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Failing forwards toward
success this Lent

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Emma Jarvis, Chief Executive Officer, Palmerston*

Most years, I observe Lent, as a practice to support reflection, and to revaluate where I focus my time, attention and energy. Some years, I give up something, be it chocolate, alcohol, sugar. Other years, I take up something, be it a focus on my faith, health and wellbeing or intentionality regarding a new habit.

Once, when filled with a sense of superhuman optimism, I attempted to both give up something and take up something. As you can probably guess, my efforts that year, involved some failures over the 40-day period.

During these times of failure, I am reminded of the stigma and the expectations we have as a society regarding the transformational behavioural changes associated with addictions, and how my own experiences of trying for abstinence or even reducing my consumption of a favourite food or drink for a time limited period, would fit in that paradigm.

Recently, I have been reading the book ‘Failure’ by Emma Ineson which is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book 2023. The phrase ‘failing forwards’ resonated with me and I have been rolling it around in my mind in the context of my work in the alcohol and drug addiction sector.

The phrase “failing forwards” has been coined to describe learning from mistakes which leads to success.

Successful failure is an essential component of any behaviour change journey as it involves an accompanying willingness to acknowledge and embrace vulnerability and weakness.

In the context of alcohol and other drug treatment, it is important to remember that recovery is a journey and not a destination. At Palmerston, we see clients returning over a period of years. With integrity, and hope, they choose to return to treatment, to build upon prior learning, and to continue their recovery journeys. This is not a failure. It is choosing to further work towards and support recovery success.

Initially, when a person enters treatment, they might be focused entirely on their goal; recovery. However, this mindset ignores the entire process of getting to that point. Treatment itself is a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. The journey itself is the most important part.

Stigma is described in the Oxford Dictionary as a ‘mark of disgrace’ and occurs when an individual or group of people are discredited in relation to how they live, the actions they take, or for one or more of their behaviours. To be stigmatised is to be held in contempt, shunned, or rendered socially invisible because of a disapproved status or behaviour.

Consequently, stigmatised individuals or groups don’t receive the same level of respect as others. Stigma is often used as a tool to discourage and marginalise people by highlighting behaviours others see as ‘unhealthy’, or not being ‘like us’. And often stigma is unfairly attached to those who are working through alcohol or others drug problems, either on their own or with specialist help.

My practise of trying, and failing to change my consumption behaviour during Lent, reminds me that in alcohol and other drug treatment, there is no ‘them and us’.

Instead, there are courageous humans who choose to walk side by side on a recovery journey, supported by family, friends and organisations such as Palmerston.

*Palmerston ( is a leading and respected not for profit provider of alcohol and other drug services with a history of providing support through a range of services including counselling, groups, residential rehabilitation and educational initiatives. Its free community services are based in 10 locations throughout the metropolitan and Great Southern region in areas such as Waroona, Pinjarra and Medina. Additionally, Palmerston has two residential rehabilitation services, known as therapeutic communities, one in the southern suburbs of Perth and one in the South West.

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