Drugs and crime meant that I missed out entirely on my teenage years, and I put my family through hell during my battles with addiction. My self-esteem was on the floor and, at times, I was suicidal. It’s only when I look back that I realise how deep in I was. However, I’m now approaching 19 years clean and my life is fantastic. I’ve been working to help others since I turned my own life around – using the skills and insight I gained from my experience to support young people and prevent them from making the same mistakes I did.
I was basically a scammer, conning people however I could, and I was deeply in denial – believing I was special because I had all the expensive clothes.
My first brush with criminality was selling pirate videos on Brick Lane when I was 14 years old. I was arrested for not having a licence, but only received a caution because of how young I was. Not long after that, I started selling cannabis to my friends so I could have a free smoke for myself. When I moved on to taking class A drugs, at around 15 or 16, I needed more money to fund my habit. This led to me selling Sudafed in clubs, pretending it was ecstasy, and getting banned from all my local chemists when they found out what I was up to. I was basically a scammer, conning people however I could, and I was deeply in denial – believing I was special because I had all the expensive clothes. My ego was firmly in control.
Things took a further turn for the worse when I started using heroin, and then crack cocaine. I was a good talker and capable of manipulating people to get what I wanted. I would scam anyone. I would listen to what people weren’t saying and I was practiced at telling them what they wanted to hear. I would sell mud as heroin and candle wax as crack. As you can imagine, I had a few heavy moments with other dealers, but that didn’t stop me. I started getting arrested for possession of drugs and increasingly coming to the attention of the police.
Things finally caught up with me when the police came knocking for me at my mum’s door. I got charged with deception – I had fraudulently cashed a cheque for around £5,000 two years previously – and possession of class A drugs. The timing couldn’t have been worse: when I was arrested, I had someone else’s cheque in my pocket, taken from my dad’s work. I had no intention of cashing it, but had shown it to my dealer to get crack cocaine ‘on tick’ (with an agreement to pay later), so he would believe I had money coming in. This affected my father deeply – he was embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with me.
It was a nice therapeutic environment, but I struggled because it was the first time I had been off drugs since I was 14 or 15 years old – having taken them every day since then for around eight years.
When I was arrested, I told my dad I would see him later at home. Instead, I was given two separate sentences – six and two months respectively, to run concurrently – and shipped off to prison. I appealed, and after an initial refusal, was released on a two-year probation with a fine. When this happened, I saw that I was at a crossroads and decided to sort myself out. An old girlfriend’s mum had been in rehab and said how great it was, so I gave it a go. It was a nice therapeutic environment, but I struggled because it was the first time I had been off drugs since I was 14 or 15 years old – having taken them every day since then for around eight years. I was still only 22 or 23 at the time.
When I was in detox, I started using cannabis to help me sleep and cope with the withdrawal symptoms from the class A drugs. This showed up in my urine test and I was thrown out of the centre. Looking back, it was such a shame because I had just started to get comfortable there, with one of the guys taking me under his wing as my ‘Detox Dad’. Although my probation officer wasn’t happy with me, luckily, my funding wasn’t cut and I went into another rehab centre in South East London. However, I was still cocky, using drugs on my home visits. I eventually decided to leave the rehab as I didn’t want the strict rules. Fortunately for me, they agreed to take me back four weeks later, and this time things were different. The night before I returned to rehab, I used drugs for the last time, flushed the last of my heroin and crack down the toilet and then ran out of the door to the centre. I was so pleased to be there – this was a defining moment for me.
The night before I returned to rehab, I used drugs for the last time, flushed the last of my heroin and crack down the toilet and then ran out of the door to the centre.
With no medication, withdrawal was hard; I barely slept for three weeks. However, having such a hard detox actually helped me stay clean: there was no way I was going through that again! I didn’t want home visits this time, because rehab was a happy place for me. I started to laugh and sleep naturally again, without chemical assistance. I was still very young – only 23 years old – but I weighed just nine stone – until I started eating. One day, I sat down in one of our group sessions and split my jeans. I laughed so hard all the way through that session; I was just so happy to be my natural self again. After I got out of rehab, I stayed living in South London. Whilst I was brought up in Hackney and was (and still am!) an Arsenal supporter, I needed a change; I didn’t want to see the same people I’d been hanging around with when I was using.
Once I got clean, I began to realise how much I’d missed out on. I didn’t really know my parents, as an adult myself. But where before I used to feel left out at family gatherings, now that I had changed my life, I had stories to tell them. This brought me back into my family, although – understandably – it took them a long time to trust me again. Today, my sister and I are really tight again, after she cut me off during my time using. I also have a good relationship with my 13-year-old son, which is the thing I am most proud of.
It’s all very well putting down the drugs, but the key is to change your mindset and start living, instead of just existing.
I have gone from strength to strength in many areas of my life – including international travel. I went on a Raleigh International expedition to help communities out in Chile for ten weeks, which was a real eye-opener for me. I have also travelled to Brazil on a football tour to raise awareness of addiction, criminality, and homelessness and I had a fundraising adventure in Borneo. It’s all very well putting down the drugs, but the key is to change your mindset and start living, instead of just existing. My personal growth has been hugely important to me and this has definitely been influenced by my travel experiences.
Over the last 18 years, I’ve been working to support young people and currently work as a school outreach officer, supporting students who are experiencing difficulties. I have longer-term plans to provide an entrepreneurial programme for kids in schools. I am also looking at developing a property business because I didn’t have anything as a child, and I want to provide a legacy for my son. I am always looking at goal-setting and personal development.
I feel so fortunate to have turned my life around and the events of my past seem so far away now. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I realise how far I have come.
Looking back, it was tough for my family. Unsurprisingly, they had kept everything about my addiction under wraps. But when Prince Harry visited my rehab centre, I had to phone my mum to tell her I was going to be on the news. I wanted to get everything out in the open, as I had lied and manipulated so much in my past. The support and love I had from my family helped me get through and built a solid foundation. I am still learning from my dad, even though he recently passed away. Today, I am so grateful for my family. When I was young and using drugs, I hung around with a lot of kids from broken homes. I didn’t want to be ‘the nice boy’ from the good home; I wanted to be confident and tougher than I really was. I succumbed to peer pressure and the feeling that I needed to be ‘somebody’.
My shortcomings have taught me so much. When you have lost everything, you appreciate what you’ve got. I feel so fortunate to have turned my life around and the events of my past seem so far away now. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I realise how far I have come. I want to share my life experiences so I can inspire others to see that, however deep in you are now, change is possible and life can be better than you ever imagined.