The Alcohol 'Problem' Podcast

In conversation with Joe Heeney

October 28, 2023 James Morris / Joe Heeney Season 2 Episode 7
The Alcohol 'Problem' Podcast
In conversation with Joe Heeney
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we talk to Joe Heeney about his life and experience of alcohol problems and recovery.

Joe is a former CEO of Resolve, a drug and alcohol treatment service based in Hertfordshire, which he founded in 2008 after experiencing his own drug and alcohol issues. Joe worked for 14 years in the Fire Brigade at a time when heavy drinking was normalised. Joe is now retired and lives in the Peak District with his wife. He now enjoys playing golf and spending time with his family and friends.

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James (00:02.583)

So, yeah, so thanks so much for joining me, Joe. Could you just start by telling me a bit about yourself briefly and then how you actually came to, you know, develop an alcohol problem or however you'd kind of describe it and, you know, a bit about that background story if you like.

Joe Heeney (00:22.766)

Sure, so I'm a man of advancing years, I'll be 60 in a few years, so I'm a man of a certain age. I've spent the last 15 years running Resolve, which is a drug and alcohol treatment agency that develops into specialising in homelessness, sleeping rough, and then also we're very proud of the fact that we were able to put together a project that supports people from all walks of life but who are suffering all kinds of inequalities issues whether that be food, finance, you know, any kind of deprivation, poverty, etc. I came to that as a direct result of my personal experiences with drugs and alcohol. And I came to that having been a firefighter for 14 years, working shoreside Merchant Navy as an advocate for Merchant Navy officers. And that was over a period of approximately 20 years. I grew up in Luton.

I am the firstborn of two Irish parents who met in London and they split up when I was four. My grandmother moved us, my brother, my mother and went me to a place in Luton and I grew up in an ordinary working class environment so my mum remarried when I was about eight. Not a bad person, not a good person, a nondescript human being in my life who didn't drink from what I can remember, who smoked the occasional cigar.

I was never abused as a child. Whilst my life was a little bit complex, I never felt that I really had a particularly terrible childhood. I'm not aware of my mother even drinking, although there was smoking in the house. My stepfather, as he was then, he had parents that were ordinary grounded human beings, didn't seem to have any issues, worked and so on. However, I am reminded that

Around Christmas time, there was a very relaxed attitude to alcohol. And as an eight, nine, 10 year old, we were allowed to drink a little ad for car. Or there was at least a little small cans. I always remember these little tiny cans of what these pale out. I would be given one of those as a boy, at maybe nine or 10 years of age. As if the alcohol was special because of the Christmas period. So apart from that.

 

Joe Heeney (02:46.002)

it sort of normalised drinking to me in a way that I hadn't really thought about until quite recently actually. My first alcohol experience, I was 16, a friend of mine, similar age, worked in an offlicence part-time. We were able to procure six of us a half bottle of spirit each, which we then proceeded to drink that evening. And my memory was it was brilliant. I loved it.

 

Everyone else around me was absolutely annihilated, including one of my friends who got very, very drunk. There was much adult interaction about who did this, how did it happen and so on. But my first experience with alcohol was the complete opposite of what you normally hear with people going, Oh, I got terribly drunk, I really hated it. I loved it. I had drunk half a bottle of vodka and I wanted more. So quickly.

 

got into drinking regularly. I was a local pub I used to go to, that used to let me drink as long as I'd put my drink on another table and stood and played darts somewhere else. At 16 years of age, they were serving me pints, it was fine. And so it went, I carried on drinking socially in pubs that would let me. Eventually that moved on to the drinking Thunderbird wine, which some of the older people will be aware of. We used to drink that and then go out and...

 

and all sorts of things. So I'm talking 40 odd years ago now, where the modern culture is talking about pre-drinks. We were doing it then. We were drinking that strong wine and then going out and so on. I joined the fire service in 88. And in those days, we had a bar on the station. And whenever I tell people that, they're mortified, but it's how it was in those days. It's no long since been stopped. So don't panic, folks.

