Addiction Recovery – there is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction, addiction treatment and addiction recovery. Yet those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Recovery.
Addiction Recovery – It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time. It is my great pleasure to introduce Gary Topley, today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
I started drinking at 14 amongst my peers. It was a fun thing to do at the time as it made us all feel older. It didn’t help that I could get served in the local off-license at that age either. Up until 18 when I became addicted I was drinking more and more as my body became more tolerant to alcohol therefore my consumption increased. From 18 until the age of 29 I struggled with dependency and binge drinking.
What was the turning point for you – what made you want to or think you could get sober?
The big turning point for me was my daughter being born on September 3rd 2008. I wanted to be a good role model for her and knew I needed to change my life.
What was your initial treatment?
I didn’t really have any treatment. I found the professional organizations/counselors’ approach too academic (all issues book read) rather than real life. I found some quite ignorant to the fact I was struggling and some intimidating. A few people I met were nice but to most it just seemed I was just a statistic and part of their wage packet. Because of this I had to stop myself which was very difficult.
Do you do anything differently, today?
I keep myself busy. I enjoy spending time with my daughter and going swimming. When I crave, which I still do at times (usually Christmas, New Year and Big Football Tournaments like the World Cup, Euros etc.) after nearly 4 years of sobriety, I spend my money on other things. For example, in the past I have bought a widescreen TV for the house, took my family on holiday and got more tattoos, something I enjoy. I also enter competitions to keep my mind active and enjoy winning when I do.
What is your life like, now?
I have set up and run my own peer to peer alcohol support project called The Free From Addiction Project. This was set up in may 2010. It started with 4 people and now I give people advice from all over the country (UK) but have also given advice to people from different parts of the world. I also appear regularly in the media on TV and on the radio sharing as much awareness of my own personal struggles as I can. I have also supported the police by talking at schools and colleges and have spoke at International and National Conferences about the Social Impact of Alcohol Misuse. The project has been successful, winning 5 awards from November 2010 – April 2012, and I have recently come in the last 4 in the region (East Midlands) to be put forward for a Pride of Britain Award. Even though I didn’t get through this round, more awareness was raised and that’s what I wanted more than anything to achieve.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction? How about anything you’d like to share with their family or friends?
I think it is important to reward yourself on good weeks, i.e. get your hair-cut, get new clothes or similar. It makes you feel happier as you can see that you have something new. Also to take it one day at a time, and if you relapse, not to beat yourself up too much as this could make you feel down again which could lead to further relapses. Another good thing is to try and re-invent new hobbies, something you enjoyed before you were drinking — something that you have been involved in already and something that you will be familiar with. Again this will make you feel happier and that you are once again achieving something.
My advice to the family will be don’t become too co-dependent. It is already a very delicate situation. If you need external help don’t be afraid to ask for it and remember your loved one even though they have an addiction they are still human and need a lot of TLC.
What is the best part about your recovery?
Helping others and seeing them get their lives back. Also the support I get off other people for the work I do is absolutely amazing.
And thank you, Gary, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 4 years RECOVERY!