7 years since rock bottom: My journey so far

After a hectic year, I realised the other day that I’d not written in my blog since December. This blog has been a huge part of my recovery for 3 and a half years, and I need to remember that.

So, I thought now would be a good time to recap my journey since my ‘BIG rock bottom’ moment.

In 2015, after 6 or so years of battling alcohol addiction, I ended up in Kings hospital with alcoholic liver disease.

Me bloated, jaundice and with liver disease outside Kings hospital in 2015

I spent a month in that hospital. And for a couple of weeks, it didn’t look like I was going to get out alive.

I was jaundice, bloated and unable to walk very far due to nerve damage in my feet caused by the booze. I had absolutely no hope or fight left. But luckily, my family and the amazing doctors and nurses fought for me.

I’m extremely lucky to have a family who stuck by me; even though I put them through hell. Many people don’t have that.

Me and my amazing mum and sister

I survived that stint in hospital and you’d think that would have been the scare I needed to get sober for good, wouldn’t you? It wasn’t. Addiction is an incredibly powerful thing. It gets you in a choke hold which feels almost impossible to break free from.

I managed to secure funding from my local alcohol services to go to rehab for a second time. I was extremely fortunate to get that funding – many don’t.

I spent 3 months in rehab, which saved my life as it gave my body time to heal. I also learnt a lot in rehab about how to fight alcoholism. Many of those tools I use today.

But when I left, I relapsed.

Me and my family Christmas 2020

I spent another 10 months relapsing. But something was different. I was beginning to work out what I needed to do to keep me sober. Routine, talking honestly, moderate exercise and setting small goals that I could achieve.

On the 5th of August 2016, I had my last drink.

The first year of sobriety was HARD! As you can imagine, after liver disease, my health was not great. But it could have been a lot worse!

A 20-year-old me. Already a secret alcoholic.

But it was my mental health that was the biggest challenge. For years I had used alcohol to block emotions such as anxiety, shame and guilt. When I got sober they all hit me like a tonne of bricks.

It seemed the longer I stayed sober, the harder these emotions would pummel me. They were all massive excuses to reach for the bottle again. But I didn’t. Instead I talked more openly about how I felt.

I started working as a labourer for my dad, who is a builder by trade. This gave me the routine that I craved. And it helped me get through those tough patches.

Working as a labourer gave me routine and helped me in the first few years of my sobriety

In 2017, my big brother got married. I went along completely sober; something nobody would have thought possible a year earlier. It was another huge step towards me getting my life back. And a huge step towards my family getting their lives back too!

Me, mum, dad and my brother

On the 24th of August 2017, a year into sobriety, I decided to get a dog. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. Simba has been a huge part of my recovery ever since.

The day I picked Simba up in August 2017. I was one year sober at this point.

He shows me so much love, and never fails to put a smile on my face. I think I talk to Simba more than anyone else. Obviously, I’m not saying that getting a dog is the answer to addiction – but mine has certainly helped me.

I continued to work on my head and health out over the next year. Gradually, the anxiety eased, and I made peace with the hell I had put my family through – which tamed the guilt.

Now I had a new problem. I began beating myself up for wasting so much of my life. This was the addictive side of my head trying to make a comeback. I knew that I was in danger of relapsing unless I acted.

Me and mum in Bruges for her birthday in 2018.

So, in December 2018, after a lot of thought, I decided to start writing a blog about my recovery.

I thought that If I wrote down all the mistakes I’d made and what I did to stay sober – and that helped someone else – those years I lost to drinking would have been worth something.

I had no idea that it would be the beginning of my journey into a career in journalism.

I discovered that I loved to write! A few weeks later I was asked by the local press if they could publish one of my blogs in their paper. This was followed by a local magazine, and so on.

One of my later blog posts in a local paper in 2020.

Next was ‘Breaking into News’, a competition run by a charity called Media Trust, and in partnership with ITV. Its aim was to give people from diverse backgrounds a taste of broadcast journalism.

My mum saw an advert for the competition during the news on TV. She told me about it, and I threw my hat in the ring. After all, what did I have to lose?

I was picked as a finalist, which meant I got to make a news report about a story idea I pitched when I entered the competition. Obviously, mine was about addiction. The lack of addiction education in schools, to be specific.

Filming my report for ‘Breaking into News’ in 2019

In July 2019, I attended the final of the competition. And to my total surprise, I was announced as the winner!

The physical prize for winning was £400 worth of journalism equipment. But the REAL prize was the contacts I made whilst taking part. I wouldn’t say I had my foot in the door at this point, but I could, at least, see the door!

Receiving my award at the ‘Breaking into News’ final in July 2019

I used those contacts to secure work experience at ITV regional newsrooms in Southampton and Leeds.

Me meeting the legend, Fred Dinenage, whilst on work experience at ITV Meridian in 2019

Then, in September 2019, came by first big break! I was offered a 6-week contract at ITV Calendar in Leeds to help with their general election coverage. I moved from Kent to Leeds to pursue this new dream.

At the same time, I continued writing this blog, talking in schools and working on my recovery. I had good and bad days, but I was in the best place I had been in my adult life.

Me talking to school children about addiction and recovery

That contract was extended and eventually a 12-month contract was advertised.

This opportunity would result in my next big test.

I interviewed for the job but didn’t get it. In the past, I would have used that failed job interview as one big excuse to drink.

But this time I didn’t. I wrote a blog post and used it as fuel to power my desire to make it in the industry. I talked it through with other people instead of bottling up my emotions. I’ve learnt that bottling things up is a one-way ticket to relapse.

The pandemic took hold and I moved back to Kent and began studying for my NCTJ journalism qualification as a distance learner.

Studying for my NCTJ

I was unsuccessful in two more interviews for ITV news jobs in Newcastle and the Midlands.

Five months later, in August 2020, I was offered another 6-week contract at ITV. This time it was at ITV Meridian in my home patch.

I then interviewed for the job full time, and to my delight, I got it! That was a proper ‘pinch me’ moment.

Then, last year I pitched a documentary idea to ITV. It was about the rising level of harmful drinking in the UK after a record number of people died form alcohol specific causes in 2020.

I was given an incredible opportunity to help make a documentary about alcohol harm.

They said yes, and I got to make a documentary about a topic that I’m incredibly passionate about. Again, another ‘pinch me’ moment.

Fast forward to March this year, and I successfully interviewed for the News Editor position for the East patch of ITV Meridian News.

I could have never predicted that writing this blog would have led me down this path.

I still have bad days, but at the moment they are few and far between. And I still have days that I have to remind myself not to be complacent.

That’s why talking about my recovery and writing this blog is so important.

Recovery from addiction is HARD. The grip it has on you feels unbreakable. But it is possible.

Life is worth fighting for.

Thank you for reading.

Toby

9 thoughts on “7 years since rock bottom: My journey so far

  1. Always find your story an inspiration well done Toby your an amazing young man ,and I hope all who read your blogs that struggle can relate to them you really are an incredible young man .. so may you continue to do well Sue xx

    Liked by 1 person

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