Being Responsible with Addiction


Training for an addict to become responsible without an addiction. The whole basis of our work here is educational. Promis is not a hospital. We’re a university. We teach people, we don’t drug them. We teach people how to get well and stay well and that’s the crucial issue. All our counseling staff are either former patients of Promis or former patients of somewhere else. It takes one to catch one. So we employ addicts.

I heard yesterday a story of a chap who’s in the retail business, who discovered– as all retailers do there’s a certain level of pilferage that goes on, or pilfery. You‘d lose inevitably about ten per cent of your stock will be stolen. What this chap decided to do was only employ on his staff recovering addicts.

So he would go to friends and say, “Do you know anybody on the room who might need a job?” So he would include those people on his staff. And his loss from pilfering is less than one per cent. He’s one of the most successful retailer s ever because he employs addicts. Well, so do we and it works.

So the way that we educate our patients here, is to show them what they can become partly by example. So partly our staff are giving the example of what other people can have. Partly by inspiration, you know, a part of counseling is inspiration. So the people say, “Yeah, I want what he’s got. I want what she’s got.” You’ve got to have people with that sense of excitement.

This chap, “I haven’t had a drink in twenty years.” Why not? What on earth is the point of living like that? You’ve got to have the buzz. You’ve got to have the excitement. You’ve got to have something that somebody else would want to have. So the counseling staff very much have to have a sense of inspiration.

The third part is the education. They have to know the staff. They have to know the material. So what we are trying to do here is to help people to get well partly by seeing the example, and partly by listening and learning the processes and partly by inspiration.

Those three things from the counseling staff are essentially what Promis is about. We employ a psychiatrist. Her function here, our consultant psychiatrist is not to help us with addicts. We know how to help addicts. It’s to see if there’s something else going on at the same time. Just because you’re an addict doesn’t mean to say you can’t get an appendicitis or diabetes. Equally, it doesn’t mean to say you can’t get some mental problem that has really nothing to do with addiction. They are due to other aspects.

The essential point as far as Promis is concerned, is that we do not see addiction as a mental illness. It’s a feeling illness. There is nothing wrong with my intellect. I have always been able to think clearly. I was born that way and I still do. In my using days I could still think perfectly clearly. I could think in circles. I could think backwards. I could persuade Meg that something was true and then prove the opposite. I could change sides in the middle of an argument and she wouldn’t even notice.

We are highly manipulative. We know exactly how to argue two different points at the same time. There’s no problem with that as far as any other addicts are concerned. We don’t have a mental illness. Our mental side is very good. We have an emotional illness but that’s very different.

Meg would say, “Why do you feel like that?” and I say, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” I’ve got a lovely wife, lovely home, lovely children, lovely job and still I was standing on the edge of the platform at South Kensington tube train station, thinking that somebody might just accidentally push me off. I was suicidally depressed.

All our patients are depressed, this is what Promis treats. We treat depression. We don’t treat alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, whatever. Those are things that people do to try to make themselves feel better. What we treat here is the underlying depression. And unless we treat that, they’d just simply go in and out in and out and in and out to all these other ways to try and make themselves feel better. So we try to take all that away and help them to treat it at source doing that and it works. It is magical.

Shirley reached out to help me and she said, “Hi, Robert.” She got no arm below the elbow. Well being English, I have a proper sense of etiquette; I didn’t know what to do. Should I shake the stump or offer the other hand or whatever. Anyway, we got past that hurdle and she said, “You want to come to a meeting?” and I said, “Huh?” She said, “I’m going to Overeaters Anonymous. Would you like to come along?” I wasn’t doing anything and so yeah, interesting. Then there were all of these young girls praying for their daily abstinence and so on. [Are those bats? 0:05:35.9]

The next day in the Radisson Hotel in Atlanta Georgia, as I was getting through my third plate of corned beef hash…  Have you seen the sizes, the portions in America of corned beef hash? They’re mountains and I was getting through my third plate and I thought, “I wonder if Shirley saw something.” That was how I got into the fellowships and I’ve been going ever since.

I came back to the UK and I discovered that there was a meeting in Pembroke Road on a Tuesday evening, so I went there. There were two young girls and me and they said, “Well, let’s have a group conscience.” A what? “Well it’s a sort of business meeting.” I said, “Okay” “because we need someone to be secretary.” I said, “Oh, well.” I thought that meant take the minutes. So I said, “Well, yeah, I could do that.” And they said, “Fine.”

So I was appointed secretary at my first meeting.  I never saw them again. They never came back. So the next meeting, I read the preamble. I read it out loud. I invited myself to get the chair. I gave the chair. I thanked myself. I responded. I read the closure. I put a pound on the pot, gave myself a hug and went home. I have stayed clean ever since then.

If nobody else turns up that’s okay, I was there to reach out to help the new comers. I was doing this even if B wasn’t there. I was prepared to do it and that is what makes a difference. It’s the willingness to reach out, to take our minds off our selfish selves and generously reach out to help somebody else. That is what makes a difference. That’s what gets us better.

Now in treatment we have to charge but this is not what we’re doing here. What we’re doing here is the university and we charge university fees that is done in the fellowships. I don’t get better here. I get better there in the rooms. That’s what I have to do for myself and all our staff have to do exactly that. If they relapse, they’re fired. I’m absolutely ruthless on that.

The staff have to go to meetings exactly as I do. Exactly as our patients do because otherwise, “Look at that and I’ve decided I’m not short sighted anymore.” It’s madness. I have got to come to terms with the way I am. I have to wear my speck. I have to go to meetings. I have to live a life of honesty over my goodness and willingness. Thank you.