BOSSFIT academy founder

Author

Gunshot victim and recovering addict

Barry’s story

I had in many ways a typical working class upbringing, except I had to grow up faster than most. From an early age, I was exposed to some serious violence. I watched my dad being stabbed many times, my mum and dad battering each other on a regular basis, and I was on the receiving end of a lot of physical and verbal abuse from my family and the boys in the local neighbourhood. The council estate where I’m from was notorious for gang violence, and I got caught up in it before I could know any better. Meanwhile, I was being sexually groomed by one of my teachers – not that I told anyone at the time.

My fondest memories are either after my mum returned from bingo, when we’d all get a takeaway together, or whenever my dad was drinking and his mood had improved – so the link between gambling and alcohol and reward was always pretty strong.

Despite everything, I managed to do really well in primary school and get into one of the best secondary schools in Britain, The London Oratory, where Tony Blair’s sons went. That opened my eyes to a new way of life. For one, everyone there acted the age they were supposed to be. Parents didn’t hit their children, or each other. It was a different world – but I never really felt a part of it. I was the only one on free school meals in the 180 odd in my cohort. Every weekend, when my friends went home to their nice homes and loving families, I went back to my council estate flat where my mum and dad would be off their face on drugs, and I’d be passed around from one babysitter to another.

It was a different world – but I never really felt a part of it.

I studied hard – obsessively even – and got good grades at first, scoring nine A-Cs in my GCSEs. But in the end, the environment at home caught up with me. My mum and dad broke up, and the discipline at home disappeared. Then, desperate to be just like my dad, I started drinking more. By the time it came to my A levels, which I was supposed to sit early, I was already too far down a destructive path. I took every single Monday off in Year 11 because I was out every weekend, and I didn’t end up completing my exams.

Where I’m from, it’s money above all else that earns you respect, so I channelled my academic ability into crime. I stopped playing rugby, which I had a lot of potential in, and started selling drugs on a very large scale. It was survival, and it worked: the same people that used to bully me in school started looking up to me, and I started coming out of myself. By the time I was 18, I reckoned I’d made it – I had everything I needed to live like a gangster. And whereas once I looked down on the people I sold coke to, it only took twice trying it before I was hooked. What followed was 10-15 years of absolute hell.

By the time I was 21, I was in serious trouble. I tried my first crack pipe aged 23, went to prison for the first time at 24, and spent six of the next ten years inside. I had fifteen jail sentences in total, was sectioned in two mental health hospitals, and committed almost every crime there is: burglaries, grievous bodily harm, actual body harm, arson, assault. I actually went to a Cocaine Anonymous (CA) meeting when I was 22 but, after writing everyone in there off as a nut-job, was sniffing cocaine again the same day. Every time I left jail, I promised myself I was only going to drink from then on, because I didn’t think alcohol was the problem. But then two or three pints in I’d be on the cocaine again, and sooner or later my life would unravel.

After I was shot in the stomach, my assailant put his gun to my head and pulled the trigger.

Things came to a head when, one New Year’s Day when I was 27, I was shot. I’d just got out from doing nine months in prison, and true to form I went absolutely nuts over Christmas. I can’t remember the ins and outs of it – but whatever it was, it nearly cost me my life. After I was shot in the stomach, my assailant put his gun to my head and pulled the trigger. By the grace of God, it jammed up and I managed to escape, hobbling to my mum’s house on one leg. The mental thing was I told my brother to go and get some cocaine because I thought it would keep my heart going while we waited for the ambulance. I knew then that I could die – I even phoned my dad to say goodbye – and, when I pressed them for an honest answer, the doctors and nurses told me I might be too far gone.

I woke up three days later with train tracks running up my stomach and severe nerve damage in my leg. The bullet had gone straight through my stomach and hit my spine. I was told I’d probably never walk again, and that I’d need a colostomy bag, possibly forever. Even so, as soon as I was patched up, the police arrested me and took me straight to prison. I was so high on drugs for the first three weeks there I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. The physical and emotional pain, and the paranoia, when I eventually came around was almost too much to bear.

slowly but surely, I got myself back into shape – and eventually learnt to walk again.

Nevertheless, over the next nine months, slowly but surely, I got myself back into shape – and eventually learnt to walk again. I would drag myself to the prison gym with staples still in my stomach and bench press for the best part of the day. Being immobile had left me massively overweight but, with perseverance, I managed to lose six stone in six months.

That process inspired me to pursue a career in personal training, and I left prison filled with a new sense of purpose. I made it four weeks clean before, the moment I was released from licence, I caved. That’s how it always went for me: without discipline, I was powerless to my addiction.

In spite of the madness that ensued, I somehow managed to qualify as a personal trainer, get my diploma in physiology and anatomy, and become a top estate agent in Notting Hill, earning good money. But with my habit to feed, it was never sustainable. Things would swing from one extreme to the other: one day I’d be in a world-class gym training a celeb, the next in prison washing dishes. I used to console myself that I wasn’t a crackhead or an alcoholic sitting on the street getting inebriated. Then, through a typically chaotic series of events, I was.

