Consciously I can only start out with one of my first memories. I was standing on the top of the stairs watching my Mum being punched in the face repeatedly as she was screaming “It’s ok kids, it’s ok kids.” The man punching my Mum was her boyfriend, not my Dad. He turned and looked at me after he had finished hurting my Mum and said, “I love you Ian”. I was a small child, maybe 3 or 4 years old. My Dad had left by then, I knew who he was and very much felt that loss. I remember feeling frightened and living with so much uncertainty. This was the blueprint in which I based all my ideas and beliefs about myself and the world I live in; Love hurts, I am not safe, who will look after me, why won’t anyone come to get me. I must be unlovable, I am insignificant, who will love someone like me?
I entered the care system making my way through several children’s homes, around twenty foster families, thirty-five arrests, six prisons sentences over ten prisons running as fast as I could without letting my feet touch the ground. Addiction was how I survived, and crime was how I funded it, but addiction is what nearly killed me. Thank God I found heroin, it gave me a break from feeling. Thank God I found a way out of addiction because that nearly killed me. I had nothing left, not one friend in the world, no family member, not even social worker. There was no one interested anymore, no one was asking ‘has anyone seen Ian’ I knew that I was adrift and unattached.
This was a little more than ten years ago, today I consider myself an addict seeking a daily reprieve from active addiction. I know it is deeper than this, but it is a good place to start. Addiction is about an obsession of the mind (a thought that excludes all other thoughts, creating a compulsion to act on that obsession). I still experience obsessions and it can be especially painful. To put it simply addiction is a life without peace.
When I was a child at school, I thought all the children were taken to one side and told “This is the secret to living life, but please don’t tell Ian.” I thought there was this book, a class that would make it all make sense. I was at a complete unease, not knowing what to do, say or how to act. I can still feel like that at work, everyone seems to know what they are doing, and I feel completely incompetent and when they find out they won’t want me here. Imposter syndrome, I feel less than everyone else and assume that no one likes me.
I spent thirteen months in residential rehab recovering from drug addiction, I was exceptionally fortunate to get this help. The catalyst for change was surrender, to give up the fight. I was sat in a police station talking to a solicitor about some crimes I was about to be interrogated for. It was at this stage the solicitor interrupted the conveyor belt of the ‘justice system’ I was on by offering me something I had not been met with for a long time. Compassion… She was kind to me, she genuinely seemed to care. She spoke to me with endearing language, she saw the humanity that still existed within me. Compassion opened the gateway for me to be honest, I needed to know I was safe to be honest and ‘show up’ to the conversation. It was at this moment I surrendered and sat back in the chair and said, “I do not want to live like this anymore.”
Conducive to a compassionate response, I found identification was really helpful. This was especially powerful in promoting personal compassion and ‘giving myself a break’. I had to learn how to live again, this meant starting from the beginning. I was freely showed an experience that meant I could learn about myself; I became personally curious and engaged in a personal development program of recovery-12 steps. Over the years I have engaged in a lot of other types of therapy, some very powerful experiential methods that have given me inner and outer body experiences. I travelled the world looking for answers. I even studied Orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem searching for meaning. Prayed at Mosques in the Middle East, mediated in the far east and still felt ‘unanswered’.
After extensive searching I now realise that no matter how intellectually stimulating or philosophically inspiring, all I have is today! Yesterday’s food will not feed me today… I have a daily reprieve, a daily opportunity to make better choices. On awakening I write a gratitude list and read something that reflects the purpose of my journey, in my case the daily reflections book of Narcotics Anonymous. I try and sit still for ten minutes and be with myself, observe what comes up. Desire, fears, selfish motives, and critical negative thinking. I try to be with my pain but let go and see the innocence of my true intentions divorced of fear and egoic structures. I say a prayer and ask to be the best version of me I can possibly be. Ultimately, I just want another opportunity to stay clean and sober. This has to be the foundation on which all things are possible for someone like me.
I do not think mainstream employment is designed for or equipped to help someone with the challenges I have faced. I also do not think it would be sensible to employ me until an assessment of change has taken place. After some years of recovery and learning to live again I worked for my manager at his previous organisation. The opportunity was rare, I was deemed a risk to employ for many reasons. But a risk that could be managed, assessed, and harnessed. Walking into a fostering agency was really exciting and rewarding but not easy. I had a lot of stuff come up for me like projecting old pain on new work environments. My program of recovery and good management really helped me reflect on this in supervision. The team held me and placed value on my struggle and strengths. My manager saw the gifts in adversity and the integrity of his cause was about harnessing opportunity in those who represented the children and young people we wanted to help.
Trauma is something I live with; old situations and family still bring challenges and people have even died along the way. Survivors guilt has been real for me, my success can sometimes seem so unfair. When my Mum died of a drug overdose, my manager, and the team I was in were amazing. I remember having a panic attack eighteen months later. I utterly crashed, my manager and my team worked hard around me to put in support and help me access external support. I was able to continue to work and be productive, my life continued to be purposeful which was a huge resilient factor for me to keep going.
I have ongoing struggles still, some days I just do not know what to do, how to cope or where to find hope. Peer support is really important in the workplace, I have accessed this a lot over the years. TalkOut is the first organised response I have experienced. I am hopeful about their goal, I see it as a cultural change that drives itself and we have a shared responsibility to embrace it and become a part of the solution to something that impacts all of us.
The point I would like to make here is that as people, we have objective experiences translated through subjective lenses. So, although I may describe my experiences that evoked an internal conditioned response as a result of external demands, it is actually based on how I translate my experiences and what I make them mean. There is value in seeing things this way for me, so I am not destined to be enslaved by ways of thinking that keep me stuck. I also think there is added value for others who may compare themselves and deny the feelings they have, perhaps because we are not starving through famine in a war torn country we deny ourselves of any possibility to have a grievance (for example). I have felt this, it was pointed out to me that this was self-neglecting and comparison almost always leads to some type of personal deficit where I continue to suffer.
If you are experiencing any type of struggle – welcome! Because you are most welcome, and I am interested to know you. You are here because somewhere along the line you have presented yourself of being competent to do a job. Thank you, but please bring yourself along for the journey too.
There are times when we can see the madness of the journey but not the purpose of it, we do things we would rather not, feel things we don’t have answers for and fear what others think of us in a world that does not always represent us. What we think and feel today does not define us, but how we access support and respond to each other makes all the difference. We have now been given permission to make this our culture, join the cause! In a community I belong to we have a saying that no addict need ever die alone. It is not extreme to think that mental health can and does kills people. So, with this worthy cause, I wonder how many people we can help?
With love, Ian.
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