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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ford

Why am I an addict? Matt Willis: Fighting Addiction

photo credit: Christopher Lemercier - Unsplash - this is not a photo of Matt Willis

Last night I watched this insightful and at times heartbreaking BBC documentary. This was looking at addiction from both sides; the addict and the impact addiction has upon loved ones and family. Matt is endeavouring to face the past with this documentary.. and asks the question: Why am I an addict?

Addiction - the effect it has on people is huge, the emotional and physical impact it has on those who live with or love the person who has the addiction can never and should never be underestimated. And I agree; it's not a One Size Fits All.. it's all so individual and often so complex too.

Emma & Matt

They met when Emma was a tv presenter, and interviewed Matt and his pop band Busted. Within 3 months of meeting him Matt was in rehab.

He's been in rehab 4 times, the last relapse was when he was on tour with 'Busted'.

They have been together 18 years and Emma commented; "Sometimes I feel I have 4 kids not 3" which sort of set the scene for her life with Matt so far. She obviously feels she 'parents' Matt, which won't be easy for him, or her; but this need to 'parent' him may be born out of necessity - Emma understandably, wants more than anything, to keep Matt safe.

She shared diary entries where she had recorded the alcohol he had consumed (+more) which referenced the drugs too. Every day he would drink/take drugs. She would go out to the pubs looking for him - but he wouldn't be there - he would be in the pubs she didn't know about. Visibly upset Emma's journaling started in January 2008, which she said was the run up to their marriage; "I was so scared he would die." Her fear of Matt relapsing continued throughout this film and that fear was palpable.

Do they talk about those days; the addiction, rehab? Emma: "We don't talk about the addiction... very good at keeping those dark days hidden." I believe Hidden is rarely Healthy; the white elephant is still in the room and possibly getting bigger and bigger and more and more painful. The intense fear that Matt may relapse again meant uncertainty and that was/is extremely anxiety inducing for Emma.

Matt takes us back to his childhood home, accompanied by his brother Darren - it is blatantly obvious that this is not a Happy place. " I always wanted to leave, never wanted to go back." To his brother he says " we used to get drunk and high here... ."

" Our childhood was messy and my mum and dad got divorced when I was 3years old.." His step dad came along when he was 5. "It was a heated relationship... I have a lot of pain around that."

Later on the brothers were separated and lived apart; Darren left to live with their dad. Heartbreaking to hear the two brothers talk of guilt, Darren: "I felt guilty for leaving you." Matt: "I felt guilty for not coming with you." Those two young boys as they were back then, were faced with impossible life-affecting decisions re which parent to live with (if they did have a choice - I don't know that they did) and guilt is such a heavy painful emotion to carry. Guilt can be so destructive, it can eat away at you.

Matt: " I drank at 13, I drank too much, I had anger.. It's good to talk to you. I wish we had done it years ago." Many people turn to drink to forget, to numb, to soothe, to block out their painful reality. It sounds like this may have been the case with Matt and his brother. Not everyone will have the same opinion as me but the pain and anger that Matt, the young boy experienced, is where I believe the source of his addiction lies.

His brother Darren had seen a therapist and talks of how it helped him. Matt shares that he too has seen therapists over the years " I've paid for therapy for years and lied to them." Sadly I hear this too. You might think why? Why pay for therapy and lie? Of course I don't have the answer to that question, but I think timing and doing therapy because it's YOUR choice and not the wishes of others may have something to do with it. I also think some people are genuinely scared to go 'there'. Some of my clients genuine concerns:

"what if I can't put the lid back on the box? What if I can't stop crying? What if I end up worse/ more grief stricken, anxious etc than before? I'm nervous about telling you everything. What if you judge me or don't think I'm a nice person ? " All of these are real fears that need to be answered and genuine reassurance given.

Matt: "I do feel something is NOT dealt with" this is encouraging as he recognises something doesn't feel resolved, finished with etc and a good place to start.

For Matt music was a way to escape and his life changed when he met fellow Busted member Jay. But sadly with that escape came addiction to alcohol and drugs by the age of 22. Addiction is a heartbreaking road, for all who travel it. And Matt talking of his shame is hard to hear too.

