I am Roger Davies and I’ve been recovery for 41 years. On my journey I picked up two world records but the story doesn’t start there…
My story started when I was just a young boy. School was very difficult for me, I had a hard time. The schools I went to were brutal. The problem was my teachers thought I was dumb and stupid. They treated me as if I was a really bad boy. Actually, I was dyslexic, before dyslexia had been invented. I left school at 16 with no qualifications, absolutely nothing but a big chip on my shoulder.
I went out into the big bad world to earn a few bucks. It was the swinging sixties and I discovered, sex, drugs rock and roll and booze! I got the taste very, very quickly. Unfortunately the booze brought out all of the bottled up anger and violence boiling inside of me from my school days. I think bullies are made not born and I became a bully. By the time I was 18, my dad realised I was in bad shape, trouble seemed to follow me. He shipped me out to the merchant navy, within weeks I had been arrested for grievous bodily harm. A few months later I was arrested again and locked up.
It didn’t get any better. For the next few years, I earned a living through violence. I was a doorman at the age of 19. I worked the clubs, I was a debt collector and a drug dealer. You name it, I did it. That was my world. The people I associated with were criminals. Things didn’t get better. I couldn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing. At one point I was on the run at home in England, then in France. I even considered joining the Foreign Legion. I’ve been at the wrong end of a gun a few times. I wasn’t worried about the man in front of me, it was the man behind me, I was always looking over my shoulder. The only time I felt safe was in a prison cell with the door slammed and locked, no one could get to me there. That’s how bad things were….
At 33 years old I saw myself for the first time for what I was. I started to think that maybe drink wasn’t my friend after all. Maybe if I didn’t have a drink for a week or two, or maybe a couple of months, maybe things might get a little easier for me. I went to see a doctor, just two doors down from where I was living. He gave me a telephone number; it turned out to be for a twelve step fellowship. I called them and ended up going to a meeting. I turned up, I sat down, I didn’t remember what anyone said. I couldn’t follow the meeting very well, my head was such a mess, but I do remember feeling safe. For some reason it clicked and it felt good. Nobody gave me a hard time. Nobody fronted me up, no-one tried to turn me over or get me involved in anything. I thought this is OK, and for the first time in a long time I didn’t have a drink. A few people asked me how much I drank? I had no idea, I just drank nonstop. I was on it 24/7. It wasn’t about how many bottles, I was just topping up constantly. For the first time in my life I’d taken the gloves off. I said to myself, I need help and I’ll accept help. I continued to go to meetings. I knew that was the right place for me to be.
I got a job on a building site. Life began to look a bit different. I didn’t completely change. Unfortunately I was still aggressive and very grumpy. I was still the same person but dry. When I was two years sober somebody said something I didn’t like, I beat him up. That is not social behaviour. All the people who had been helping me just looked at me and turned their backs, rightly so. What am I going to do? Which way am I going to go? Am I going back to the old ways or shall I go back to those meetings? What am I going to do? I had a brainwave, maybe I had to do something about me, about Roger! Maybe I ought to change. Maybe it’s more than just drinking that’s wrong with me. I made a list of things I had to do… I would keep my mouth shut instead of arguing all the time. I decided to sit on my hands so I wouldn’t get violent. I’d give up smoking, get healthy and fit. I became a vegetarian because meat fuelled my anger. I went to meetings. I went to meeting after meeting after meeting slowly, slowly, slowly, I started trying to do something about myself. I built a business, started employing people and ended up with 35 guys working for me.
I was nearly nine years sober when I met a lady and got married. A year later we were blessed with a beautiful daughter. We had our own house, nice cars and I was putting my life together slowly. It was still a struggle and I could see the violence in me still. It isn’t just about putting down the drink and going to meetings, you’ve got to do more about yourself.
