Hello welcome to the Altered Attitudes podcast, brought to you by East Coast Recovery, an online addiction treatment centre based in the east of England. This episode is sponsored by Rehabs UK, the definitive place to go to find rehabilitation treatment services and advice.
So the BBC just released a new documentary called, I'm an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery, showing to the public not the first time I suppose but certainly the first time in recent years what it’s like inside an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting and they use deep fake technology to mask the identities of the members to maintain anonymity which I thought was really interesting the way they did that, for one using technology to kind of get around that hurdle all though I know it's still controversial within that space and we can get into that in a bit but I wanted to speak to you Lester, you know as a twelve stepper yourself, somebody has been through the program. I understand that this documentary was something a bit unexpected actually and I wonder if you could go into some details about the things they did right and then also some of the things that maybe they could have left out or that they focused a little bit too much of their energies on.
Thank you, we did have a discussion with some other guys a little while ago but the sound quality didn't work out so well so that was a shame.
I did find it quite profound really as a treatment professional and somebody that's spent a lot of years as a professional also using the twelve step methodology and trying to promote that in professional circles and trying to get professionals to refer people to the twelve step meeting. So it was quite profound because again you just had this automatic sense based on sort of past experiences of not feeling accepted at all, in a very polite way.
So after watching that program probably the first thing that struck me and was quite profound was this sense of what a positive experience it was. I feel like again I don't want to sound like negative victim or anything like that but you do feel like you're used to getting a bit of a beat down usually very passively aggressively in professional circles and circles where they have other methodologies and it does seem like the twelve step program is, I think, it's the giant amongst treatment providers.
So I think i've kind of felt that (AA), is kind of like been the standard that everybody sort of tries to compare themselves to if there's a new kid on the block then they generally want to pull down the big boy and I think AA, CA, NA, they are like the big boys in recovery and again based on the sort of facts that the twelve step fellowship globally is the biggest by far in the history of mankind addiction treatment programs and it's the longest running by far in history. Because I've been to a lot of roll-outs of, I call them the ‘government social experiments’ the next group of secular professionals that have come up with their new treatment idea they're going to roll it out and save the day but there's no legs to a lot of it there's no history.
AA has got sort of seventy years of history and so it's the longest running treatment provider on planet earth, is also completely unfunded by government or any outside entities so it doesn't cost the taxpayer a penny globally, it's the biggest support network globally, you can go anywhere in the world and you can find an AA meeting and especially now with the zoom you can twenty four hours a day find a meeting seven days a week three sixty five days a year which you could physically attend. As well you're never far away from an AA, CA or NA meeting and there is certainly always somebody twenty four hours a day willing to pick the phone up to you if you're struggling and need someone to talk to again, completely free of charge and it's pretty much one hundred percent service use or lead. So there really isn't an organisation that compares with it on any level or gets anywhere close and it's not just my being a fanatic about it or anything like that. that's just the global facts and so it's always seemed a bit strange for me to be in professional meetings and not only that is having incredible experience with it personally but also an incredible experience showing it to other people and in our re-introducing people to the program helping them do their steps, how incredibly successful so many of them have been.
Never any research on that, that i'm aware of again even though at East Coast Recovery it was pretty much obvious to anyone that was in relationship with us or still is that it had a profound effect on a lot of people's lives but very rarely did anyone ask me what we were doing that was making that difference. If they would have asked me…
That it's something that's completely free so you think governments would jump at it because you know it's something that's free and that they could help promote and it's not going to cost the taxpayer any money, but do you think part of the reason why it does get shunned in some light, is because no money can be made of it there's no way to have any kind of ulterior motive; it's not like a thing you can sell and make a profit from.
