When I met Steve Spiegel at Pinewood Studios last week it was like being in the presence of a famous rock star with the charisma of a guru. One thing for sure, I knew there was something special about this man, now in his prime, and as he related his experiences, I felt it important to share his inspiring story with the rest of the World.
With the acceptance of mental health issues taking many forms, from anxiety and depression to lack of self-esteem and dysmorphia or bad body image, Steve had experienced them all.
To combat the internal turmoil Steve turned to drink and then drugs, and so when he eventually freed himself of the habit, he felt he had ‘served his apprenticeship’ and opened The Provy, a revolutionary rehab centre in Bournemouth in the mid-nineties.
He had fierce opposition both locally and from many authorities, but soldiered on and it is now a successful and respected concern, and although ‘retired’, he continues to work there as a counsellor three days a week.
Steve also has no intention of slowing down, and is again developing and implementing private counselling sessions and workshops with people with dysmorphia and body image issues.
Born in November 1948 to two hard working Londoners, Steve’s childhood was one of sadness. His Dad was disabled so was unable take him to football or do the normal things that dads could do with their sons.
‘He was unsteady on his feet’ says Steve ‘it was traumatic as a kid when he fell over or fell down the stairs but he was a good man though and really wise.
At home we all did chores together such as cooking and cleaning and I was pretty self-sufficient from an early age.
I also hated the way I looked. People said I was good looking but that’s not how I felt. I was aware of my bony shoulders, skinny arms and legs and knobbly knees. I wouldn’t let people see any of these and tried to keep myself covered and often wore a couple of jumpers to make myself look bigger and hide my shoulders.
I thought I was a nice kid, but people who knew me back then said I was angry and not someone to cross. I got involved in lots of fights, but that was usually me fighting other people’s battles and running from my own. I was a very good scrapper but I hated it. The problem I had was, I never backed down as it would have just added to my shame of feeling inferior.
By the way, I’m not trying to make excuses, as the above certainly affected my self-esteem, but I don’t believe that it made me an addict or alcoholic. I did however want to change my reality, which I succeeded in doing with my addictive behaviour pattern.
My happy memories were of music and football. I could mime in front of the mirror and be whoever I wanted to be, especially by jumping about to various tracks on our radiogram.
Then rock n roll came along and my sister had a few records and I’d play them alone in her bedroom. I have now discovered so much about that time and how certain events affected the little self-esteem I had left. The shame I felt about being ‘less than’ was paralyzing.
It was then I discovered alcohol. I was about 11 or 12 when I stole some money from my dad and bought a bottle of very cheap sherry, I then went to the bedroom and drank it. My bony shoulders seemed to disappear as did my skinny arms and legs. I’d found a solution.
Drugs and alcohol seemed to give me confidence. They took away my inhibitions and I embarked on a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Over the years it became more serious and I couldn’t stop. Getting into dangerous situations was a pretty regular occurrence and I became involved with dangerous people and was well out of my depth.’
Then after years of drug and alcohol addiction, a visit from an old friend helped Steve to understand how deeply in trouble he was and he agreed to attend a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous.
After the death of his beloved Father, Steve continued in his recovery, relapsing several times.
Then after a terrible experience with his drug dealer, in spite of not being at all religious Steve went home and sank on his knees and said
‘God, please help me as I can’t go on.’
Shortly after that Steve booked himself into to a West Country treatment centre.
‘I hated it there but it saved my life. I was completely broken, physically, spiritually, mentally and financially. I asked them to stop my detox on the night of November 26th as the next day was my birthday and I wanted to be clean for it. I’ve not used since. I have now been 27 years clean and sober.
I went back into music and managed a couple of people and then went to this music conference in Manchester where I’d been asked to speak. After really embarrassing myself I realised this was no longer for me. I fled the place and got home safely.
I started work as a volunteer in a street drug agency in south London and enrolled at Birkbeck College for a counselling course which I passed with distinction.
`I then joined The Priory to work in their new rehab centre in Jersey. I was there for three months and in that time had been formulating an idea for a new type of treatment centre. I had meetings with various places and although they were interested, I didn’t feel they were what I was really looking for.
Through a strange set of circumstances, I met a Bournemouth GP, Dr Peter Turnbull. I’d put a plan together on what was then a revolutionary type of abstinent based treatment on the back of a customary envelope and had presented it to him.
Peter was of the same mindset as me when it came to the type of treatment delivery I had envisaged and was keen to get started. Peter and I hit it off and he said I could have a room in his surgery in which to deliver the therapeutic programme I’d devised and I could share an office. He agreed to prescribe the detox and other medication and I did the rest.
I asked Peter to suggest a name? He responded with ‘The Providence Projects’ which I loved. I went home and looked up the word ‘Providence’ in the dictionary and Providence it became. We registered with the help of a friend as a ‘Non-Profit Making’ organisation.