In my early years in recovery I joined a running club, I ran marathons and took part in many runs all over the country. By the time my little girl came along I was fairly fit… The one day my wife came home and said this guy walked to the North Pole. I thought I could do that. She got his number and I gave him a call the next day. I said, I understand you’re looking for a good man to go to the North Pole, he just laughed. I was on his doorstep the following morning with my deposit. I began training, during this time it was discovered I had a heart problem. A stent was fitted. Eight months later, I got off a plane in Resolute Bay, it was cold -28C. I was standing on the start line of a 650 kilometres walk to the North Pole. It took 25 days to complete; I lost 42 pounds in weight. We pulled our sledges full of our kit. Everything we needed a tent, food, fuel and our guns just in case a polar bear decided we were its next meal. I actually walked all the way to the North Pole. We did it. I did it! Before I went I was telling my friends in the fellowship I was going to the North Pole, one of them sent me a copy of the Big Book to take with me. As a book its purpose is to show alcoholics how the first 100 people of A.A. got sober. Reading it in the sub-zero tent at night reminded me of the people I’ve met over the years, to think of them knowing if they were looking at me now they’d be pointing the finger saying, he’s nuts. If I was rich I’d be eccentric – but I did it and I was still sober.
The following year I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with some friends. On my return I got a call, “Hey, Rog, we got something else, you want to try this? There’s a team going to row from London to Paris.” Okay, I turned up but I didn’t realise he had left a reputation for me. He told all these lads that Roger is coming, he’s solid and reliable. I was 28 years sober and nobody had ever called me solid and reliable. That put a different twist on things that made me feel good.
I joined that team. We trained hard. I got in the boat at Westminster, rowed down the Thames, went around the corner, across the Channel to Le Harve, along the River Siene to Paris finishing at the Eiffel Tower. We did that one stroke at a time. When I do these things, it’s the same as sobriety, one step at a time, one day at a time. I have to remember at all times my primary purpose is to stay sober.
Over the years I’ve walked across the Sahara Desert, I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, I went to Nepal, trekked up to Everest base camp. I’ve done all these awesome things. Then another adventure came up. Why don’t you row the Atlantic? These challenges seem like good ideas at the time. They sound so easy. Yeah, we’ll just get on the boat and row the Atlantic no problem at all. The crew were all talking about breaking a world record and where are we going to celebrate? I’m thinking to myself, I’ve walked to the North Pole, I’ve done lots of other adventurers for me it’s the journey that’s important. It’s like my sobriety is a daily process, it’s not about gaining years, it is about getting through the days and dealing with the problems of the day, that’s how I see it. I got in that boat, I rowed as best I could for twelve hours out of 24. On Day 17, in mid-Atlantic, I used the Sat phone to call my wife and my sponsor because I was celebrating 35 years of sobriety at 68 years of age.
Between then and 2019 I got another call. Would I like to play rugby on Everest? Oh Yes! I began training for it, and at the age of 71 I played in two games of rugby. I played one at Everest Base camp, 5119 metres, which broke a world record. Then we walked up to play our second game of rugby at 6331 metres.
I came home, carried on with life. Back in training for my next adventure I got myself a hernia. Before I had the operation I was sent for a scan. I was then sent to see a specialist. The pendulum had stopped swinging, I had cancer.
Now begins possibly the most challenging and important journey of my life, one of which (I say this with humility) I intend to tackle using the life skills I have acquired in my career as an adventurer. I’m blessed to have the help and support of my wife, close friends, colleagues, fellowship and an incredible medical team.
As a Cancer Survivor, I was encouraged to paddle a single kayak across the English Channel from Dungeness UK to Boulogne France on the 3 August 2021 celebrating six months to the day since my last chemotherapy cycle. On the 8 October 2021 I kayaked the return journey, I smashed it both ways!
So that’s how my life works, I use the fellowship to ask questions to try and do the right things. I’m just an ordinary guy going through a journey. That journey has involved serious crime, heavy addiction and cancer. On the 2 February 1981 is when I found recovery, I have had continuous sobriety to this day. I’m not special or unique, not the toughest or fittest, I believe in having a go. I’m a living example of how change is possible and how with it comes amazing opportunities, that’s my story. I know if I ask the right questions, the right things tend to happen. When I have a problem nowadays I treat it as if it’s a glass of muddy water. I’ll put it on the shelf, leave it to settle and then I can then see through properly. I take a step back now, I don’t confront everything all the time.
My suggestion to anyone struggling is to get support, go to a twelve step programme, speak to people who are in or understand recovery, they can explain how it works. It worked for me.
While this is my story of transformation, I hope that others (maybe you) will see it and understand that there is no limitation to what human beings can achieve. If there is a message it’s that I’m just an ordinary guy who went out and did extraordinary things.
Believe in yourself; your mountain is waiting…