It kind of is because again I've guess i've sort of done that and that's kind of been levelled at me sort of opening up a rehab you know, I guess that's one of the things that people sort of got at me over the years, that ‘I’m only doing it for money’ that kind of thing but the principles of the twelve state fellowship won't allow it to take outside finances it won't let it be coupled with a government. It can be sort of agreeing and work together but they can't join anything else. I think the traditions of the fellowship don't really allow any outside finance in or and again if there was government finance that would pretty quickly lead to government control because that's what government finance is all leading to, government control you know. Whoever plays the piper calls the tune, so you know the principles that are set in are not spiritual in nature they also are very practical that if you take money from the government then they're going to control you tell you what to do and that would really destroy AA, at least in the form that it's in because it would no longer be free, it would no longer be unprofessional. Part of it is being unprofessional, it's not a professional organisation it’s service led. So there's no bosses there's no one in charge, it's the groups themselves that support each other so they're the greatest resource.
Even though I used therapists in my Rehab I never believed for a minute the therapist was a solution to addiction. I thought the twelve step program was the solution to the addiction and that the therapist would support that. But if somebody would say to me, do you want to be rid of the therapist or a program I'd be rid of the therapist! Actual fact is that therapists were only there to bring some sort of professional integrity but the therapists that kind of understood the program and adapted to that, they became really good therapists.
If you're going to need all these professionals to solve this problem the problem is never going to be solved because you're just never going to have enough professionals, and therapists are not cheap people, very expensive people to employ and it's not even the truth that you don't need the professionals to recover from addiction in certain areas they're dead handy like when you're detoxing it's probably good to have medical professionals but it's also nice to have non professionals around you to support you in long term recovery.
It's nice to go to therapy personal, development people and family groups and you know things that help you develop but the actual treatment for addiction for me was never the therapy, it was the program.
The thing I liked about it most of all is it didn't need professionals to do it it actually worked better in the community so even though I was running a rehab my dream was to try and fit it in the community but there was no way of doing that because it was completely answered for by government agencies so my plan was, always my cunning plan was, to try and make money with the detox treatment end of it and then on other end of it where there was no funding at all we implemented lots of back to work projects, housing, helping people get their lives back, there was no funding for that!
So the money we made at the front end we kind of spent on the back end to give people the long term recovery which, for a lot of people that's what they need they need, long term support and so we see great successes when one, treating the addiction and then two, providing the mental and emotional development for people, to give them time to re-develop their brains so that as they become empowered. Then they could go and get on with what we'd call normal.
Normal living, you know we call it a bridge to normal living, and the bridge to normal living is from this point where you you're an alcoholic/drug addict that's come into recovery and then there's this very difficult bridge, which really the bridge is undeveloped neural pathways, a neural pathways take time to develop but they usually develop to the environment. So when we create a very strong environment then eventually when they cross the bridge to where they can now function kind of normally in the world they don't need so much support any more.
We had a lot of back to work projects where they got to this point and they're like ‘look i want to be paid and i'm going to get a job!’, well good, that’s what the point is, when you feel ready, now you're equipped.
At the end of our rehab one of the sad things was a lot of the people that work for us they were unemployable for years but we give them jobs we give them a place to come to develop to grow to learn and people say it's a bit of a bubble and we try and make it a bit of a bubble at the beginning, but then we make people work and to live a normal life as much as you can under these conditions and then at some point they develop enough, it can take up to four years and maybe longer with some people. It takes a long time for their brain to develop, to re-develop but once they've crossed that bridge and the neural path ways reach a certain point then they go and get a job and get on in the world because they've been equipped to do that.
That's what I always believed East Coast Recovery was, not really set out as a private rehab, it was set out for long term recovery. but like I say there was not a lot of funding for that and because of that reason we knew that once we got you free from the addiction, your brains are not going to be able to support itself in what is considered the normal world and again everybody is different in the sense that they all come from different backgrounds, some are unequipped.
I mean you can see the difference to most people from the private sector to the public sector when the private sector of people come they often were better educated had a lot more emotional maturity a lot more aware and it's a lot more skills you know they had a lot more capabilities that were were in them due to the environment they grew up in. A lot of them people, four or six weeks in are probably all they needed all they needed, it was not all they needed but it was the beginning of their journey to get them people detox to show them what addiction was and what's happening in their brain then then people that we see that then left the rehab and then went to twelve step fellowships and go therapy and that sort of thing then people did well over the long period.