During one of my later sentences, I had been introduced to Trailblazers – a national charity set up to mentor young offenders. Initially I was only interested in seeing how I could manipulate them, but then I was put in touch with a man called John Owen. John helped me massively, and when I got out supported me to pass my Level 3 Personal Training course, get clean, and secure a job at Fitness First. But while some areas of my life propelled, others started falling apart again in the background. 53 days into my longest clean streak – around the same time my step-dad was diagnosed with cancer – I went out to a nightclub, intending to stay sober, and before I even got there I was using. By the following Wednesday, I was still awake, I’d lost my job, spent every penny I’d saved – on top of money I’d stolen from my clients – and been disowned by my family.

I was homeless, poor, and in absolute hell

That’s how I found myself drinking by the canal one morning in the freezing cold, fourteen months into one of my worst relapses yet. I was homeless, poor, and in absolute hell. The only thing keeping me going was the thought of pinching another bottle of wine when the shops opened, but I knew I was in too much of a state to get away with it: I looked like a tramp. I caught myself dreaming of being in a prison cell and getting some sleep. Here was someone who, just two years prior, had been a high-flying businessman, earning a decent wage and living in a two bedroom house in a posh part of town; yet there I was with nowhere to go, no one to take me in, and all I could think of was to blame everyone else.

An hour later – God knows how – I’d been arrested. I was at the police station starting to think up an escape plan when it hit me: I literally had no more way outs; I needed help. I probably could have got bail, but I knew I needed to convince the judge to send me to jail or rehab. If I were released, my only option would be sofa surfing with other addicts and soon enough the charges would pile up. I had no power over what I was doing anymore. I was broken, and I just needed some time to sort myself out.

I did a lot of work on myself over the next nine months I spent in prison. From day one, I was running in the yard, rebuilding my fitness. I didn’t drink or use, and slowly I recovered my relationship with my family, who were waiting to escort me to the train up to rehab on my release.

Probation didn’t want to refer me to rehab at first because I was considered too high risk, but by chance my case file landed on the funder’s desk. He took a liking to me, impressed by the 53 days I’d stayed clean more or less off my own back. So by the time I got out, I had my place booked at The Bridges in Hull. I remember when the wine trolley went past on the train, I pictured myself drinking a bottle, jumping off and running back to London. But somehow, I managed to resist, knowing how much I had to prove.

Because my train was delayed, I rocked up to The Bridges that night four hours late. Apparently probation had already written up my recall papers, assuming I’d done a runner. Settling in on my first night, I could barely believe I’d made it myself.

probation had already written up my recall papers, assuming I’d done a runner

I learnt a hell of a lot of hard truths at The Bridges. First, I came to accept that I can’t drink again. I found that quite sad because I’ve had so many fun times drinking. But now I know that if I have just one sip of alcohol, I’m gone – it’s as simple as that. One slip up will have me heading straight back to square one – and the life I lead now is something I’m no longer willing to lose.

Doing the 12 steps, I also discovered that I’m quite a selfish person, so I’ve been counteracting that by being selfless: through charity work, sponsoring others in recovery, and giving pro bono personal training. It’s funny, everything used to be about the money for me, but now I get so much fulfilment from doing stuff for free. I love taking the boys at The Bridges to the gym every week, and during lockdown it benefited us all to do some outdoor workouts.

At the same time, my business, BOSSFIT academy, has gone from strength to strength. I’ve been working with celebrities again, and partnering with charities and businesses locally and across the world. I even have my own marketing team around me, and I’m on the verge of getting my own studio down by the marina in Hull.

Hull, and The Bridges, saved my life.

Hull. I remember when I first heard about The Bridges, I turned my nose up because I didn’t want to live in Hull. But I love it here – I only have good people around me. My life in London was mayhem, and I just can’t relate to it anymore. The Bridges staff laugh at me because soon after starting the programme I was lost: I’d never known anything but the materialistic world, so I didn’t know how to handle the fact that I’m so happy here with nothing. Since graduating from the programme, The Bridges staff have helped me get my own flat down by the marina as well, and I can’t wait to get settled. I’m in no hurry whatsoever to leave. Hull, and The Bridges, saved my life.

My advice for people in addiction would be: go to meetings – and don’t just go because someone is forcing you to, go because you want to. Don’t sit there and question it, just do it and you’ll see the difference – even if it’s not today, but in ten years’ time. Going to one meeting now can lay the groundwork for change in years to come.

Be open-minded. I’m lucky to have lots of people around me that have helped me, and mentors in life that I follow, but if you want to be successful and happy you need to be receptive to help. Sadly, some of my family are still in active addiction, so I try to give them advice when they call. I’m not going to force anything, but the light is there for when they’re ready.

Be patient. They say cocaine’s out of your system in twelve weeks. Four months into my last prison sentence I was still too scared to walk out of my cell, thinking everyone was out to get me. When you’ve used copious amounts of drugs over a sustained period of time, it takes a bit longer than that to get things straight – but you will get there. Trust me, if I did, anyone can.

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