Voices of recovery- Finding identity

Only when we start valuing each individual where they are now, rather than where we would like them to be, will we take the road to recovery-orientation, says Alistair Sinclair.

 It’s been a busy few months. After Weston’s recovery walk on 22 September, where I talked about our shared humanity and ‘messy’ love, I walked in Brighton with over 3,000 people at the fourth UK Recovery Walk and talked about community strengths, family and the need to build recovery networks grounded in the ‘five ways to wellbeing’. 

 A few days later I attended a recovery coaching conference in London and since then I’ve delivered some training, written various proposals and reports, helped facilitate UKRF recovery seminars (the most recent involving 100 people in North Lincs) and continued to spend a lot of my time on trains. Along the way I’ve participated in a ‘researching recovery’ seminar at Manchester University, met with two of the chairs of the recovery partnership to talk about plans for a recovery festival in London next spring, agreed new UKRF work in Hertfordshire and London and taken part in planning for next year’s national service user conference in Birmingham. 

 So, lots of activity and not a lot of personal recovery, because, while I’ve been busy, I’ve become ill. My ‘black dog’ (Churchill’s term for his depression – I quite like it) has recently, as it does from time to time, become much larger and is nipping at my heels. Which has left me considering my ‘identity’ – or rather I’ve been thinking about the many ‘identities’ that combine, in all their colourful combinations, to make up who I am at any given time. 

 At the recovery coaching conference one of the speakers talked about the different identities we have; some of them out there in the open and some hidden from the world, secret. This idea that the ‘addict’ (or the ‘depressive’) is just one identity among many has left me thinking about ‘authenticity’ and the tensions that exist within the recovery movement. 

 Am I more ‘authentic’ because I have ‘issues’ with substances and a deep personal acquaintance with a ‘black dog’? Does this qualify me to stand up in front of people and talk about ‘wellbeing’ and ‘recovery-orientation’? Do I have greater ‘value’ because I have given up illegal drugs? Is this integral to my ‘recovery’? I still use legal drugs. I might take anti-depressants again. Does this make my recovery less ‘authentic’? Where is my recovery? Do I need to find a place where all my identities are valued and nurtured or do I need to subscribe to some political/treatment version of recovery and be ‘cured’. Will ‘abstinence’ make everything alright?

 Lots of questions, and answers remain elusive. But I think when I reach a point where I can value myself and all my identities, when I can be at ease with myself, I’ll be on my road to recovery. And when services start by valuing each and every individual where they are now, recognising their strengths in the ‘now’, and not where they would like them to be (payment for a result determined by others) then we’ll be on the road to recovery-orientation. 

 I often sit in rooms where people introduce themselves as ‘in recovery’ and I say ‘I’m Alistair, I’m from the UKRF’. That’s me playing it safe. We all like safe. Being a director of the UKRF is not the biggest part of my identity. Recovery starts with honesty. I’m ‘recovering’ and, ‘ill’ or not, like everyone else I have something to offer. 

 Alistair Sinclair is a director of the UK Recovery Foundation (UKRF)