But the people that come from a lot tougher backgrounds, they weren't very mature, they didn't have a lot of emotional maturity they weren't very well educated they're not really supporting themselves so they really didn't develop they were quite underdeveloped people that need lot of development but because if adults are given the right environment they develop quite quickly and that is the real miracle for us, to see these people develop so quickly. This person that would emerge from them was often just this amazing person that had been trapped in this very low damage mentality. That was an amazing thing.
When you've lived in that experience for thirty years and you see how profound the program and the fellowship and the support is, it is a bit disturbing and that's one of the other things I found about that program and again is an ongoing thing for me that you always feel that in a room full of professionals that are tasked by government and funded to employ different methods, even though we have a method that really works well, it's like you're always the least important person in the room. That nobody really wants to listen to you because they're not interested in employing your methods in their organisations because they already got a method that's more secular and more suitable according to them.
Over the years I've seen a lot of their methods come and I've seen a lot of their methods go and the body count rises. So it's a little bit traumatic when you think, well I can't even tell these people what we have. There's so much misconception and negativity towards the twelve step fellowship.
I'm trying my hardest not to be bitter and angry even though I've gone through plenty of layers of that in mine life, it just seems to be the fact. From somebody like me that's worked in addiction treatment for thirty years, that I always felt a little bit on the outside and there was a period there where we got invited in and we got the support and got the help, the cutbacks really put an end to that which really sent us into spiral. That was another story and that was quite damaging and again I think not given enough importance or support by society or not enough to understand and they make it quite difficult to be able to practise what we believe actually really worked.
That BBC program really did, on one end I feel, it was almost quite a spiritual experience in itself that it felt very surreal because you're watching this program and waiting for the beatdown the beatdown never came and I've talked to a lot of other people like myself and they all said they had exactly the same feeling. They've never actually seen anything in the mainstream that seemed to be a true representation because that's all you want, you're not looking for advertising. It's about attraction over promotion. If you're not getting seen or getting a chance to be attractive then you're not able to be promoted, how is anyone ever going to know how great it is.
I honestly feel quite oppressed by society and other professionals and that's been difficult and it's made me be quite angry over the years I'm fifty six now and i'm trying to i'm always trying to let go of it but I felt so frustrated and angry over the years because I know it all sounds like, ‘listen to me listen to me my ways right my ways right’ and I know it sounds like that but the way that AA puts it is this, it says look we're not saying we have the only way what we are saying is we have a way that works and an incredible way that works incredibly for a massive amount of people globally. All kinds of people straight, gay, black, old, young, abused, not abused, disfunctional, not disfunctional, traumatized, not traumatized, rich, pilots, prostitutes, judges every kind. Every mixture of person and race and religion who is willing to give it a go. It has a profound effect on their life
So I thought it was a fantastic representation, basic representation, I tell people that if you had a brochure for a holiday in Spain and you look at the brochure and you've got a rough idea of what to expect from the holiday from the brochure and you went to Spain you wouldn't be disappointed it wasn't perfect there but it matched the brochure and I felt that's what that program was like it was an incredible, basic, but very good representation of an AA meeting.
I've heard they've had seventeen thousand inquiries since that program which is fantastic because that's kind of what you kind of want is for people to say look this really is a great option especially in this time of difficulties and cut banks because it costs you nothing and the people in their rooms are people like you, not professional they're just people that have had this problem, that have found a solution.
Nothing makes your heart warmer than helping somebody else recover from addiction. It's the most fantastic. It's like being at the birth of a child or something because you see this human being emerge from this car crash and start living wonderful, difficult lives the same as anyone else.
I really was preparing myself to have a slagging off after i'd watched it but for the first time i've ever experienced there was no beat down.
