At the age of 14 I took my first sip of alcohol in a park with friends. Drinking started as a rite of passage for my teenage self but quickly morphed into a coping mechanism. It concealed the underlying struggles with self-esteem, anxiety and depression that haunted me despite having a close and supportive family.

Growing up I struggled with an inexplicable sense of inadequacy. I was surrounded by high achievers at school but considered myself average in academics, not overly athletic and not particularly popular with girls. The allure of alcohol seemed to fIll the void and provide a temporary escape from my inner insecurities. 

Things took a darker turn when, just before my GCSEs, I nearly died from meningitis and septicaemia. The impact on my brain led to short-term memory loss, constant fear and a sense of detachment from others’ emotions. I was referred to a psychiatrist who threw around labels like bipolar, psychosis and mood disorder. While prescribed medications didn’t bring relief, alcohol did. It became my way to escape reality.

At university I easily became overwhelmed by my studies and swapped lectures for drinking alone in my room. Unsurprisingly I soon dropped out, but I plucked up the courage to voice my concerns to my dad, which led to my first stint in rehab. I found it difficult to admit that I was addicted to alcohol, and thought that alcoholics were people who would drink a litre of vodka a day. It was hard at first to understand that each person’s experience with alcohol, drugs, or something else, is relative to them. When we left after 28 days we were told not to make any big decisions, not to go on holiday for a year and not to get into a relationship. The entire experience felt too restrictive and taught me to be ashamed of my recovery.

After leaving rehab, I attempted to stay sober by attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, but it didn’t work. Within five months I was back in the throes of my addiction, this time with added cocaine. The ensuing years were a mess of lost jobs and loneliness. Even after returning home and experiencing arguments with friends and family I remained detached and consumed by substances. Though my relationships became strained I wasn’t ready to attempt therapy again. In the end my younger sister confronted me, expressing her disdain for the person I had become and the toll my addiction had taken on our family. Although I had heard these concerns before, for reasons unknown, this time I listened. I cried for the first time in years – it was the wake-up call I needed.  

At 21 I entered rehab again with a new-found determination. It was very punitive – we would clean the toilets and sleep in dormitory-style bedrooms, and counsellors would shout at us in group therapy. It was hard work, and it helped me with getting sober. Through therapy I learned just how much alcohol was a coping mechanism for my anxiety and depression, and began to explore techniques to better deal with my mental health. Although helpful, it didn’t address the deep-rooted issues behind my addiction and trauma. I still needed to seek this out. 

When I left, I went back to AA meetings and volunteered in rehab, answering the phones, facilitating group therapy sessions and taking clients to the gym. Supporting other people in recovery really inspired me, so I decided to become a counsellor and started my training, travelling the world to meet addiction experts, therapists, psychologists, academics and doctors. 

However, as I started meeting more people and observed the sector in the US, I realised the type of rehab clinic I wanted people to have access to, the kind that provides specialist therapy treatments, didn’t exist in the UK. The US is leagues ahead – there is less shame around addiction, various treatment options are available, and those in recovery feel more comfortable expressing their need for counselling or therapy.  

This progressive approach inspired me to create a clinic that prioritised compassion and tailored care and innovative treatments. I knew therapy had an important part to play, so we introduced the ‘stop start grow’ approach for our guests in recovery, who can access therapies and treatments tailored to their specific circumstances. 

Two decades into sobriety I have found peace. Finding new ways to cope hasn’t been easy, but I try to be my own therapist to address my ongoing self-esteem issues. Committing to helping others has also helped – supporting people’s recovery journeys helps me stay on track as I feel useful and know I’m making a difference. And I know therapy is there to go back to whenever I need it.