I was born in Woolwich, South East London and then spent a lot of my early years living in the South East of England. My father was in the army, so moving around quite often became the norm for me.
Fast forward to my 20s, I also joined the army myself after finishing university. Joining the army was always a tradition in our family, and it was seen as a manly thing to do, so I guess those were some of the factors that motivated me to join. I ended up staying in the army for eight years – it was something I really enjoyed.
For the most part of my 20s, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t gay. I also got married around the same time. Ten years into the marriage, I finally came out to my wife and that’s when our marriage came to an end. Looking back, I can really see that this was a period of my life in which I was struggling with my identity, and without a doubt, it impacted my mental health. I was also working as a management consultant at the time so things were always hectic, busy and although I used to make a lot of money, I was under a lot of stress.
I was in a relationship with a guy for eight years, but when things ended between us I started using drugs, which were by then very much a part of the gay scene.
At the age of 50, it was the first time I had ever taken drugs. Subconsciously, it was an act of revenge towards my ex-partner. I soon met a younger guy and the foundation of this new relationship was based on our mutual use of drugs, and we would often go to parties together, where plenty of drugs would always be in reach. As well as being enabled by my partner, the whole gay scene in London around 2010 was rapidly moving in the direction of heavy drug taking and chemsex parties (gatherings where people take drugs and engage in sex at the same time) so it wasn’t a surprise that I caved. Soon after, I was using drugs every single day and I’d regularly go to these parties and use a lot of different types of drugs, including crystal meth, GHB and mephedrone.
One evening, in a moment of drug-induced paranoia, the guy I was with called the police and told them that I had a gun. The police came and whilst there was certainly no gun, I was cautioned because they had found drug paraphernalia lying around. At that point, I knew things needed to change but I never took action. I instead decided to move in with a friend, who, once again, took drugs. Everything just got worse.
One day it came to a head when I called my ex-wife and opened up to her about everything that I was going through. After the divorce, my wife and I remained on good terms so communication between us wasn’t something shocking. I knew that she would always be there for me and our break-up wasn’t something sour because she knew that I wasn’t running off with another woman. I told her that I needed help and that I wanted her to call the police for me. I really felt like a terrible person for the things that I had done, and I believed that I deserved to be punished.
When police arrived at my property, they told me that they would be taking me – not to jail – but to A&E. I then spent a week in hospital in 2014 and stopped taking drugs. When I came out of hospital, my GP recommended me to get onto a recovery programme. I began the programme which, at the time, was run by Turning Point. I found that being a part of a recovery group was really helpful for me. Six months after leaving hospital, I did have one relapse on a night out, but since then, I have stopped using drugs altogether and after five years of using and I am now four years clean.
I then began volunteering with Turning Point and once The Forward Trust took over the contract, I became a Peer Mentor for the charity. It was really engaging and I enjoyed running recovery groups and helping out in the hub. One day, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said that they needed a recovery worker and that they thought I should apply for the role. I applied – and since October 2018, I have been working as a Drug and Alcohol Practitioner for The Forward Trust at their hub in Canterbury.
I really love what I do because I know that no matter how difficult my experiences were, I am now helping other people – so something positive has come out of all of this: I have turned my experience into something positive rather than entirely negative. In my role, I support clients in targeting their drug or alcohol issues. Some of our clients stay with us for years, whilst others just for months, so there is a lot of variety in the people that I meet. I also get to use the skills that I had in my previous job as a management consultant, where I would often coach other executives: that’s what I do now, just in a different context.
Although I did a SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training) recovery programme, a lot of my clients have done the 12-step programme and I think it is really important to be able to work with both. One of the 12 steps, for example, is to help others; I was helped by others and I am now helping people too. For me, my biggest problem was that I would isolate myself when things became difficult because my tendency when I am in trouble is to withdraw. I think that a lot of the clients I meet also face similar problems, which is why I think group work and encouraging people to open up and speak is such an important element of recovery, regardless of what type of programme a person is following.
Because I have been through the hard times myself, SMART clients really feel that they can identify with and relate to me because I am a visible example of recovery to them. However, I think that it is important to consider that just because someone in my role is not in recovery, it doesn’t mean that they cannot understand clients in the same way that I do.
Since I stopped using drugs, life has definitely become much quieter for me – in a good way! I no longer go to parties, and I actually moved out of London a few years ago to live with my ex-wife and get away from the noise and the negative memories of how my life was. I now spend less money and I have more time for myself to do the things I love, such as writing – a passion I developed after taking up an online creative writing course at the Open College of Arts. I am currently writing my own book which will contain poetry and prose about the experience of life.
I have also noticed that my anxiety levels are much lower now, simply because my life is much less chaotic. When I was using drugs, basic, mundane things like paying my bills or opening my letters were such hard tasks – but now they’re effortless. I also eat really well now – maybe a bit too well!
Taking my dogs out for a walk is also something I really appreciate nowadays as dogs have played a played an important role in my own recovery. I see dogs as free spirits; they always live in the present and I think that in itself is quite a good philosophy for recovery. They also encourage you to exercise a bit more when you run after them, and owning a pet makes you feel a bit of responsibility for looking after them, which in turn, helps you to become less selfish.
But one of the most important things about my recovery is coming to terms with not having to worry about the future. I believe that when one releases themselves from their worries, they will recover better. For me, becoming a CEO isn’t on my agenda and I am happy to continue supporting people the way I do now until I retire.
I am really pleased that I can motivate and encourage others to make a change in their lives, as I did in mine. I encourage those looking for help to overcome their embarrassment or shame about it. A lot of help is out there – we just don’t often realise it. And from my work experience, I know that most people in recovery wish that they had asked for help sooner.