From the moment I picked up my first drink in my early teens, I didn’t want to stop. It was the start of a drinking session that lasted 25 years. My anxiety, angst, fear, shyness, feelings of isolation, not belonging and impending doom disappeared in a flash and that frightened 13 year old became a confident, funny, successful and handsome young man. But between drinks, I reverted to the frightened little boy.
10 years later when I got into the music industry there was already a trail of chaos behind me. School expulsions, hospitalisations, university dropouts, frantic parents, dysfunctional family, fractured relationships. A Jekyll and Hyde existence where the only consistent thing in my life was alcohol and I tried to be the other person as much as possible because I just couldn’t deal with the reality of being me. I got myself a junior job in a big record label answering the phone and making the tea. I wasn’t entirely sure what my prospects were until I found my real role. The drinking, partying, drug-taking label guy. It helped that I was very good at my job in marketing and it was a very successful period for my label and the industry in general.
I was on my way up! I was congratulated for outrageous behaviour, I was even being promoted! And I kept being promoted and I ran wild. I recall one evening I was full of ego, alcohol and cocaine and I stood next to a very influential and powerful person, at a very high profile event. Staggering, slurring drunk and full of false confidence, I lectured this person on many topics showing myself up magnificently.
The next day, bewildered and mortified, I apologised – and was told that there was nothing wrong with my behaviour, that he loved my enthusiasm, and to keep it up. It was my license to continue and so I did, escalating my behaviour once again to a new level.
I do not hold anybody other than myself responsible for any of this or the consequences that followed.
My story is merely an illustration as to how, even in the latter stage of a disease that would finally find me alone in a hotel room on the other side of the world for 6 months drinking round the clock (and occasionally going into the office), the environment and camouflage were most definitely significant. But let’s face it – if I was a baker, a driving instructor, a door to door salesman, or an astronaut, I would probably have ended up in that place anyway. I’m an addict and an alcoholic.
After 12 years in the industry, I plummeted to new depths mentally, emotionally and physically. Halfway around the world, 5 weeks in a local hospital, 2 attempts at rehab and a firing by any other name – I returned to the UK and landed on my feet from a career perspective, another label, another great job. But I still managed 4 more years of torture, with my drinking and drugs taking me to unfathomable new depths.
I cannot describe the personal and emotional hell. Although I was at another major label at a senior level, the end of those 4 years finally saw me alone in my bedroom pretty much 24/7, with long and unexplained absences, while I was expecting my long-suffering colleagues and team to continue covering for me. When I was in the office, valium got me through the hideous and crippling anxiety, until I thought it OK to leave as soon as possible for the cycle to start again.
I couldn’t go out. I was totally alone and isolated, I was drinking whatever was nearby as soon as I woke up, or waiting for the local Tesco to open at 8.00 am for a fresh supply. I was living on a cocktail of incredibly strong prescription sedatives, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medication and a host of other pills bought on the internet. My capacity to take all of these on top of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine was astounding.
One day in February 2006 I woke up and realised I was down for the count. Either I walk downstairs and get more alcohol from the fridge, or I pick up the phone and ask for help. And thank God I chose the latter, somewhere deep inside me that white flag was raised, and I started the journey that took me to a treatment centre in Arizona, and sobriety. When I plucked up the courage to phone him, my boss at work was very understanding and assured me that I would still have my job when I came back. I don’t think anyone was surprised although I thought I had been getting away with it all this time.
Being clean and sober in this industry has its challenges, but it is most definitely possible and makes the work seem even more rewarding. There are more of us than you might imagine, in every area of the industry. There is a great support network which is just getting stronger and stronger.
My sobriety is the most precious thing in my life. I have to maintain it and put work in on a daily basis – there is no room for complacency. But thanks to 12 Step meetings, my support network and amazing friends it is possible and life can be great.
Emotional and mental and mental health issues are a huge part of my story. For a long time, I suffered in silence. It was a lot easier to diagnose me after I got sober. It turned out that I suffered an acute and debilitating anxiety disorder from which I am now in recovery and very open about it. I take medications on a daily basis and probably will for the rest of my life. It’s ok. It’s a brain chemistry issue. Nothing to be ashamed of.
And again, there are many more of us than you would think. Anxiety, stress, depression, bipolar disorder and OCD – to name but a few, are prevalent – but there is strong recovery and support just a phone call away.
This is why Music Support is so important to me, because when I got sober in the music industry I felt very alone, isolated, and like a mutant. Of course, that wasn’t true, but I didn’t know it at the time.
Which is why I don’t mind telling my story, in the hope that it may help just one person – and am so happy to be a part of Music Support.
If you’ve read this far, please don’t stop now.
Call the support number, although it may seem like an impossible task, it might well be the most important thing you ever do.