'Never underestimate the determination of a quiet man.'

We were still devoting a lot of our time to our individual recovery journeys, and both I and Tel ran into the same problem. Neither of us could stomach attending twelve-step meetings, yet we yearned for some form of peer support, or mutual aid meetings as they are often called. My treatment journey was gradually ending, but I had learned enough to understand that I still needed some help to underpin my continued recovery. My peer group was the obvious place to begin searching.

 Looking back, I must accept that I had set myself against the idea of entering the rooms early on, and my stubborn nature would not let me re-evaluate my decision. In truth, I still had a lot to learn when it came to be understanding the internal roil of anger that often drove me forward, and my intractability worked against me as often as it worked for me.

My world-view is a simple, and almost childlike thing. I truly believe that every human being has the right to believe as they wish; do that which makes them happy, and live life as freely as they can. The only proviso to this, is that none of the above should intentionally hurt another soul; short of that, knock yourself out. I am a talkative, often opinionated man, yet I do my best to live my life by this simple creed; not always successfully I have to admit, but I do try. I struggle enormously with people who cannot offer me the same courtesy.

The roots of my early conflict with twelve-steppers was fuelled by that struggle and my own tinder dry, bone deep anger. I had not reached the point in my life where I truly understood how central some people’s definition of recovery is to their very existence, and I was still some distance from the point where I could not only accept that they disagreed with me, but not take it personally. Those of us in early recovery are often literally fighting for our lives and it is hardly surprising that this engenders such strong and unequivocal opinions.  I can remember chatting to another client of the Portobello Project around this time, in the drop-in, when he asked me if I had done anything of interest the evening before. What had begun as a friendly chat quickly descended into conflict.

‘Do anything good last night?’

             ‘Do you know what, I had a lovely evening. Met up with my ex-partner and went out for a pizza and a glass of wine or two. We have a really nice evening.’

             ‘You had a drink?’

‘Yes of course. We went out for dinner.’

             ‘You’ve lapsed.’

‘Excuse me?’

             ‘You’ve lapsed. You’ve had a drink of alcohol. You’re back to day one.’

‘Don’t be daft, it’s a glass of wine with dinner.’

             ‘That doesn’t matter, it still counts. You’ve lapsed.’

‘Do you want to try fucking stepping outside and saying that to my face again?’

With the benefit of many years hindsight, a childish response, yet there was an honesty to it. I was proud of my recovery and my little list of achievements, and to have it swept aside in a sentence by the doctrine of another was more that I was prepared to accept, and on such trivial things the world turns. I would have nothing further to do with them.

The evidence base for the effectiveness of mutual aid is large, and there is little dispute that attending any peer support meeting definitely increased the chance of sustaining long term recovery from addiction, not that I knew this at the time. I was running on little more than instinct and a determination to keep moving forward.  I and Tel began casting our net wider and wider, and discovered there was a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) based support group at the Stapleford Centre in Victoria.  How unlikely is that?  The very same building my private doctor was based in. Weird to think I had never known it was there.  It’s a frighteningly small world sometimes.

I think we only attended a handful of these meetings. They were chaired by a man named Russell, who worked in some capacity in the treatment sector, I’ve forgotten what. The meetings were small, but useful, until he overplayed his hand. The moment he knew we had links to the Commissioner and she was funding our badminton club, he was all over us like a nasty rash. Would we make the necessary introductions and think about using some of our funding to support his work in the borough? To the best of my recollection that was it, I was gone. Never went to another group.

 If I live to be as old as Methuselah, I will never cease to be irritated by anyone who assumes I am a fool. I know I dress like a refugee, get my hair cut at increasingly erratic intervals, shave when I remember and tend to talk in a slightly slurred, and often simplistic manner, but trust me, I can usually see you coming. I’m smarter than I look.  If you want to blindside me, you really are going to have to get up before you went to bed.

I hate being patronized. I might have spent most of my adult life stoned out of my proverbial tree, but that doesn’t mean I’m an idiot; I’m just a little damaged, that’s all. You’d sell me on E-bay as, ‘a little battered but working perfectly.’ I often see and understand far more than I let on. Think about it for a moment, if you will. How did I survive all those years of addiction without going to prison, being beaten senseless, dying from an overdose, or simple self-neglect? Trust me, no-one is that lucky.

However, one vital piece of the jigsaw that would become the SUDRG and later, Build on Belief came out of these meetings, a certain Liam Harte. I and Tel couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but the sense of it was drifting around us like a warm fog. If we couldn’t find the support we needed out in the wider world, we’d just have to do it for ourselves. Liam was to quickly become important to that endeavour.