 

Joe Heeney (04:36.506)

And so we were allowed to drink on duty and it was fine. I became a union official and trade union culture in those days was full of drinking, lots and lots of meetings in bars, lots and lots of conferences in which you had lots and lots of alcohol. So my day job and my union activity and interests and my social activity all surrounded, were all surrounded by alcohol. All my friends drank.

 

And I was using recreational drugs across all of that period from the age of 15 and up. And so I didn't really know that I'd had a problem because I was just doing the thing. I had a good job, I worked hard, I worked hard, I bought a house, I started a family, all of the things. And so it didn't occur to me at any point in time that there was an issue drinking Super Larkas when I was in my mid-20s, because that's what I did.

 

And you know, it was fine. My friends were like, well, just Joe just drinks a lot. Until I had a very...

 

James (05:43.487)

Presumably, they were also, you know, they were drinkers as well. It was just maybe your kind of drinking was the kind of the most out of that group. You know, certainly like people, you know, when you're in your drinking kind of periods or whatever that we tend to socialize with other people that kind of more or less want to do the same. And that gives us the kind of false normalization of normative misperception as it might be called that that's just kind of normal.

 

Most people are really shocked if you tell them or don't believe you that kind of actually most people drink Lit for quite little amounts, you know, like within the guidelines, but if you tell that to people that are drinking

 

you know, larger amounts, you know, they just can't believe it because you're kind of smaller social network is just drinking so much more than that. But presumably for you, it's just a normal part of life and an enjoyment and part of your identity and your kind of de-stressing and all that kind of stuff.

 

Joe Heeney (06:43.49)

No, indeed, it absolutely was. We met as couples and families and socially, and if we had a barbecue, there would be drinking. And it wasn't raucous drunkenness. It wasn't wild debauchery. It was just, you know, you wouldn't imagine not taking at least eight beers with you or whatever. I mean, even the smoking of cannabis, you know, I would sit in a barbecue with a number of us having a spliff as a social activity.

 

Nobody was getting any kind of feeling that this was leading us to a terrible place because it was normalized within my social network. Not everybody smoked cannabis, but large numbers of us did. And some people only smoked when they came to my house, for example. That might happen. And so it was a very normal...

 

Joe Heeney (07:38.218)

way of living for me was all part of who I was. It wasn't part of my identity, but it was just part of my, the way, as you say, the way that I unwound my social activity. You know, I'm reminded of an analogy of the generation before us who would come home and immediately go straight to the whiskey or have a brandy upon walking in the door. Or I would have a spliff and a super lager. Kind of, what's the difference?

 

Joe Heeney (08:09.098)

And so it was that really, I sort of carried on. There wasn't the breakfast beer, as I would call it. I was working normally. Like I said, I was working hard and I had a house and a home and a mortgage. And then in the mid-90s, I had some issues surrounding my problems with relationships, given that my mother had married and remarried and divorced again before I'd left school. That's probably some history there.

 

And consequently, I then suddenly found myself drinking very, very heavily as a way of self-medicating my emotional response to that. Until I had quite a severe, I'm probably downplaying it a little bit, but I had a bit of an episode which was linked to an emotional outburst and an emotional response combined with alcohol. That did see me have an episode that caused me to end up in a very short period of time.

 

prison on remand. After seven months of going through to court, I was eventually discharged with no charges. It took a while for everything to come out. I had lost my job at that point in time, but was reinstated because the charges against me were now false, of course, because everyone was making assumptions because they saw the horror of what had happened of a man in uniform who wasn't in uniform at the time, was in his own home, having said that.

 

Joe Heeney (09:39.966)

And even then, even then I didn't think that what I needed to do was stop drinking. So I had a period of time where I had to sort of get my head back together again and get back to work. I'd spent the last seven or eight months drinking quite heavily because I hadn't had anything to do because I was waiting for this thing to happen. So that calmed down for a few years until eventually went for a career change, which was all fine. And at that point I was sober.

