Anyone for coffee?

My very short time at VCU Rams in Recovery has propagated a relationship which has already created opportunities that were most definitely not on my outcome list during my Winston Churchill Fellowship. I just love unintended consequences.

Professor John Freyer is on the board of Rams in Recovery and is behind the Free Hot Coffee bike concept and Recovery Roast coffee blend. Hearing how it works and connects people, I knew it could help us in Middlesbrough to engage in conversation with people we might not  normally come into contact with. John thankfully got as excited as me and offered to help me replicate it back home.

John is also involved in the Tate Exchange programme at the Tate Modern in London and somehow wangled a performance by our Recovery Choir at an exhibition in June 2018 where he will be showcasing #freehotcoffee #freeicedwater and #freehotsupper. All three bring together people in conversation whilst sharing food or a drink on a level platform. Recovery needs shared experience and it was only right we opened this up to other recovery choirs to share the experience. So far we will be joined by Cascade choir from Brighton and The Basement in Halifax.

John will visit us in Middlesbrough to support the process of blending our very own #recoveryroast and launch our free hot coffee bike. We have the bike and are working with a joiner in recovery to build the box from which the magic will happen. Everyone in Recovery Connections got really excited when it arrived (as i breathed a sigh of relief!) 

You just never know the outcome of a chance conversation ūüėä

Oh Boy

My time in Lubbock, Texas was very special, Buddy Holly initially put it on the map and I felt so lucky visiting the museum, but for the last 30 plus years Lubbock has had a legacy of graduates in recovery. 

Leaving Texas Tech Collegiate Recovery Community was really emotional for me. Spending time with the team and students has left a real impact. To be welcomed into the community with such warmth, acceptance and authenticity was incredibly special.

 To leave them felt like leaving people I have known for a very long time. I’m on the flight to Houston writing this and trying to process my time there. What is it that literally made me cry when I left?

Well firstly the sense of community, led by Dr Tom and Vince the team are really genuine and caring people from diverse backgrounds, united in their mission to support students in recovery to succeed. They are continuously called upon by students either for support or just to say hello and share the happenings of the day. The reception is reminiscent of the kitchen at home, whilst pottering around someone is always passing through. In fact the centre has a very homely feel with a very large family of 120 members.

 It’s not clinical at all, it’s a space to be real, however you are feeling that day. There’s structure, space to study, chat, drink coffee and be a community of huge promise.

The structure of the CRC is the scaffolding, attending small peer group meetings designed to hold each other accountable and build trusting relationships with each other is a crucial part. The students have a huge amount of gratitude and consequently take service to their own and outside communities very seriously

The weekly Celebration meeting, where families, CRC and outside recovery community members come together to share hope and celebration. There were over 100 people in the room, you could feel the community spirit and genuine love for each other’s achievement, whether it was weeks, months or years of abstinence, the joy expressed was the same. Young people in recovery make a lot of noise when they are celebratory! 

I asked a number of students to share what was important to them as a member. Their responses had some differences but generally the gratitude oozed out for the team and their peers, describing the solidarity and unconditional support of each other. 

It’s a very powerful experience and convinces me further of the need for a similar concept in the UK.

Texas Tech CRP have integrated a week with us at Recovery Connections in July 2018 as part of their study abroad programme. Oh boy!

Please watch the films as detailed in my previous blog, they really will leave you uplifted.

Next stop Houston and the shop for more tissues..

Its the people that make a difference

Its difficult to put the detail of all my meetings in the blog so I just want to dedicate this one to the people I have had the luxury of spending time with to date. I hope my memory does them justice. I am trying to retain all the wonderful knowledge which is often challenging me!

In North Carolina I met up again with Frank Alison the Collegiate Recovery  Initiatives Program Coordinator, I met Frank last year during my visit to North Carolina and I am grateful to him and Emily Eisenhart of Georgia Southern for the inspiration to apply for a Winston Churchill Fellowship. Frank took me to an amazing organic caf√© for breakfast where we talk about the core components of the UNC Chapel Hill collegiate recovery programme. The one thing I have picked up is that each university  programme has it’s own unique components. Frank describes how they deal with relapse and how they can act as advocates when brokering return to their degree programmes.

