Christian. A Michelin trained chef shares his story of how despair turned to hope.
“My parents went through a divorce when I was young and I’m not blaming that for what happened to me, but it seemed to trigger a self-destruct button inside me. I went from this really good honest person to this absolute nutter. I was really resentful and angry, and that’s when I first started taking drugs. I started with LSD, then I moved onto cannabis, alcohol and amphetamines. All before the age of fourteen. I was so bad I got kicked out of my mum’s house the day after my sixteenth birthday. I used to sleep out in tents and go straight to school from there because neither of my parents would see me. I used to love going to school though, and I still managed to pass all my GCSE’s. I even got four A-levels as well. After school I started working as an accountant in the NHS but when my job was cut I decided to move to Oxford with my brother, and that’s when I started training as a chef.
My first job was just washing the dishes, but I quickly started learning how to cook too, and before I knew it I was the head chef. I was super-fast and really organised, and after a while the owners asked me to go to different restaurants all over Britain to sort them out. If the staff weren’t working hard, I’d fire them. Simple as that. Slash and burn I used to call it. I’d shout at them to either be more productive or leave, and this was way before all the TV shows like Gordon Ramsey. Some of these restaurants were Michelin quality. I worked with Raymond Blanc at one point. It was amazing, but I would be doing between 80-100 hours a week, and I’d also be taking drugs and drinking the entire time.
My partner was the general manager of one of the restaurants I worked in, and we soon had a three-bedroom house together in Oxford, and a luxury apartment in Malta. We had everything we could ever want, but she also had to deal with all my addictions. My life just revolved around working and using. If we were at home I’d have eight cans of Stella in the same time as it took her to have half a glass of wine, and there was no such thing as just going out for a pint for me. I would drink until I ended up in a police station. She went to Al-anon, a support group for partners of people in addiction for a year and half, but then one day she gave me an ultimatum that it was either her or the alcohol. I had to ask her for 24 hours to think about it. My addiction was that bad I didn’t think I could stop, and by the next day I told her I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t promise her that I wouldn’t relapse.
For six months I lived downstairs, while she lived upstairs, but I still wouldn’t admit I had a problem. I blamed her because I thought I was in control, so I started thinking, I’ll show you, you’re going to really see me drink now. I would just sit in the living room drinking flagon after flagon of cider, then going out in Oxford all the time, just drinking until oblivion. It was so bad that I started carrying knives with me, because I couldn’t remember what I’d done the day before, or who I’d had a fight with. One day she came back to the house with another man and I just started smashing his car up, stabbing it with knives, screaming at them and threatening to kill him. The next thing I know the police came in and she got an injunction against me. I couldn’t see her, couldn’t see any of her friends, couldn’t go anywhere near her, I couldn’t even see my dog.
That was it then for me. It was no holds barred drinking from then on. I would work in one restaurant for a while, then I would leave to work somewhere else and go mental there instead. Basically, I just went mental everywhere I went. I’d go up to a new place, give them my CV, and bang, I was in. All I had to say was, give me a couple of months and I’ll turn this place around. That first month I would totally sort that restaurant out, but then I would completely drink it dry. Once they gave me those keys I used to call them the keys to the kingdom. In my mind it was what they owed me for turning their business around. My mind was mad.
For twenty-four years I worked all over the country like that. London, Wales, Edinburgh, even Sweden, and I was a functioning alcoholic the entire time. When I was in Stockholm I’d go into the walk-in fridge, have line of cocaine and then down a can of lager in three seconds. I’d have them all lined up there ready for me. My silver bullets I’d call them. Then I’d put the can in my apron and slip it in to the bin and get on with work. One night I was so drunk I got into a fight with a policeman and tried to bite a chunk out of his neck. After that they told me I had to leave the country, so I just went to the airport and got the next flight to Edinburgh. I could have gone anywhere but my brother was there, so I thought I could stay with him.
I got work there easily enough, but that’s when I first noticed my memory was failing. I used to be able to remember every ticket that came in, but I started getting everything wrong. I’d only been in this one restaurant for a day, but I had so much drink and drugs in me that I couldn’t remember a thing. The manager started shouting at me, but I just walked away. I was so ashamed I didn’t even ask for my money. I had a big lump sum for the work I’d done in Sweden but soon after that I went over to the cash point and I only had £1.67 left in my account. I’d been eating out every day in all the best hotels, and I realised I’d spent everything. It was like Mike Tyson had just punched me in the guts. I had nothing. That was the first time I asked for help, but I still didn’t stop drinking. I went to the Sisters of Mercy for free food, but I’d sit with my back to the wall because I thought all those other people were just dodgy bums. They weren’t like me. I was still convinced I could get back to the top.
