Josh Connolly

Domestic Violence
Extreme Challenges
Mental Health
Young People

From trauma and addiction to resilience coaching

August 28, 2020

Drugs, alcohol and an unstable upbringing. I wouldn’t say my life journey is one of normality or one that has been easy, but it certainly has led me to some of the amazing work that I do today.

I am going to start my story at 25 years of age when I walked into a charity called NACOA. At this stage of my life I had stopped using alcohol and drugs for about a year and I was looking to volunteer and give back. I knew I wanted to give back and help with people who have struggled in similar ways to me.

Early Life Trauma and Family Influence

I look back over my life and see how my life has been hugely influenced as a youngster. At the age of 3 or 4 years old I remember my dad being quite violent, angry and an extremely chaotic man who scared me when he was drunk and often scared me when he was sober.

In those years me and my 2 brothers spent a lot of time upstairs away from my dad. We learnt very quickly that you don’t talk, you don’t trust and you don’t feel.

I would often see how much stress my mum was under and would feel like my own emotions and feelings would be a burden to her, I didn’t want to make my mums situation any worse. 

My dad went to prison for a few years and during that time my mum remarried. After my dad was released from prison, my brother and I would go and spend time with my dad, but I felt so much shame. My dad would take us out, but would often be really drunk or high. It was very confusing, as I used to tell myself that I should be lucky that I have got a dad, but here my dad was making me feel so confused and let down. 

When I was 9 years old my brother and I were staying at my dads flat for the weekend. I didn’t know at the time, but my dad had overdosed. I just thought he was drunk again so I called my mum to pick us up and take us home. Very shortly afterwards we found out that in fact my dad had died. 

After my dads funeral, we never spoke again about my dad within my family. There are no photos of him anywhere and we don’t celebrate any anniversaries. He was just wiped from our family’s memory, which is what I did, but it started to cause me problems.

At 12 or 13 years old, I started to experience a high level of anxiety. I was desperate to feel loved and liked at school. I was the class clown. I was brought up through school as someone who had an anger problem, but I don’t believe I had an anger problem, I had an emotional problem that resulted in me showing anger.

Spiraling into Addiction

I was never going to drink alcohol because of my dad, but when I was 12 years old, I went to the kids that were smoking cannabis and started smoking with them. When I smoked everything changed. It took away all of my emotional struggle and very quickly I was smoking cannabis everyday drinking alcohol at the weekend and class A drugs followed for me as well.

I used to hang about down the field close to the gangs that were in my hometown of Swindon. I was a young lad who wanted to be loved and was therefore easily manipulated into being part of their gang.

They made me feel special and made me part of something. I was groomed into the gang. My initial experience was being kidnapped at the age of 14. They made me think that they were going to murder me and leave me in a bush. They got me in a car and told me they were taking me to London. They then put a bag over my head and talked about what to do with my body after they shot me. They counted to three and made me feel that they were about to kill me. After three they took the bag off my head and told me that I had passed the test. They said they were testing to see if I would run. It was pure manipulation. I later came to learn that this is a pretty standard way of grooming people into gangs.

By the time I was 16, I had a desperate desire to not want to be here on this earth. I was abusing alcohol and drugs and at the age of 18 my first daughter was born. I got myself into a toxic relationship and I got a house, got a job and a car. I did what I thought society expected of a father. 

At the age of 24, I was father to 4 children in the toxic relationship that had now collapsed. I was heavily taking drugs and alcohol. I was £17,000 in debt and back living on the floor at my mums house. 

Seeking Help

On the 13th May 2012 I was sat in a pub when I realised I was not connected to anyone in there and that my life was a mess. I had a conversation with the landlord of the pub who used to be an addicted gambler and he had stopped doing it. I had never met anyone who had overcome their addictions before. So on the 14th May 2012, I woke up and decided there and then to stop drinking and taking drugs. But what happened was that my life internally fell off the edge of a cliff.

Everything that I had ever used alcohol and drugs for came flooding back and I just couldn’t deal with my emotions. I was even having panic attacks whilst shopping in supermarkets.

It took me just over ten years to nearly drink myself to death and took me about 9 months to nearly sober myself to death.

I decided to make what felt like a noble and selfless decision and take my own life. I went to see my kids for one last time. Because I knew I was going to die, the past became irrelevant, the future was non-existent and for the first time ever I was present with my kids in a way I had never experienced for. 

I changed my mind during that moment and decided not to kill myself. I started to reach out for help, to look for what it maybe that I was struggling with. I started to understand that resilience is not just burying things down and hiding them, but communicating my struggles with others. 

Discovering Resilience and Purpose

I came to the realisation that my purpose is helping people. In 2017 I remember saying to my wife that this year I was going to live fully in myself and live to my purpose. I wrote down 3 things on a piece of paper and stuck it around the house. I landed my first big contract delivering resilience workshops and since then have had the opportunity to work with amazing companies such as the television show Hollyoaks and I also deliver classes within schools. My life has changed beyond my imagination.

When I was a kid all I wanted, was to have children and not be an alcoholic like my dad. I used to imagine myself with loads of children and not drinking and being a good dad. I now have 6 children and feel like I am trying to be the best dad I can be. 

I came to find out that my dad was fostered at 2 years old, his family history is of addiction and trauma. I believe that I became so similar to my dad, because we both suffered early life trauma. Having gone through the similar things that my dad did, I now have huge compassion towards my dad. I just realised that I am really fortunate that I got my break through.

Genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger. I don’t believe that anyone is born destined to be an addict.

I don’t think alcohol is bad, in the same way I don’t think sugar is bad. However miss use of alcohol is obviously bad and miss use of sugar is bad. I believe the miss use of alcohol is a reaction to the problem and not the actual problem.

A Message of Hope and Support

My message for people going through similar situations that I have been through:

The feelings and emotions that frighten you the most and that keep you feeling alone, will connect you to more people than you can ever have imagined. The things that I struggled with is because I believed that I was the only person in the planet that struggled with them.

Try and start to explore yourself, you will start to connect to others in a way you never could and then you will find hope. Hope being the idea that there is something better for you out there.

To people who are supporting someone struggling with addiction:

The most important thing is to look after yourself and your own well being and you can do that whilst having compassion for the person struggling. Clear boundaries become vital. If you love somebody that is trapped in addiction you suffer as well. You have to look after yourself and put your own well being first. That doesn’t mean not offering support. 

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