An Unexpected Fix: Manual Labor Can Be Just as Helpful to Recovering Addicts as a 12-Step Programme or Medical Treatment
Addiction rehabilitation is now a multi billion dollar industry. There are dozens of different therapies, philosophies and proponents of various rehabilitation techniques, all competing for a lucrative slice of the money pie.
Parents, siblings, spouses and friends have all fueled the intervention business, creating a climate of desperation and pinning the hopes of rehabilitation on a particular therapy.
What if these varying therapies were a sham? What if these facilities only existed to milk patients and insurance companies of billions of dollars, promising a miracle and rehabilitation for every kind of addiction under the sun?
Maybe there is an easier and more effective way to deal with addiction. Maybe manual labor, doing for others and putting the focus on productive, meaningful work is all takes. There is now solid evidence that is exactly what is needed, if not for all addicts, certainly for many.
It’s become a truism of modern life that the majority of us are, in some way or other, addicts. We’re enslaved to our iPhones, to sugar, to spliff or beer or something harder, to checking emails, to the latest episode of Mad Men, to acts of random physical intimacy, to porn, to online gambling or gaming or, probably, a mixture of all of the above. The manipulation of our wants, the sophisticated stoking of our desires, the speed of delivery - and the speed of the ensuing dissatisfaction — all contribute to make us, if not addicts, then compulsive bingers. The once rare pleasures and excitements of life have become entirely commonplace, and we return to them with such somnambulant regularity that they no longer give us either pleasure or excitement. The undeserved rewards are suddenly unrewarding. All we’re doing is getting our fix.
Until three years ago, I knew next to nothing about addiction. I had read about it here and there, seen it portrayed on TV, knew one or two friends who were in at the deep end, but I didn’t really understand much about it. Then, in 2009, my wife and I set up a 10-acre woodland shelter in Somerset for people undergoing a period of crisis in their lives. We were hoping to emulate a community in Dorset called Pilsdon, a refuge founded in 1958 by a maverick Anglican priest who had, in turn, been inspired by the Christian rule adopted by Nicholas Ferrar’s household at Little Gidding, near Huntingdon. Within months of setting up our own shelter, life’s walking wounded were turning up on our doorstep, referred to us by doctors, social services, various charities or, often, by the power of Google. We had those struggling with bereavement, abuse, separation, homelessness, depression, eating disorders and — because we’re explicitly a dry and drug-free house — those battling addiction. Most of the addicts have been alcoholics, but we’ve also had people trying to kick a dependence on heroin, cocaine, cannabis, even shopping addictions.
I knew we needed to get tough when a recovering alcoholic, who I suspect had been secretly boozing, dropped our one-year-old on his head
The learning curve has been so steep that it’s sometimes seemed almost vertical. I was the self-appointed ‘warden’ of the woodland shelter and, having written a book about communal living, and been a trustee at Pilsdon, I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought that people would find some peace and serenity amid the simplicity of the woods; that the creativity of making chairs and tables would be somehow therapeutic. Looking back, though, it amazes me how wet I was behind the ears. I was incredibly trusting, regarding addicts with more sympathy than suspicion. I thought they were ‘hooked’ and were therefore passive victims. I imagined that what they really needed was kindness, even indulgence, rather than implacable rigidity. ‘Tough love’ was required; but I only offered our guests the second half of the solution.