#24 Mark Langford’s Story: A Powerful Story of Addiction, Recovery and Transformation

Listen to the Podcast episode with Mark here

Mark: I will start right at the beginning. I was really in, what I would call, a relatively normal upbringing. Mum and Dad, they were alright actually. But I, even from a really early age definitely felt very different and I used some really unhealthy behaviours to probably get what I wanted at the time, but looking back on it as an adult, well... you know. Everything was really relatively normal. I had a mum and dad, they were married. Then they went through a divorce and I ended up having a stepdad. It was all just normal.

But there was something, it's really hard to explain. I never felt like I was fitting in... I was very secretive. I just wanted to be left alone. I could really get upset about small things. It was quite bizarre. And so, i ended up going to South Africa. And when I was out there life was all kind of an adventure. I was only a nipper. I was a young lad so life was an adventure, going out to see animals and stuff like that with my real dad and my stepmum. It was great. And then I'd go back to England. I'd go back and forth and it was normal. It was just what you would do. If you went through that, that's what you'd do. You'd spend a bit of time with those parents, and spend a bit of time with them parents. It wasn't different from anybody else. But what was different... I was different.

I was pulled all over the place in my head. At the time I didn't know anything. All I knew was that I was wrong. That something was wrong. There was something wrong with me. I don't know what is going on and I don't understand it. I'll get to where I did start understanding it down the line a bit. It was just there. It was always there. This feeling of not knowing. It wasn't that there was no hope, I may not have even known what hope was back then. It was just this not knowing and it was really bizarre. It used to really eat me away. And so as I turned into a teenager, as teenagers do, I started smoking dope and drinking a bit of alcohol. I happened to start drinking alcohol when I went to South Africa, to live for a year. It was relative for me. Yep, you can drink away as much as you like. Dad didn't mind. Just don't drink by yourself, he said. So I though, That's cool. So I'd finish school... drink. Finish school... drink. It became kind of a habit, and made me actually feel alright. I thought, this is how I should feel. It was like, 'This is how I must have to feel', just to be able to talk and gel with all these mates and all these people and I didn't feel the odd one out, and it was great fun.

I came back to the island. It didn't work out in South Africa, so I came back to the Isle of Wight. Pretty much as soon as being here, things started to escalate. I really didn't like myself. I'd told my dad in South Africa that I'm actually going on holiday in England. So he thought I was going on holiday, but I actually never went back. I've never seen him since.

I just felt like crap straight away. I went straight back tp not liking myself and feeling like I didn't fit in. Just feeling totally different from anyone around me, including my parents, my sister, my brother. I didn't gel with anyone and I really went inwards. There were many times where I would think, 'maybe I just need to end it. Maybe I shouldn't be here'. I haven't really said that to anyone before, about how I was feeling at that age.

But actually, being an adult now, I've found out that it's actually quite common to have suicidal thoughts. But maybe not to the extent that I was having them. I then started using alcohol at home, and drugs. I started using amphetamines. I started using weed. And it became a blooming good friend of mine for ages. But what led with that, were relationship breakdowns with my parents and step parents, brothers, sisters, and I was kicked out of home. I should rephrase that. I wasn't kicked out of home like, 'Get out! We don't want nothing to do with you!'. They found me a bedsit. A really nice bedsit, actually. And I lived there. Straight away I started getting chaotic with drug use and alcohol. All of a sudden I found myself in the position that actually, this may be all very well, but I needed to fund this lifestyle somehow. And so what comes with that... well, me feeling normal was great. I was drinking and drugging. I was feeling normal. I was fitting in with all these groups of people. So I felt not out of place. I felt that I was just the same as anyone else.

