One of the things I was told when I went into rehab for my alcohol and drug addiction was that I had a disease which affected everyone in society – “from dukes to dustmen”. I am hardly a duke, but I did have a privileged upbringing that few have the chance to experience – including a public school education and a degree from a good university. However, despite what many may think, this was no defence against the debilitating disease of addiction, which went on to ruin and nearly take my life, until I turned things around with hard work, the support of others and more than a touch of good luck.
At rock bottom, I was parked up in my car, in despair, full of alcohol, covered in petrol, and had just set light to myself.
At rock bottom, I was parked up in my car, in despair, full of alcohol, covered in petrol, and had just set light to myself. I saw no other way out. The only reason I am alive is because, by chance, I was close to the hospital with the best burns unit in the South of England which was originally founded by a great plastic surgeon, who rebuilt many fighter pilots in World War II. A wonderful team of doctors and nurses put me back together over eight weeks. Then began the real battle against addiction and towards my long term recovery…
I am not sure where my addiction started. My own personal belief is that some of us are genetically predisposed to the disease and then factors, often in childhood, trigger this. My mother was an alcoholic, who eventually died from this disease, so you could say I had addiction in my genes. The trials of adolescence and wondering how I would cope with the various challenges of my teenage life then triggered my response to the situation in my teenage years, which was to reach for a beer or a joint. It relaxed me, helped me deal with my anxiety and feelings of inadequacy that are a part of growing up for so many of us. My way to deal with my feelings was to avoid them with drugs and alcohol.
My way to deal with my feelings was to avoid them with drugs and alcohol.
By the time I went to university, I now see that I was at the stage where drink and drugs were using me, rather than the other way around. The drugs then got harder and the drink more copious. It is my theory that you have to be very clever to be an addict, in order to keep people off your back. Like others in our ‘club’, I was incredibly manipulative and managed to stay in my ‘bubble’ for a long time. I got through university and passed the civil service exams to secure a very good job in the Foreign Office, which at the time was an ideal place to hide addiction. I worked in a High Commission, representing Britain overseas in the political arena, and was fortunate to work in such exotic places as Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Bali, Niger and Mauritania.
It all hit the wall when my family confronted me and put me into rehab. That was the first time anyone suggested that I was suffering from an illness, and not merely a lack of willpower or self-control. I was introduced to the twelve-step programme and helped to see that I needed help to deal with my problems. However, although I understood and had overcome the physical craving for drink and drugs, I wasn’t ready to grasp that my addiction also had mental and spiritual aspects that I needed to acknowledge and address. In short, I had put down the drugs, but I didn’t have an alternative way to deal with my feelings. Unsurprisingly, a year into my abstinence, I found that I couldn’t cope anymore. I had a new job, a relationship I wasn’t ready for and I felt I couldn’t deal with it all. I was in pain, but not physical pain – mental pain. This is what led to a serious suicide attempt: I drank two bottles of spirits and drove out into the countryside with a can of petrol beside me.
In the fellowships, I am learning to grow into a mature adult, to live with others and to accept myself.
Once my body had been rebuilt after I set light to myself, I came crawling back to the (twelve-step) fellowships to begin my recovery properly this time. I came to believe that I have a three-fold illness that is physical, mental and spiritual. I really believe that the twelve-step programmes provide an opportunity for us to really grow up, rather than avoiding adulthood and personal responsibility through drugs and alcohol, which – although they promise to be an escape route – are a sure-fire route to self-destruction that only ends in jails, institutions or death. In the fellowships, I am learning to grow into a mature adult, to live with others and to accept myself. This is what happens to those who find these programmes. They arrive with their sense of self-worth at the ultimate low and the support of the group provides the love until they learn to love themselves. It is a journey that begins when you put down the drugs and start the work on yourself.
Now, I can look at myself in the mirror in the morning and forgive myself for all I have done to those I have hurt, and to myself– we are all made up of both light and dark after all.
Now, I can look at myself in the mirror in the morning and forgive myself for all I have done to those I have hurt, and to myself– we are all made up of both light and dark after all. I have learned to love myself so that I can love others.
I have gone from a suicidal mess to a happy camper! I was able to have loving relationships with my parents before they died, despite the fact that I’d lied, stolen and they had lost faith in me keeping any commitment I had to them. It took time, but I was able to be the son they hoped I would be. I did this by living a sober life on an ongoing basis and by sticking to any commitment I made – acknowledging my own responsibility. It was actions rather than words, as well as patient tolerance of their scepticism, that proved this to them day-by-day.
I have had the blessing of turning my life around and I am able to contribute to society through my working life, in which I support a number of charities – including as Chairman at The Forward Trust. I am delighted to be able to give back in the field of addiction and criminal justice. There is no greater joy than to be part of an organisation that helps people make transformational change in their lives on a daily basis. I really believe that the twelve steps are applicable to all – being rooted in honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to change.
My story demonstrates that, no matter our background or upbringing, addiction can affect any of us.
My story demonstrates that, no matter our background or upbringing, addiction can affect any of us. We all share common human failings and NOBODY is immune to this disease, so we need to show understanding and admiration for those who have suffered the lowest of the lows and been on the long hard journey inside themselves to turn their lives around. In the words of Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extend emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong. When this happens, we approach true tolerance and we see what real love for our fellows actually means”.
Over the course of the coronavirus lockdown, More Than My Past ambassadors have been sharing their experiences, to send a message of strength and solidarity.
In the video below, David explains how the 12 steps have been helping him to cope with the lockdown.