Joining the Birmingham recovery walk made Dr Steve Brinksman realise how far many of his patients had come.
I went for a stroll the other Sunday, which isn’t remarkable in itself, but it was unusual in that 5,000 other people were doing the same thing! The fifth UK Recovery Walk had come to Birmingham and I was fortunate to be able to participate. It was a hugely inspiring sight to see so many people come together with a single positive aim.
As we made our way through the streets of Birmingham accompanied by drums, the waving of banners and a lot of noise from the walkers, there were an array of responses from onlookers – a few were bemused, the odd motorist looked fed-up at waiting for thousands to cross the road but the overwhelming attitude was of support and encouragement. For me the elderly lady on a mobility scooter who stopped and clapped and cheered the walkers saying ‘Well done!’ exemplified this.
Having been involved in the treatment system in Birmingham for more than 20 years I did recognise a few of the walkers. One of these, John, had decided that he wanted to be treated in general practice as ‘it felt more normal.’ He came to register with us as his own GP didn’t provide OST. He was encouraged to look at getting support from a mutual aid group and after about 12 months he finally went to an NA meeting.
Over the next few months he came to the conclusion that he needed to be abstinent from medication as well as illicit drugs and he wanted to do a residential detoxification. Supported by our shared care worker, arrangements were made for him to go into our local unit. He has now been abstinent for two years and finds the fellowship he gets from mutual aid a key part in supporting his recovery.
Gary has been with the practice for over 15 years. In that time he has gone from fairly chaotic IV heroin and crack use with regular spells in prison, to a stable period on a methadone script during which time he became alcohol dependent. I was able to support him through a community alcohol withdrawal programme and following this he has found full time employment and no longer drinks. He doesn’t yet feel he wants to stop his OST but he was as buoyant as anyone on that walk and I think he had earned his place there too.
I was delighted to take part in the recovery walk and I hope that over the years I have worked in Birmingham I have helped some people take a few steps on their own journeys. But the main thing that struck me was how humbling it was to be among such a multitude who know that recovery is real and tangible and who wanted to celebrate that.
Steve Brinksman is a GP in Birmingham and clinical lead of SMMGP, www.smmgp.org.uk. He is also the RCGP regional lead in substance misuse for the West Midlands.