I was born, raised and spent most of my childhood in Glasgow, Scotland. I crossed paths with substance abuse quite early on in my life after growing up with an alcoholic father, who, for years, would cycle between periods of recovery followed by relapse.
I first started using cannabis when I was fifteen years old, with most of the influence coming from friends and others at school who I looked up to as role models. Getting stoned ‘at the weekend’ soon turned into frequent use and, as curiosity got the better of me, I soon began experimenting with more substances.
By the time I was 17, I had a run-in with the law for possession of cannabis. At the time, I was training as an electrician and became worried about losing my job and having to do time in prison. But that fear didn’t stop me for what was to come.
I had stopped using drugs for a while after that, but by the time I moved to South London in 1984 at the age of 20, I was settling back into my old ways. Over the next few months, I started travelling the world and not only using, but now also dealing. My ‘habit’ which soon turned into a lucrative full-time job, led to my arrest in Spain at the age of 23 – that was the first time I went to jail.
I was sat in a toilet cubicle with my head in my hands, needle marks all over my body, calling out to the universe: “If anything or anyone is out there, can you please help me?”
By the late 1990s, after years of revelling in the lavish lifestyle that my drug dealing afforded me, my world began to crumble. I ran out of money fast and found myself stealing from anyone and anywhere to feed my habit. I would steal meat, razor blades, batteries and any other goods that I thought could earn me some quick cash. I would often find loopholes in the benefits system and would regularly defraud people. Anything would do, if it meant getting a fix. Homelessness soon followed, and waking up on park benches became the norm for me. At this time, I also began selling The Big Issue in an attempt to get by. At that point, I became hopeless and suicidal as I hadn’t only lost the perfect life I thought I’d made for myself, but it also began to dawn on me that I was suffering from an illness – which I’d later come to find was addiction.
One day, in what I considered as my spiritual rock bottom, I was sat in a toilet cubicle with my head in my hands, needle marks all over my body, calling out to the universe: “If anything or anyone is out there, can you please help me?” It was painful and miserable.
Not long after, I was arrested and became involved in a court case for being an associate with someone who was charged for a drugs-related crime. With an aim to clear my name and stay out of trouble, I reckoned that applying to get onto a rehabilitation programme would benefit my reputation in the trial, as I’d be giving people the impression that I was a man who was trying to make a change. I was found not guilty in the case and unexpectedly I decided to dedicate myself to the rehabilitation programme, which I completed over the course of twelve weeks. In November 1996, I began seeing a counsellor alongside getting methadone maintenance treatment.
Meeting Eric Clapton had a massive impact on me because I could see that it was still possible to have fun and enjoy life without relying on drugs.
At two weeks sober, I went to a Narcotics Anonymous music event in Brixton, where I had the chance to meet singer Eric Clapton, who is also in recovery. I spoke to him and got a signed autograph. Meeting Eric had a massive impact on me because I could see that it was still possible to have fun and enjoy life without relying on drugs. For the very first time, I began to believe that finding freedom beyond addiction was actually possible.
Since joining and completing the twelve-step rehabilitation programme, which I connected with so strongly, I stopped using drugs and I have been sober since December 4th 1996 – that’s 22 years! A few years later, I then decided to pursue a career in counselling and therapy.
Today, I work as a therapist and run my own clinic in Harley Street in Marylebone, Central London, where I work with people who struggle with not only drugs, but other types of addiction too. I have devoted myself to this career because I know what these people are going through as I was once just like them. Working in this field has taught me so many things about the illness of addiction and the underlying causes of it, which I think is very important to know.
People’s preconceptions have never stopped me proving to myself the things I can achieve.
In 2012, I also published my own book ‘Nothing to Declare’, which details the crazy ups and downs of my life, including the highs of being a seemingly successful drug-dealer to the lows being homeless and losing everything I knew. I have also shared my story with many media platforms including BBC 2 and the Victoria Derbyshire show and written weekly columns for The Big Issue magazine, where I can connect with readers who ask for advice on their own issues. I am now a trustee for the Big Issue Foundation and am eternally grateful to them as they were there during my recovery journey. I still remember being a Big Issue seller on the streets, alongside another friend who was also selling the magazine and who encouraged me to go to detox.
I sometimes faced struggles relating to stigma in my recovery, such as facing rejection during job applications because I wasn’t perceived as fit for certain high-responsibility roles because of my criminal background. However, people’s preconceptions have never stopped me proving to myself the things I can achieve.
In recovery, I have become a father to two children in whose lives’ I play an active role. During my addiction, it was all about me, but now I can pay attention to my family’s needs and provide for them, as well as my clients who I help at work every day. Overcoming the pain and misery of over 15 years in addiction, including almost the same amount of criminal convictions, has changed me and as challenging as it was I will always be grateful for my experiences as a using addict because I can now appreciate life and live my full potential more than I could have ever imagined possible. Here’s to the past – I am more than you, but also thankful to you.