Outside Edge

I have just had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon on a houseboat in Chelsea at an intimate showing by Outside Edge of excerpts from Jerusalem, performed by Mark Rylance, and three others from this pioneering theatre company.

Outside Edge is the brainchild of Phil Fox who, with the vital support of David Charkham and trustees Simon Woodruffe of Yo! and Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page, takes productions that are written to mirror the audience’s story, into treatment and prison settings. The way it works is in a way like an extended role-play, so that the audience is encouraged to interact with the actors and affect the process and ending by responding to the script and action as the performance goes along.

Role-play is a fundamental part of the programme at Charter and for my work in schools, so that a person inhabits the other persons skin, walks for a moment in another persons shoes…you could call it momentary other centredness and it works like magic (most of the time!) Outside Edge does this in a structured way on a bigger scale, though it remains simple and personal, and very accessible.

Simon Woodruffe and Mark Rylance spoke with commitment and passion for a society where this kind of resource is available to everyone, and I echo this; access to the resources and benefits of recovery should not be marginalized to the world of severe addiction.

Prevention is better than cure, early intervention is key, and inspiration and education can play a huge part in changing the direction of a young persons life. Outside Edge, like many of us in the recovery community, has a powerful resource at its fingertips with a much wider application than addiction. I am in no doubt that the 12 steps helped me to recover from completely losing hope when I fell foul of severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. There is so much more we can do with what we have if we all join hands and work together…I’m in…

Women Of The Year Awards

I was excited and extremely privileged to attend the annual Women Of The Year Awards on Monday last week, held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane (www.womenoftheyear.co.uk ).  500 women filled the room, all of whom have a story to tell and achievements to celebrate. It was an inspiring lunch, compered with wit and feeling by Sandi Toksvig, and one I will never forget. I shared a table with Claire Lomas who achieved the impossible, completing the London Marathon despite being paralysed; Sally Wilton who set up a not-for-profit organisation in London providing pop up cinemas and founded The Sustainability Institute, an eco village in the heart of Cape Towns Winelands; Camilla Batmanghelidgh of Kids Co, Ebony, a riding stables in Brixton, the Alzheimer’s Society, a recovering addict of 12 years who was a torch bearer…I looked around the room and felt overwhelmed by the number of people I would give my right arm to meet and talk to and I had an hour…not enough!!!

I felt humbled and moved by the extraordinary achievements these women have made, from our Olympians and Para Olympians, to the woman who founded Women for Women with money that was set aside for her honeymoon (a charity dedicated to women in war zones), to Doreen, Stephen Lawrence’s mother, who spoke with emotion of her fight to bring his murderers to justice, to the women who work with the elderly and the disabled to improve their quality of life.

When I left I felt deeply motivated in my commitment to maintain an ethical stance as a priority when working in my small corner of this world where I am dedicated to inspiring addiction recovery, and to challenging the stigma that enables this destructive illness to flourish behind closed doors, and in all postcodes.

‘Functional Alcoholics’…an oxymoron fuelling denial

If you are alcoholic you cannot function as a whole person. That is one definition of the condition. There is a behaviour in place (alcohol) that compensates for an emotional need (eg stress, self esteem, intimacy) that has become a need in its own right (continued drinking) so that this emotional need does not leak into the real world. Thus the person is not really known by those ‘close’ to them, as they perpetuate an image, a version of themselves, that is not quite the truth, all the while bolstered by alcohol. So do they function? Or do they only function?

Last weeks press commented on a middle class population drinking themselves into ill health and I believe these are the very same ‘functional alcoholics’. The commuters, workers, mums in the school yard – these are today’s problem drinkers it seems ‘responsible for 10 times the costs of young drinkers’ according to Alcohol Concern, ‘unwitting[ly] …taking serious risks with their health’ and drinking their stresses and exhaustion away. Only it doesn’t go away, it sits there ignited into its own need for more alcohol. To drink alcohol to compensate for emotional need is to make a monster.

