brain injury from substances, withdrawal issues, post-acute withdrawal issues, iatrogenic issues, and genetic predispositions.”

The recognition that each case may respond to differing addiction treatment methods and that problematic use might not always be addiction serves to remind that the routes out of addiction and into recovery, or a new way of living, are equally diverse. Assessments, addiction treatment and recovery plans need to be individualised, there needs to be a greater acceptance of all the alternatives.


“It’s so important to remind people during the beginning of their recovery and throughout the first year and beyond that it takes time. It’s such an important thing for them to remember. Let me emphasise something here. When you say it takes time, we’re talking years, more often than not.”

Recovery of all types takes time, it is a process. Thank you Dr Drew.


Visions of Peace – Visions of Recovery


A review of The Peacemaker, a new documentary by James Demo.

Anyone who has experience of 12 Step based Recovery will have heard the oft repeated lament, ‘if only the whole World did the Steps things would be so much better.’

At ORA we always emphasize two things. Firstly, most of the people involved with ORA found their path to Recovery through the Steps. Secondly, there are many pathways to Recovery and the 12 Steps are not for everyone. So that said we got an opportunity to look at the idea of the 12 Step approach having something to offer other areas of human relations with a recent preview of a new documentary film The Peacemaker.

Professor Padraig O’Malley is an extraordinary man, of this, filmmaker James Demo’s new study will leave no doubt in any viewer’s mind.

O’Malley has worked tirelessly, and in detriment to his own material and physical wellbeing for over 40 years. He has successfully brokered many critical peace deals as well as fostering environments for talk and reconciliation between the most bitter of enemies with his Forum For Cities In Transition (FCIT).

As the film unfolds the Professor’s story, he openly exposes his alcoholism. His contribution to the first major steps toward a peaceful solution to the problems in Northern Ireland are arranged in Padraig’s local “Irish” Pub in Boston. A drinking alcoholics logic suggesting that getting the two sides to drink together would help them see each others humanity

As the film and Padraig’s work develop so does his addiction, and the viewer gets the sense that a sheer force of will is driving the man, and the processes of peace.

From Ireland to Israel, the Balkans to Nigeria, Iraq, South Africa and in many other theatres of conflict and dischord Padraig O’Malley has striven to bring some kind of harmony, (real old school AA types will find it hard not to think of the St Francis prayer so often suggested for meditation in Step 11), with both success and failure as companions, it is his commitment to the process, the ongoing nature of change, which really inspires.

Padraig recognized, and sought help for his addiction in 2002. The film reveals some of the work he undertook in rehab, readers familiar with this will recognise the kind of 12 Step based self-evaluation work common to many facilities. The written Step 1, powerlessness and damage exercises, the acceptance of consequences. Although Padraig also had massive achievements in his active addiction, his personal pain, life with his own demons becomes clear throughout the documentary.

In the sections of the film dealing with Padraig’s work with FCIT, the “drinking together” approach has been long abandoned for a format that any member of any 12 Step fellowship would recognize as he realizes that his recovery provides a model for conflict resolution.

“As one alcoholic is in the best position to help another, so people from divided societies are in the best position to help each other,” Padraig explains. “It’s similar to the role people who are involved in recovery play in getting people to a meeting, where everyone tells the story of their conflict from how they experienced it. They can see that the first thing they have to do is to realize that they’re addicted to the violence, they’re part of the problem.”

This film has a true message of Recovery, but also a very realistic perspective of all types of resolution being a process, not an event.

You can see the trailer here.

Recovery Advocacy Week – Opening Up Recovery


Those of us who have found a path in Recovery, or are just setting out on the journey often face a dilemma when it comes to disclosure about our problem. Sadly this often means we also remain silent about our solution.

Openly sharing with others our “status” can be a worrying, even stressful decision. Whether accepting the disease model and following a treatment program, making a personal decision to change, making new lifestyle choices or embracing a faith-based adjustment to our way of life – the stigma and shame of an addiction or substance dependence is often a key factor in determining who we tell, when we tell it and why.

Whilst this is a personal choice, and should always be, it is worth noting that our visibility could be invaluable to others, and to our own continued well being.

