This week, our senior practitioner, Tina, met with fellow Bolton based business, WHYSUP, to discuss how we are tackling addiction following the coronavirus lockdown.
WHYSUP was founded by Mark and Liam. They work to deliver presentations, workshops and keynotes to schools and businesses across the UK to educate and raise awareness of mental health and addiction.
In the podcast, Mark begins by explaining his battle with a gambling addiction that started with a bet when he was just sixteen.
By 21 he realised he realised he needed help and started to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Around this time, he was hit over the head with a hammer by someone he owed money to, but this was not enough to make him realise he needed to stop.
“I remember going to a GA meeting, looking around and thinking ‘Well I’ve not lost my house, not lost my wife, not lost my family. I’m not as bad as these so I don’t need help.” Mark said.
At 23, the stress of his addiction and the constant debt became too much and Mark escaped to Sark for two years, where there were no casinos or cars.
“I thought ‘I can’t get in trouble here’, but I did.”
When he moved back two years later, Mark had found himself a girlfriend and a professional job. Everyone around him thought he had left his old life behind him and was on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.
“I became a con man making fake businesses up and people were giving me large amounts of money. I was getting involved in crime with bad people and conning good people.”
At the age of 29, he was kidnapped and held hostage by a group of people with machetes who were demanding ransom from his mother. Luckily, the police tracked his phone and rescued him. Still, this wasn’t enough to keep him from gambling.
Mark finally hit rock bottom when his family turned their backs on him following the chaos his addiction had brought to their own lives, including phone calls from people he owed money to, people showing up to their homes and making threats about his children.
Without his family’s support, he felt that suicide was the only way out of his mess abut also knew the impact this would have on everyone around him, including his children.
With help from his mum, Mark decided to go to rehab in Birmingham. On his way, he made one last bet in an attempt to pay off just one person who was owed £30,000 so he wouldn’t have to go to rehab.
“I’m so glad I didn’t win the money that day… I remember arriving at rehab and being emotional, slumped on a chair just saying ‘please, please help me.”
He took part in the fourteen week programme and continued to stay there for another five and a half months, bringing his total time in rehab to nine months.
Although his time in rehab was for himself, he felt it was a very large part of winning his family back over, though this took much longer than Mark had expected.
“It took my mum another 6 months to come round and the rest of my family took about two years. I’d ruined their lives.”
One of the first things Mark had to do in rehab was write down all of his debts. He initially thought he owed a total of around £100,000 but now says it was closer to £306,000, which he owed to 24 people.
“It’s like I’m talking about a different person now when I look back. Thankfully that’s where it turned around for me. Life or death for me, rehab. It was a place that saved my life.”
Following his time in rehab, Mark managed to land a job volunteering there for two years. It was around this time when he started to bump into Liam.
When Liam was younger he had a normal childhood with supportive parents, though they were often moving home due to his father’s career. This meant that when Liam started high school, he was the only one from his primary school and had to face what he calls one of his biggest challenges.
“I was Billy-No-Mates so I made it my primary objective to make friends. I happened to be in my form line next to who would turn out to be Mark’s best friend… so pretty much from day one me and Mark were linked and it was him that drove Mark to rehab and is still involved in both of our lives today.”
Liam enjoyed school and got average grades with little effort. Around the age of 13, he started to experiment with alcohol and drugs, something that a lot of teenagers were doing at the time.
“There was no prevention or awareness, no knowledge of addiction, no knowledge of consequences. My decisions were based on ‘Am I going to get caught?’ and ‘Will I get in trouble?’
Drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis quickly became part of his daily routine. “It wasn’t anything to do with any feeling or anything like that, it was more to do with the association that comes with it. It was social, it was fun and being naughty with older people. I’ll be honest, I enjoyed it.”
At the time, there were no alarm bells for Liam as everyone he surrounded himself with was doing the same thing. When he turned 15, he found himself with a lot more freedom after his dad was sent to prison. This led to him taking Class A drugs several times a week.
Despite his dad’s time in prison giving him more freedom, Liam doesn’t believe this was what caused his addiction, but rather the normalisation of drug abuse among his peers.
“I thought drinking and drugs were a normal part of life. I genuinely did. Not only that, but I thought I was good at it because I could do it and still do what I was supposed to be doing.”
Liam got his GCSEs, enjoyed hobbies such as thai boxing, got his A levels and had a long term girlfriend, all whilst taking drugs.
“I was living a double life: the secrets, the lies. None of my family or my girlfriend knew I did anything other than drink. From the outside I was seen as popular and successful, the things that you don’t associate with addiction. That’s why I never thought I had a problem, let alone an addiction.”
In his early twenties, he started to notice issues occurring, but associated that with going out as opposed to the drinking and drug taking. Instead of going out, he chose to stay at home to take drugs.
