It’s my belief that I had an addictive personality even before I found the drink and drugs. I grew up in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and my childhood was marked by violence and abandonment. I remember, when I was six years old, my father pointing a shotgun at my mother. My parents divorced when I was seven and my father disappeared for the next four and a half years. Not having a male figure in my life at this time had a huge impact on me. I didn’t realise quite how much this influenced me until later in my life. It affected my self-esteem and I hated myself. I felt like the black sheep of my family. I wasn’t good at school and lacked concentration. I didn’t feel like I was making my family proud. Instead, I felt vulnerable, neglected and like I wasn’t good enough.
When I was 13 years old, my brother became a helicopter pilot in the Brazilian Air Force. I started to go to parties with him and saw how he was chatty and sociable with girls. I wanted to be able to do this. The first time I got drunk, things all changed: it gave me a feeling of freedom to dance, chat and flirt – it seemed to be everything I was looking for.
Very soon, it wasn’t so much that I was using the drugs, but that the drugs were using me
In Brazil, drugs other than alcohol are seriously frowned upon. I wasn’t ignorant and I knew where drugs would take me, so I promised myself I’d do nothing more than drink alcohol. That was until I met a guy with a motorbike who was surrounded by beautiful girls and he offered me a spliff. I was terrified, but I wanted him to accept me and to be cool. I smoked it to please him (or perhaps to please my absent father, as I worked out in therapy some years later).
Very soon, it wasn’t so much that I was using the drugs, but that the drugs were using me. From 17, I had completely lost my freedom. By this time, I was using crack cocaine and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t understand the concept of addiction and thought it was related to the specific substance. I thought I would just be able to stop smoking crack and go back to only spliffs and alcohol, but this wasn’t the case and I realised I needed to surrender using all drugs. I had moved to the UK at the end of my 17th year, but went back to Brazil to a rehab and stayed clean for eleven months to prove to my mum that I was a good boy. Of course, with that attitude, I relapsed when I was back in the UK and things got really bad. Three and a half years later, I tried to commit suicide, I lost access to my kids and my whole family stopped talking to me. I was suffering from panic attacks and depression. It was a low time, but – looking back – it was also the beginning of change.
I thought I would just be able to stop smoking crack and go back to only spliffs and alcohol, but this wasn’t the case and I realised I needed to surrender using all drugs
I remember, around this time, looking at a picture of myself that was taken when I was five years old and wondering what happened to that little boy. I knew I was good underneath, but I had become a monster and was regularly committing crime. I got to a point where I couldn’t bear to spend another day on earth like this – it was either get clean or kill myself. I could contact my family in Brazil and try rehab there again or I could start going to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. I decided to go to NA and everything changed for me. I did the twelve-step programme, got a sponsor and did my service to others. It was not a linear change and it often went up and down, but things were moving in the right direction. I did a lot of therapy too, as I found I had more issues to work through than I had realised.
Two and a half years later, I was feeling suicidal again. It didn’t make me want to turn to drugs again, but I realised I needed to address my behaviour: I had put down the drugs, but I was still living a life of addiction – including to cigarettes, women and pornography. I wasn’t a DRUG addict, but I was still an addict. There was a wider problem and I needed to address my well-being and spirituality.
I got to a point where I couldn’t bear to spend another day on earth like this – it was either get clean or kill myself
From the NA meetings, I had heard that my ongoing recovery depended on my relationship with a Higher Power, but these were just words written in the literature and I had no understanding of this for myself. When a man I knew from the meetings challenged me about my Higher Power, I got very defensive. I hated religion, especially Christianity, as I had previously had some bad experiences when I went to church in Brazil. I had vivid memories of my father pointing a gun at my mum on the Saturday and then going to church on the Sunday.
This man from the NA meetings did me the greatest favour when he suggested I needed to find a working relationship with a Higher Power, otherwise I would struggle. He suggested I go to church, but I hated the idea. This man helped me to work out that I didn’t hate God, but the things that I had seen done in God’s name. When I went to church, my recovery began to change. I knew that God was real and that He loved me.
I had put down the drugs, but I was still living a life of addiction… There was a wider problem and I needed to address my well-being and spirituality
Four and a half years later, I had a relationship again with my own children. I am a good father – being fully present to them (and myself) emotionally. I am good to the mother of my children and to my own mother, who now lives in the UK. I am free from cigarettes and pornography, as well as from drugs. My calling is now focused on helping addicts to recover. I now mentor a number of other men and have opened a ministry called ‘Our Father’s House’, which is a recovery meeting for Christians in recovery where we do step work and bible study. We also run a food bank for people in recovery as well as a homeless outreach. I work in a church in East London and am training to become a vicar for the Church of England.
A key step on my journey was working for The Forward Trust, a charity that supports people in recovery from addiction and ex-offenders. I was working in the hospitality sector at the time, but my friend had mentioned to me that he thought I had a great gift and that I should apply for a job with the Trust. I was fortunate enough to get a position as an Apprentice Family Worker, which later became a manager role. I learned so much here. I knew already about how to help addicts, but not families of people in addiction. I didn’t know it at the time, but these transferable skills were to form the basis of the pastoral care I now provide on behalf of the church. The Forward Trust gave me the ability to look after my whole congregation and I am very grateful for this.
My calling is now focused on helping addicts to recover
Whilst life still has its ups and down, I feel very blessed. To anyone who finds themselves stuck in addiction, I would say that – in order to stay clean – we have to be willing to do the things we don’t believe we want to. We have to have discipline – this is the way to freedom, however odd that seems at first. When I was younger, I had the attitude of “I do what I want” and I thought that represented freedom, but – later on – that attitude was the same that turned me into a slave. Doing what I thought I wanted nearly killed me! It’s about what we NEED, rather than what we WANT – not just following our desires. If you are willing to do the things you don’t want to do, there is a high probability you will stay clean. For example, if you don’t feel like going to an NA meeting, but you still go. I would also strongly suggest you find a relationship with your own Higher Power, however that looks to you. It is this approach that has turned me from hateful to ever grateful.