‘I feel like a mechanic, using the tools I've been given’
Saiyuri Naidu (The RESET Health Group) presents a journey through addiction recovery, with testimony (in italics) from an anonymised service user; assisted by Jake Whitehouse-Muir.
21 September 2023
A tall, broad, bearded man, wearing a cap and tracksuit, walked into the group room with a stern look. Although trained not to ‘judge’ or ‘make assumptions’, I'm only human. I thought to myself, ‘Oh gosh, he looks like he doesn't want to be here’. I noticed butterﬂies in my stomach, a mix of anxiety and excitement.
The anxiety signalled my worry about whether the man, who I will call Dave, would engage in the group. The slight excitement indicated the potential challenge ahead of me: facilitating a group of adults with a mix of personalities and pasts was a new opportunity in my career. I care about my clients, so above all I was excited to get to know the man behind the stern look.
‘Here we go again’, I thought. Yet another addiction programme, at 45-years-old. I've had 13 detoxes, been to AA, and groups, and seen a therapist… how is this going to be any different? I was told these sessions would be different, but it all looks the same.
The RESET (Reprocessing Emotions & Cognitions through Somatic Environment Therapy) programme implemented in Buckinghamshire was a 12-week rolling group, providing therapeutic techniques with physical exercise, breathwork and meditation. Our programme brought together individuals battling addiction from different walks of life, creating a strong community and long-term support network. People learned to reprogram their minds and bodies, empowering them to enjoy an addiction and trauma-free life.
For the ﬁrst 2-3 weeks of the programme, Dave was fairly quiet and withdrawn. He sat at the corner of the room, furthest away from me. At the beginning of each session, we would go around the room and check in with ourselves and each other, sharing what was on our minds and how we were feeling. Dave spoke few words and struggled to identify what was on his mind, often saying ‘nothing’. He appeared apprehensive and resistant.
She explained the programme to us today. Hearing a little more about what I’ve gotten myself into and hearing other people's stories made me feel more comfortable and open-minded. My key worker was right: this programme is different from what I’ve tried before. I’ll give this programme a go.
One 2-hour session took place daily, Monday through Friday. Group sessions were frequent to motivate individuals to get into a routine and create structure – something often missing amongst those suffering from addiction. The programme was rolling to encourage clients to connect with as many different people as possible regardless of which point they were at in their journey.
During our ﬁrst meditation session, I noticed Dave shufﬂing in his seat and tapping his leg. He seemed irritable. In the end, I asked Dave how he found the meditation, and he laughed. It was great to see him smile, even though I didn't know what was coming next.
I couldn't stop thinking about my partner, she does this stuff all the time… when she puts music on and sits down to meditate, I sit on my couch with a straw, stuff small balls of paper in it and blow through the straw and shoot it out, she gets so annoyed… that's why I was laughing.
We all laughed. I noticed the inner child come out at that moment.
My childhood was good, I grew up in a pub which my dad owned with my parents and ﬁve siblings (we were all so close back then).
My dad was hardworking… he had a heart attack when I was 14… my mum’s mental health deteriorated. At the time, I remember feeling so confused, and the whole thing caused me a ton of stress.
Later, I worked as a chef, inspired by my older brother, who had his restaurant. I was always so proud of him. He suffered from alcoholism, I was shocked and gutted. I was in and out of prison a couple of times, and I'd say my alcohol addiction started at around 35.
I noticed that my drinking become more erratic and I was acting violently. I was spiralling out of control and felt a deep sense of shame for how it was affecting the people around me, especially my ex-partner and two kids.
I was missing appointments, neglecting hygiene and constantly anxious. I decided to put a stop to it when they found me unresponsive back in 2022. Now, I'm determined to stop drinking completely.
Aside from the laughter, Dave shared that he ‘struggled’ to be present during the meditation, which prompted him to visualise his best self. In this meditation, we encourage clients to think about who their best self is, who it is that they want to become, and what qualities, skills and values they currently have and desire to possess. For instance, some of Dave's ideal qualities were related to his responsibilities as a father and a ‘duty to be a good person’.
Visualisation can be a really useful tool for addiction recovery. ‘A vision is not just a picture of what could be: it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to becoming something more’ – Rosabeth Moss Kanter. When we visualise our goals, they seem much more achievable.
Once Dave and the other clients understood the mechanisms behind visualisation they appeared more open and willing to engage with the other exercises.
Looking back, I can’t believe how much progress I've made. The tools I've learned during the group sessions have been essential to me. I can understand myself so much better, I believe in myself… I feel ‘normal’. I feel like a mechanic, using the tools I've been given to ﬁnd and solve my problems – it’s brilliant. I'm so much less stressed too. Recently, when I'm feeling anxious, I've been trying the meditation stuff from the programme, trying to reﬂect on what the consequences may be if I act out like I used to. This way, I can choose how to respond to things that wind me up and act more rationally.
