For those of you that have followed my blog you will know that is has been some time since my last post. So, before we get into the theme of this new one, I thought I owed you an explanation as to why I went quiet!
It has been two years since my last post, and boy have the last two years seen some huge change. At the end, there is another start, a new beginning and a way for me to express myself as a person who has come out the other side and well and truly landed on his feet. Nine years ago, my then wife and I separated, if you have the time, dive right back to the start of the blog and you will find a man who was completely lost, who was not a good person to his friends, family and most of all my wife. I wasn’t a cheater, a drug addict or even a gambler, I wasn’t violent, and I truly did love her. What I wasn’t, is present! I simply wasn’t there to support and engage with the mother of my children. What I learnt over the ensuring years was quite simply, how to feel feelings. My life up till then had programmed me into a headspace of workaholism, shallow engagement with those around me and a steady decline in my health and wellbeing. In the end, I drove my wife away, I broke that love.
So who was to blame? How did this happen? No one was at fault, there was no emotional drug dealer feeding me narcotics, it was me, and when the walls caved in the very first light I saw was that of a mirror. From there I was set on a path, actually a bumpy road, that would eventually lead me to where I am today. Not perfect, not even close, but happy in my own skin and proud of what I have achieved.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give right now is that it all starts with being honest with yourself. Until you can conquer that little detail the repair process will not start. The second piece of advice I have is to find one person you can trust with your life, with everything you have, without your armour, warts and all. Invest in this person, give them everything you have because trust me you are going to need this person. For me it was my now long-term partner. Both our marriages had broken down, we were friends from much earlier in our lives so there was no ice to break, we could simply be ourselves in front of each other and neither party cared. We supported each other and that support very quickly grew into love. Many years on we are not just charging down the highway of life together, but we are building our own roads, sharing them with our closest family and friends and trying our hardest to raise our kids in an environment where unconditional love and support is paramount.
Anyway, enough about me. If you have gotten this far then thank you, let’s move on to today’s story. It is one of real-life struggle with its own set of challenges and vices…
For many years Jason, like me (yes another Jason) had worked countless hours delivering broadcast content for just about every type of project you can imagine. He has missed birthdays, weddings, and funerals all in the name of show business.
A few years ago, Jason’s life had reached a point in the road where he had to make a hard left or right. No longer could he keep going the way he way was, no longer could he hide behind the vale of substance abuse, no work-life balance and deteriorating health. For Jason, this was his epiphany! In his own works, he was in the fight of his life.
Recently I was privileged to sit down with Jason and talk to him about how he met the challenge head on which would culminate in running a marathon. Yes, a real marathon! This guy is an inspiration to me, his willingness to open up to his family and friends instantly made me feel not just compassion, but I wanted to help him fight the fight.
So here we are, in our first of a new style of blog post for A Father Without a Family, we interview my friend and colleague Jason.
We join the story at, ‘was there a single action or one thing that convinced you that you had to make a change, or was it a series of things?’
A question that is one only answered in reflection, Jason detailed to me was that it was, “definitely a series of things. But a series of things happening simultaneously.” In other words, there was a moment in time where he could no longer escape his world through what he termed an, “addiction to the substance I was using to self-medicate”. It turns out that Jason had already set himself on a path to conquer a marathon, and not just any marathon but the New York Marathon! This path which included an intensive training regime, would ultimately be the one of the catalyst events. Jason was recording videos of his both his training, feelings and trying to work his way through that fog of helplessness that he was at times feeling. In his own words;
“When I sat in my edit suite trying to make something of the footage, I felt like I was looking at the life of someone else. I didn’t like the person I was seeing and couldn’t believe it was actually me.”
The second would come from collating family photos for his daughters 18th. When faced with the prospect of not having one photo where he wasn’t stoned, it hit him right between the eyes. There was no longer a place to hide, no more could he ignore the collateral damage his substance abuse was causing to his entire family. It was time for a change, and that time was now!
“There was not one photo I could find in which I was not stoned. Every major life event in her life I had been stoned for. Birthday parties, Christmas, Easter, family events, sporting events, school trips, absolutely everything.”
Guilt was now starting to set in, and from my own experience is a critical time to take action or risk sliding even deeper into a depressive state. There was nothing more important to Jason than getting high and now, he was realising just how much he hated himself for potentially giving away 20 years of his life to this drug.
What started as a way to self-medicate had become something far worse and he was no longer able to validate the reasons for continuing that habit. Jason wanted a future with his family and to achieve that he knew that his mental and physical state needed to be addressed urgently. For Jason, “this marathon, was symbolic of this challenge” knowing in himself that if he could conquer this marathon, he could achieve anything!
Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are all too common for people suffering from mental health issues. Jason’s opening response to my next question started with those exact three conditions. It certainly brings back memories for me, how I felt, what I was doing to myself and now, on the other side on the fog, can really relate to how Jason must have been feeling. If I had to pick one word, it would be that feeling of helplessness, you just feel so down and cannot even begin to see the light of day until you make some changes. Sadly, when Jason started implementing some of those changes some of his friends and colleagues would mock him, sighting that, “marijuana is not addictive and does no harm”. For those of you that have had an addiction, if you are really honest with yourself you will know that it is as much about the actual substance as it is about the behaviour you manifest within yourself to keep that addiction in play. Jason went on to comment on how each person’s situation is different and how some people;
“can drink and smoke without it being an issue. But for those who can’t and who find it starts impacting on their lives and the lives of those around them, it is an addiction.”