Students in the Chapel Hill CRP have the option to live in campus based recovery housing or off site in Oxford housing.  I met with Paula the Oxford Housing link who told me that this was the only collegiate Oxford model in the state and gave me an overview –

Oxford Houses are a clean and sober housing option for individuals in recovery. The first North Carolina Oxford Houses were established in Durham and Asheville, NC in the spring of 1991. North Carolina is part of a network of 2,000 Oxford Houses with more than 16,000 beds. As of June 2017 there are 232 houses in North Carolina, with locations in 30 cities. With an average of 8 beds per house, there are more than 1,750 Oxford House beds in the state. Individuals typically enter an Oxford House after completing a drug and alcohol treatment program. Individuals living in a house are expected to participate in a recovery program in the community during their residence.

She told me the CRP students functioned well with the Oxford House model but had come up with some local agreements that differed from the usual model. One example was the age limit for house members which they set at 25 and under, over the development of the CRP collaboration Paula acknowledged that trusting the students decisions has worked well. It is really obvious to me that sober housing is a crucial component of a collegiate recovery programme. The Oxford House model offered the students the experience of running a home, paying bills, problem solving and living in the community.

In San Francisco I met up with Jon Anderson the Programme Director for The Haven at College. The Haven is an organisation that provides a recovery support programme and accommodation to Universities and are currently in 6 sites. This model looks very like a community based recovery support service and supported accommodation. Rather than an internal campus based organic growth based CRP, Haven have a standardised model they can implement at any university.

My final meeting in San Francisco was with a wonderful lady Angela who teaches Addiction Studies at San Mateo College, she is very passionate and energetic about training professionals and I am absolutely astounded when she tells me she is 80!

I had a weekend of R & R in San Francisco and met up with friends who are touring California, we crammed in every tourist attraction we could in 2 days and did 35000 steps, more than my first 2 weeks in the USA..

On the plane again to Lubbock Texas and Texas Tech to meet back up with Dr Tom and Vince. The days are flying over and I am still in awe and full of gratitude for this opportunity.

 

The beautiful south

The day I travel to my first destination coincides with our first Young People in Recovery forum at Bar Zero, Middlesbrough. I was fortunate enough to create a p
ost to focus purely on under 25s, we have an amazingly supportive board of trustees who are as passionate about recovery, as we are as a team. In truth I expected Abbie messaging to say she sat there waiting with no one showing up. I was wrong! two girls turned up, connected, chatted and left feeling less isolated than before they came. It had already started and I was completely elated.

I arrive in Durham, NC to be met by Mary, a wonderful woman who has a similar role in a recovery organisation and kindly offered to host me whilst here. Over the last 7 days we have compared our challenges, many of which are similar both sides of the Atlantic. Mary takes me to an adolescent unit and medically assisted recovery clinic. I think its important to understand the full treatment journey here that students involved in a collegiate recovery programme may have experienced.

The adolescent unit had the most amazing chairs so that the young people can wiggle and bounce during class, I definitely want one for the office..20170906_123217

Labour Day bags me an invite to RCNC Director of Training & Advocacy, Donald’s house, he invites Jesse who has been involved in a collegiate recovery programme that’s self mobilised and receives no core funding. He describes the pressure this brings – no identified accountability structure, no dedicated facilities, no continuity, all based on goodwill. Its crucial I understand the warts and all, I recognise we need to take things slowly back in Middlesbrough and move forward in partnership with the University.

I travel up to Richmond, Virginia to spend time with McShin a peer to peer organisation and attend Recovery Fest an annual celebration and qualification round in the State barbecue competition. Merging the two events is a masterstroke and offers a brilliant opportunity to share recovery messages and challenge stigma. Barbecue teams are serious business in the South, I am amazed at the kit and vehicles they have. I am not sure we could merge non recovery events as successfully in our culture yet but it needs to be a goal.

The McShin recovery family is probably the best culture of recovery I have ever experienced. Chatting to the peers I hear their addiction was very active during their university years, they tell me if there was a peer community on campus it could have made a big difference to them, the younger ones tell me a CRP is something they will need when they do go to Uni.

