A tribute to my past life.
In the words of Toby Robbins ‘What if your worst day could become your best day?’ An important part of my recovery is being honest about my past and not running from it, but using it as a source of strength. What does it really mean for your worst day to become your best day? For me, it means finding the good in the bad and using it as fuel. In a way, we’re all victims to our circumstances and no one has gone through life unscathed. Children are wired for love and connection and when they don’t get it, they learn certain behaviour patterns to mould and adapt to their circumstances. I believe, to truly find the good in the bad, you need to have a close examination of your past with your eyes wide open.
Ages 0 to 5:
My earliest memory was sitting on my mum’s lap as she told me she was leaving.
The next day, my new ‘step-mum’ and her children moved in. I also lost my dog that day as he didn’t quite meet the requirements to stay. It was as though I’d stepped into somebody else’s story and the life I knew had disappeared.
I’d visit my mother every other weekend whilst my father was away on business. When I look back at those years, I can feel the loneliness in my bones. I was imprisoned in my own head with very little interaction with the outside world. I could see out into the world, see the brilliance, the love and the beauty, yet somehow felt I didn’t deserve it. I felt it was too far away and I wasn’t good enough for it.
I moved back in with my mother and started a new school. Albeit that she was now a nurse working 60-hour weeks and nights. I don’t know if the loneliness was now just ingrained, or whether it was real.
It did not go well. I was behind on ‘social skills and I was bullied to fuck. I spent most of my afternoons and evenings crying. I was in my own mind, the thoughts that were coming in were unguarded, non-defendable and all-consuming.
I was very blessed to feel real love from my grandfather who taught me chess and we’d spend time drawing together. In fact, he taught me some of what I know.
I also discovered mountain biking which was an invaluable experience for getting an escape. Not to mention the adrenaline, discipline, social interaction, confidence and fun! I was just a child and I needed to have more fun. I even competed on some weekends! But whenever I got back home; it was back to the same thought menu and the same loneliness.
Please let me escape from this torture. I moved out when I was 16 with my girlfriend. I started drinking, I started smoking lots of weed and taking amphetamines/speed and ecstasy weekly, or more. This did not bode well for my A-levels. I was expelled from school for 40% attendance. They let me back in to take my A-levels. Somehow, I managed to get an A in business studies with about 3 days of revision. The rest were pretty much flunked.
I built up a lot of relationships. But these were mostly built up around drugs or alcohol. Who can I drink with? Who can I use with? I was looking for people to enable me to do what I wanted. I found the release from my own mind I was always looking for. Don’t get me wrong though, this was the best fucking time. Some of the nights and experiences I had were insane!
But here’s the thing. When I was in between parties, the thoughts that were ingrained followed me down. They were there, whispering in the corner. But now they had more fuel. The comedowns, the hangovers poured nitro on the depression, anxiety and pain. But I knew I had an escape; I could get high or drunk and feel amazing again. Of course, now I know that it wasn’t real ecstasy, it was the dulled down version.
As I started to work, the party lifestyle really didn’t bode well with my punctuality.
I went travelling on my own for a year with £3,000 savings and a £12,000 credit card limit (this was pre-the year 2000 when credit was easy to come by).
By far and away the best experience that I’ve ever had. I travelled to Fiji, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and South Africa.
I leant to surf, bungee-jumped, sky-dived, saw some of the beautiful scenery and met amazing people.
I came back with £12,000 of debt along with the biggest comedown I’ve ever experienced. I think it may be still going, 23 years on!
Ages 25–30 30–35 35–40 40 — now!
Numerous relationships, built up a career in financial services. Married, divorced, even had a child!
Until 40 I was a functioning addict. Looking back over my life, it is easy to get caught up in the negative. I’ve focussed on the negatives as I’ve written this. But this is what the brain tends to do. As I stated at the beginning, it’s important to be really honest about the negatives. We need to know what the truth is to be able to use it as fuel. I had a life of extremes and I needed to push the limits to find the happiness I have now.
The truth is when I look back on the last 20 years it was fucking tragic. The 20 before to me were actually even more fucking tragic.
I strongly believe that we are dealt these experiences for a reason and what we draw from them is what defines us. If I’d carried on with the way I was living before I wouldn’t be writing this now. So let me break a few points down.
I have terrific empathy as I know how feeling shit feels.
When I had my son, there was an overriding force that made me give up drugs and alcohol as I wanted to be functional enough to show my son the love that I got from my grandfather. That priceless unconditional love that every child needs to feel.
The day my mother moved out, that pain I felt when my life was turned upside down gives me resilience and strength which now enables me to take risks, to be an entrepreneur. The strength that I needed to give up my job in financial services and take my chances on becoming an artist. Learning how to lean into discomfort is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.
The loneliness that I felt as a child gives me an incredible ability to be alone. To create art, to paint for what could be considered an unhealthy amount of time.
The difficulty that I have in having relationships with people inspires me to be the best person that I can be, it encourages me to want to be more, to learn, to improve, to grow. To look at my own behaviour and understand what areas I need to work on.
The bullying gave me tough skin, which helps me take the constant knocks that life delivers. I can recover quickly, get back on the horse and carry on the march.
Mountain biking as a child ingrained some amazing qualities that physiologically are inside me. Since then, I’ve done the London Marathon and an ironman triathlon. What this really taught me was the value of exercise for escape and health. This carried me through my 20’s and 30’s and my addiction.
Now I am sober having this ingrained in me is fucking phenomenal — I don’t struggle to exercise as I know how it is going to make me feel — fucking fantastic!
Getting expelled from school taught me that life isn’t all on my terms and that actions have consequences. It meant that I didn’t go to university and had to work pretty hard instead. I’m not saying I wished it was different because I needed to learn the lessons along the way.
All of my life, I’ve judged myself and my choices. The voice in my head is so critical, but I’ve also learned that there’s a voice in my head that is not mine and does not tell the truth. I hope to get to the end of my life and think ‘that was one heck of a ride, but I made it.’ Our past is essential, and we can’t shy away from it. I use my past as a springboard to my recovery because, without it, I wouldn’t be where I am now.