And this functional behaviour, is this to appear civilized, all the while arguing and stressing behind the scenes?

I meet children of functional alcoholics who are often scapegoated into addictive behaviour themselves. Mutinous they sit in my rooms, often with a parent wringing their hands, bemoaning their loss of potential. And when these children start talking they are angry. They have often been given money to fix emotional need, as it is the currency that enables the parent to feel functional. They have been placed second to the drinking. The lies and secrets that they have been silently asked to keep so that the alcoholic status quo can rule has left them no alternative but to act out, or act in. Welcome to ACOA – the adult child of an alcoholic: self sufficient yet insecure, these children also often feel guilty about their feelings of anger and sense of neglect as they can see their parent is working ‘so hard’ or is ‘so damaged’ or that the child is ‘given everything’ so wherefore this sense of loss, of anger?

But sadly it does not surprise me. The denial in our society is supreme. Drinking is endorsed, celebrated as a badge of strength – caner’s pride – or brushed under the carpet (again) with bullish denial that shames the concerned into silence: ‘it wasn’t that bad’, ‘everybody does it’, ‘lighten up’, or  ‘do you want me to stop drinking and stay at home every night?’ Or some such variation on a theme that employs tactics that minimize, exaggerate, universalise, generalise – whatever they do they ameliorate the fact and park the issue one more time.

It is so very very hard for a family member to bring a concern about a loved one’s drinking – so hard that most people miss the opportunity for early intervention, coming to someone like me when they are on their knees – can you save my marriage / my job / have I ruined my children? But I need to say that the shame, fear and regret does not have to be such a burden if you get help sooner!

Child+ Computer Games = Aggression


This study suggests there is a proven link between games console use and heightened aggression in youngsters, and I wholeheartedly agree.

I have borne witness to countless examples of increased aggression in all 3 of my children after even brief periods of playing these games – it’s the same with most of their friends and with our friends’ children too. I have seen a 5 yr old excitedly jump up and down playing Wii, only to fall to the ground sobbing, beside himself,  when he loses; I have seen a usually modest and discreet mother wrestle her 11 yr old to the floor in an attempt to retrieve the PS3 control, and a father in a shouting match with his son during a game they were playing together as fun, and a war breakout between friends over who has which controller!  Without a doubt these games increase levels of aggression.

To me it is quite simple – what you feed the brain becomes part of its shape. And when you understand that the brain is not fully developed until the early 20s, and the cognitive ability develops at around 7yrs old, you begin to realise how sensitive it must be at 11,12, 13yrs old especially to such a stimulating influence as the charged atmosphere of a computer generated mission. During these games, this developing brain is over stimulated into a heightened and excited pace, yet the body is by contrast, relatively still.  Thus the person is going to be at the very least out of sync.

The mission in these games is almost always a fight for your life. Whether that’s in the fantasy playground of Wii or the simulated war scenes of Call of Duty, with violent graphics and emotive language that desensitise a person to killing and bloodbaths, the result is the same – raised levels of adrenalin, the fuel of aggression. When the games ends, the person is left ‘high’. Not unlike the chemical alterations caused by alcohol or stimulants, the brain is charged for action, and the body, loyal as ever, responds.

I encourage my children to go for a run or to play football after playing games for any period (ie 30 mins +) to help bring them back into sync and earth themselves. When it is exam period we remove the consoles completely as too many arguments happen around it, and the whole atmosphere at home is easier.

But this is a temporary intervention, as perhaps surprisingly I do not believe that banning the console is the answer. This is not down to the usual arguments about prohibition raising interest in the banned substance, but because of the fundamental need for an individual to learn how to self-regulate. Especially in a world where addiction is on the up, self-regulation and self-esteem are our greatest preventative tools. Unless someone can identify when they are getting aggressive/drunk/stoned/out of hand, recognize and care about the impact their behaviour has on others as well as themselves, they cannot – and will not – intervene on their own behaviour.