 

Joe Heeney (10:10.334)

But again, a few years after that, I had some issues and I left work by negotiation, probably jumped before I was pushed in truth, and then proceeded into probably the darkest period of my life in which my drug use, my alcohol use became what I would call dangerous. And so, yes, I was drinking in the region of between 60 and 90 units a day, every day.

 

I was misusing class O drugs quite heavily. I was now associating with people that were not part of my friendship circle in order to precipitate the use of those things. And eventually again, another episode that saw me hospitalized, period in a mental health institution and fortunately for me, I had a community practice nurse that was supporting me through my addictions stuff and she sent me off to a rehab.

 

And that was that moment. I didn't have had no grand epiphany. I had a really terrible experience that resulted in being tasered. And that was, I woke up from that thinking that is definitely not a good feeling. Took me the thick end of two months to get over the pain of that and that was a stark awakening.

 

James (11:32.555)

So, so you say that was a stark awakening just in terms of like a broader, well, I need to kind of sort my life out or, you know, where was the kind of recognition of the problematic role of drugs and alcohol within that sort of overall problem? Like, did you see the problems as like, not about drugs and alcohol, but they were just the things that were kind of masking or seeing through or like you said earlier, damping or kind of controlling of emotional problems? 

 

 

Joe Heeney (12:16.166)

I suppose I could say I'd got myself into a very, very dark place in which my life had stopped functioning on any level. I was literally moving from one moment to the next in order to be able to just try and get through. And so I wasn't at the point where I was stealing from shops or anything like that. It was a pretty rubbish shoplifter, it's got to be said. So, you know, I wasn't looking at a career that was going to fund my drinking drugs. So it was people giving me money and various other things when it got at, when the money ran out. I think what happened was I looked back. Once I got into hospital, I'd had a very quick alcohol detox and fortunately my head got clear quite quickly within about a week or so. And I started reflecting on where I'd been. I'd had a four day blackout.

 

 

Joe Heeney (13:09.022)

in which people later told me that I had been talking to them. So I didn't even know what had gone on for four days. And clearly I had to go to shops and things because I didn't have a four day stock of alcohol. When I came to after the incident in my flat, I was actually, my first sight was a colleague who was an ambulance paramedic. And it was one of those things really. I just looked at him and Gary's name is, and he just said to me, Joe, what's going on, mate?

 

And all I could think about was I needed my two best pals with me. And so I just said, you know, can you go and get Pete and Steve? And they, that's what they did. They, they came to the hospital as good friends do. And, and I think it was that I was, I was so humbled by the fact that I had these people who had almost no contact with me for a while because I'd withdrawn myself, who immediately upon knowing something was wrong came and that was.

 

That was a moment then and it was, and there was another moment. I remember being in the A&E in a little room by myself and I always remember this lovely little young old lady came to see me and I don't know who she was. And it's such a long time ago now, I don't know if she's still with us, but she said to me, Lovey, they're going to ask you if you want to go to hospital. I suggest you say yes, because they're going to send you anyway. I was like, OK, then I'll go. And I think it was that. I felt at this point that there was nowhere else to go but to just give myself up to the process. And I suppose it was that. I was ready because it got as low for me as I was prepared to go.

 

James (14:52.931)

Hmm. So is that when you ended up in rehab following that kind of episode? And what was that? What was that experience like?

 

Joe Heeney (15:03.422)

Yeah, so, yeah. Yeah, so I mean, I've been in rehab a year earlier. I did six weeks, which had been paid for me. It wasn't on the National Health. And I came out on the Thursday and I was drunk by Monday. So that didn't work very well. Consequently, the NHS said, well, you've already been to rehab, even though they hadn't funded it. So I had to wait. And so.

