Matt runs our Northcote meeting, and in this week’s facilitator Q&A, he discusses his own experience as a peer and what keeps him motivated at his SMART Recovery Australia meeting. Thanks, Matt, for your ongoing hard work and contribution to SMART Recovery Australia. Special congratulations to Matt on the birth of his baby daughter!
Please tell us about yourself. What you’re interested in, what motivates you, and what you like to do with your time.
I’m a fairly quiet kind of person, a primary school teacher by trade and a recent first time father to a beautiful baby girl. Originally from Perth, I moved to Melbourne at 23 in 1996. I like to read, mainly non-fiction. I struggle to get into fiction, but The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and The Sound of One Hand Clapping are great books. I’m a big fan of sitting on the couch and doing nothing after a draining day in the classroom, but if I can get up I do love cooking and gardening, particularly growing veggies. I don’t have much room at home but I do have a plot in a community garden, which is a great way to meet some like-minded people and swap some of what you’re growing.
What inspired you to get involved with SMART Recovery Australia?
Initially, of course, it was to get some support to make some changes in my own life around some problematic behaviours. It took some time for me to take the changes seriously and move from ‘going to SMART because others said I should’ to ‘going to SMART because I can see the changes I want to make’. I found a small, helpful group and I started hearing things that were so very familiar to me resonating with honest truth.
I’m fascinated by how people make their lives work and how people come to decide that some aspect(s) of their life is in need of change. I’d assumed that a lot of desire to change would be preceded by some significant trauma but frequently that wasn’t the case. The shared experience I found at SMART really made me want to help others who had decided to help themselves.
What is your favourite thing about running your group?
The wide variety of people that we get in through the door really keeps me on my toes and sends me home really buzzing after a good meeting. I enjoy the way that people open up in meetings, not usually through my facilitating, but when they hear something from another group member that they identify with. Seeing strangers make a deep, almost instant connection over a topic they thought no-one else understood is a magic moment. Probably one of my favourite moments was when someone who’d been coming for about 10 weeks and working hard on consolidating his life changes got to the end of a meeting and said, ‘Thanks for everything this group has done for me, but I feel I have my sober wings now so hopefully I won’t be coming back.’
Running SMART Recovery groups can, at times, be challenging. What challenges have you faced, if any, and how did you tackle them?
The Northcote meeting can be a very big meeting at times, we’ve had up to 24 people at meetings before and that is a huge challenge to run. I got some great advice from Josette Freeman recently about how to handle that… I wish I’d asked her a couple of years ago.
Asking people who are under the influence to leave a meeting is always a difficult experience but thankfully it’s very uncommon, and when it’s happened I’ve been able to ask people to step outside quietly and they have left politely. Only once has someone gotten angry in front of the group but after they had gone the group was really supportive of my decision to ask them to leave.
It’s also hard to maintain the necessary boundaries (for myself and everyone else in the room) when people identify serious medical or mental health problems. I always bring the conversation back around to specific behaviours and offer suggestions about where people can seek professional help. I know people have to help themselves first and foremost but the desire to solve everyone’s problems is always there.
Finally, getting across the city to the meeting after the staff meeting at work is always a challenge, but depending on my mood, I drive slower with a little Radio National or faster with a selection of Australian hip-hop.
What’s your best story, about SMART Recovery Australia, or about anything else?
The best story is that I’m here today to tell you that I have a story. That story now involves a baby daughter, good employment, and a lot of self respect. I can approach my whole life and all of its relationships with an honesty that I didn’t have before. SMART Recovery Australia was part of that story and I know that it helped me and I’d like to think that that story is helping others now. I love that look when I talk peer to peer in a group and people look at me like they’re thinking, ‘But you seem so normal…’ and then they question what the rest of those ‘normal’ people out there are doing and why they keep comparing themselves to them. I’m constantly using the tools I have learned in SMART. I’m the calmest person I know among my family and friends, and I even use the goal setting techniques from SMART in my classroom. Yes, even primary school kids can learn to set goals and reflect on them by considering their own behaviours rather than what someone else did to them.