There is a growing consciousness among many people in Recovery that the shame and stigma (still so real in our societies around the condition) plays a major part in blocking access to help. Attitudes to addiction also play a major part in drug policies all over the world, as well as influencing approaches to addiction treatment, employment, social housing and education. Recent years have witnessed the growth of many new approaches to aspects of addiction, most of them coming from community organisations, some specialists in the field and those in the vanguard of the growing “recovery movement”. (Coincidentally there is a simultaneous and growing awareness of the desirability not to be dependent on mood or mind altering substances to enjoy life.)

Organisations are emerging, academics are writing, researching and developing advocacy propositions that support Recovery. Many recovering addicts would agree, stopping is the easy bit, staying stopped is harder. There is a need for support whether it is in the form of accessible physical and mental check ups, ongoing counselling or local community facilities.

When it comes to Recovery organisation it seems that our friends in America often lead the way.

In the US organisations like Faces And Voices Of Recovery (FAVOR) crystallize their aims simply and clearly obviously helps “we aim to raise the profile of the organized recovery community and help more people find recovery by demonstrating that over 23 million Americans from all walks of life have found recovery and promote widespread understanding that long-term recovery is a reality and a process that takes time and support.”

Going further FAVOR also lay out a series of achievable goals. They advocate for laws and policies that enable recovery, health, wellness and civic engagement for individuals, families and communities affected by alcohol and other drugs.

In the UK the annual UK Recovery Walk is just part of FAVOR UK’s developing structure with similar aims to the US. FAVOR UK aim to show there are viable and varied recovery solutions for alcohol and other drug problems. Members of the organization discuss their Recovery openly showing they are examples of real people who illustrate the diversity of recovery solutions whilst challenging any public attempt to dehumanise, objectify and demonise those trying to deal with their personal situation. Advocacy for variety, availability, and quality of local treatment as well as recovery support services is at the core of their work. Further engagement with legislators aims to remove barriers to recovery and the promotion of laws and social policies that reduce alcohol and other drug problems

Canada is also home to a growing Recovery structure, working on each local City level but connected through a national “umbrella”. The Scottish Recovery Consortium continue with their plans to enable community based organizations and help local initiatives thrive.

With all this advocacy, all this action, all this activity it might be time to give some thought to our personal decisions when it comes to sharing our own stories.

FAVOR have announced Recovery Advocacy Action Week #RAAW16 from May 2nd to May 6th, so the Online Recovery Academy will be posting each day this week on the daily theme.

#RAAW16 is a collaboration between FAVOR, Minnesota Recovery Connection, Hazelden Betty Ford, Young People In Recovery, Facing Addiction and the Altarum Institute.

Mindfulness and Recovery

From respected academics to revered specialist practitioners, Mindfulness (as a regular practice) is widely accepted as a practical and realistic stress reduction technique. In many countries medical schemes are willing to cover Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs accepting the growing body of evidence supporting it’s efficacy. Still in early days in it’s application to addiction recovery, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) has been pioneered at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. MBRP, largely inspired by and, based on the research of Dr. Alan Marlatt PhD who was the Director of the Center and Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle for over 30 years. Marlatt’s research and clinical work was in the field of addictive behaviors, he published over 200 journal articles and book chapters, as well as several well received books in the addictions field.

The clinical and research MBRP team which originated under the mentorship of Marlatt, includes researchers and clinicians from UW, Drs. Sarah Bowen, Neha Chawla, Katie Witkiewitz, and Joel Grow, whose work continues to lead the field.

Similar to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for depression, MBRP is designed as an aftercare program integrating mindfulness practices and principles with cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention, it is of great value to individuals who have undergone initial addiction treatment, or enjoy a sustained period of Recovery wishing to maintain treatment gains whilst developing a recovery lifestyle devoted to their personal well-being and growth.

The Washington team’s description of the primary goals of MBRP are:

  1. Develop awareness of personal triggers and habitual reactions, and learn ways to create a pause in this seemingly automatic process.
  2. Change our relationship to discomfort, learning to recognize challenging emotional and physical experiences and responding to them in skillful ways.
  3. Foster a nonjudgmental, compassionate approach toward ourselves and our experiences.
  4. Build a lifestyle that supports both mindfulness practice and recovery.


This approach is being adopted all over the world. You can find our own Online Recovery Academy course, Mindfulness In Recovery here.


Do You Want To Be Happy Or Right?

I made sense of my addiction to alcohol and drug use (not specific drugs) through the so called ‘Disease Model‘ which explains the problem as an illness, most directly comparable to other relapse prone conditions such as diabetes, asthma and hyper-tension. Although the Disease Model is widely used throughout the addiction treatment and recovery fields it is by no means universally accepted. Theories and opinions abound from the idea of alcoholism as a moral failing through genetics to environmental and psychological causes, some of which are put forward by writers and academics whose work I greatly admire.