Looking back on it, of course I wasn't because I was having to feed my addiction to alcohol and drugs, by committing crimes and stuff. And that escalated and kept going and going and going. I ended up in some really really dark places.I suppose the good feeling lasts for about 18 months. Looking back on it now it was 18 months, maybe a bit longer that was fun. Tripping and speeding and going out to all the raves and stuff like that. Yeah, that was fun, some of it. It was fun for a few hours and then I'd start to find my head all over the place. What I'd do is after a rave, when everyone else would go to wherever, I wouldn't. I'd go for a walk by myself and I'd have some really dark thoughts, and ended up in some really dark places. I couldn't understand what was going on. This kept leading to this one man crime wave, trying to feed this addiction. Trying to get back to that feeling  of feeling well. It just went on and spiraled. I ended up in Camphill and Parkhurst prison. I've been to numerous other prisons in England. For burglary and theft. I wasn't a violent person. I didn't hurt anyone. Alright, I did, because I burgled people. I did hurt people, actually. That just went on and on and on. It was consuming. Every time I'd end up in prison, I'd end up in the hospital ward because I'd end up trying to take my own life. I'd end up hurting myself. I'd end up getting really ill. That went on for about 9-10 years of my life, being in and out of prison and battling with my mental health. This addiction. They were pass and parcel. The mental health was there, and then addiction come along. To start off with it was the saviour of the mental health, but then they just entwined into this ivy that went right the way through me. It was torture. If you were to go down the street and ask anyone what I was like while I was in that chaos, in that madness of addiction and mental health, a lot of people would say, 'He was alright. He was just caught up in that'. I wasn't horrible. I believed in justice. If someone was horrible, I believed that I was the person that could sort it all out. I didn't like all the horribleness. But actually I was seething with this hatred towards me, for whatever reason. It kept going and it ended up that I started spending less time in prison. The only reason that was was because I found heroin. And for some reason finding heroin... how can I say it. With heroin you wouldn't want to end up in prison.

I did end up in prison. They would medicate you and then the mental health stuff would come back and then you'd get out and start using again. I started using heroin. When I started it in Winchester, well, it wasn't like what you hear in films. 'Oh, it was like having sex. It was like an orgasm!". It wasn't. I was dicing with death. I went home and I watched how people done it. I went home and I done it in a room by myself in Winchester. I could have OD'ed and nobody would have ever known it. I kept topping up the amount I was doing until I was literally flaked out. I was doing that. It was like I was testing the boundaries. Looking back on it now, I believe it was a form of self harm, same as prison. I believe that was a form of self harm. I believe that that is what I had to do to myself. I'd wreck myself so I'd have to end up in them places. Some people self harm by cutting. I was self harming internally, because what came with prison. The heroin and the drugs, it was all just that I didn't like myself and that I didn't deserve to be on this planet. So the heroin took hold of a big chunk of my life. I'd had a daughter just before I started taking it.Bless her heart, I still haven't reconnected with her. I hope one day I will. I just got out of there. It's not that I would have caused any harm. I just didn't feel like I was capable. I didn't feel I was worth being a dad. And, actually, it may have stopped me using the drugs. That was probably part of it as well.

I was just literally spiralling out of control. I can't remember what year it was, but it was probably about 8 years ago, I thought, 'Right, I'm going to give this a go". I was drinking heavily as well, and I went into the local hospital and said that I wanted to detox. But because of my mental health, they put me in the local psychiatric hospital. Because they have the local drug and alcohol service have got a bed in there where you can do a detox. So I sat in there and did the detox from alcohol. I was taking methadone as a substitute. But as soon as I got off the alcohol I went straight back to this wanting to harm myself. I started trying to harm myself. I ended up staying in there and spiraling again.

I come out of hospital and I started using again. That carried on for a couple of years. In 2013... It was winter, after Christmas, and it all just got too much. I come to this place in my head... I haven't really thought about it that much... All I know is that it was the darkest. That's the only word I can use. That's where all my thought pattern went. It didn't matter if I thought about drugs. It didn't matter if I thought about alcohol. It didn't matter if I thought about being sober. It didn't matter if I thought about family. It just wasn't happening. There were no answers. It was actually just, well, the only answer you've got here is death.

I can remember the feeling to this day. I thought, 'Well, that's it'. I made my mind up. It was going to happen. It was going to happen that night. I was just wondering the street. Even though a friend had said I could sleep on his sofa, even though I had my own caravan, it had got to that stage, that I couldn't ask people to stay on their sofas anymore. They have always said, and they still say it now that, 'you could have stayed there, Mark'. But I just didn't feel like I could. I didn't feel comfortable about it.

I remember wondering the streets and getting to Wry Pier, on the Isle of Wight. I thought, 'I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to go to the end of that and jump off'. It was pitch black, freezing cold that night. Really, really cold. I remember walking up the pier and I remember the thought I had straight away. I looked over and the tide was out. I thought, 'If I jump in there, I'm a strong swimmer'. I just knew that survival instinct would kick in and I'd swim in. I thought, 'That isn't going to work'. I knew that I had a couple of cans of beer at my static home and a load of different tablets. I don't know quite what they were. It was really cold. I'm going to put a duvet over me and an electric fire over the bed. So that what I've done. Unbeknown to me, and I'm getting around to finding out who the doctor was so I can write him a letter to thank him. My doctor had phoned me up at about 9.30am to tell me that my Prozac were ready. I don't remember, but apparently I said, "I don't need them because I'm not going to be here anymore'. When I came round I was in the hospital. They said they would need to keep an eye on me there. I hadn't eaten in ages, and I didn't want food and I'd lost lots of weight. So I was in hospital for a while. I couldn't face the outside world. I was sick. I really was ill.