 

Joe Heeney (15:32.038)

I'd done a 12-step, I'd done a six-week, 12-step rehab. And what I did was I did the 12-week version of their treatment program in six weeks, which basically meant I crushed it out and didn't really take it in. So on this occasion, I was able to select a place that was more in keeping with who I am. So I found a place that did activities that was CBT-based.

 

Joe Heeney (15:59.234)

that was going to look at supporting me in terms of my cognitive understanding of who I was and who I could be and why I was doing what I was doing. And so that was residential in North Devon and I met some people there who, I'm talking about staff in particular, who were able to help me look at myself in ways that I hadn't done for a very long time.

 

I also met some people in treatment, I mean, some intelligent, articulate human beings. I met a classical musician, I met somebody who was formerly a teacher, I met a guy that was a chef, I mean, he used to do Sunday lunch, oh my God, it was so good. And he'd worked in two Gordon Ramsay kitchens. And I can still see him now with his tea towel over his shoulder, listening to Oasis. And he always volunteered. Don't put me in the kitchen, but if he didn't, then he would say, I'll do it, Joe.

 

 

Joe Heeney (16:55.582)

because we had to look after ourselves on a Saturday and a Sunday. And others I met. I shared a room with a guy, who I've had no contact with for some years now. And I remember having incredible philosophical conversations with this intelligent, articulate, younger man than me who just couldn't stop using heroin and I don't know, but it quite possibly killed him. So I met a whole host of people. My key worker was a former Marine who had seen many of his colleagues die. I couldn't comprehend what it would be like to be shot at. So I was being given access, if you like, to so many diverse lives of people who were, on the face of it, intelligent, articulate human beings, but all of which shared the same problem as me.

 

is we didn't know how to say no to our drug of choice. And so it was hard, it was emotional, it was difficult on occasions. I was there for three months, so we had to detox, three and a half months. I literally went missing for three and a half months and almost no one noticed apart from my closest friends. And that's how withdrawn my life had become. It wasn't until I got out that I said, I've been to treatment and people know, I didn't know you'd gone away. So that's a bit of an indictment as well. That made me think a bit about what had I been doing for the last couple of years. And I thank them. That rehab has long since been closed and that's due to financial reasons, as is always the case with these things, and it's a shame. But that place really, really helped me, really, really helped me.

 

James (18:44.235)

And it sounds like what kind of helped you was just connecting with other people and a process of, like you say, kind of, self-reflection and yeah, the idea that, you know, you didn't have a no button or a capacity to say no. So was that, are those the things that you felt kind of enabled you to come out? And is that, is it since then that you felt like you've been in recovery?

 

Joe Heeney (19:28.05)

Yeah, I think, I mean, people who know me will always say, you know, I have strong held opinions and I'm not afraid to voice them. I'm not a therapist, so I make a point of making that clear. I didn't come out and then train as a therapist on any level. What I did was in that year between rehabs, set up an organisation, then went into treatment and then came out and said, OK, what can we do to make this work?

 

 

Joe Heeney (19:58.35)

I don't use the word recovery very often because what I find is when I've heard people talk about it they talk about recovery as if it's an entity and so what I have said to people historically over the years is why don't you live recovery, don't live recovery sorry, but live in recovery, don't see it as a thing just see it as a way of living and I think it's that thing,

 

People say to me, you know, you're not drinking and why, you know, the why doesn't matter. And there are fewer people saying that now. Um, I used to say I'm the designated driver and that was enough for people. So, um, so there's, you know, I think it's, it's about how you feel about yourself and about how you interact with the world around you and whether or not you can or can't do things. Um, and

 

and being able to be comfortable in your own skin. And I think you made the point, it's about connecting with people and having sound, meaningful relationships with people that are the key, I think, to giving people a life that allows them to be able to live then, you know, chemical free or substance free or wherever that goes. So a great, there might have been a Ted talk actually that talked about the rat. Have you seen that one with the, yeah. And I thought that was interesting. When they made Rat Utopia and gave them friends, they almost never went to the feeder that had the heroin in it. They pretty much used the one and they knew that one had heroin in it, but they couldn't use it. And so I thought that was a good...