Most of these opposing ideas share one common thread, the supposition that one theory, or the other, must be the right one. There can be only one!

If you are new to this site, which tries to focus on Recovery, you may have missed a previous post or two, Defining Recovery and Many Paths, One Destination, which sought to illustrate that Recovery is a subjective experience, an individual experience based journey.

Adopting the spirit of this idea, the subjective experience, would certainly suggest that there are as many different routes into addiction, dependency or, as the current serious speak would have it, into substance use disorder.

On an almost daily basis across mainstream media, recovery web sites and blogs, in academic and popular psychology publications headlines noisily proclaim ‘Addiction Caused By…’ – often accompanied by referenced research, published works or links to media interviews. Recently Dr Gabor Mate’s extensive work is explained in the headline ‘Addiction caused by childhood trauma‘ – which I’m sure is the case for some, but surely not all, instances.

Quite early in my own recovery process I read Prof Bruce Alexander’s excellent The Globalisation Of Addiction – Poverty Of The Spirit. Prof Alexander, the man behind the Rat Park experiments in the early 1970’s that questioned a lot of existing addiction treatment assumptions, provides a compelling ‘theory of dislocation,’ which to my understanding, suggests that the dislocation can occur both obviously – trauma, socio-economic and psycho-social – as well as on a perceptual level. The elegance of this model, for me, is that it seems not only to speak to most of the current ideas of addiction, but that it also suggests solutions.

The solution to dislocation would seem to be connection, and whatever the different viewpoints of causes of problematic drug use may be, it is always hard to argue that such use does indeed dis-connect the user. Some may say that the drinking, or drugging culture provides some kind of connection, a system in which to function and it probably does. But, that is surely by definition a replacement system, an alternative to a natural belonging rather than the desire to actually belong.

However functional my addictive systems became, almost invariably I ended up drinking and using on my own, connected only to the substances, and vicariously to a TV monitor sized portal to the ‘normal’ world. The end phase of my drinking and using was accompanied by a lot of 24 hour ‘rolling news’ interspersed with classic movies interrupted only by ad breaks. In any given session I could roll from self righteous indignation at the inefficiency of politicians and international agencies, through conspiracy fuelled hatred of big corporations to dark soul self-pity that my life continually failed to look like the soap powder ads. Dis-connected from un-reality, unreal!

In effect everything external was the problem and everything internal was collapsing as a result. No trauma, no disadvantage – just an inability to see the reality of my own situation.

Whatever leads an individual to a moment of clarity, it seems likely, or at least fair to generalise, that it will be the realisation that living this way, disconnected, is no longer an option. Sadly, this can be a dangerous time for a lot of us, particularly if the moment of clarity comes in an otherwise mood and mind altered state. Equally sadly, depending on the resources available, changing circumstances can be more than a challenge. It is easier for some than for others as unfair as this is, it is true.

This is where the insistence, the dualistic thinking, the all or nothing, the right and wrong of the theorists needs challenging. Somehow, a climate of inclusion and respect for the different models of addiction and paths to Recovery needs to be reached. An environment created where, if one method fails another is open, where there are options and encouragement rather than dogma, scientific or philosophical, an open conversation.

This conversation needs spaces to take place. A good start would be with the tub-thumpers of one theory or another leading by an example, if there is open mindedness there it can breathe and travel. That, however, is relying on institutional change, always a slow and painful process. The real change, seems to me, to be happening in the burgeoning Recovery communities that are developing all over the world both online, and in real spaces with real people.

The Online Recovery Academy will be running regular blogs, with links to online and real world communities and activities that are putting Recovery first.

All About Recovery – How I stopped drinking and recovery started working:

After 30 years of continuous drinking and drug use I got sober. I spent the last of the little money I had on four months of residential treatment.

The only reason I took that path was because a dear friend, who had been given 6 months to live (at the age of 30) went that way. I doubt I would have done it otherwise.

The only other attempt I had made to do something about my substance use was in my 29th year of using. I went to some 12 Step Meetings and stayed sober for 30 days. When I started using again, I fragmented completely. Six months or so later, I was gently encouraged into addiction treatment by two close friends, one mentioned earlier and another I continue to trust implicitly to this day.

