Helping those walking the path of recovery - Karyn McCluskey

Conversations I have had over the last year have often centred around people’s personal struggles with alcohol or drugs. Others have shared the desire and overwhelming need to intervene with a loved one’s spiral into the depths of addictions.

The road to recovery can be a long one

The ripples of the chaos spread out through a family and touch everyone in some way. Most often people ask me for recommendations of how to get help and there are many outstanding people in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many more recovery services.

These are dark days for many, but just like Spring has arrived in Scotland, there can be change. I talk to those who contact me of the people I know whose lives have changed and their journeys into recovery. There is hope. I have known people whose chaos defied description, whose lives seemed without hope, and yet they have transformed and thrived, as have their families alongside them.

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Not everyone conforms to the stigmatised media portrayal of addiction. There are many who wear a smile on their face and seem far removed from that image, yet their struggle is the same. I read an article recently about Marti Pellow’s struggle with alcohol and heroin, with the comment that “Pellow seemed such an unlikely addict – so clean-cut, bouncy and upbeat.” An unlikely addict – and I wondered who was likely? Who is it we expect to thrive and who do we expect will end up enslaved to substances? If we know who it is, why don’t we do more to prevent it happening to them? Trauma and mental health are huge factors in the lives of those who end up in addiction.

Yet Pellow’s journey reminds me of so many colleagues and friends who are in recovery. It is the thing that makes them most proud, that they work at every day. They never take the success today, as being a guarantee of success tomorrow. Friends will tell me how long they have been in recovery – often to the year, the month and the day – such is the struggle. Pellow has been in sobriety 23 years but said “the person who has the longest clean time is whoever gets up earliest in the morning”. There is no complacency and recovery rarely happens in a straight line.

Time in a recovery establishment was core to Pellow’s journey to sobriety. I’ve been privileged to speak to some amazing recovery professionals in Scotland’s rehabs over the past weeks, whilst exploring at which point people can access this specialist help – particularly those caught up in the justice system. It sounds expensive until you think of the costs of not doing it; prison, courts, police, justice and funerals.

But success isn’t guaranteed. People fail – often. When lockdown finishes and we all try to get fit and lose weight, most of us will taste failure in its full stinging intensity. We must pick ourselves up and try again. For those in addiction they may need a number of attempts till they get the life they crave.

Nims Purja, the Nepalese Gurkha climber, who has scaled 14 of the Earth’s highest peaks said: “Behind this success, there’s blood, sweat and tears. Success is not a coincidence”. I think the same of those who walk the path of recovery.

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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