I visit the Virginia Commonwealth University CRP, Rams in Recovery and hear about the Recovery Roast, a blend of coffee beans put together by the students and the coffee bike. The bike travels around giving away free coffee in return for a conversation about recovery, what a brilliant idea. The Well is their dedicated space to hang out, drink coffee, study and do recovery meetings. The students all tell me the space is really important to them as are each other and the peer connection.

The southern states of America have the most friendly, warmest and helpful people I have ever met. I have used Uber, a local hairdresser, dined in, carried out, shopped and rode the Megabus and not met anyone that wasn’t polite, chatty and interested in what I was doing in their state. The southern culture is definitely contagious and makes it very difficult to be miserable even when I’m feeling at times very homesick.

Next stop San Francisco..

 

 

 

Who, what, why, where & when

In 48 hours time August 31st I’ll be on the way to Orlando to start the second leg of my Winston Churchill fellowship looking at Collegiate Recovery programmes and young people’s recovery support.

Here’s an overview of where I’m going and why.

31 August – 14th September Raleigh/Durham North Carolina 

University of North Carolina Collegiate Recovery programme. Here I hope to meet students to understand the benefits of being part of a CRP and living in sober accommodation.

I hope to visit local recovery services to chat to people who have been through a CRP and those planning on going to University to understand how it will add to their resilience. Is a university with a CRP more attractive to someone in recovery?

7th – 10th September Richmond, Virginia

I will be spending time with the McShin Foundation visiting a County Jail and celebrating recovery at Recoverfest and one of their infamous ‘Smokin meat not drugs’ barbecues. I will be again exploring with the people I meet how important young people’s recovery support is and CRP’s

14th – 18th September San Francisco 

San Mateo University and a weekend off meeting up with friends (one of them doesn’t know it yet ūüôąSurprise!ūüôą

18th – 26th September Lubbock, Texas

Following the first leg of my fellowship in Prague I will meet back up with Professor Kimball and Vincent Sanchez at Texas Tech University. I’m looking forward to comparing the similarities & differences with one the USA’s oldest Collegiate Recovery programmes.

26 – 29 September Houston, Texas

 All being well due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey I will be visiting Archway Academy, Sober High School. Having this opportunity to see how an abstinence approach to recovery from the age of 15 in a school setting is really exciting. I doubt we will get anywhere near this thinking in the UK for many years. I will also be cathing up with the president of Young People in Recovery, a national organisation supporting and mobilising recovery ready communities of young people.

And that is it. A challenge and an adventure, the only downside is leaving family behind. A sacrifice worth making in the hope I can influence change when I get back. Wish me luck

1 month to go..

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The closer my trip gets, the more excited and anxious I feel. It seems a very long time ago that I first applied for a Winston Churchill Fellowship, not considering for a moment I might succeed! So give it a go folks, its possible http://www.wcmt.org.uk   apply by 19th September 2017.

I have had a wonderful few days starting with a service to celebrate recovery in Durham Cathedral. The recovery community hold the cathedral very dear to them, as an iconic building to many, it has also been a sanctuary for locals struggling with life in active addiction. In recovery it has offered the opportunity to give thanks and share celebration with family and friends. Bishop Mark (the Bishop of Jarrow) always welcomes the congregation with a genuine pleasure and gratitude to be amongst the recovery community. The recovery choirs sing together with such support of one another its humbling to watch and deafening when their friends and families cheer and clap. A stark contrast to active addiction and most definitely cause for celebration. Watch them here     https://youtu.be/Ozc1A3YuMqc

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I leave Durham and travel to Blackpool for the FAVOR UK AGM with CEO Annemarie Ward. As a trustee of the charity I feel¬†strongly about the need to¬†advocate for those who face¬†hardship and stigma as a result of addiction and sadly sometimes¬†in recovery.¬†As¬†a trustee not in recovery myself I learn so much from the board members who have ¬†around 80 years worth of recovery between them. The UK Recovery Walk is a large part of our mission and does a lot to raise awareness of addiction and recovery but above all its about unity, solidarity, being visible¬†and coming together as a community.¬† I¬†am privileged to have people in my life who have lived in a way I can’t imagine¬†and are grateful, humble and inspirational¬†teachers.