Something I value about this program is the focus on changing the root causes of our addiction. In the past, treatments have tried to stop drinking without acknowledging why we are drinking in the ﬁrst place. For me, it always seems to go through the same stages: low mood, low self-esteem, feeling like crap, no one will help me, and alcohol. Without changing everything that comes before the bottle, why would we ever stop? By focusing on improving myself, I feel less and less need to drink. I feel so alive in my body and mind.
As part of the RESET programme, we believe it is essential to provide psychoeducation alongside practical tools to ensure clients understand the reason WHY we are encouraging them to actively engage in sessions. I’ve noticed that Dave has really applied himself to learning and practising using these tools, and he often tells me about the way he’s implementing things he learnt in the programme in his daily life.
I remember Dave walking into morning group sessions in his third week with a smile on his face. He seemed so energised. I thought to myself, ‘How bizarre! What a change from last week’. I then realised that Dave had just been to the gym. From then on, I noticed that Dave became increasingly engaged in the group sessions. He was better able to check in with himself, consistently sharing what was on his mind and what he was feeling.
Dave began asking questions and sharing reﬂections throughout sessions, he became vulnerable and self-aware about his battle with addiction. He started exercising regularly, incorporating more protein, vegetables and vitamins/supplements into his diet and looking after his hygiene.
I haven't trained properly for 4 years…but now I found the motivation during the programme and when I work out in the morning I feel on top of the world. It sets me up… when you release those endorphins, you feel like you are ﬂying for the rest of the day.
Dave also worked towards repairing relationships which broke down when he was battling with addiction – openly discussing this within group sessions. He also identiﬁed people in his life who encouraged drug use and learnt to set healthy boundaries.
Today I did something I never thought I'd be able to do again. I spent the afternoon in a pub with my childhood friends, playing pool and catching up without any temptation to drink. I never thought I'd be able to go to a restaurant or watch football again, and here I was, sitting with my J2O and playing pool in a pub like it was the easiest thing in the world. For so long, I've been trying to feel normal, just like everyone else. And even though I've learnt that there is no such thing as ‘normal’, that’s how I feel. I feel normal and happy.
The self-awareness and strength Dave has developed since I met him have been absolutely amazing. Both his personal progress and the way he interacts with the people around him, be that in group sessions or at home, have enabled him to begin to create a truly happy and addiction-free life for himself. Dave seemed to quickly grasp the importance of setting SMART goals, and I think this enabled him to be able to achieve every target he set for himself. It was beautiful to watch Dave move towards becoming his best self each week.
My recovery has been immense since the RDP… this programme has changed me. I know I am different, stronger, and I have tools to use when I am down. I have not picked up a drink, I have not thought about alcohol and when I do the thoughts are ﬂeeting. Now, I am a better role model for my kids. The anxiety that once caused me huge stress is helpful now, telling me to stop and reﬂect on how I could respond to my problems. My self-esteem has gone through the roof.
My goals now are to ﬁnd a job and organise a trip with my family. It's been years since our last one, and I can’t wait. My long-term goal is to become a chef again, and I now know I can achieve this.
Overall, I feel ‘f… brilliant’.
Working in addiction treatment, we are constantly inspired by the progress made by our clients. Deciding to seek help takes enormous courage, and we hope that by sharing journeys from clients like Dave, we can encourage others to take the ﬁrst step in changing their lives for the better. Dave's life took a downward spiral due to alcohol addiction, leaving him feeling lost, hopeless, and disconnected from those he loved. Multiple treatment attempts failed to address the root causes, leaving him doubting his potential for change. However, when he entered the RESET programme, a glimmer of hope emerged.
Through group sessions and guided meditation, Dave began to unravel the layers of his addiction. He discovered his ‘best self’ and set SMART goals, including working out regularly at the gym. Physical exercise became an anchor, empowering him to face each day with newfound energy and purpose. As he strengthened his mind-body connection, Dave found himself ‘ﬂying for the rest of the day’, embracing life's possibilities.
The RESET Programme also fostered a supportive community of individuals battling addiction, providing a space for vulnerability, self-awareness, and growth.
Let Dave's journey serve as an inspiration to all who face similar struggles – a reminder that change is possible, hope is real, and a fulﬁlling life awaits on the other side of addiction.
- Saiyuri Naidu is a Senior Assistant Psychologist leading the programme in an addiction service in Buckinghamshire. Dave has been anonymised to ensure privacy and conﬁdentiality.