I was anti-religious, but those sisters amazed me. I asked them how they did it. How they remained calm, and how they forgave people; who were often drunk or aggressive. They explained it to me and I was a little dubious, but I would just watch them. They fascinated me. I honestly thought they were like aliens or something, so I started helping them out, and doing whatever they wanted, because there was just this little part of me that wanted whatever they had.
When my work fell apart it was soul destroying, but even then, I still wasn’t able to take responsibility for my own problems, so I took my anger out on other people instead. In the evenings I’d take food donations from the sisters to the rough sleepers in the cemetery and just down as much cider as I could with them. Someone might have some powder or pills, so I’d do some of that too, and if I needed money I’d bring back someone back to my flat who I had seen begging that day and mug them. I told myself they probably had a flat, or they were doing the system over, just so I could justify my actions against them. In my head begging made them bad, and I still thought I was just unlucky. My illness made me judge, jury and executioner. They were just robbing, begging twats, and I was still one of the good ones. This was the insane rationalisation I went through in my head. I had knives on me all the time, but I never felt bad. I was dangerous.
Then in December 2015, there was this huge storm and the entire ceiling of my living room collapsed; brick, plasterwork, pipes, insulation, everything. The sofa was destroyed. The whole flat was ruined. I usually always slept in the living room watching my laptop and drinking until I passed out, but this one night I just had a cup of tea for some reason, and I thought I’d go to the bedroom instead. I don’t know if that was a sign from God or what, but I would probably have died if I’d been there that night. I didn’t know what to do so I just grabbed what I could and went to see the sisters. They gave me seventy-five pounds and said, just get yourself back to Wales.
I came back to Swansea and I started sleeping on the beach, but even then, it didn’t stop. In the first month alone, I ended up in both the hospitals and the jails of Bridgend and Cardiff. It wasn’t until the end of February that I really hit rock bottom. I was homeless, walking the streets in the rain and the wind, and I’d also started to hear voices in my head. Suddenly I had this moment of clarity. I was going insane, and I was a danger to myself and other people, so I walked into the hospital and asked to be locked up. I didn’t think I deserved to be walking the street with normal people anymore. They ran all these tests and told me I wasn’t insane, I was a chronic alcoholic.
I thought a chronic alcoholic was a bum who sits on the street with a can of cider. I wasn’t one of them. For one, I would only drink my cider at a certain temperature. Those are exactly the kind of rationalisations a chronic alcoholic uses to avoid facing the truth. Now I’ve gone from admitting I’m a chronic alcoholic to admitting I’m chronically addicted to chemicals as well. Binge drinker has been kicked miles into touch. If I’ve got a sore tooth or something I can’t even have a pain killer because if that pain hasn’t gone in half an hour, I’ll take the whole packet. That’s what I am.
When I went into my first AA meeting 26 months ago I was convinced they had cameras watching me, but when they started reading from this book that was written in the second world war it was like they were explaining my own head. Everything the twelve other people in that room said gave me exactly the same feeling as well, and then the words just exploded out of me. I’m Chris, and I’m an alcoholic.
I was still sleeping on the beach, but once I was sober, I was actually happy. I was going to two meetings a day and I was looking after myself. I had clean clothes, I had a tarpaulin to stay dry. I would even go and clean the beach from all the students partying. I had all the proper recycling bags and everything. An outreach team helped get me off the beach and since then I’ve just grown and grown. Now, I’m in a beautiful one-bedroom house, I’m on the lowest amount of benefits you can get, and I’m training to be a councillor and a peer mentor. I’ve kicked the cooking into touch for the meantime. I’ll just do that for the homeless. The most important thing for me is being in those AA rooms and supporting other people to get clean too. Like Mark Twain said: the two most important days in a man’s life are the day he was born and the day he realises why. I am meant to show people there is a way out of that despair. That’s my calling.
I always joke with the newcomers that when you’re young and going out to clubs, everyone’s just trying to get the attention of the most attractive girl in the room, but in AA, the most attractive person in the room is the scum-bag, dead beat, with a duffel coat on and shit all over their clothes. That’s the person everyone wants to talk in there. You don’t get that anywhere else.
Twenty-four years I was in this life of addiction and homelessness; of delusion and rationalisation. Anything to stay away from the truth. It was always someone else’s problem, not mine. It was just an insane nightmare. Now people often come up to me and say, I want what you have. When they do, I give them my number, tell to call me anytime, promise them I’ll help get them through this, and I really mean it. Helping other people is my purpose in life now. That brings a kind of happiness I've never known. I’ve always been a control freak, but now I’ve given up that control; it’s like a new beginning. I’ve gone from everything being black and white to having this kaleidoscope of colour over my eyes, and it’s amazing.”
By sharing stories we can change attitudes and build a movement for permanent, positive change. Stand against homelessness and help us end it for good.