 

James (21:44.524)

Yeah, like, yeah, Bruce Alexander's Rat Park became really famous in the 70s because it, you know, really was kind of quite a strong case that social connections provide or, you know, happy, healthy social environment. So the Rat Park, where they had trees painted on the sides and activities and other rats ultimately socialize with wouldn't just, whereas if you put them in a cage with no stimulus, they'll just self medicate until they kind of die basically. So yeah like that yeah I absolutely agree with you that recovery addiction whatever you want to call it you know most importantly is viewed as a should be viewed as a human experience of you know something not being quite right in your life or more than not quite right.

 

And yeah, that process fundamentally isn't about your kind of genes or your kind of, I mean, obviously there is neuro adaptation that takes place in addiction and recovery, but you know, that's not the solution. The solution is in our lived experience and our social connections. And I think, you know, like, yeah, life is stressful and throws lots of challenges at us. But, you know, I think again, going back to what you said earlier about alcohol just being a kind of, or drugs and alcohol being a kind of emotional damping mechanism and a kind of immediate stress response that in the context of your life where alcohol had been so normalized and so available and drugs that was just you know almost the kind of normal thing to do. I think the same for me when I went you know as a teenager we could buy alcohol from pretty much any off-license and drink in parks and

 

You know, I went to university initially because most of all I wanted to drink and have fun as I would see it. So, yeah, I didn't realise at that time that appealed to me so strongly because I think it provided in some ways, similarly, an escapism, a way of releasing and letting go of kind of stuff that had maybe emotional stuff that I kind of maybe internalised.

 

Um, so yeah, I think that's a really nice description. I really liked the way that he said, you know, you met these amazing people and really connected with them. Um, and you know, that was a kind of process of, yeah, kind of finding your way back in the world without needing or using drugs and alcohol as a kind of default switch off or escape or whatever.

 

Joe Heeney (24:24.418)

No, indeed. And the guy that ran the rehab, well, he set the rehab up. Excuse me. He, I met him and he worked in the city originally and he couldn't get a rehab for his brother who had an alcohol problem. And he didn't tell me much detail, but that's as I understood it. And so fair play to the guy. He set up this residential rehab and he lived in a two bed flat and ordered to be able to fund the rehab. And he was there cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn and all of the things. And what he did notice was that there were few people that were getting quite close to completing their treatment but not really making the ends because it can get quite tricky at the end because you're no longer misusing, you're no longer full of chemicals.

 

All your emotions are all out in the open and everything is very difficult for a little period of time until you learn to be able to control that a lot better and feel as well. actually be able to feel. And so as a little bit of a carrot, he said, well, what I want to do is I want to reward people for having completed treatment successfully. And we went through a little process where he asked people what sort of things. Anyway, he ended up saying, well, okay, what I'll do is I'll pay for a day's glider fun for you. So you can go in a glider and you can fly a glider. And three of us at the end of my period there went for this amazing weekend. Now he paid for that.

 

He did that himself. That didn't come out of any funding. And again, it was like, this guy inspired me. I mean, half of the model, some of the model that Resolve is based on came from how he did things. And what I did was I applied various aspects of the experiences that I had that were positive to a model of treatment that wasn't just about looking at the clinical aspect of a person's addiction. It was looking about, you know, who they were, how their life had been, whether or not they needed support in dealing with trauma, because that's often the case as well, whether or not they had issues with relationships and all of those things. Some things were done within the group environment and some things are absolutely only appropriate to be done with a qualified counselor. And we tried to do activities, we tried to have some fun. We would always have a Christmas lunch, for example, for people before Christmas.

 

And it was all about saying to people, life can be fun now. You don't actually appreciate how much fun life can be when you're busy self-medicating with the curtains closed, isolated, with no friends around you. And that was the model that we went with. And I'd like to think it was successful because we're now, well, you know, it resolves in its 16th year, having celebrated a number of awards for its services, which I'm very proud of.