After using drugs and alcohol for over a quarter of a century I was 3 years 10 months clean and sober and ready to take on my new mantel of trying to rescue those suffering from a variety of addictive disorders. Whilst using I was prepared to go to any lengths to get my drugs and now, I was just as determined to continue to maintain my recovery and help others. It turned out to be my calling I guess and it fitted like a glove.
We opened The Providence Projects on the 12th September 1996.
In the beginning there was a lot of hostility towards us but we soldiered on. I heard people say that I was too early in recovery to run such a place.
The papers ran a big spread on ‘Ex-Junkie Runs Treatment Centre’ and The Sunday Telegraph ran a magnificent piece in their magazine entitled ‘Heroin by the Sea’ which didn’t go down too well with the local dignitaries. It was also different to all the other treatment centres being GP (and ex-junkie!) led and we initially called it Quasi-Residential Treatment.
The patients or clients would live in the accommodation we had rented and come in to our centre for treatment every day. The philosophy being that fully residential treatment centres were good, but what happens when they complete treatment after being sheltered from the real world for a period of time.
We wanted people to experience the ‘real world’ on a daily basis and as we felt there was safety in numbers, and each house had to keep together. We also encouraged laughter and took the clients out weekly for fun activities. We felt it was important for people to see that life could be fun without alcohol and other drugs.
An initiative called Safer Cities gave us a grant of £5,000 and the local Bail Hostel in Boscombe gave us a contract to treat three or four clients of theirs at a time.
The first two clients were Johnny Handsome and Jamie O’. I’d met them in treatment when I relapsed and they’d really helped me stay put. Now here they were as our first two clients. Our third client, Suzie was someone I’d spoken to in London previously and she wanted help. Suzie is still clean; Johnny has moved away but we occasionally communicate and he is enjoying life. Jamie unfortunately eventually lost his battle with drugs and died.
Around this time my partner (now wife) Carole closed her Company and moved down to Bournemouth. After a few months and after a few financial mishaps Carole joined me at ‘The Provy’ becoming the administrative engine behind it all and I have to say that Carole, Peter and myself made a formidable team and a power for good.
After a year we moved to what was then a ramshackle building just by The Crescent. This is where the street dealing had previously gone on. The dealing moved to another location when we opened. From day one we were full and it was my belief that we should never have an empty bed and I’d drag people in off the streets for treatment.
We started to get contracts from various social service departments and then one from Transport for London. Various charities also started to use us and we grew from strength to strength. The most important thing to me was seeing people get well. We always had a few free spaces as we were in a position to do so in those days as we also had funding from the surgery and a contract with the local police.
The past few years has seen a dreadful cut in funding for treatment and so many centres have had to close as a result.
We then won a tender for the delivery of treatment to those on DTTO’s (Drug Treatment Testing Orders). Although we were an abstinent based 12 Step centre and we didn’t comply with some of the terms of the tender, we were still awarded it for the whole of Dorset. For three years running we had the best outcomes in the country by a country mile. Then the goal posts were moved and we were told our treatment was too intensive.
The fact that we were one of the least expensive in the country didn’t come into it nor did the fact that during this three-year period only one of the clients was arrested and over 65% successfully completed our programme clean and sober. I’d better get off my soap box as I can really go on about this one.
At the time we were delivering treatment in Bournemouth and Weymouth. We eventually closed Weymouth and purchased two buildings in Bournemouth.
Every year we hold a reunion, usually at the Royal Bath Hotel where we put on a banquet and entertainment for ex and current clients. Ex peers would be invited to share their experience of treatment and say how their lives are today.
I could write so much about the Provy, so many stories but maybe I can sum it up by saying, we’ve had thousands of people come through our doors but when you think that addiction not only affects the addict and alcoholic, the eating disordered and the gamblers it also affects their loved ones, family members and the community as a whole. So, when one addict/alcoholic recovers the knock-on effect is enormous. So many people’s lives improve.
With regard to the people who worked with us. The majority were originally clients who went on to study and then came back to work at The Provy and most of them have been there for many years.
Carole, Peter and I retired about 7 years ago. Carole’s son Paul now owns The Provy but I was missing working with clients so much I currently sneak back three mornings a week to take group therapy and deliver workshops and just generally speak to the clients.
My future Plans:
I’m currently planning to put in place another revolutionary idea regarding treatment for addicts and alcoholics together with family members and/or loved ones so they can all recover together. It’s a really important element that is missing in order for loved ones to understand exactly what drives the addict and what they go through and also for the addicted person to understand how their addiction has impacted upon the family or loved ones. It may also be about fresh beginnings. I’ve only just decided to do this so I’ve just drafted a temporary webpage that doesn’t say much as yet but does detail some of the services I offer.
I also plan to reopen my Body Image workshops and groups which have been extremely successful over the years in helping those suffering from Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders.
So much for retirement!!
Should anyone require details about accessing The Providence Projects or other treatment facilities, interventions, family therapy or other services offered, or to find out about Steve’s future plans you can contact him on
T. +44 (0)7880 990 990