The only issue that I'd have with it, now it is an important issue and I think it's an issue that I'm going to care about for a long time to come because I think it's a block. It's a block to something that can help save people's lives and that block is, they said it about four times on this programme but it's common that people say. Everything I'm saying now is my opinion. I'm not talking for AA I'm talking for myself as a professional who's been in recovery. All the years where I've done talks or try to express benefits of the twelve step fellowship you always end up with people saying, well ‘your way is not the only way, it doesn't work for everybody’ and they're both sentences that got an element of truth to them except, they said this about four times on this program and I think it was even said by people in the fellowship and I think it needs to be highlighted. The danger of this sentence, that ‘it doesn't work for everybody’ because that's such a dangerous misconception that I think needs qualifying.
If anybody's listening to this podcast that's in recovery or not in recovery hopefully this bit that i'm about to talk about now is the take away from this podcast and that you make an effort to challenge this sentence whenever it's spoken in recovery or addiction treatment circles especially in regard to the twelve step fellowship that if anybody ever says ‘this doesn't work for everybody’ I think that statement needs challenging because it's infinitely grave and dangerous because it's not true.
One of the strange things is that that I don't know of any research that i'm aware of of why AA works because I would have loved that over the years for some of them professionals who a lot of them would say how fantastic we are, miraculous you know, some of them even said ‘the difference is incredible in the people, it's amazing.’ Not any of them that I can remember came and asked me their own personal research. What is it that you are doing that's different from whatever other people are doing. If they did research, an honest research, of the twelve step fellowship I'm pretty sure they would find that statement isn't true that ‘it doesn't work for everybody’
I'm pretty sure it does work for everybody but not everybody wants to do it, i'd say that's true I have no beef with that, i've got no argument with that. To say ‘it doesn't work for everybody’ is dangerous for this reason. You don't know that everybody's not trying it. Most people in it don't try it but if somebody that's confused and under the influence and has problems and issues with certain terminology again I meet a lot of people that go oh I don't like it because of the gods stuff and without a doubt there's god stuff. But if you understand what it's saying, it's saying to ‘god of your understanding’ that you don't have to believe in anything and you can have your own conception, you can believe in the universe in nature, you can believe in whatever you want. You don't have to believe in Jesus, Muhamid, Buddah or any of them things that's up to you if that's what you believe in
There's a lot of prejudice exists and it's been around long enough to have a lot of misconception that's kind of banded around especially around professional circles and you don't often and get a platform to say hang on a minute what you said there was wrong because every time i've tried that they're all say ‘no need to be like that, there's no need to be like that’, like i'm being fanatical. I'm not being a fanatic, I'm just trying to tell you a different point of view that you don't seem to want to listen to, you never seem to want to listen to what we've got to say, we're trying to share something that's very important
When people are asked have they been to a meeting and they say ‘well it didn't work for me’ and they're like oh well let's move you on to something else I think that people should be challenged and say did you try it, did you give it a fair crack and of the whip. Did you go to one or two meetings and then decide I felt uncomfortable? I don't like it? Misunderstanding what they’ve heard, ‘I don't want to go there any more’ that's all fair enough but you didn't try it, you didn't try, that's not trying.
It's a program and I think in the BBC documentary they made it clear that recovery is something you have to work for. Something that you have to work at it doesn't just come, you have to put some effort into it and if everybody puts the effort in it will work for them. If you don't put the effort and of course it won't work for you. It's really important I think to challenge people when they say it didn't work for me, well did you actually do the work because when somebody says to somebody it doesn't work for everybody you might be denying that person a chance of a life saving program that's free of charge that works very well.
I don't know if i'm doing a good job of explaining this because it is a difficult thing because it is something that's always said as a bit of a block I just want to be able to say that needs to be challenged because everyone I talk to about the BBC documentary felt the same way that that's not a good way of saying that because you can deny somebody a chance of working the program. It’s difficult, it does certainly have issues that some people can find they may have biases or prejudices against but they can often be removed.