 

But more importantly, having seen the overwhelming majority of people coming into the service, leaving having successfully completed their treatment journey in the way that was appropriate for them. And it wasn't six, 12 weeks, six months, one year. We had people for whom it required many years for them to go through a cycle and to relapse and to be able to be allowed to come back and to not worry that, you know, because it didn't work last time, there'd be no faith in them this time. We said every time.

 

Okay, maybe this is the time for you. And I was the same as that. I had a number of occasions before I was able to look at life in a way that gave me optimism and positivity. So that was basically it. I merely tried to hang on the baton for all the good people that had helped me through my journey on for people that are going through the same thing or similar things in their journey.

 

James (28:18.643)

Yeah, I think that's brilliant and really, really inspiring. And, and I guess it's, I, I also think that, you know, I guess what we've kind of been talking about is, you know, like, neither of us probably, we really use the term recovery without doing it, you know, with a lot of question marks being raised because it is such a uniquely personal and individual experience, all the factors that led to developing that problem that will look so different for every single person the answer or solution again, it's the kind of wrong term, the journey out of that is always gonna be so complex and nuanced, but ultimately, I think, it's about finding a kind of meaning and purpose in life that gives you value and reward and connection without needing to use alcohol or drugs or whatever to kind of plug or fill that gap. 

And I guess that's often the issue with treatment or rehabs is sometimes, you know, like they don't or aren't able to equip people well enough for when they go back into their home environment or, you know, you know, if nothing else has changed in the environment, then it's very difficult, however much you've kind of may want to change or have done other stuff that other of cues and triggers and pressures. And, but whereas if you can kind of go back into it or into the world or approach the world with, with kind of a sense of, or purpose or things that you really want to pursue that are going to really help you. And I think that is why you know mutual aid really often does work is it provides social networks who um you know are geared around not using drugs or alcohol um so it provides that really important social function but then for other people it's other things and you know we've talked about golf for me you know i don't really say i'm in recovery even though i've had past problems with alcohol in particular

 

James (30:24.427)

But I am very conscious of always thinking about how my mental health is. And I know that some things are good for it and some things are not good for it. And, you know, like I need to do as much of the things that are good for it as I can. And, you know, sometimes, you know, when it's not going so well or life is extra challenging, then I realize, yeah, like it would be easier to kind of maybe want to go back to, to using alcohol or whatever it might be to kind of like shortcut or avoid.

 

um, the kind of negative feelings or anxiety that period might be generating, but it's just a conscious process of knowing what, what's good for me and what's good for my mental health generally out there. And that includes good social connections and meaningful activities and for me golf, which I understand a lot of people judge, but you like it too. So yeah, I think, I think that's, um, you know, that service is really holistic that really takes account of a person's needs and where they are and what they want. It sounds like an amazing example and obviously has been doing well if it's been going for 16 years in these really tough, challenging funding times.

 

Joe Heeney (31:38.03)

No, indeed. And actually, interestingly, what we've not talked about is how addictive behaviour traits can often be used very positively. And as much as I remember being told by somebody some years back that addicts often make the best entrepreneurs, principally because we're not afraid of risk. And I think it's that my ability to be the complete opposite of risk averse, but to have people around me that would observe the risk for me so that we could have a conversation about whether or not this was worth doing. But I think it's also that ability to be able to be single-mindedly focused on a single thing. And I do attribute a large amount of the growth of the charity down to my ability to be able to say, this is worth the risk because the payoff is gonna be great, not for me, but for the organization and therefore for our beneficiaries. And sometimes stuff doesn't work. That is the whole point about it.

 

But also it's that thing about us, much like he's saying, have another outlet. I too found golf again, having played many, many years ago. And my wife is now a golf widow because I have probably found that my most recent addiction is golf. Alice Cooper says that. He says he gave up drugs and then got addicted to golf.

