In the final year of my psychology degree at university in the mid-1970s, I did not know whether I wanted to go on to study clinical psychology or conduct research in neuroscience. I decided to do the latter and ended up spending 25 years as a neuroscientist, studying the regulation and function of brain dopamine systems, and trying to improve the treatment of ‘disorders’ such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and drug addiction. And then I changed…
I had a great time as a neuroscientist and loved my work. I was lucky enough to spend three years (1981-84) as a postdoctoral fellow with Arvid Carlsson, the ‘father’ of dopamine and recipient of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. I had such an amazing time in Gothenburg (Sweden) and our research was truly very exciting.
I then spent two years working in the US before returning to the UK in 1986 to set up my own neuroscience research laboratory, in the Psychology Department of the University of Reading and later Swansea University in Wales. Our high-profile research became increasingly focused on addiction.
By the end of the millennium, I realised that I had become a frustrated neuroscientist! I did not feel that I (nor any other neuroscientist) was actually helping anyone overcome addiction. It was time for me to meet, and learn from, people suffering from serious drug and alcohol problems and with practitioners who were helping people overcome their addiction….
And what a time that was! I learnt a great deal from such people. And I soon became aware of the need to catalyse activity at a grassroots level, as I (and others) had little confidence in the mainstream treatment system. It seemed more focused on itself, rather than on the people needing help. Along with my most talented university students (and later ex-students), and people in recovery from addiction, I developed the grassroots initiative Wired In (and charity Wired International Ltd) to help empower and connect people. Our multifaceted work continued through 2000 to 2006, whilst I continued my Professorial duties at the university.
In order to work-full time on our Wired In projects, pay the Wired In team members, and finance the development of an online community, Wired In To Recovery, I eventually decided to take early retirement from my university in 2006. We launched Wired In To Recovery in late 2008, just a month before I moved from South Wales to live in Perth, Western Australia, due to personal reasons. I continued running the online community for four years before having to close it due to lack of funding.
I loved interacting with recovering people and some became my close friends. I had a lot of respect for recovering people, and at times was in awe. I was amazed, and still am, at some of the adversities that people overcome… and then go on to help others. I loved visiting genuine recovery communities and catching up with people like David McCartney (LEAP), Noreen Oliver (BAC O’Connor), Stuart Honor and Michelle Foster (The Basement Recovery Project), and Wynford Ellis Owen (The Living Room, Cardiff), to name just a few, and their colleagues.
I loved writing recovery stories, believing that such stories can have a healing impact. I developed the Recovery Stories website in 2013, which included stories written by people in recovery, as well as those that I wrote after multiple interviews with other recovering people.
After moving to Australia, I became increasingly dismayed by the racism I saw towards Aboriginal peoples. I decided to learn more about Aboriginal peoples and their culture and history. One book I read, Trauma Trails, Recreating Songlines: The transgenerational effects of trauma in Indigenous Australia by Judy Atkinson, had a strong impact on me. Judy described how the colonisation process created trauma amongst Aboriginal people that has been unwittingly passed down the generations. This transgenerational trauma still has a profound impact today.
Judy’s book also gave me important insights into the healing of trauma. I was so fascinated by what I read, and by later spending three days with Judy in the Northern Territory, I developed an educational website, Sharing Culture, that was focused on the healing of transgenerational trauma. I also started reading work by leading trauma experts such as Bruce Perry, Bessel van der Kolk, Judith Herman and Gabor Maté. I continued reading about Indigenous healing and cultures from around the world, and realised that there was much that Western culture could learn from Indigenous peoples and their healing practices.
Given the healing power of story, I started to look for Aboriginal stories of healing. I soon found an enthralling and inspirational story, one that was almost from my own backyard. During the past five years, I have been working with Social Anthropologist John Stanton to tell the magical story of traumatised Aboriginal children who rose above considerable adversity in 1940s Western Australia to create beautiful landscape artworks that are acclaimed around the world.
This healing story is told through The Carrolup Story website (which includes a Healing Blog) and accompanying YouTube channel, as well as my eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. One of our aims has been to empower local communities to tackle the deleterious effects of disconnection in society today.
Early in 2021, in Covid times, I had an itch. I started to scratch the itch. It got worse. That itch was a desire to start writing about recovery again. I contacted the people who had provided their Stories for the Recovery Stories website, and asked if I could include their original stories in an eBook. They agreed. Most agreed to include an update, seven years on, which either they wrote or I wrote after interview sessions. I published Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction, in eBook form In April 2021. I was blogging on Recovery Stories again, after pausing for a number of years.
I was very emotional seeing my children and grandchildren (one I had never seen) again in the UK in late summer 2022, after a gap of two and a half years due to Covid. I also caught up with a number of my old recovery friends, which was very special for me. These meetings convinced me that I needed to start a new recovery project involving friends in the UK. My interest was sparked by conversations with Wulf and the fire inside of me intensified as I travelled around talking with other friends.
So here we are, a new project with an old friend from North Wales and one from South Wales, which involves other people from the country in which I spent a wonderful 14 years. A country in which I have discovered in recent years had hosted a large collection of my ancestors. And it seems right that I’m working with colleagues from the country where my personal journey into understanding addiction recovery began.
I hope you enjoy your time exploring Recovery Voices. And I thank those people who have been involved in our early stage of development.