‘I wasn’t the stereotypical addict on the streets with no teeth, begging for money. I had children. I was functioning. I’d get up, eat, go to the gym. Then, I’d go on a bender for days.’

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“I always felt different. As a kid, I never felt part of anything, I felt like an outsider – my thinking was different. I felt mature. I felt like I understood things more than the other kids, like I’d awoken and there were new things to try. There was a voice in my head, and I don’t mean that in a schizophrenic sense. There was something there, telling me that I wasn’t like everyone else, that we didn’t have to be like them, we didn’t have to follow their rules.

Little boy smiling who will grow up to be an addict
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

It first manifested itself at seven. I remember playing football with the kids from the estate and one of the moms called down from the block to say she’d made us drinks. Everyone went running off up the stairs and I couldn’t be bothered – there were too many steps, it was too far. Instead, there was a puddle on the floor and my thinking told me that we didn’t need to do what the other kids were doing, we could make our own rules. So I knelt down and drank from the puddle.

From that moment, as I quenched my thirst in a dirty puddle, everything changed. A close relationship grew between me and my thinking. It was like I could trust that voice, it was the only one who understood me and it felt right.

I started seeking new ways of breaking accepted norms. I started doing things only I knew about, just me and my thinking, like drinking vinegar. The kitchen door was right next to the airing cupboard and I used to trap myself between the two and drink from this big bottle of vinegar we had in the house. I don’t mean I sat there downing vinegar, but I used to sip it and get a kick. It was something I’d never felt before. It was naughty but it was mine. I controlled it, it made me feel different, and I loved it.

It wasn’t long before I graduated from vinegar and moved on to alcohol. I was grounded at my Nana and Grandad’s and there was this big barrel of beer in their bedroom. I slurped some straight from the nozzle and it did something to me. It was like the vinegar but amplified. I didn’t get drunk, but every time I was grounded I’d drink a little cup in their bedroom. I used to look forward to getting grounded a bit. They do say every cloud has a silver lining.

A couple of years later, I got drunk for the first time in high school. There used to be these all-night parties on a Friday and the first time I got drunk I blacked out after throwing up everywhere. It didn’t put me off at all though. That’s the problem for people with alcoholism: we’ll always do it again. It’s like the definition of insanity, where you do the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.

High school changed the game for me. There were more influences around, more things to learn. Before high school I’d been fixated on girls and food – I used to eat and eat until I was sick, always wanting more. Girls always mesmerized me. But at high school it was different. I needed a new way to get those kicks and it wasn’t long before I was sniffing Tipex and gas.

These things helped me change the way I was feeling, how my mind was working. It was more than just a kick now. I was altering my thinking. I used to steal my mom’s gas and she caught me once – I’d been in the kitchen sniffing and when she came in to use the gas, the cannister was freezing, so she knew.

That sort of set a precedent for later in life. People around me knew there was something up, that things were going on but nobody talked about it. That went on through to my adulthood and I think that helped me feel like it was okay, like it was meant to be. Then again, I just always wanted to be the party, not just part of it. People knew I was a lunatic and I guess they were too scared to say anything.

I was still young then though and the first real drug that became a regular thing for me was acid. I loved how it altered my mind. Throughout school I was high two or three days a week, if not more. I’d take it in the mornings and sit through lessons off my face.

Muscular man sits posing on step with tattoos on arms and legs
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

It wasn’t long before I was kicked out of school. That feeling of maturity, being wiser than everyone else, led to me doing silly things, like driving to school. I was only 15 and I used to drive past the teachers on the way in. I didn’t see it as a problem back then. After a couple of suspensions, they had enough and expelled me. I remember going in one day and being told that I wasn’t allowed on the premises.

With my belief in my maturity, it didn’t worry me much. Instead, I just started selling drugs and that meant doing them every day. I always wanted bigger and better. It wasn’t that I wanted to do harder drugs, but I wanted to sell them to make more money and that in turn led me to do them. I don’t know, maybe that’s what it was – then again, maybe I just wanted them.

Either way, I was soon selling everything, taking hard drugs, and drinking all the time. I wanted to be a gangster and I was the best at it. I loved that feeling. From there it just went crazy. I started making a name for myself in the local area, running a crew, and that always led to new opportunities, new things to learn.

As the amount of drugs I had access to grew, so did my habit. I was just mad, off my head, always looking for a party, for something novel for me and my thinking to experience.

In my early twenties, I played professional rugby for Leeds Rhinos before I got bored and sacked it off. Then I became a professional boxer. It was my speed that made others want to get me into rugby and that grew into boxing when others saw my agility, strength, and stamina.

Body builder who is also an addict stands posing
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

I then started a band called HANKy PARK and we released three albums and went on to regularly support New Order. All these things were amazing opportunities but, as an addict, I would self-sabotage because my thinking wanted me all to itself.

Album cover for band man with addiction issues started
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

Then again, I wouldn’t have been able to do all of these things if I wasn’t an out-and-out, no holds barred, addict at that time. I wasn’t the stereotypical addict on the streets with no teeth, begging for money. That’s not how it is for the vast majority of users.

I was a functioning user. During these times there would be days where I didn’t use at all. I would get up, eat, and go to the gym to train excessively. It was like a cycle. I’d get a few days of training in and then I’d go on a bender for a few days. I knew my thinking, so I used to get up and get myself into the gym before the need to drink would kick it. I would get out of the house to where I felt in control, in the gym. Now I know that was to fix my feelings, to escape. I was craving a kick of endorphins. If I didn’t get those, I’d have a drink or use. I’d feel more comfortable. It felt right.