 

Joe Heeney (33:05.77)

Um, you know, and it's healthy amount with people, um, you know, in, in good social environments, I'm walking four and a half miles a day and swinging some sticks around. Um, probably in my case, I'm walking a bit more than four and a half miles a day. Um, and, uh, but it's, you know, it's an, it's another thing that I'm probably applying the same personal attitudes to play in golf as I would have done to misusing drugs in the past because I'm single-minded about it and doing it. And, um,

 

you know, it's, but it's healthy and people say, well, that's okay then, isn't it? Um, you know, some of the most successful athletes on this planet have, have definitely applied the same strategies as addicts have in addiction, because they've been single-minded about how they wanted to apply themselves to that particular thing. So it's, um, it is, I think it's a very complex, I know it's a very complex subject, um, but, but out of it, what we generally get are, people who are able then and equipped to deal with some of the most at first parts of life because they've been through their own lived experiences.

 

James (34:18.279)

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I think, yeah, like you say, that kind of pursuit, I mean, you know, like from a sort of scientific perspective, you know, like addiction scientists don't like the idea of like an addiction, addictive personality, because it's, you know, in reality, much more complex than that. And yeah, but like, I think for a lot of people, they feel like they can relate to that with when they've had an addiction experience, because they tend to apply themselves fully to other things and yeah so in that kind of of more general sense I kind of relate to it and I think um yeah like it's again the term addiction is very widely used for things that you know often probably aren't that bad for you so yeah like we might be a bit obsessed or kind of over into golf like if you ask the partners or the family or whatever but for us it's working and fulfilling an important function and yeah disease model of addiction says, you know, lots of what lots of people do looks like addiction. If you think about obsessively playing golf or sports team or falling in love, those behaviours are very much aligned with how people pursue drugs or alcohol or whatever despite the negative consequences. I think in some ways just thinking about healthy pursuits that we might get a bit over into or whatever is often fulfilling a really important function.

you say, yeah, it's like the social side of it. And yeah, a bit of exercise as well. And, I know people who play golf, because they say it keeps me out of the pub for, you know, five hours on a Saturday. And, you know, they definitely have a few drinks after, but they're practicing harm minimization in a way, even though they wouldn't recognize that term. So, yeah, I think, yeah, I think, yeah, we'd agree that. Yeah. So, um,

 

Joe Heeney (36:23.403)

Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah.

 

James (36:29.495)

So that's been really fascinating. And I really, you know, I'm really grateful for sharing your experience. And yeah, what I particularly like, what I really like is how you kind of, you know, recognize that, you know, show and demonstrate through your own experience and the experience of talking with other people, how unique and individual like problems of addiction or alcohol or drugs or other stuff might be and how individual that processes, but it is deeply connected to kind of the challenges of life and the stresses of life and just finding kind of our way out of that on the other side is kind of probably I'd say a kind of key take-home message. Yeah, so you've retired from Resolve which you founded and set up and ran for 16 years, but it still exists as a service in Hertfordshire I think or other areas as well so is it now just time to enjoy retirement?

 

Joe Heeney 

That's correct. Yeah. I actually, you know, actually retired. Sorry about that. Yeah. I actually retired on the 31st of March, 23, which was almost 15 years, exactly to the day that we first started with, with resolve. Um, yes, there was three of us originally, but the other two moved on very early on. And, uh, so yeah, I drove it. Um, I didn't, didn't do it alone. Of course. I did it with an ever increasing number of people throughout the whole of the 15 years. Some people come in and some people going, you know, a trustee board, staff, volunteers, people who became my friends and so on. And I think the other thing as well is what I did was I always looked to develop relationships with people so that they would see the work of the organisation and that in turn will

 

help people find it. And I don't think it's enough to say, if you build it, they will come because they need to know it's there. And so we did a lot of work around making sure that as many people as possible would know it was there so that those that did need it were able to find it if they were ready for it. I mean, in terms of the legacy, I'm very proud of what Resolve has achieved over the years and we spent quite some time with a bit of a succession plan in terms of bringing the team in. And the new CEO actually was a former trustee, so quite close to home in that regard, but somebody who comes from a charity background as well. There were external applicants, so it wasn't a done deal. And so the organisation continues. How it will go going forward is going to be up to the new team.