The 3 days in Blackpool top up my recovery tank and fuel the fire to do more for young people. We have at Recovery Connections created a project to bring together under 25’s in recovery¬†around Teesside and beyond. We want to¬†inspire the same solidarity and unity for the younger generation of recovery activist’s, they are our future and full of promise. Connection, purpose and celebration with peers who¬†tell similar stories will hopefully offer proof that its possible.

Next stop North Carolina, Virginia, San Francisco and Texas…

 

Joining the dot’s

Dr Kimball, Melissa and Vince’s¬†arrival in Middlesbrough comes around quickly, I drive up to Newcastle airport excited and anxious about¬†the days ahead. I am collecting Vince as Dr Tom and Melissa have been to Scotland and travelling down by train. We drive back chatting about my few days with the students in Prague and the opportunities we could have in the UK.¬†I’ve thought of little else since leaving them, very positive about sharing the concept with a group of 100 attendees at the Teesside University Seminar.

We meet up for dinner and go to The Fork in the Road, Middlesbrough’s not for profit social enterprise restaurant that provides opportunity for those who are furthest away from the job market. I get slightly anxious when Vince orders a steak, a Texan ordering a steak in Middlesbrough, this could go wrong!

Not to be, thankfully, they were all very impressed with the food  and service. Next stop Bar Zero, we chat about how good it would be for a similar venue on Campus at Texas Tech University.

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9am and we meet Paul Crawshaw, Dean, Health & Social Sciences, Teesside University along with Georgios Antonopoulos, Professor of Criminology. The discussions around the benefits of a collegiate recovery programme are hard to dispute, the comparisons to  under represented groups at Teesside University further underpin the value. A further meeting is suggested and we all leave feeling very positive and hopeful. Now to convince a group of professionals from various local services, London  and members of the recovery community.

I introduce the day and why I feel we need to consider Collegiate Recovery¬†and Recovery High Schools. I quote a term that I heard during a visit to North Carolina and Georgia Universities which has stuck in my head ever since ‘Universities and Colleges are abstinence hostile environments’ of course they are!

Dr Tom gives an excellent overview, citing relevant research around addiction and recovery, threading through some discussion and questions. It’s all very positive and meeting the overall objective of just getting curious, no more than that. I actually sense a bit of excitement, even better.

Mark Gilman’s turn next to take us through the archives of addiction treatment and the recovery movement in the UK. In true Mark style the room is filled with laughter as he describes our seemingly ineffective approaches to stimulate recovery for the many suffering addiction over the last 3 decades. Thankfully recovery is¬† evermore growing¬†with peer communities offering endless hope.

We watch Generation Found, a film detailing Archway Academy in Houston, Texas. Started by the community who were sick of seeing young people die, Archway offers 15 to 18 year olds another chance to complete their education, stay¬†clean and sober and be part of a peer group that loves and supports them no matter what their past looked like. Another term that makes perfect sense is ‘Alternative Peer Group’ young people will only succeed if they swap old circles for an APG that is positive, supportive and attractive.

The final discussion is lively, generally still positive and takes us 40 minutes over the finish time. A great day, lots of interest and good feedback. An appetite to stay in touch and keep the momentum going, exceeding the hope of just being curious.

A lot to think about, embedding this approach will take time, needs thought and careful planning. Winning hearts and minds is an organic process, we have a start.

We can’t allow our Texan guests to leave without sampling the Boro delicacy,¬†the Parmo. We return to our building and eat a Parmo with the residents of the Step Up rehab programme, who all very much enjoyed the day. The conversation slows down under the sedative effect of the glorious Parmo. A fulfilling day in so many ways….

 

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The infamous Boro Parmo

 

 

 

 

 

Here we go

The day has finally arrived and I’m travelling to New York University in Prague to meet Dr Kimball and some of the Texas Tech collegiate recovery students on their study abroad programme. I have never travelled abroad alone before. It feels slightly scary but the fire in my belly is keeping me looking forward. I often wonder how I end up in these situations!