I felt that going to the shop was just an impossibility. They started medicating me like they do. But everyday while I was there we did some therapeutic work. They don't just let you sit in your room all day. I think that's a brilliant. I was introduced to mindfulness. I didn't really take it on at that time. I stayed in there for 6 or 7 weeks, and then I was ready to leave. They had got me medicated and I felt alright. I thought that I was cured to be honest. Maybe I was cured at that time from the mental health stuff, but I had nothing to do with addiction.

So, I left the hospital on the outskirts of Newport on the Isle of Wight. To walk back into Newport to see my mates and the people I knew, the first thing you pass is a shop. I went into there and bought some strong lagers. I think I bought 8. I'd drunk 6 by the time I'd got to the bottom of the hill... it's not a massive hill. Instantly, my mind went back to, 'I don't want to be here anymore'. There was no clear thinking, straight into suicide mode. I don't know why.

So I went to my mates house and they were all talking about getting heroin and stuff like this. I hadn't taken it for a while and was like, 'Oh alright. Okay... well. I've saved some money up so I'll get a bag'. But in my head I knew what I was going to do. I was going to go into the bathroom and take a shot of it and OD. I wasn't going to tell anyone and I didn't tell anyone. I went into the bathroom, and did what I had to do and took my shot of heroin.

I woke up 5 hours later. A big burn in my new tracksuit. I was more pissed off about that, and actually not dying. I can just remember coming round and thinking, 'What the fuck?" Straight away something clicked inside and I thought, "I have to get out of here", and I left there and went back into Ryd, where I'd originally lived. Something started happening and I can't really explain it. Maybe one day I will be able to. Something was happening. I was taking copious amounts of valium trying to get to sleep and they weren't working. Which is really bizarre. I don't know if lightweight is the correct word, but usually I could take 5ml of Valium and I'd be out. But for some reason it wasn't working. I couldn't sleep and my head was going. Looking back on it now my head was going, but something had changed. Something was coming back alive. Whether it was the medications kicking in, having serotonin kicking around my head, who knows? But something was happening and I was still kind of alive... but there was this alcohol still kind of on me. I'd already given up the methadone. I'd already given up the heroin. I wasn't on any of that, it was just this alcohol that was holding on to me.

I remember it was 1st May 2013 and something on that morning... I hadn't really stopped drinking, but I hadn't been drinking all night... I went over and bought my first four pack of strong larger when the shop opened and sat on the seafront. I was with a friend of mine and her son came walking over. He said to me, "If you don't stop drinking, if you carry on like that, Mark, you're going to end up dying". And something clicked in me at that moment in time, and this will be something that in the future I will elaborate on more, once I know myself... but something in that moment in time, whatever happened clicked in me and I said, 'Yes, I can stop'. I put the drink down. I was actually going to tip them away but my friend said, 'No,no', so I said, "Yeah, you can have them'.

The mental health service on the Isle of Wight said that they could offer me some support in a place called Bartlet Gardens, a dry house on the Isle of Wight, where you can't drink or use drugs. So I gave the mental health worker a call, and he took me over there and I was told, "Mark, you need to get your clothes washed, and no drinking anymore". It was only a temporary sort of place. I was there and straight away I was introduced to a lot of therapeutic stuff to work on myself. It was stuff like relapse prevention. I was doing mindfulness. I was finding out about my triggers. I was doing a wellness recovery action plan. I was really doing lots of different things. There were mental health awareness groups. Addiction groups. There was the whole lot. But I guess the point is, that I started doing work on myself.

When I started facing a lot of that crap and started doing it in a manageable way then I started building a life and I could see 'Oh, there's a trigger and I'm not going to go and use a strong larger or heroin to stop it. I'm going to explore this in a mindful way'.

