I grew up in a chaotic environment. My dysfunctional mother had trouble interacting with her kids, which affected me a lot. My brother was sectioned when he was nine years old and I was seven. Before he was sectioned, my mother dedicated so much of her time to trying to control him, which made me feel like I wasn’t getting the attention I needed. So for the first seven years of my life, I spent most of my days either in a corner, away from any drama, or in the company of my grandparents. I was also sexualised by an older relative around the same time.
I was sent to boarding school before the age of eight, which meant that I hardly saw my family anymore. At school, I was abused by a teacher. By the time I was 17, I was pretty messed up. I was in complete turmoil emotionally but back then, I could never really make sense of my feelings.
I was in complete turmoil emotionally but back then, I could never really make sense of my feelings.
I moved to London in 1966, shortly before the Summer of Love, and – as a curious 18-year-old – I got hold of some drugs in less than 48 hours. When I began using, I realised I had found something that could give me a fake front to show to the world, while helping me deal with all the internal noise, disquiet, shyness and feelings of being sick and a pervert. I progressed onto stronger drugs like dope, acid and amphetamines and what started off as a Tuesday habit turned into everyday use.
I ran out of money very fast, and soon turned to a life of crime to keep my habit going. Things like shoplifting and stealing from people’s houses when they had their front doors open was never a moral issue for me. I first got in trouble with the police in 1968 for breaking into a car. After that came drug possession charges and several appearances in court. Strangely, getting into trouble made me feel valued among my circle of friends. I was beginning to get a reputation as the bad guy who would always get in trouble – and that behaviour got me a lot of kudos. Looking back, it made sense that I saw my behaviour as normal, because the people I surrounded myself with were behaving exactly the same way. Each time I went to court, my story that I was a public schoolboy who’d fallen on a wrong path and just needed to get myself back on track again was believed. I think I was allowed to get away with much more than I should have, but at that time, I was never really willing to change.
It took a long time before I realised that things needed to change. At that time, I had a child with a woman who was also using and, as a result, my daughter struggled when she was born. Police and social services were always in and out of our temporary houses, as we would squat in different locations. I was even put on life support once after I had overdosed, but even that wasn’t enough. I was always absent; I’d disappear and reappear and that went on for years.
After getting in trouble for a firearms charge and a robbery, I knew I was going down and that I couldn’t talk myself out of prison this time. After spending a year and a half in prison, I came out and decided to stop using heroin because that’s what I saw as the problem. Instead, I started drinking heavily. I didn’t even think it was wrong that I was sending my eight-year-old daughter to the shops to buy me beer. I thought I’d been making an improvement, when in reality I was just replacing the drugs with yet another substance.
My friend had held a mirror up to me and showed me for the first time that I didn’t need to keep doing this.
One day, a friend of mine visited me; he had clean clothes, a nice car and he seemed so content with himself. I asked him what he had done. “I gave up the drugs”, he said. I had used with him many times and I knew that he was as bad a junkie as I was. But seeing him change really shocked me. It challenged my belief that ‘once a junkie, always a junkie.’ Even psychologists had told me that I had no chance of changing, but my friend had challenged that! It had never even occurred to me that that stopping drugs was an option – until now. My friend had held a mirror up to me and showed me for the first time that I didn’t need to keep doing this.
One day, I’d left my daughter at home alone for about five hours. I still remember the frightened look on her face when I returned – she’d had no idea where I’d been or when I would be back. That has always stayed with me and was the final motivator that led me to seek change.
I had briefly heard about NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and a rehab I could go to. I started phoning them up every day, eager to get an appointment and, in time, it worked. On the 1st of December 1984, I went into rehab at the age of 37. By the fourth day, I knew that I didn’t want the life I had anymore. I knew recovery was going to be difficult, but I could also look back over my shoulder and see that my former life was ridiculous. The support I received from going to meetings every day was amazing – all of us had blended together and just looked after each other. Seeing other people be vulnerable and speak the language that was going on in my head was a tremendous experience.
My first job was cleaning carpets. It wasn’t great but, but it enabled me to prove to myself that I wasn’t useless, irresponsible and unable to turn up for anything. I could work hard, be reliable and not have to steal from houses anymore. During a rehab session, a therapist told me that I should consider a career in their field because there was something about the way I spoke to people that was soothing. Being in a place run by people in recovery was fantastic for me because I also enjoyed how I was dealt with and spoken to. They truly understood me, because they had been through it. A year later, I started training as a therapist and got some volunteer and training work under my belt, until I eventually got a job in a rehab facility.
I think that we need to open up a conversation about what recovery is like, which includes the experiences of those who are living it.
After running a halfway house for a few years, I was given the opportunity to open my own rehab facility – and that’s when Focus12 was born. I ran the place for about 20 years. I am really proud of what I achieved and the thousands of lives I was able to have an impact on. After all the damage I’d caused, I wanted to leave a positive legacy behind.
For the past five years, I have been working as a therapist in Harley Street. I support clients who are in active addiction or are in recovery and are struggling with other aspects of their lives. I think that we need to open up a conversation about what recovery is like, which includes the experiences of those who are living it.
While giving professional development lectures to doctors, I have sometimes noticed them switching off when I tell them I am in recovery – and I think that it’s ridiculous. However hard the journey looks, it’s better than using – without any doubt at all. Life is hard for everybody but there is no problem on earth that is improved with the use of drugs or alcohol.
I think that, in order to see a change, we need to be more open about recovery – even if that means getting more famous people to open up about their struggles and to declare their recovery. Because, just like me, when people see that it’s possible, they finally start to believe that they can do it too.