We came out on the ten pound scheme from England in the 60’s, when I was 3. My mum was a teacher at Elizabeth Girls High School in Adelaide and she said, ‘We’re moving out of Elizabeth, because I don’t want any of you guys using drugs.’ And look what happened. How ironic.

I started with alcohol innocently, like smuggling cans of UDL vodka into the social, that kind of stuff, and smoking quite a bit of pot. Then I left school at 16 and did an apprenticeship, and in that time my drinking and my drug taking accelerated into taking magic mushrooms, and a bit of speed.

Later, I got into the Adelaide band scene, which put me in touch with people that were doing far more drugs. I struck up a relationship with a young lady who was living with a fairly big heroin dealer and it wasn’t too long before I started smoking it and thinking, ‘What’s all the fuss about? It’s not addictive.’ So I smoked a bit more, and before I knew it, I started injecting it because it was cheaper. That’s when I realized what addiction was all about – I started stealing to keep my habit going, I was doing break and enters, I was up to all kinds of stuff.

I had some pretty rough times with heroin over the years. I couldn’t kick it, so in 1990, I left Adelaide for England, to fly away from my addiction, and leave all my problems behind me. But would you believe it, I got off the train at King Cross station and there were these two Italian dealers staring at me, going ‘Do you want to score?’ I thought, ‘How could this possibly be, I’ve just flown 12,000 freaking miles to get away from this!’

The sad part about it is I used crack on that particular day and that introduced me to a whole different ball game because cocaine in England is like breathing air here in Adelaide, it’s just everywhere.
I was fully functional as an addict amongst all this; I become a copier salesman for Canon and a high achiever and when I flew to London, I was given a BMW company car and a mobile phone. In my first year, I made £72 000. But of course I spent it all on drugs.
I came home for a while, back to Australia to get on top of my crack addiction, but I wasn’t successful, and 6 months later I went back to England, and I started working in a pub. Eventually, the son of the owner found out I was stealing from the till, and he beat the crap out of me. That’s when I thought, ‘I‘ve got to stop this and get out of London because if I don’t, I’m going to die.’

First, I holed up in a disgusting homeless shelter in Willesden, while I recovered from my injuries. Then, I left London and started working in this bar in a lovely part of Surrey, with really well-heeled, nice people and I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do this, this is easy.’ That’s where I met my wife. After that, I turned to alcohol and because it’s socially acceptable, you don’t have this concept of it being a real problem. But of course you’re going to abuse it exactly the same way as you do with anything else, because underneath it all, you’re medicating pain.

Initially, it wasn’t out of hand, but as time progressed it got worse. My wife fell pregnant, and had our daughter, and my drinking really got in the way of my relationship with them. By 2000, not only was I abusing other drugs again, but I was drinking about a litre and a half of Jack Daniels a day. And my wife had left and never came back.

Finally, I started knocking on the doors of rehabs because I knew that alcohol was the drug that had finally brought me to my knees. But at four weeks into a twelve week program, I’d say, ‘Look guys, I’m leaving. Why don’t you give the bed to someone who really needs it?’ And I would walk out of there, so cock-sure of myself, and just fall flat on my face again every time, because nothing had changed. That happened six times – I’m a bit of a slow learner! Finally, I stayed on and did the work and got out and stayed in the rooms of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous until I was clean and sober.

Four years ago, I started a business in Adelaide called Visible Recovery, working with addicts in recovery. Right from the ground up, all my staff are in long term recovery themselves, so we’re all walking, talking examples of what can happen, which really helps our clients. And now I’m surrounded by people in recovery who do amazing things in their lives. They’re just some of the strongest, most compassionate, loving people that I have ever come across!

For me, the help was always there, but it wasn’t until I was ready to surrender that I was able to hear it. It has to be that point for any addict I believe, being in enough pain to want to change.

I think change is like that for anybody, even if you’re driving to work and you keep hitting roadworks on a particular street, it takes a few times before you start going, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’ve got to find another way.’

Arrived 1964

Photograph: Chelsea Nicholls https://www.instagram.com/highglossandfairyfloss


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