I went to a lot of 12 Step Fellowship meetings after leaving treatment (I still attend a few regularly), but I did a lot more besides.

I went to College (having previously dropped out of school at age 16) and got a qualification in Addiction Counselling. I took up Sculpture and Yoga, I started exercising regularly, I turned Vegetarian. I began reading philosophical and spiritual writing that I would never have entertained before. I did voluntary work for the first time in my life.

I experienced a massive change in my worldview and, consequently, in my personal belief systems.

I believe all these changes contribute to the Recovery of my life.

I tend to think about my Life, as opposed to my Recovery as I believe that the two are one and the same thing.

My personal Recovery relied on multiple methods and pathways with a common denominator: a willingness to change.

The idea for The Online Recovery Academy has been developing in my thoughts for the past 5 years, encouraged by observations and experiences with other entities both on and offline. In some cases, reference points go back many more years. ORA is an attempt to respectfully take inspiration from a number of sources and create a space where Recovery in many forms can be encountered and considered.

There are many willing collaborators involved in shaping ORA, and many more inspirational organisations and individuals whose activities continue to create a spark in our thinking. The is result is that I’ll often write blog posts in the third person and personal opinion will always be marked out as my own.

When I came across The School Of Life in London (and now elsewhere too), whilst not a Recovery resource as such, their model and curriculum got me thinking. Right now, we can only aspire to this – a bricks and mortar location, a series of courses and events, a publishing arm, therapeutic approaches, and a sense of humour – but the muse was inspired.

The next bit of groundwork was the discovery of a US NPO, Writers In Treatment. Their founder, Leonard Buschel, had started the Reel Recovery Film Festival, which continues to grow year on year and inspired us to create our own version of a Recovery Film Festival in South Africa.

I have worked with individuals in Addiction Treatment from many parts of the world. It became increasingly clear that people who wanted to recover needed resources and the most obvious and accessible resources could be sourced online. So began my research, admittedly on an ad hoc basis, and with that came numerous ‘discoveries.’ The then fledgling online magazine, The Fix, opened up a whole new source of information and viewpoints. Along the way more fantastic blogs, organisations and even official programs came on to the Recovery research radar.

I started sharing these resources with people leaving treatment. I seldom recommended specifics, but would suggest visiting a few active sites publishing and updating salient articles, as well as a few online communities I thought may address individualised needs of people in early recovery.

It has been a fascinating, yet hugely time-consuming task to keep on top of the growth in Recovery resources and attitudes. One of the most significant turning points was discovering The Anonymous People (on a crowdfunding sight). As well as screening this film at our Recovery Film Festival, I was able to connect with the filmmaker Greg Williams and found out more about the grass roots Recovery Movement in the US, as well as learning about the concept of Recovery Capital.

Social media also offered several instances of ‘Recovery culture’ gathering momentum. I started learning about Recovery initiatives in other countries, and in the UK in particular. The story of The Brink in Liverpool got us very excited, swiftly followed by Sobar in Nottingham, Redemption in London and a whole host of other café and dry bar ideas. I reserve a very soft spot for Cascade Creative Recovery in Brighton for reasons too complicated to explain here.

Inspiration veered away from Recovery and into the realms of education with the discovery of edX and a free course (or MOOC) they were offering from UC Berkley on the Psychology of Happiness. Having signed up, participated and completed the course, investigation into online learning ensued and led to Udemy. At the time, there were a handful of Quit Drinking courses. It was not until a few months later we stumbled on one of the catalysts for our own series of courses.

In January 2015, an article in The UK Guardian profiled Club Soda and it’s founder Laura Willoughby; it seemed like a full-ish circle back to The School Of Life concept, but Recovery focussed, brilliant! In turn, Club Soda took us back to Udemy via A Hangover Free Life (AHFL).

Having been living AHFL for a while the course produced by blog founder Louise was intriguing… Not of direct relevance, but it did indicate a way forward. It felt like time to make a start.

I began work on identifying courses I thought would help increase understanding of addiction, but more importantly, that would enhance the experience of Recovery by providing additional online materials, articles and resources.

It became obvious that a website would be needed to complement the courses planned, and that ORA would need to extend it’s reach through social media too.

It is a work in progress, and frustratingly imperfect, but I’ve learnt a lot about progress and perfection in the past few years. I, therefore, cordially extend you an invitation to keep coming back to the site, the social media feeds, the courses and hopefully grow, in Recovery, with us.

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