As I did that, and connected with the mental health services, I started working with emotional coping skills courses. Anxiety workshops and things like that. I was really getting to work on myself. Really focusing on the fact I was worth more and that, yes, I can do something. I started believing in myself. The more I hung around these positive people and people who wanted to change, I started to believe in myself. I was introduced to a drug and alcohol team called Cranston, here on the island and I started doing all of their little courses and little workshops. I really got hold of what was going on with my addiction. At the same time I was doing work on my mental health. So I had work going on here with addiction and work going on here with my mental health. And then I needed things to connect with, like hobbies. So I connected with the gym, and I connected with going out and walking around in nature and stuff like that. As I done that, I connected with a CIC called Nature Therapy CIC and started doing some stuff there. I started to see that I could live a life with mental health. I can live a life where when thoughts pop into my head, that's what they are... thoughts. They are words, and it is up to me how much time and attention I want to spend on them thoughts.

As luck would have it I was introduced to something called Acceptance Commitment therapy. That just totally changed my life. I use it to this day. If thoughts pop into my head I can manage them. I can acknowledge that they are there. I can thank my brain that they are there. They are just thoughts. I started to build a strong recovery. It was massive. I could feel that every day I wanted to get up and do stuff. Life challenges, like not seeing my parents, not connecting with my daughter, other people just in everyday life that piss you off... basically I could see, 'Oh, that happens and you don't have to have a drink, or you don't have to feel suicidal, because you feel let down or whatever. I can live a life just like that person over there, or that person over there'. I kept working on myself and I kept pushing myself. Everyday I'd push myself. I ended up volunteering for Nature Therapy CIC, the local youth offending team, a family therapy charity called Seize the Change. Then we started our own group up called Clean Breaks. That originally was for people to socialise without substances and what we found was that people with mental health [issues] come along as well. It was evenings and weekends and we'd all do things together, like bowling or a meal. It was just everyday doing something. Everyday working on myself really. Everyday waking up and coming up with new ideas. No idea is stupid. If it works it works, if it doesn't we try another idea.

And so life kept progressing and it was about 2 years ago now, after volunteering a lot and sharing my story on the Isle of Wight and further afield, and writing article about recovery for various magazines, that I though, 'I think I'm ready for a bit of employment'. I wasn't sure but I thought I'd give it a go. I wanted to work in the care field supporting people in some way. A good friend of mine who I'd made a connection with at one of the volunteer groups said, 'Come and do a bit of company driving' , and that was new to me. I'm quite a new driver. I'd never tried to drive when I was intoxicated. This was taking staff to and from work. I thought, 'I'll give that a go'. It was just a few hours and it was nice because I learned that I can have that responsibility so I done that for a little while. Then a job come up with the Richmond Fellowship who I work with now as a recovery worker, working with the out of hours mental health service. Finding out whether people are experiencing any kind of emotional distress or if they are approaching a crisis. I thought, 'That sounds like a great idea, I'll have some of that'. I applied for it and got the job, full time.

I've just missed a massive chunk! Just before I got the driving job I reconnected with my now wife, who has her own amazing story. Maybe she will tell that one day when she is ready. I've known her for a while. I just remember I'd gone through a breakup. I hadn't used or relapsed with my mental health. I'd signed up that, 'I'm going to be celibate! I don't want relationships. They are crap!'. Instead I went out exploring the Isle of Wight, doing climbing and all sorts of stuff. I was running across the Isle of Wight for charity. I was doing what I could. I walked onto the beach one day and literally bumped into Leah, and things just started to happen. We are now married which is absolutely fantastic. We have two kids. I have my other daughter, who I haven't connected with yet, but that's alright. I will. What I like about putting in the work that I've put in, and that's what I'd say to anyone... put the work in, push yourself that little bit extra, sometimes you may need to take a little step back, but actually that's alright. When those thoughts pop into your head. It could be me missing my daughter. In the old me that could have been a catalyst for a whole lot of stuff and ending up with relapsing in whatever way, hurting myself, drink, drugs, whatever. But being able to say, 'That's life, actually', and being like, 'Okay, I'm allowed to have that feeling of missing that person'. To know that all of them feelings are normal. I'm allowed to feel I don't fit into that crowd. I'm allowed to feel that I don't like that person. That's just normal. That's what I've learned a lot over the last 5 years. The 5 years 4 months that I have been in recovery. And I'm still learning everyday. I've just got married and I've now become the team manager of where I work, which is amazing. I still sometimes think, 'Wow, what the..??!' But we are learning and growing everyday. Being mindful of the people around us and of ourselves. It's good to have a daily check in. I do.

I've just had a month off the gym because of an operation and so I find another way of checking in, and a lot of the time that is through mindfulness. That's important. To check in with yourself and to make sure you are alright.

When it comes to mental health and addiction it's about putting the work in. It's about stepping outside of your comfort zone, not just sometimes, but most of the time.

Because that's where magic is going to happen.

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Go raibh maith agat, Marcus