What is it like to live with addiction?

20 June 2013

Interview with

Toby Peters, Squeaky Gate

We now know some of the science of addiction, but what is it like to live with it?  I spoke with Toby Peters who works with the music charity Squeaky Gate.

Toby -   I think mental illness is much on the streets as it is behind closed doors.  I think it doesn't hide prisoners basically and some people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and when they get sober or clean, quite commonly people get diagnosed either depression or bipolar, or Schizophrenia.

Hannah -   Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences?

Toby -   I'm a recovering alcoholic.  I've been dry and clean now for nearly 6 years, this October actually.  I lived on the streets on and off for about 10 years and I always felt that I was outside looking in.  I always felt that I was different.  My thought patterns were different from other people.  I felt like a hermit in a crowd. And alcohol basically made me comfortable for the period that it affected me until it ran out. And then it wasn't so comfortable and I sobered up and I realised that - I mean, what Squeaky Gate does really and some are a great believer that creativity, for some reason, it helps people to connect to other people.  I mean, I know people who are complete outcasts, they beg on the streets, people cross the road if they're sitting on the street, they're complete social outcasts.  The sort of work I do is where people can use their artistic skills or their creativity to communicate, break down barriers and people start actually listening to people with these stereotypical labels.  People get acceptance and they listen.  And then that sympathise in a sense of patronisation.  They sort of think, "Hang on a minute.  I've got a daughter or a son or I've got a mother or a father who's also suffered from mental illness."  So, it's sort of like, it's not such as a taboo.

Hannah -   And do you think that Squeaky Gate are providing a way of bringing people together to feel comfortable and to feel part of a team, but this time, a creative team that's creating music?

Toby -   Yeah, I think it's a really good way of communities spirit (song).

It's a laugh.  It's fun and I think what's really important is, it breaks down barriers for the outside world as such, to come in and see what people are doing, and we celebrating that the fact is we're not intimidated by labels.  Take us what you see and I think that's really important.  It's very empowering.  I am a recovering alcoholic and I will be for the rest of my life.  Whatever caused me to drink myself nearly to death is irrelevant now.  What's relevant is the fact that I choose not to drink.  I found people who support me and understand me, and give me encouragement.  And mostly, these are people who have either experienced mental health or they experienced alcoholism or addiction, and it gives a way of people to communicate to each other.

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