Tony’s Story

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“The system had given up on me, courts, police, probation.  My family and friends had given up on me.  Everyone said I’d never change.  I believed them and had given up on myself”

I grew up in Oxford and always have had a struggle with authority, which developed and continued from a child and the relationship with my father.  He was a strict man that would discipline me physically. This was where I developed my rebellious behaviour and kicked against authority and any control over my life through feeling hurt and resentful.  I had always felt different and never felt like I fitted in, within my family or at school.

Alcohol was always around as a child, most of my family drank. Christmas, birthdays, family gatherings – there was always drink around.  My uncle ran a pub, which my mum would clean and take me in the morning with her before school.  I saw alcohol as acceptable and never understood what an alcoholic was. I had my first drink at a young age and remember the warm feeling it gave me, a sense of acceptance and love.  I loved it and found it attractive.  It gave me confidence to participate in society and manage difficult emotions.

The turning point in my life was losing my father to cancer at the age of 12. The grief and loss were hard to bear.  Shortly afterwards, through struggling to cope and seeking help from my GP, I discovered my father had not been my biological father, which destroyed me and my identity.  The rejection and abandonment I felt when I went to find my biological father, realising that he didn’t want to meet me, let alone have anything to do with me – I had never felt so powerless and alone.  A worthlessness I can’t describe.  This festered into resentment and anger.

I found cannabis and alcohol the answer, as well as seeking acceptance through my friends and associates.  Learning this, and the power I felt from selling drugs provided acceptance and the feeling of belonging, being wanted and needed, this was what I desired.  I now know this is where my addiction was fuelled and the wanting of ‘more’.  More power, more control, more drugs, alcohol and money.  Anything to hide and mask the lonely, fearful boy.  I was on a mission to prove to my self and the world that I wasn’t him.

Through my teens and into my 20s I had progressed through to ecstasy and cocaine. Along with inappropriate relationships with women.  Cocaine being where I found the most power and feelings of being invincible, nothing else mattered.  It was also where my addiction became unmanageable, losing the perception of control and power.  I began to suffer consequences.  Losing jobs, relationships, finances, and friendships and the respect of my family. Due to dishonesty, manipulation and selfish, abusive behaviour.  The illusion was shattered.  I ended up in prison through my first offence of supplying cannabis.  Believing I had lost everything in my life, I picked up the only drug available at the time.  Heroin. 

Leaving prison with a physical habit, my life spiralled into heroin and crack cocaine addiction, enforcing the worthlessness I had felt through my life.  I began doing things I never thought I would do, that I didn’t want to do.  Stealing from my family, shops, vehicles and commercial burglaries to fund my addiction. Any opportunity to get more money for more drugs.  I was trapped in a viscous cycle for the next 15 years – in and out of prison countless times, failed attempts at treatment, multiple car accidents and receiving stab wounds.  Fighting authority and the system until death.  This had become my life and I couldn’t see a way out.  I didn’t believe it was even possible.

Everything I touched I destroyed.  I met someone in treatment – which is strongly suggested against, and our relationship was destructive for 2 years.  We had a son, my first child.  I thought this would be enough to turn my life around, but it wasn’t. Things just got more unmanageable, providing for two habits and trying to provide for the family all from crime and dirty money. With more attention from the authorities and concern for the children.  In denial and frustrated, I lashed out at authorities and hit my ‘rock bottom’. These relationships were taken from me and rightly so, but at the time the hurt and pain and experience of loss took me to being 12 years old all over again.  I stayed in my ‘rock bottom’ for a while.

This wasn’t the end of the story as I believed.  Thanks be to God.  I went to treatment again in Devon where I made further mistakes but started to notice ‘coincidences’ which was the start of this journey, what I had learned was not lost.  I did leave due to my mother having cancer and the resurfacing fear of losing Dad. Ending up in prison again, I realized theses coincidences were still with me, and wanted what I had had a taste of. Against the odds, or some would say, due to divine intervention, I was given the opportunity to go to Yeldall Manor residential treatment centre.  An environment that was perfect for me; a beautiful place with wonderful people and a love I’d never experienced before, or never noticed, or knew how to accept if I did.  Through fellowship with others, brilliant counselling, the church, and meeting the little boy within myself, the miracle happened.  The awakening, the experience I had been searching for in every substance and external ‘thing’ was found.  In one moment, after 6 years of trying to understand, my head met my heart and I surrendered. 

From this moment May 27th 2018 things have not been the same.  I know a peace and serenity that I never knew existed, through ups and downs.  I no longer have a desire to do drugs, drink or commit crime.  Today, the labels have gone.  I know the truth.  I have hope. I have purpose.  And a desire to give back and help.  Service to others has been the freedom from myself I needed, and the building of worth and belief.  It has created hope and vision.

Hope and vision for the journey to continue in fellowship and community.  Creating a charity – a housing project for people like me, that want it, and have demonstrated change.  With a unique bringing together of relationships with the Judge who sentenced me now sitting on the charity’s board, and support from the authorities I hated and resented so much.

I have restored relationships with my son and my family.  Everything I lost has been given back to me and more.  I have new relationships with people like me, and most of all I am getting to like myself.

I am grateful for my life, every mistake, every lesson and emotion, hurt, pain and fear. I am grateful for the new opportunities and potential to reach others.  Most of all I am grateful that I have a choice.

“If I can do it anybody can do it.”