Huseyin Djemil, Founder of Towards Recovery, talks to David about a range of topics which include: recovering people needing to be visible; the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which teaches you that your broken parts are valued; a comparison of the drug strategies of two major British cities; an analogy of the revolving door of treatment; promoting belief in recovering people; his work as a Drug Strategy Co-ordinator for the seven London Prisons; and his reflections on the drug treatment system. The interview took place on 21 March 2023 and was edited into eight Recovery Voices films totalling over 41 minutes.
Huseyin describes how he discovered whilst working in a rehab how clients were being helped to come up with a ‘cover story’ for when they left the rehab. He felt that this approach was wrong. Later, when he held a more responsible position in the rehab, he taught clients how they could disclose about their past in the most appropriate way. Huseyin goes on to say that members of Towards Recovery try to be visible about their recovery. He emphasises that the Faces and Voices of Recovery movement in the US and UK is helping create change in wider society by being visible and advocating for recovery. There is much that could be done in the UK, given the large number of people who have overcome an addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Huseyin argues that we buy into stigma by encouraging recovering people leaving a residential rehab come up with a cover story, rather than teaching them to disclose in an appropriate way. In a way, they are being taught to start their recovery with a form of lie. Huseyin describes the Japanese art of Kintsugi that involves putting broken pieces of pottery back together again with gold dust. Huseyin shows a broken plate he keeps (fixed with brass rather than gold!) and describes how Kintsugi teaches you that your broken parts are valued—you embrace your cracks! He and his colleagues had a Kintsugi group session, which they all found very helpful, using Amazon Kintsugi kits.
Huseyin describes listening to a talk given years ago by Mark Gilman, former Recovery Lead for the National Treatment Agency (NTA), in which he compared the approaches to tackling addiction by the cities of Manchester and Liverpool. Manchester went with the methadone approach to tackling addiction, whilst Liverpool in general favoured a ‘recovery strategy’. The former city saw a reduction in crime, but many people stayed in a ‘state-sponsored addiction’ and intergenerational addiction was not alleviated. More people found recovery in Liverpool and this acted as a protective factor against intergenerational addiction to some extent.
‘If recovery is a journey from London to Manchester, then treatment is the taxi ride to the station.’ Huseyin argues that the taxi-ride to the station has become a proxy for the journey. Taxi drivers convince you to get into their taxi so you can get to the station (treatment), but when you get there you don’t know which train to take to continue your onward journey. You live on the station for a while, but then decide to return home. However, the taxi driver finds you again and convinces you to let him take you to the station.
The cycle continues—the so-called revolving door of treatment—until the driver tells you that you may just as well stay in his taxi. While we want everyone to get help in the form of treatment, if they so wish, Huseyin points out that if one stays in treatment long enough it can erode your ability to find recovery. What we need are people on the station platform helping you with the onward journey of recovery.
Huseyin describes how the staff at the rehab he attended instilled a positive belief in residents. For example, they would say, ‘Despite the worst, and despite what you have been through and what you have done to others, there is a future for you. And that future can be amazing.’ Huseyin describes a friend in recovery who asked him what does one do when your life exceeds the ambitions you had when leaving treatment? In his case, he had got a flat, girlfriend, and a job (drug worker). Huseyin laughs about his own three personal ambitions on leaving the rehab. He points out that when a person exceeds their personal ambitions, they need to express gratitude.
Huseyin points out that conditions within the residential rehab he attended left him with a strong work ethic. The rehab didn’t involve AA or other 12-step groups, so he didn’t connect with this form of support when he left treatment. Given that he had attended a faith-based rehab, he connected with the church. However, he struggled to identify with people who attended the church, other than the occasional person who came in drunk or who was a drug user. Huseyin was asked by church members to help these ‘lost souls’, and was eventually told he was good at communicating with these people and should consider a career in helping such people.
When he worked as Drug Strategy Co-ordinator for the seven London Prisons, Huseyin was asked to review the detox unit at Wormwood Scrubs prison. He found awful conditions in the unit and made a number of recommendations for improvement which were taken up by the prison. Huseyin describes the resulting 55-bed Conibeere Detoxification Unit, which had the highest of standards and helped inmates get off drugs and feel much better about themselves.
When a prominent MP came to open the unit, he was almost in tears. He explained to Huseyin that his son had been in prison and didn’t get any help when he got out. He then died. Huseyin could see that the MP was thinking, ‘if only this sort of place had been available for my son.’
Huseyin hoped that the unit would be copied by other prisons. Instead, the government brought in the Integrated Drug Treatment System (IDTS), which involved creating an equivalence of care between the prison service and community. Methadone maintenance became more the norm, rather than clinical detoxes, in the prison. Rather than helping inmates find a path to recovery, the ethos was all about risk, and stopping death, both inside and outside prisons.
When Huseyin promoted recovery working alongside Neil McKeganey and Kathy Gyngell, the group was condemned by some people for being in opposition to harm reduction practices. Huseyin emphasises that they were never opposed to harm reduction. There is clearly a need for both forms of approach and the practices can work alongside each other. Huseyin points out that whilst we need high quality clinical care, clinical practitioners need to know where it begins and ends.
He feels that the treatment system is broken in that not enough emphasis is placed on supporting people’s recovery journey after people have entered treatment. He also highlights the fact that not enough money is provided for residential rehab places. This fact was recognised by Dame Carol Black in her review of drug treatment and recovery; she proposed an increase in funding for residential rehab places. However, Huseyin points out that local authorities can still game the system, so that residential rehab referrals and places are still in short supply.
Huseyin’s interview has also been edited into a large number of shorter clips which will be used on our Themes section. You can view these shorter films on Huseyin’s YouTube Themes Playlist.
Huseyin Djemil developed Towards Recovery, a recovery community in Henley-on-Thames, UK, in 2012. He has worked as a freelance consultant in the addiction field since 2007. Huseyin has held roles as drug worker, service manager, drug action team coordinator, commissioner, London regional lead for prisons and a number of other advisory roles both paid and pro bono. He is now Head of New Hope Drug and Alcohol Service in Bracknell. Huseyin is in long-term recovery from an addiction to Class A drugs.