I grew up in Brixton, back in the 80s. It was quite rough and drinking and smoking were pretty commonplace. My family didn’t have a lot of money and I had to look after some of my siblings from a young age.
I was 11 years old when I started messing around with alcohol – I used to drain my older brother’s bottles when he wasn’t looking. It started because I was curious – I’d seen all the adults drinking, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves, so I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
I’ll never forgot what that first drink tasted like – it made me feel confident, better about myself. It made me forget the things that made me sad: how many responsibilities I had, the pressure I felt at school and how little money we had.
A few years later, when I was about 15, I moved onto cannabis. I was starting to feel the pressure of having to look after my younger siblings and keep on top of school work as well. Everyone around me who did weed seemed so chilled – including my big brother. I figured that if alcohol was good at taking away my cares, cannabis had to be even better.
I was smoking and drinking loads, and hanging around with people who were doing the same
I left school when I was 17 with no qualifications. Not long after, I got my first job at 18. But I was smoking and drinking loads, and hanging around with people who were doing the same – we weren’t exactly the most responsible crowd. I guess it was my way of having the freedom I didn’t feel I’d had when I was little
I ended up getting the sack because I’d been hungover or under the influence on the job too many times. I moved in with my older brother, who was a massive influence on me – my role model. Like a lot of other people around us, he also drank and smoked weed, so I thought I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
What started as a fun way to escape developed into a pretty co-dependent relationship with substances and booze.
I got in trouble with the law – joy riding and driving under the influence. I went to court and got a fine, but it didn’t stop me.
I became a parent for the first time when I was 19 years old. I had responsibilities, but I wasn’t a responsible parent – I didn’t live with my child’s mother and I wasn’t really present or a role model. I think it was a rebellion from feeling so much pressure to be responsible when I was younger.
I was 22 when I got my first prison sentence
I was 22 when I got my first prison sentence: five and a half years for dangerous driving and being under the influence. I went into prison and did the RAPt programme (now run by The Forward Trust). I got really into the programme whilst inside prison and, when I was released, started going to their annual reunions in London, because I was really into being part of the recovery community.
However, it wasn’t long before I slipped back into my old ways. There was definitely something egotistical going on – I think I felt that, once I was out of prison, I no longer needed to keep going to meetings or engaging with my recovery. After I relapsed, I really hurt those around me, especially my family. I’d had more children by then, but I wasn’t around for any of them. Being back in the madness of addiction insulated me from feeling the consequences of my actions.
In my late 20s, I started moving in different circles. They all took harder drugs, such as cocaine and crack. I stopped smoking cannabis, but replaced it with cocaine – plus I was still drinking. I got really into cocaine – the people around me were doing it on a big scale because they were involved in supply. There was loads of the stuff around, and I didn’t know the amount you should do, so I took insane amounts of it. I then moved onto crack. I got hooked on it and it was awful.
I got into a cycle of going to prison, doing the drugs programme inside, getting released, relapsing, and then going back to prison. Every time I left prison I’d think, “I’m clean now, I’ll be fine”, but going back to the same area meant sooner or later I ended up in my old ways. It went on for decades.
I was killing myself. In my early 40s I was diagnosed with an enlarged heart due to my drug use (it didn’t help that I also smoked a lot of cigarettes as well). The doctors gave me all sorts of advice about lifestyle changes, but I buried my head in the sand.
I didn’t want to change, and thought I wasn’t harming anyone.
That wasn’t my only medical issue. I’d gotten into weight lifting in my younger years, which resulted in me slipping a disc in my back. I was in agony, but drugs took away the pain, so I had even less incentive to stop using.
I nearly died twice – the consultant said that he couldn’t believe I’d survived. It was a wakeup call.
My last arrest was in 2017. I was 53 years old. Back in prison, without access to my normal recreational drugs to self-medicate the pain, my various medical conditions began to catch up with me. My oesophagus exploded and I was rushed to hospital. I had to be put in an induced coma for two weeks because they couldn’t operate on me as my heart was so week. I nearly died twice – the consultant said that he couldn’t believe I’d survived. It was a wakeup call.
I did The Forward Trust programme again, this time in HMP Coldingley. I became a Peer Mentor, a role where people with lived experience of the programme support newer clients. Shortly before I was due to leave, a lady from Forward came to the prison. Her name was Julie and she ran the recovery department – funnily enough, she’s a More Than My Past Ambassador too!
She convinced me to apply for rehab, and recommended The Bridges – Forward’s rehabilitation centre in Hull. I was reluctant, but Julie was great – she could tell that I needed to break my old cycle and make a fresh start, with a recovery community around me. Julie saved me. She stopped me from going back to my old ways. I wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for her.
I was released from prison in July 2019 and went straight to The Bridges. I spent ten months there, graduating from the programme and getting a sponsor. Two months ago, I moved into the recovery flat accommodation Forward have in Hull, living with two other former clients.
Life is so different now. I go to fellowship meetings five or six times a week, and I have a great relationship with my counsellor from The Bridges, Dean. He’s brilliant, and still checks in on me to make sure I’m doing OK and sticking to the programme. Everyone at The Bridges have been incredible, and I now volunteer there twice a week.
I never expected I would be alive right now. I’m proud of myself for getting here.
I’ve been clean now for two years – it’s the longest stint I’ve ever had without drugs as an adult. There have been a few ups and downs, but I’ve got through it. I never expected I would be alive right now. I’m proud of myself for getting here.
Right now I’m doing a lot of volunteering – not just at The Bridges but also at a local recovery café, where I’m the chef. I also do shares in prisons, and have done eight different shares in the last year (before lockdown, of course). A couple of people have come to The Bridges because they’ve been inspired by what I said when I came and spoke in their prison. If I have helped to save even one life, then that would be amazing.
My dream is to be a counsellor like Dean. I know I have to put in the hard work, and I’m not rushing it, but I’m determined to get there, no matter how long it takes. I’m embracing what I have right now, because life is a gift. I feel like I’ve been given a second shot.
To people that are still struggling with addiction: don’t throw in the towel yet. Recovery is hard, but it’s worth it. You have to do it for you, not anybody else, but if you put in the effort it can change your life.