Former drug addict Ian Young tells how he’s turned his life around
Ahead of Cambridge’s Addiction Roadshow next weekend, former drug addict Ian Young tells how he’s turned his life around
By LydiaFallon – Source
Years of drug and alcohol abuse caused Ian Young’s life to spiral out of control. But now 13 years sober, the 42-year-old has turned his life around, and has been inspired to help others do the same. He tells Lydia Fallon his story.
Positive and confident, with an infectious zest for life, Ian Young is definitely a glass half full type of guy. But if you look at the path his life has taken over the years, it’s not hard to see why the 42-year-old is so determined to make every day count. Things could have turned out very differently.
A former drug-addicted alcoholic, at his lowest ebb Ian weighed eight stone and was on the brink of death. His life ravaged by addiction, he was homeless, scared and alone, so weak he could barely stand up.
“The drugs were killing me but the only way I knew how to overcome those feelings of shame, guilt and remorse was to consume more drugs, which is completely insane,” says Ian, who lives with his wife in Hertfordshire and works in Cambridge.
“I was only 29 but I knew it wouldn’t be long before I died; I couldn’t breathe a full breath, I could hardly move, my internal lungs were poorly, my hearing and eyesight damaged, and I was self-centered and manipulative. It was all about me.”
It’s hard to believe it’s the same person sitting in front of me today. Thirteen years sober, Ian is now a picture of health and happiness, and is using his experience of addiction to help others overcome their problems too. On Saturday, November 15, Ian will be hosting the Addiction Roadshow at Cambridge Belfry Hotel in Cambourne to give addicts, and their families, support and advice on giving up for good.
“It’s about explaining addiction and recovery, and giving actual solutions,” says Ian. “You’re only ever 2mm away from permanent change, but it’s about figuring out where those 2mm come from. It might be change in a belief or a behaviour, just a simple thing that will flick the switch and the floodgates will open.
“They will figure it out and I will help and inspire them to do that.”
Growing up in north London and then St Albans, Ian was hit hard by his teenage years, and turned to drink at a young age. “I was insecure but I found alcohol allowed me to be whoever I wanted to be. It gave me courage and confidence, and I found this larger-than-life identity,” he recalls. “I wanted to be the guy all the girls loved and it seemed like alcohol helped me to do that.”
But it soon began to take over Ian’s life. “It grew from just Friday and Saturday nights to Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and by 15 I was drinking every night of the week or playing around with solvents and smoking cannabis.”
Aged 16 he was expelled from secondary school and decided to leave home. He started college (“for something to do”) and would spend the nights squatting in derelict buildings with his friends and taking drugs. “Fuelled by LSD, amphetamines and alcohol, I became a completely different character,” he admits.
Ian moved to London aged 18, and with the rave culture beginning to emerge, he was seduced by the party lifestyle. Part of the first generation of Techno Travellers, he would break into buildings and put on huge raves. “My whole life was run by thrill-seeking and ‘Where’s the next party?’ I was using drugs all my waking time and sleeping less and less frequently; four hours here and there, I slept when I ran out of drugs,” says Ian.
A move to Europe followed, where Ian lived as an outlaw, working as a DJ, while smuggling drugs on the side. He was spiralling dangerously out of control, living a life of “sex, drugs and techno music”, which was taking its toll on his body and mind.
“I was on a beach in Spain and I had taken so much LSD my brain ‘snapped’, and I went into three months of paranoid psychosis,” he remembers. “I swore never to take drugs that sent me out of control any more, so I began taking the ones that made me feel like I had more control instead, and so I started taking cocaine and heroin on a daily basis for the next seven years – that was all I did!”
Ian became stuck in a vicious routine, and he couldn’t stop. “I’d lock myself away for days at a time; not eat, not sleep and just do cocaine and nothing else. I’d come out for a party at the weekend having not slept at all; not sleeping for four days was the norm for me. That’s how I lived.
“When I look back I think how powerless I became. I was incapable of doing anything without drugs. If I had it, I couldn’t not take it, and when I didn’t have it, I became obsessed with trying to find it. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.”
Things came to a head in 1999. Ian was a mess; he was no longer getting any DJ bookings, and when he did, he wouldn’t turn up. With the police on his case, he decided to return to London. “I found myself with a huge drug habit, but with no ways of funding it and I turned to petty crime; I became the person I’d always detested,” admits Ian.
”I was ripping people off, manipulating my family, taking advantage of anyone who tried to help me, stealing from shops and restaurants just to get the next tenner. That’s where my addiction had taken me.”
Ian had hit rock bottom, and was desperate to change. He recalls the moment he realised exactly what his life had become. “I was naked, injecting drugs in this yellow-painted room in a west London squat, and I wrote a letter to God – a God I wasn’t even sure I believed in – saying ‘I’m going to make some changes, I hope it’s going to be ok’.
“Whenever I got myself into trouble, I’d be like ‘Oh God, get me out this’, but this time it was different because I was saying ‘I’m going to get myself out of this. I’m going to get a job, I’m going to be a good person, I’m going to return to society and do the right thing, and I just hope that God will take care of me afterwards.’”
On December 24, 2000, Ian returned home for the first time in many years. “My dad said ‘If you want us to help you, and if you want to stay here, it’s by our rules, and our rule is that you’re going to rehab’,” Ian recalls. “At that point I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to change, and I phoned the rehab myself.”
Ian describes his 15-week stint in rehab as: “Tough but extremely liberating too. There were times when I wanted to scream and shout, but I knew it was also a new chapter of my life, so I tried to embrace it.
“I came out a different person; like my brain had been squeezed, everything had fallen out, and I’d been set right. I headed off with a different zest for life.”
Following two years of sobriety, Ian decided he wanted to help others going through addiction. He quit his day job and started working in the treatment industry, setting up the organisation Sober Services in 2008. It proved a natural fit.
“In treatment, a doctor said to me it’s not just about not drinking or drugging, I needed a reason to be sober, a mission. I’d caused so much harm to myself and my family, but I’d also caused a lot of harm to thousands of faceless people, so that’s why I went into treatment, to help as many people as possible overcome their addictions, and feel more at peace with myself.”
It is, Ian says, an incredibly rewarding job. “When you have families come up and thank you for their loved one having a year, or two years, or whatever, sober, that’s amazing,” he smiles. “It’s beautiful to experience and they are the gifts of my labour.
“What addicts don’t know, because our addiction is all about us, is that it affects everyone around us. We want to think ‘I’m managing this myself, it’s not about you’ but everyone around you is in bits because of the way you’re treating yourself and them.”
Ian has now been sober for 13 years, and thanks to his work, and the support of friends and family, he’s never been happier. “I’m not that selfish, self-centered person any more; today I’m someone who likes to create change in people, someone who has an influence on people and their wellbeing.
“That’s the adventure for me.”
The Addiction Roadshow takes place on Saturday, November 15, from 1.30-5.30pm at Cambridge Belfry Hotel in Cambourne. Go to addictionroadshow.co.uk for further information, and to book tickets.
Ian’s book It’s Not About Me! Confessions of a Recovered Outlaw Addict – from Living Hell to Living Big is out now. See his website at soberservices.co.uk for more information.