It was time to get out from the façade of substance abuse and, “stop running from my problems.”
My next question to Jason was aimed at understanding the importance of support, and what some of the positive impacts were of those changes he was starting to implement.
From the emotion in Jason’s response I am left with no doubt that that love and support his family gave him was paramount to his success. When questioned on the denial of addiction, Jason said that on many occasions;
“my partner always wanted me to stop and often challenged me to stop. I always said that I could because I was not addicted. But every time I tried, I failed miserably. I couldn’t get through a single day without going back to it.”
Jason knew that for him to make that change, it had to come from within, not from any external pressure, simply because his state of mind was so coloured to believe there was no problem! Eventually the day would arrive when Jason had knocked enough bricks out of the wall of denial just to let enough light through. From the initial cold-turkey days, to breaking down in front of his family, it wasn’t long before he has able to front his wife and;
“with tears in my eyes, holding all of my smoking paraphernalia, and handed it to her asking her to hide it from me”.
The day of change had arrived, and with it a tidal wave of emotion, of empowerment and relief.
One of the things that truly touched me whilst talking to Jason was how appreciative he had become for what he had. No longer was he the angry complainer, he was focussed on rebuilding his life to live every day with the blessings his life had given him. From seeing his own father’s health dwindle he, “decided that I wasn’t going to get to his age and struggle to have energy to spend time with my kids and my future grandkids”. I know from my own experience of watching my mum slowly die and barely getting to meet my two kids, it really makes you think twice about just how much you have to appreciate in life. To make every day count, to love without barriers, with all of your soul.
Jason was never one to be impressed by the typical gym-junkie male with bulging biceps and six packs. His inspiration comes from, “people I have met and read about who are in their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s who are out running marathons. And they are doing them faster than I am.” The decision to turn his life around had really made him question his own mortality. From raising a daughter with a disability to wanting to be around long enough to see his own kids have kids. Jason had acknowledged that there were so many people in the world who suffer on a daily basis and would give anything to be able to enjoy some of the simple pleasures and good health most of us can take for granted.
“Many of us are lazy and don’t appreciate the fact that we have perfectly healthy and functioning bodies while there are people in hospital, incredibly sick or living with a disability who would give their life for what we have. Just the sheer pleasure of being able to get outside and watch the sunrise is a free gift that the world offers us each day and yet every day, the vast majority of people would rather sleep in than get out of bed to appreciate its beauty. There are people in hospital beds that would give their last breath to have that pleasure one more time.”
My final question to Jason asked him to talk on the tougher challenge, physical or mental. I decided to leave his entire answer here for you to read. It talks of a man who was rounding the biggest corner in his life, who had in all probability cheated death.
“While there were a lot of challenges in taking my body from a couch sitter to marathon runner, both mentally and physically, the challenge of breaking my worst habits were mostly mental. I was so hooked on marijuana that it was a huge mental challenge to remove those urges and resist going back into that rut. I had been living that way for over 20 years so it was incredibly hard to distract my mind so that I could defer the urge to smoke again. I was so hooked that I was taking every moment I could to smoke more. Take out the garbage, smoke some pot. Do some washing, smoke some pot. Have a shower, smoke some pot. Wife and kids go out, smoke some pot. Take the kids to school, smoke some pot. Any moment I could find that I could drop a couple of bongs without being physically seen was a moment to smoke. I somewhat believed that if nobody saw it, it really never happened. In reality I was smoking 2-3 bongs basically every hour and often more if the opportunity arose. I was also not going to bed until late and getting up super early just to get bongs in after my partner went to bed and before she woke. So, trying to change that habit was a huge mental hurdle but it was one I was ready to face. Coming through this helped me to realise that just like the running I was doing, at any given moment you’d think it was the most challenging and difficult thing ever. But you knew that if you didn’t give up and kept pushing on you would come out the other side stronger and better. That it was possible all along if only you believed in yourself.”
So how did it all end? Where is he now? Is he clean?
Well, there is no better way to answer all those questions but to say that he nailed it! He kicked the substance that was slowly killing him and his family life. He ran the marathon, yes ran it. He pushed through and came out the other side. It is a real-life hero story where the good guy wins. Jason continues to work in the same industry I have for most of my life. He travels a lot, works very long hours and yet through all the adversity has a great story to tell.
So in my final words for this post, I want to say that for those of you that have followed this blog for some time and are still in de the depths of depression or anxiety, for those of you who for them this is the first post you have read. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
You have, within your own power, the skills to not only head down the tunnel until you reach the light, but to slam the door shut behind you on the way out. Talk to people, wrote down your thoughts, stare at the mirror until you start to like what you see. I want to thank Jason for his honesty, being able to open up about this is not something everyone can do. Sometimes when we see how other people have tackled their demons it gives us just that little kick to do something about own challenges. I hope that for at least one person, this post has done that.
There is help out there, but it all starts with you.