Guilt, as I have mentioned earlier is a really heavy painful emotion to carry, for me shame is an emotion that is also in that category. I struggle to see how anyone who is carrying anger, guilt and or shame can really ever be completely free from their need to block out the past or their reality; no matter what way/s they choose to 'bury it'. It's my belief that those emotions will more than likely have significant events and memories attached to them; where someone said or did something that made that person feel scared, angry, abandoned, helpless, hopeless, unworthy, unloved, invisible, humiliated etc. Maybe that person couldn't do anything, they couldn't stick up for themselves, answer back, walk away, or protect themselves or another. All are deeply painful emotional wounds with significant impact on someone's wellbeing and self regard. This destructive mindset can last a lifetime if it's not challenged and new self-compassionate beliefs are put in place.

In the worst scenario the guilt & the shame becomes a cycle - drinking to numb the pain, getting high to block the reality and afterwards feeling embarrassed, regretful or guilty or ashamed that you went 'there' again and so the drink gets drunk, the drugs get taken. All of those feelings compound the original emotional pain. Is self compassion in that cycle? Is responsibility there? Maybe not, but we could ask the question; how can an addict take responsibility for their choice of ways to 'cope' when maybe the original cause of this self-destructive cycle was never their fault? Addiction is never black & white, but it maybe that some addicts are reaching for external 'coping mechanisms' in order to try and soothe internal pain. Maybe the source of the emotional pain needs addressing in some way?

Matt journals every day. Some swear by this activity and it seems to help him. At the end of the day - whatever works for you, works for you. There can never be a One Size Fits All approach;- we're all individual and unique. I do believe in positive and loving affirmations and his ones below are very powerful:

"I deserve to be loved by myself and others" "I am capable of change" "I am enough.

All show self compassion and hope. (Matt says he suffers with thinking he's "not good enough" - I wonder who made him feel that way? )

Matt returns to a Rehab centre and tells one of the inspirational guys there:

"I was so good at pretending." It's beyond worrying to think about just how many people do this - pretend; pretend to be OK when they're not OK.

Is there something different in my brain? A valid question and Matt talks to a scientist about recent research on the brain and the dependence upon alcohol and drugs being linked to the Reward Centre in the brain. Maybe there will be a drug that targets that part of the brain; again medication will not be 'a one size fits all'. Maybe the answer doesn't lie in the brain but in the heart, the emotions, the memories?

For me it was Emma and Matt's visit to a Scottish Charity setup to support families affected by addiction that was the pearl in this documentary. Emma " I've never been in a group therapy setting. I didn't talk to anyone." I can't imagine how painful and isolating that must have been for Emma - and over 18 years.

In this group therapy there was one young girl who talked of the roller-coaster that she never got off, due to her mother's addiction. Another talked of her dad who was an alcoholic - "He told me hated me. I hadn't talked to him for 5 months, now he is dead". I could sense her pain over those last 5 months of no contact, the unresolved grief of not talking, saying the things she wanted to say, of hearing the things she wanted to hear. Difficult to listen to and watch.

This documentary has highlighted many things:

1. That addiction is so destructive for the addict and also for those around them - it affects the whole family.

2. That anger, guilt, regret and shame can become a cycle that seems impossible to break.

3. That talking about things can help, or find alternative non-verbal ways of expressing emotions, thoughts etc.

whether you are the person with the addiction or someone affected by addiction.

4. That community groups can be so supportive. " It was triggering and emotional -but also productive and useful."

5. That often, but not always, adverse and painful experiences in childhood can be at the root of the emotional pain that drives addiction. A child with 5 or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) will be 7-10 times more likely to have an addiction.

" I haven't really talked about it. My childhood - it was the elephant in the room. It was challenging, I don't remember much - but I felt insecure, scared and then I became a robot." Becoming a robot - this can be our body's way of protecting us. It's a survival response when we don't feel safe.

Emma " Listening to those 2 young girls I'm adamant to keep Matt as 'peaceful' as we can" A huge task and perhaps an impossible one? Ultimately at the end of the day Matt's 'recovery' lies at his feet - he is the one who needs to find 'peace' for himself. I believe it's integral to his recovery going forward. He has an incredibly supportive & loving wife at his side. I really hope he finds peace, for his sake and for the sake of his family too. He so deserves to find it.

Please do talk to someone if you are struggling; whatever the struggle - reaching out to someone can help; friend, relative, neighbour, colleague, a therapist, The Samaritans and other mental health, or addiction services.

June 14th 2023

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