I don’t think you could find two more different individuals than myself and Liam. I have known him for well over thirteen years, and yet I could not fill the back of an envelope with what I know about his life, without having room left over for a badly drawn cartoon of Mickey Mouse. I have never met such a self-contained person in all my years. I don’t think I and Liam have had a personal conversation in a decade. To this day, he walks into the Build on Belief office, and the following happens.

             ‘Hi Tim.’

‘Morning Liam.’

At this point Liam will sit down at a computer at do whatever it is he has come to do. On a good day, our conversation will progress.

             ‘Did you get my e-mail, Liam?’

‘It’s all sorted out, Tim.’


We will both work away at our respective tasks, Nick Drake playing in the background, since I hate working in silence.

             ‘Bye, Tim.’

‘See you, Liam.’

For a long time, I suspected that I irritated him enormously, and it may well be true. We really are chalk and cheese. Not that it matters, particularly.  I am talkative, opinionated, occasionally full of myself, and tend to function at times on little more than gut instinct and my native wit. In short, his polar opposite. So why bother to mention him at all?

I have two reasons. Liam played badminton with us in the earliest of days, and has run the Badminton Club and later, the Gym and Swim Club since late 2005. Other than myself, there is no-one who has been with the SUDRG and Build on Belief longer, and between us the ‘length of service’ is a matter of mere months. I did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to be constructing and delivering training workshops, writing the Volunteer Handbook, negotiating the deals, creating the charity and so on, but Liam was always there in the background, silently keeping things ticking along. A quiet and self-effacing man he has toiled away with no desire for either financial or personal reward for years, other than that he gets from doing the job itself. That is much rarer than we all like to pretend. Interestingly, and only in the past twelve months, I have discovered that he can be really funny, but only when he is relaxed and the conversation isn’t personal. I interviewed him once and he said something that stuck with me.

             ‘This is the only job I’ve ever had that meant anything to me.’

People spout that sort of tosh all the time, but I remember it simply because I could feel the truth of it. I knew, deep in my gut, that it was real. He meant every word.

 One of my service Managers in later years, a sparky if rather unbridled woman with the delightful name of Chelo, once remarked, ‘You know, to the service users, Liam is God.’

I knew exactly what she meant. There is no-one in the history of either the SUDRG or Build on Belief that has done more to support individual clients or volunteers, myself included. He has that very rare ability to listen, act and support without ever bringing any of himself into the conversation. ‘Unconditional positive regard’ in motion.  Whether he wants to or not, agrees or doesn’t, he listens and then goes out to bat for the client. Damned if I could do it. I’m way too judgemental.

I learned a second lesson that was to become invaluable to my own personal development, and ultimately my role as Chief Executive of Build on Belief. You don’t have to be friends with someone to work well with them, you simply need to have respect for them. To value what they can do.  In early recovery, it is so easy to fall into that hot-blooded trap. If they are not my friend, then by definition they must be the enemy. If they don’t like me, I can’t work with them. That attitude has destroyed a lot of peer-led projects. There’s a dictatorial streak in a lot of people, just waiting to tell the world how to behave.

 Me? I studied history at University (until they suggested I stop; higher education and heroin addiction being poor bedfellows) and therefore, I know what ‘cult of personality’ means. I was never beguiled by the doctrine of either Stalin or Hitler, and Mussolini and Pol Pot were equally members of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Pretty much every political disaster in history, without even looking at the sorry carcass of endless warfare that follows the human race relentlessly around a dying planet, was seeded by some idiot who just knew what was best for everyone else.

 Me? I read the Guardian. What can I say? ‘Left of Centre ’is in my DNA.  I have a lot of character faults, but I don’t want to be a leader. It doesn’t fire my sense of self-esteem. I just don’t ‘get off on it’; in fact, if you ask me, it’s dangerously close to being more trouble than it is worth. I do what I do, because I can; but more of that later. In a long and roundabout fashion, Liam was an important part of my learning this lesson. If you really want to build something, use the materials at hand and keep your opinions to yourself.

I took a moment to write this because I don’t want to give the impression that it was merely I and Tel who laid the foundations for what was to happen next. Liam played a part. There was a time when I used the following analogy when speaking about our work.

             ‘People think that I created the SUDRG and Build on Belief. I didn’t. A lot of people were involved. At best, I was at the centre, the axle around which the wheel revolved; the eye of the storm.  An axle is as vital to the movement of a wagon as the wheels, and without the wheels it is nothing more than a long piece of metal.’

             ‘Hat’s off, to Liam Harte.’  I guess that’s all I wanted to say.

Tim Sampey