Every time he felt things were getting out of control, he would attempt to create a distraction by ticking off milestones such as getting his degree, getting married and having a child.
“What started off as social fun with my mates in the early years turned into me secretly sat alone at home. I’d achieved what I’d wanted to achieve, I was financially doing alright as a director of a national company, I had a wife, kids and a few thai boxing titles and yet my drinking and drug taking, cocaine in particular, had gone 24/7. I couldn’t get through the day without it.”
Despite it being clear that Liam was reliant upon alcohol and drugs, his own life achievements convinced him that he didn’t have a problem. It was at this time that he also started to struggle with his mental health, dealing with feelings of shame, guilt and paranoia.
When Liam and his fellow directors decided to sell their company, he was in a position with a lot of money and no longer cared about much in the world. He finally acknowledged his problem when he had crashed four cars in the space of a week and his family started to ask questions about drugs.
His first port of call was Mark, who had been ‘sticking his nose in’ for around a year after he’d heard of Liam’s struggles. One of the hardest parts of recovery for many addicts is admitting the full truth and this was something that Liam needed to build on with Mark.
“From the minute rehab was mentioned I booked myself in within two hours. On the way in, I pretty much destroyed everyone I loved because I had to tell them what had been going on. When I came out, I was just dropped back into my normal life, the life where I’d taken drugs for 19 years.”
Within two weeks of getting out of rehab, Liam attended the funeral of someone who he’d been in rehab with. Him and some others had booked themselves into a hotel where they once again returned to drugs.
Following rehab, Liam felt he had a magnifying glass on him at all times, so became extra secretive in order to hide his drug taking.
“I developed psychosis and kept getting caught. My wife asked me to write down my own funeral arrangements and arrangements for the kids when I was no longer there. This belief that I was going to get sorted out was going.”
One morning, Liam’s wife told him that he had to take his chaos away, and had arranged for him to stay with Mark.
“It wasn’t easy for anyone at the time, but I was given a chance. I was given a safe place and a real world place. I was able to build a recovery in the real world, which is very important because… you have to live in the real world. You can’t just live in this bubble on your own.”
During his stay, Mark encouraged Liam to make weekly plans, give up his cash card and attend the gym in the same way that he did when he was in recovery at the halfway house.
“I didn’t need to change my location, I needed to change my mindset. People, places, routine, structure- I had to relearn it all to get where I am today. This is why we got in touch with Acquiesce. It integrates the real world into your recovery.”
Here at Acquiesce, we provide a discreet, highly supported and safe environment within the community to recover in. Without being hidden from the real world, our urban recovery model allows individuals to gain all the tools and experience necessary whilst maintaining a carefully monitored level of responsibility over their own recovery.
This makes the transitional period from treatment a much smoother process, resulting in a more sustainable recovery journey.
Mark and Liam started WHYSUP after discussing how their addictions started and the mental challenges they had faced. They wondered if anything would have changed had they been given a talk in school.
“Liam probably would have taken drugs and I’d have gambled still, but we’d have known where to go when it became a problem and would have hit the stop button much sooner and understand the spectrum of addiction.”
Mark ran with the idea and 12 months later he was speaking in Parliament and spreading the word about WHYSUP whilst Liam was setting up the business side from home.
Three years later, their service is well established and works in three different sectors; education, business and sport.
They have spoken to over 30,000 people nationwide. Over the last 18 months, people with some form of experience have joined the team. Initially their key focus was addiction but they now focus more on mental health and wellbeing.
Support During Lockdown
The team were managing the number of calls well, especially once they hired a professional who helped with more severe cases. Unfortunately, when lockdown started, calls quadrupled and they could no longer meet the demand.
“We underestimated how many and how severely people were declining. They were threatening suicide and we had to drop off flowers at funerals of people who would likely still be here if it wasn’t for lockdown.”
Here at Acquiesce, we have also experienced an increase in calls, with many people experiencing anxiety and fear from a loss of jobs and uncertainty about the future. Tina explained that the number of individuals at high risk from drinking has doubled according to Public Health England.
“We found that some clients have relapsed after being clean for many years and have had to come back into treatment.” Tina added.
When defining addiction from a professional point of view, we look at withdrawals, tolerance, loss of control, broken promises and consequences, but that in reality it’s a much wider perspective.
“I define addiction as a compulsive behaviour that is impossible to stop without professional help and support. As much as you try to convince yourself you can do it alone, I know from experience that you just can’t.” Added Mark
Liam’s definition of addiction has changed over time. He said, “Two and a half years ago, I’d have talked about drugs. For me now it’s more than a substance or behaviour, it centres around thinking and feeling.”
Tina explained how our Acquiesce programme is very much about positivity, positive self talk, self esteem, gaining confidence.
“When clients come in, their addiction has robbed their self esteem and we work to get it back.”