I didn’t think I had a problem though. I just thought I was a crazy bastard that liked to get off my head, do crazy things, and be a criminal. I was just an animal and I started to hate myself for that, but I thought it was how I was meant to be. Every day I would wake up, sober and in hell. My mind would be racing and my thinking would be in control. I wanted to kill myself until I picked up a drink or did some drugs. Then my thinking would change and I’d be off again.

Today, I know that I have very low self-esteem and that I suffer from anxiety, but back then I didn’t understand that. Drinking and doing drugs made me feel like I fit in. I wanted to feel part of anything, whoever I was with or wherever I went.

Man who has addiction issues stands behind keyboard drinking beer
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

I’d be sitting with people, having a nice quiet drink with them, and in my head I’d be assassinating them – just in my mind. They thought I was being a nice guy and I’d have this crazy thinking. It’s mad but that’s what goes on in the mind of an addict. In a full room, I felt alone. I was locked up inside my own head all the time.

That would transpire in reality as well, when I was alone and it was a party for one. They were some of the darkest moments. It became the norm, just me sat in the dark with my thinking, fueled by substances. I’d do whatever I could to take my mind away from the situation, to distract myself from the fact that I was alone and, as I know today, afraid of what was going on. It the only way I knew how to cope and not before long I’d be on my own, in the dark, abusing.

I started stashing things around my house because I felt like people were going to come. I was paranoid and would react to the slightest thing, always looking out the window to see who was watching from across the street. I hated it and every morning I would wake up feeling suicidal. It was an endless, ugly cycle.

I always wanted to stop, but I just didn’t know how. The change came only when I lost my children, when their mothers told me that they didn’t want me around them anymore and that I couldn’t see them. I decided that if I couldn’t beat this and get to see my kids again, I’d kill myself. It was the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me and it made me realize that I needed to change. It was a defining moment.

It was the Salford Drink and Alcohol Team that told me about a detox unit. They said I needed to detox all the poison out. So I went to Smithfield’s Recovery Clinic but I was being chaotic again and didn’t understand what they were trying to do. I just didn’t believe it and was causing trouble, so they kicked me out after five days.

After that I went on a three-month binge and abused heavily each day. The illness had progressed in those five days and soon I was at death’s door. I’d noticed something at Smithfield’s though. I’d seen people going to meetings and getting powered up from it, so I begged to get back in and did as I was told. I attended two meetings a day for two weeks and when I came out, I began attending regular meetings.

They’ve been the key to my recovery. I went to meetings every single day, which meant pulling away from family and friends and focusing on my recovery. It wasn’t quite sure about it for a few months, but I was sober. I started to feel in control, as much as you can ever control addiction. That’s when I recorded the song “Christmas Number 1” and my social media activities kicked-off.

I started running Facebook Live shows to promote the single and talked openly about being in recovery. Before long, people started asking about recovery and how they could get themselves help, so I helped however I could.

We managed to get the Christmas single to number 24 in the charts, but I relapsed once the campaign for the single was over. But something new had ignited in those early Facebook Live shows.

I was telling people I was struggling, that I couldn’t get out of the rut while I was bingeing and they were helping me, they were forcing me to get back to meetings, to face my demons. After that, the show became an important part of my own recovery as well as others’ and that’s still true today.

Addiction is a funny thing though. If you can control it, it can be a powerful tool. As a sober man, I have a lot to thank my disease for. It instills a drive in me that most others don’t seem to have. A need to do something, to achieve. The need for my life to revolve around drugs and alcohol is still there, but the objective has changed.

Man who is a recovered addict stands smiling in Christmas sweater as he holds up t-shirt on hanger
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

I still wake up every morning with a negative train of thought. I always have and I probably always will, but today I challenge my thinking. I tell myself that anything is possible and that I have to stick to that. I never thought I would help others, it just wasn’t me. I never thought I would find love again, because my disease always wants more, but now I know it’s possible.

Today, I can be thankful for my disease. I have a huge drive and I believe most addicts do. I reach more than 2.5 million people a month, helping to spread the message that #RECOVERyISTHENEWCOOL. There’s a film being made about my life and I have a lot of plans for the future. All of this is possible because of my disease. I’ve turned it on its head and use it for better things in life, like helping others, success, being a good dad, and spreading this great message.

I don’t pick up drugs or alcohol. I don’t behave badly. So long as I don’t do those three things, I can do anything. I can be a singer again, I can write a fourth album, I can star in my own movie. I know now that anything is possible.

Don’t stop after A, B, or C. Do the full alphabet and then make up your own alphabet. The key is using that power, that disease of wanting more, to achieve positive things. Don’t run away from life. Embrace, change, better it.”

Man who is a recovered addict stands smiling with city building in background
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive
Man who is a recovered addict sits outside smiling with two kids and wife
Courtesy of @shinnyshowlive

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by James SHINNy Davenport of SHINNy SHOw LIVe. You can follow his journey on Facebook and YouTube. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more inspiring stories from recovering addicts:

‘I bumped into an old childhood friend. ‘What have you been up to?’ ‘I’m in rehab.’ I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Soon after, I asked him to meet me. I warned him about my appearance.’

‘The day of my wedding, I thought I deserved a treat. I picked up a needle and got loaded before I got married. I thought I could do it once, and not again. I was wrong.’

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