So surely home is the learning ground for this process? Surely, despite being exhausted by punishing work schedules, it is our duty as parents to establish and maintain boundaries in the face of childhood insistence and dispute to help our children learn to manage their own emotional processes and behaviour in these early stages before eg drugs or alcohol even enter the equation?

On holiday this year we took no mobiles or computers…nothing of that kind, Instead we played Backgammon, ball, we swam and read and talked – it was an absolute joy to spend quality time with my family, and to bear witness to their creativity and imaginations (once we had got over the mutiny that tried to force our hands and allow screens  ‘just for a minute’).  It felt wonderful to know a little more about each of their lives and how they are getting on.

So my advice is this:

–          Manage the time your child spends on their games console – set a time and stick to it

–          Try to follow the age appropriate guides on the games – they are there for a reason

–          If like mine they want to play a game older than they are as their peers are doing it, speak to their friends parents and come to an agreement to confront peer pressure

–          Make them aware of their behaviour around the games

–          Try not to shame them, but to help them to see what they are doing in relation to how they feel

–          Follow through on consequences – ie if they don’t come off when they are supposed to they lose the next day’s allowance

–          Stay calm – don’t let their over stimulated rage ignite yours so you lose respect

–          Encourage them to do something physical immediately afterwards

–          Spend time with your children without screens and play!



How Could They Kill Their Children?

When I hear stories about a father, or mother, who kills their children in a rage during a process of separation or divorce, I feel deeply sad. Of course it hurts but did they have to go that far? I feel angry that the possibility of this violence of emotion could be so overlooked or so under supported? How on earth does it happen that someone goes that far, and are there warning signs?


Read more here


Ecstasy Trial

I am an advocate for medicine that works, and am personally enormously grateful that my Rheumatoid Arthritis is now in remission due to the well-researched medication I have been prescribed. But I doubt that RA meds trials would attract the kind of sensation seeking headlines that The Ecstasy Trials achieved last week. In a society where we bemoan the attraction of illegal drugs to our eg teen population, Channel 4 uses this very sensationalist profile to up its ratings and contribute to both Channel 4’s identity and brand as being ground breaking, and Ecstasy’s as being worthy of the limelight.

Of course scientists want to achieve notoriety and fame, and TV is the perfect vehicle; Channel 4 wants to be seen as ground breaking and edgy, and scientists are the perfect companion to lend gravitas; and I’m sure all those involved will argue for these trials’ validity – possibly even ridiculing those who argue against. A bit like the ‘do you don’t you [take drugs]’ exchanges that happen everyday in school playgrounds around the country: its humiliating to say ‘no, I don’t’. The power of the drug culture and the desire to be in the ‘in crowd’ was replicated I think by the slight ridiculing that happened on the programme when scientists debated the issue and David Nutt seemed to adopt a supercilious sneer.

The fact remains, television is a construction: to be accurate these trials need to take place in controlled environments to limit the influence of other elements.  Performing (and I choose that word deliberately) these trials on national television is not an appropriately controlled environment that would show with any certainty the effect of the drug only. Those taking part (including the scientists) are aware they are in front of millions of viewers, and researchers cannot be certain this has no effect. For example the argument for using a celebrity who would be comfortable in front of the camera was cancelled out as he sought to control his vulnerability on camera when the drug affected him. It was farcical and sadly, I believe, dangerous, as it brought Ecstasy into the limelight as something to experiment with, a play thing, despite the words of warning (to fulfill the requirement of a corporate disclaimer) by Channel 4 presenters advising ‘Do not try this at home’. Do you as I say, not as I do…

What is clear is that no one seems to know much about MDMA and its impact on the human brain. I’m no better informed after watching this programme either. Perhaps more serious trials could be undertaken, privately, responsibly and without sensation: submit the research through the normal channels and allow the process to take the time it needs for culture to adjust and Government to respond. This ‘quick fix’ approach that is so often represented by TV is not always positive, as ideas need time to germinate, and the ground to be primed so that growth and change is sustainable and well supported.