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Angus, 25, used to be like plenty of other blokes his age – spending weekends at the pub with his mates from the footy club, sinking schooners, using coke and getting on the punt. But unlike some other young Australian men, he recognised the habits were ruining his life. Here, the labourer and founder of the Lost and Found Project opens up about what helped him finally quit drinking, drugs and gambling, and gives his advice for others who want to stop the cycle.
I was a pretty shy and nervous kid growing up. I suffered silently with anxiety and still do today. Then, I came out of my shell when I was about 16 after being bullied for years. That's sort of where it all went downhill for me. Instead of speaking to anyone about my issues or dealing with them head-on, I turned to alcohol, gambling and using substances at the age of 17. It was a coping mechanism. I didn't see it like that at the time, but looking back now, it was an escape for me from the depression and anxiety that I was suffering with, the bullying I had been experiencing, and things happening in my home life that had serious effects on my mental health. Turning to alcohol and then eventually substances was an outlet and fun, but it then led me to being highly addicted to and abusive towards drugs and alcohol. This then was a habitual cycle every weekend and some weekdays, and ruining my life for about five years. I couldn't go anywhere in a social setting without cocaine, and I quickly built a tolerance and was needing more and more to feel the high.
I would start drinking on a Friday, and it could never just be one beer. I just had no off switch. It would be 20 beers and a bender to go with it. Whenever I would drink, I would have to use cocaine; it would fuel my gambling, and I would gamble every single dollar I had. I would have anywhere from $1000 to $3000 on me from the week's work, and then I'd be borrowing off my mates or sister, and I would not leave the gambling venue until it was either all gone or I'd won the jackpot, which was not often the case.
I wouldn't stop till Sunday afternoon, some weekends. The side effects of that were just astronomical. It led to suicidal thoughts, anxiety, heart racing a million miles, panic attacks, bet regret, depression — some of the worst times of my life were after those weekends.
I definitely knew I had a problem because, on the Monday and Tuesday, I would always want to get help. It was having detrimental effects on my life, and I didn't want to feel like that anymore, but I didn't know how to reach out for help. Then, I'd mostly be sober on the weekdays, and when Thursday would come, I would think that I was all right and I didn't need to seek help because I'd be drinking again and straight back to using drugs. It was an ongoing cycle.
I tried to stop five times previously. Four times on my own without seeking professional help. I thought I could do it in moderation when I was trying to go sober. I'd go three months without a beer, and then I'd just see if I can have one and sort of reward myself. The floodgates would open. I would have 15 beers. I'd be straight back using drugs. I wasn't just using drugs; I was using excessive amounts of drugs, and I'd be straight back on the punt and then back in the same cycle, and it would be another four or five months before I would stop again.
I had to get help to try and save my life.
I thought I was letting myself down mostly, but I was more scared and ashamed of what my parents were going to think of me because they hadn't raised a person like that. It didn't feel good, but I needed to tell them what was going on. I felt like I bottled it up for so long. Eventually, I hit rock bottom on a Sunday morning after a bender and confessed to my dad about everything. That conversation was seven years in the making, and I could finally get help and progress to a better life.
The first thing I did was go to my local GP, and I got a mental healthcare plan. He referred me to a psychologist, and then I went to a few Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Then, I got a drug and alcohol worker from Headspace. That man changed my life forever. I saw him once every three weeks for six months. There was one phrase he said to me that I tell everyone: "Anyone can find a reason to use drugs and alcohol, but what's your reason not to use?"
My reason not to use drugs and alcohol now is because I want to live a better life. I want to grow up and have a family and watch my kids grow up one day. I don't want to die from something that I can avoid. I want to live a fulfilling life and show people that you can change your life around for the better and to learn from my mistakes.
I've been abstinent from alcohol and drugs since the 29th of the 1st, 2022. It's been hard, a rollercoaster. I still have urges to this very second to drink and use drugs, but I think of the consequences now, and it really is that simple. I think if I were to have that drink, what could that lead to? It's a 50/50 chance of me being able to handle it or me being back in that lifestyle and ruining everything that I have, and I'm not prepared to take those odds.
I took myself out of any sort of place where I could relapse for the first four months. Now, I still go out, I still socialise, and I'm around drugs and alcohol every single weekend, but my reasons to not use are going to be better than my reasons to use. It really does come down to self-discipline. When I was starting to go out again, I would go get myself a glass of soft drink, and then in my head, I would program myself to think that was an alcoholic drink. People would think I was drinking, and then I wouldn't get interrogated or questioned.
When I go out, people always find my sobriety really intriguing – friends and strangers. Every time it's a conversation, "How do I come out and still have fun and not drink or use drugs?" But they're all really respectful of it. I think it makes other people reflect on their own habits. It has given a lot of people a bit of a wake-up call that they're not doing what's best for them. Many people have come to me seeking help, from people I know to strangers seeing my story online and sending me messages for advice.
I have a really methodical approach to life now with my everyday routine, and I remember when I went into the drug and alcohol counsellor, I said, "Oh, man," I said, "Everything that I do in my life I'm addicted to." I said, "Drugs, gambling, alcohol." And he goes, "That's good, but now, we're going to find you things that you're going to be addicted to that are going to be good for you." So I'm addicted to the gym, I'm addicted to eating healthy, anything to do with physical health and helping people. I meditate every single day, have cold water showers, appreciate life, and have volunteered at the Royal Children's Hospital every second Friday for ten months now. The small mundane things that people forget to cherish, I now nurture.
I never really had any intentions to start The Lost and Found Project. It sort of found me. I've now spoken to several sporting clubs and a high school, wanting to present my 25-minute mental health and motivational talk to many more in the hope of showing others it ain't weak to speak. My footy club president knew what I had been through and my journey with sobriety. He asked me to speak in front of the boys when I was 11 months clean. I had nothing planned, just 10 minutes of talking straight from the heart. I was extremely nervous. There is a massive amount of stigma around addiction, and putting myself out there was possibly going to attract that judgment, but I had to see that the bigger picture, that what I was going to do, would help the wider community. From talking to 50 blokes that night, I had about 20 blokes reach out to me straight away. That was a massive sign that I could help many people from my mistakes. There's absolutely no need to be feeling ashamed or embarrassed about addiction, depression, anxiety, or whatever mental health illness you have. The sooner you speak up and get help, the sooner you can start living a better life.
My advice to others is that getting sober might not happen the first time. It took me six times to get it right over a three-year period, but I never gave up hope, and I kept fighting my own fight. If you relapse or you make a mistake along the way, it's not over. It's a chance to learn from and prepare for the next attempt. I'm not saying my journey has been easy. It's been extremely difficult at times. I've cried, I've screamed, I've thought of quitting numerous times, but I can tell you this: with the want to change and listening to others, it is possible, there is a way, there is hope in the darkness, I am living proof that it can be done. It has been well worth it all, and I tell myself every single morning that I'm not going to quit for one more day.