At the age of 22 I was in a signed band. It was really fun, but we didn’t quite make it. We got dropped – which always happens – but I took it quite personally at the time. I got fed up of Bristol, so I moved to London, to study music business management. That's when it started.
I was always quite a strong Christian, before I moved. But London started taking me away a little bit. A lot of partying – standard uni stuff really. I kind of wanted to prove I was someone different. I was trying to be popular, like I never was in Bristol.
I made some really good friends, to be fair. But I was going out quite a lot, and just getting through my studies, not really focussing on them. It’s weird to say that, looking back, but it was just part of my party lifestyle. I didn’t realise what it was doing to me mentally.
One night, in my second year, me and two others went out, and we decided to go into a casino. I remember taking £100 with me. I’d never really been a gambler – I think I’d done a few slots before, but that would have only been five or ten pounds. I remember going into the casino, and it was all glamorous, a fancy place. I tried blackjack and walked out with £800 profit.
I thought it was the answer – I was struggling for money in London anyway, working 35 hours a week on top of studying, just to afford the party lifestyle. It seemed so easy.
So I started going with a friend. It became a pattern in my life very quickly. Sometimes I would lose a lot, but when I had someone with me, it would all seem okay. Then I started going by myself, not telling people what I was doing. I remember thinking, ‘I’m on my own in this.’
A year into my problem, I finally told a few people about it. But I always downplayed it. My old boss used to know. Their way of helping, which at the time they thought was the right thing, was advancing my wages. I wouldn’t be able to pay rent, to the extent that I’d maxed out my overdraft. I kept adding more on, and they kept advancing my wages. I’d get £300 and I’d go straight into the bookie on my way home.
Sometimes I’d win a hell of a lot of money. Most of the time I’d lose a hell of a lot of money. And that cycle carried on for a good two years. Eventually, I managed to tell my best friend in London. I gave up for three months, and that was great. I managed to get my finances kind of sorted. But I kept finding myself falling back into these old habits, old patterns. I hated them myself, but there was such a pull to go and gamble.
I didn’t tell him I was gambling again. I became a very good liar. I’d say, ‘Oh, I haven’t had enough sleep, I’ve not eaten properly,’ when really I’d been in the casino until six in the morning, and trying to go to work at eight. And that was three, four times a week. All the time I was trying to keep up the perception that I was all fine, when really I was cut up inside, because I couldn’t stop.
I started ringing family back home, and they would sub me. But they didn’t know about my addiction – they just knew there was something going on. I said my rent was expensive, or that I didn’t have enough hours at work, when really I was still working 35 hours a week on top of my course to cover my addiction. My student loans used to come in – about £3,000 a time – and that would go in a week, on gambling.
I couldn’t afford my rent, so my friend had to bring me into the house where he was staying. He didn’t know it was because I was gambling again – he thought it was just because I didn’t have enough cash. Living with that guilt in that house, knowing what I was doing, spiralled me into more addiction, because I wanted to escape that situation. It was this spiral of mental battles, wanting to be whole and sorted from this thing that was just consuming me constantly, to the guilt of my friends and family not knowing what my secret life was. Every time I felt overwhelmed I felt I had to gamble to release my emotion.
After four years in London, I’d completed uni. I managed to get a 2:1 despite my addiction. I don’t know how – I did have some good friends with me. But then it started getting even worse. I didn’t feel like I had much of a purpose afterwards. I was just doing a regular job in the service industry. That spiralled my addiction more. I wanted a different kind of life, which I didn’t know how to get. I thought gambling was the answer. I started getting physically ill as – stomach infections from stress, not being able to afford to eat properly. But I still carried on.
Last September, I ran out of money and I moved back to Bristol. My family still didn’t know. I moved back thinking, ‘I can sort myself out, this is going to be a new change, I won’t need to gamble.’ But really, I couldn’t stop. I was consumed.
I got a job pretty much straight away, and the same problems started to occur. I think I went to the casino once in October, a month after I’d moved back, and suddenly I was there four, five times a week. The highs and lows were insane. I would start upping everything – going from withdrawing £100 as a bankroll to taking in £1,000. I would come out with £4,000 from that. Then I’d go in the next day and lose £5,000. My body was all over the place. I remember doing 12-hour stints on Black Jack tables, trying to win back this money. And always trying to win more.
I didn’t tell anyone in Bristol what I was doing. I would just put on this front, when really I was cut up. It came to January 28th this year, where I remember going into the casino and losing £10,000 in 15 minutes, maxing out everything I ever had, plus family money I’d been lent. I had just enough left to get a bus home. I remember getting in and my mum was up, and I just broke down. I wouldn’t like to say I would take my life, but I didn’t want to be on this earth anymore.
And that’s when I believe God stepped in drastically. My mum’s always gone to church, and has always had a strong faith. And I remember that night she didn’t judge me at all. I thought she was going to chuck me out of the house, but it was the opposite. It was like God, through her, was saying, ‘No, we can get you out of this situation.’
She got in contact with a guy named Rob Scott-Cook at Woodies, where she goes every week. She didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know what to do. Then Stuart [Life Recovery Manager] just stepped up for me. He didn’t even know me. He just offered help.
We’ve been working with each other for nearly a year now. And man, it’s just saved my life. I see him like that: him letting God work through him to save me. And it’s the best thing I’ve done in my entire life, let alone gigging, or my degree. Working on myself, and working on old problems that I had. It was at first the addiction, then working on older problems, triggers, past family stuff. Things that might have contributed to me going into an addiction.
It’s still not easy. There are still a lot of challenges that I’m facing. But God, through Stuart, has given me tools to manage things, to turn myself mentally around. I’m a lot more positive about myself now. I understand my personality. Everyone’s got weaknesses, and I think I understand mine now. And it makes me realise I can cope with it, and move forward in life. I feel like I’m close to the other side – I’m still not quite there, still working daily and weekly to make myself mentally strong, to overcome this. I still get urges. It’s a success story, but there are still battles.