I was sitting outside my place of work and I saw a woman sitting in a car looking very distressed. I asked her what was wrong, because she was constantly on the phone and returning to her car. It was about 8.30pm, getting dark and I knew she wasn’t one of the workers, so I asked her if there was anything I could help her with because I thought she was anxious and might want to approach the drug service.


She informed me that her car had broken down and she was waiting for the RAC. I asked her if she wanted a cup of tea and she said she was ‘alright’.When I was looking out the window I saw that she looked very nervous. It reminded me of a service user whose substance use has come to a crossroads, and they have realized that they have a big problem and that their world is no longer working for them.


About half an hour later the RAC van pulled in. There was relief on the woman’s face. She was asking the man many questions, and it looked like he was giving her help and support. The same thing happens when a service user comes to a service. They feel powerless and need to be given hope.


After about 45 minutes, the man told her to start the engine and I heard the engine turn. The woman gave a big smile and went across and shook the man’s hand more than once. I saw her asking more questions and I assumed they were questions about how the car had broken down, and help to create strategies to stop it from happening again.


She now realized that she was back in control.  She then got into her vehicle and sped of. I thought to myself that is like the first stage of substance use recovery. Your world breaks down and then you get support and expertise to help you put it back together.


This woman now has two choices. She can spend the rest of her time while she has this car worrying about it breaking down again, or she can create strategies and interventions to make sure the car is maintained. The car will definitely need a regular service and to be treated with TLC, in order to limit the chance of this happening in the future. The more interventions she puts in place, the greater the chance that the car will not break down in the future.


What occurred to me, as I went over this incident in my mind, was that the car was a new car, which I would have thought shouldn’t have broken down. It occurred to me that just like substances, it doesn’t matter who you are, substance use has no prejudices i.e. it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, male, female, young, or old.


This reminded me so much of substance use recovery and how it is important to service it, and just like the car, if you spend too much time worrying about it breaking down again you won’t appreciate it. More time should be spent on interventions to stop your world spiraling out of control again, but it shouldn’t consume your world. Recovery should be a vehicle to discovery, and towards fulfilling your potential.


Just like the women who got help, resolved the issue with the car, and then feeling back in control she got in the car and sped off to enjoy the use of it againWe need services that listen to the client, help resolve the issue that they need resolving, rather than having an agenda that pre-determines the client’s need for them. Otherwise, using the RAC analogy, the car would never get fixed and the client would become dependant on the RAC for all her motoring needs, just like some clients become dependant on services for all (or most) of their recovery needs. In fact, some people become “stuck” in services, they end up abandoning the car and walk home.


Without the car to get about in, their life becomes limited and they learn to live with the “new normal” – life without a car, or the substance use equivalent, a life stuck in treatment, lapse, re-lapse, treatment etc. They never get to feel in control and definitely never get to speed off in their car and move towards discovery and fulfilling their potential in life.


Written by·

Chris Robin:        https://enigma-drugs-consultancy.co.uk

Huseyin Djemil:  https://towardsrecovery.org