 

I took the decision quite early on that because resolve forms such an integral part of my life, that moving on, I kind of had to leave it to the people that I was entrusting it to. Nobody really wants somebody looking over their shoulder going, is that the way you want to do it? Because I don't think that's conducive to a positive environment. So I entrusted it to those that are going to take it on to the next stage in whichever form that is. 

 

But I know that I left a growing, healthy, strong, well-recognised organisation that people would say very nice things about over the years. So it adds every chance of going on another 15 and more years, as long as there is a need for it in all of the ways that the organisation works. Certainly 15 years ago if you'd have said, you'd have had all those units, all those services running 15 years later, I'd have said, you're mad, but that's the way it went. And as I say, I was very fortunate on lots of levels and I feel very honored and humbled to have been part of that journey with the organization and people credit me for leading it. So, you know, I think that's been an amazing experience and one of a number of big positives for me. In terms of going forward.

 

Well, I moved to Derbyshire. I live in a wonderful, very, very rural area. I married my wife in 2017, just to show you that I can get a relationship and make it work again. And we live a very different, very, very different life to the life that I had only a few years ago. And, you know, it's, I think it's that, it's just about

 

thinking about how you can enjoy life without worrying about what you're going to do tomorrow, you know, to a certain extent. It isn't about saying, oh well I'm wealthy and therefore I don't need to work. It's about saying there are more important things in life than worrying about the pound, shillings and pence, as my nan used to say. 

 

I think I'm the best example of, it's better to be more lucky than rich because I made it. I made it despite all the odds I made it. And if I can do it, then there's hope for everyone. I think the only thing I would say to temper that is that sadly, there is a very small proportion of people for whom life has been so difficult and so tragic and so hard that we need to find a way to support those people because they can't have the luck that I had. I was, you know, I wasn't born opiate dependent or, you know, fetal alcohol syndrome or any of those other things with a mother that was misusing whilst I was in the womb. For those people that have never known any other life, we need as a society, I feel, to do something different that helps them at least attain some level of social interaction and life that is going to afford them some kind of reward for living because I do feel that there are a group of people and we met people throughout 15 years of Resolve for whom we had no answers. All we could do was allow them to come and be part of the process as long as they could handle it and drop in and out. That's another thing, many of these statutory services won't allow people to drop in and out as and when they're ready because they have to follow a protocol. And I think there are things there that we need to learn because those people for whom life is too difficult need a greater safety net, a larger network of services in which they can access as and when they're ready so that we can help to bring those people to a place where they're not constantly misusing and then having to access public services.

James  

Yeah, I'd absolutely agree with that. And I also think, you know, like investment in treatment services, you know, certainly in real terms and, you know, over the last 10 or 15 years, you know, has really, really been hit quite hard and means it's hard, much harder for kind of smaller localized services to, to work. Um, so yeah, hopefully that kind of turns around in the next 15 years a bit more and that exactly, as you say, that supporting the people that have had to kind of the worst hands dealt in life is really important. But, you know, and I also think we also really need all the upstream, you know, the public health stuff, alcohol is still very normalised, available, heavily marketed. There's supposed to be rules that mean that children are not seeing alcohol advertising, but they recognize famous alcohol brands at age whatever it is. So yeah, I think we need the kind of top and bottom up approaches. But yeah, just thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your really powerful, honest experience.

 

And yeah, and again, yeah, it is, you do deserve a lot of credit, I think, for the work you have done since. So, yeah, enjoy your retirement and yeah, thanks so much, Joe. Keep in touch.

 

Joe Heeney 

Thanks, James. Thanks very much.