We see it over the years people they came back, they fall away, they came back and then eventually they kind of get in recovery and you listen to the story and there like, ‘when I first came I didn't like this and then it got worse for me so then that didn't seem so important anymore and I misunderstood this for years so I used that as an excuse for years’ All I'm really saying is you can say I don't want to do it but to say it doesn't work for you is a lie and it's erroneous and to allow people to believe that is robbing them of a chance of something that could save their life that's all i'm saying. Pretty controversial I guess.
In the big book itself says something like seventy five per cent of the people that come to the fellowship and really tried got sober straight away and a few slipped and slid but then came back and gave it a go they got sober and a few more they never really got sober but their life improved. Now you know the importance in that sentence was those that came and really tried. There used to be a figure bound around that it only works for three per cent and that figure comes from somebody doing a survey where they just pretty much acknowledged everybody that walked through the door and walked out again. The trouble with that is like I'm saying, did the people ever try to do it, they just come and go, ‘I don't want to do this’ and they leave, well you can't count them as a statistics.
We say at the end of every meeting ‘it works if you work it, it don't if you don't.’
It's quite an important message right there, it works if you work it, i've been working it for thirty years and it works for me and I know a lot of other people and again when you are running a rehab this is what you hear from most people
‘I had a relapse,’
‘you been working in your program?’
As opposed to ‘I'm doing fantastic, I got a new job, I just got married, I'm going to meet some sponsor and a couple of people’ It's just as black and white as that a lot of the time. I know it's not black and white in the sense of not everybody wants to do it and that's they're right.
I think people should be encouraged to do it if there's nothing else working for them. If there's nothing else working for you then you should be encouraged to say, look you need to have a look at this because this probably will work for you, if you're willing to give it a good honest go.
Rarely have we seen a person fail that who has thoroughly followed the path. I think that should be never, but they rarely put it because over thirty years of watching people through treatment that seems to be the truth.
That's the only sort of down thing with the BBC documentary, that they use that sentence which sounds politically correct. I just think it's bullshit. Went a bit extreme there at the end but I've been diplomatic too long and it's getting a bit uncomfortable for me so that's about it for that.
I'm glad that seventeen thousand more people phoned the hot line and I hope a lot of the people give it a go and meet some pretty cool people, completely anonymous nobody needs to know that you're going. Give it a go just give it a go, it has been a great part of my life, been a struggle, life is a struggle, but it’s been fantastic/
I don't think people know about it is the big problem and I think they have a misconception of what it is. There's some great films where you can watch Bill Wilson's stories. A great film you can watch, When Love's Not Enough is the story about his wife. I think the trouble is it is a bit too anonymous and I guess people like me doing what i'm doing now probably is not ideal but we've gone a little bit too anonymous.
Well it sounds like somebody needs to be singing the praises because, i've just been sent an article today, this is one again from the BBC actually, they're doing some good things at the moment. These stats come from the Office of National Statistics that a record number of people died from alcohol last year and they think it's likely linked with increase drinking during the pandemic but I mean regardless as you say you can join a meetings from the comfort of your home now, so there's kind of no excuse for. Although it's not hugely surprising there were 9,641 deaths in the UK in 2021, compared to 7,565 in 2019 - a 27% increase.
Just the suffering and anxiety, the children involved in that and families. They say that there's not enough funding for treatment. You've got this free service that's actually working better than anything else on planet earth whether people agree or not. That's the fact there is nothing that's working on a larger scale than the twelve steps fellowships.
Thank you for sharing that with us. If you do need to speak with anybody you can give us a call our number is in the show notes as well and we do run an addiction treatment service and we have access to rehabs all around the country and some in Europe as well so if you're listening to this anywhere give us a call we can point you in the right direction. We'll put some links in the notes as well and you can find a local meeting.
Thank you very much for your time Lester, thank you for listening everybody have a good one.