I open an email from Dr Kimball asking me to meet them at 8.30am as we are spending the day at Prague Zoo. I’m relieved as it will be informal and allow me to get to know folk in a relaxed atmosphere. I meet Dr Kimball and his lovely wife Melissa at the tram stop, the students arrive shortly after looking a bit tired, its early!

Prague zoo is stunning and well worth a visit. I am told Dr Kimball will deliver his lectures at various points around the zoo. Today we will look at the six essentials for achieving lasting recovery –

Hope: A reawakening after despair; to live with greater confidence

Healthy Coping Skills: Managing the pain and stress of life

Sense of Achievement and Accomplishment: Moving beyond the limits of addiction toward personal goals

Capacity for Meaningful Relationships: The positive support and connection with family and peers

Unique Identity Development: The emergence of a unique positive identity

Reclamation of Agency: The internal knowledge that you have choices in your behaviour

Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery
by Sterling T Shumway, Thomas G. Kimball

I really enjoy chipping in my thoughts with the students in response to Dr Tom’s probing. Its hard to grasp some of the students are only 18/19 with 2 plus years sobriety, the more mature students with longer sobriety are still only in their 20’s. There is a mature student in the group who I can see plays the maternal role. We reach the petting  zoo, no matter how many years they have in recovery, they suddenly seem very young, getting all excited feeding the sheep and goats. It feels alien to me, having had little experience with young people who have sustained recovery. Its proof enough we have an opportunity to do something more.

Vince arrives on my 3rd day, his role provides recovery support and directly oversees the collegiate recovery programme. The students are really pleased to see him.Over the next 2 days I hear how the Collegiate Recovery programme works at Texas Tech University and what’s important to the students. The space, good coffee and free printing seems to be at the top, somewhere to hang out and feel connected in between class. Feeling connected is vital for anyone in recovery from addiction and I can absolutely see how within an educational setting it offers resilience. Dr Tom and Vince are also crucial. The relationship the students have with them both is just lovely to observe. Laid back, on the level, approachable and caring. The love they both have for their students is evident. Students who during their addiction would have felt unlovable, were very obviously accepted, respected and loved.

Its time to fly home but I’m looking forward to the following week when Dr Tom, Melissa and Vince arrive in Middlesbrough to help me raise awareness of the benefits of Collegiate Recovery. We have a meeting with Teesside University to talk about the concept followed by a seminar and the first UK screening of Generation Found, a film about sober educational settings.

How did that happen?

A hard night with the baby, Prague Zoo

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Collegiate Recovery – for us or just US?

I first saw Collegiate Recovery programmes in the film The Anonymous People. Watching the film back in 2013 got me curious about a number of things. The one area illustrated in the film that seems to be totally absent in the UK is the support of students in recovery from addiction within educational settings. College and university campus are rarely abstinence friendly, student life generally includes alcohol and other drugs. So how do students who abstain experience the other side of campus life?

I have asked a few people who have completed  degrees whilst in recovery that very question. Answers included not disclosing recovery status for a range of reasons to being open but opting out of any alcohol related activities.

If we cater for other marginalised groups on campus such as LGBT, Autism/Asperger’s or Eating Disorders etc then surely the opportunity of a peer led recovery programme is viable?

A visible recovery community within the educational setting can offer resilience for themselves as well as students experiencing problematic alcohol and other drug use.

No brainer right?

This prompted me to apply for a Winston Churchill Fellowship on my return from a trip to North Carolina & Georgia in 2016. After visiting two Collegiate Recovery Programmes in both states I could clearly see our need. A successful fellowship award would give me the opportunity to look closely at the set up, maintenance and outcomes of the programme.

I was awarded the fellowship (still shocked!) and will be travelling to Prague to meet up with Texas Tech collegiate students doing a summer school followed by a trip to the USA in the Autumn. I will be spending time with Texas Tech, Archway Academy, Young People in Recovery, Georgia Southern and University of North Carolina.

The most amazing thing that’s come from the planning is Professor Thomas Kimball and Vincent Sanchez from Texas Tech are visiting the UK to deliver a seminar on Collegiate Recovery at Teesside University  on June 15th. They have pledged support to help me influence and get a programme off the ground. That’s the beautiful world of recovery.

I will blog regularly to share my learning .
Turn your face towards the sun and the shadows will be behind you.

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