Voices: I couldn’t stop destroying myself and those around me – the brutal truth of being an addict
Emma Willis kept a daily diary of all the drugs and drink her hubby Matt consumed. I wasn’t on as much champagne as the former Busted bassist, but that moment in the BBC’s documentary Matt Willis: Fighting Addiction had me weeping on my living room sofa.
Sitting down to watch the TV presenter and pop star explore his fight to stay sober took me right back to my own battles with addiction. It chews you up and drains the people that love you. In my wilder youth, before I got 20 years clean and sober, there were times when I would turn up at my parents’ house near Richmond exhausted and worn out after an all-nighter, and they wouldn’t let me back in. My family and I became more like enemies. That only isolated me more.
Imagine waking up every morning and all you can think about is drinking or taking drugs. It’s a living hell that I’m lucky to have escaped, but not without a lot of hard work and love.
My parents dragged me to a psychiatrist claiming I’d stolen all the family silver – which wasn’t true. My siblings kept staring at me, as if to say, “Look what you are doing to mum and dad,” although I was the one nearly half-dead.
One relative suggested a stint in jail would be the best thing for me. I’d accidentally become a getaway driver for a man burgling a washing machine, without realising he was stealing it. I had only offered to give him a lift home when he asked me to wait a second and keep my engine running on the side of the road while he fetched something. I thought it was odd he scarpered over a wall. But then I was suddenly surrounded by flashing blue lights – and arrested. I was thrown into a police cell in Hammersmith and slept on a thin blue plastic mattress. I was scared – they shut the little hatch they check on you through. I felt as trapped as I did in my addiction. Thank God that my Dad stepped in and bailed me out of court.
But addiction is a disease – just like anorexia. Nobody could be more determined a character than I am, but I just couldn't stop destroying myself and those around me, just like Busted’s Matt.
Addicts don’t think they are worthy of love, which is compounded when their drug use pushes their nearest and dearest away and destroys the people they hold most dear. But, irony of ironies, perhaps the only thing that can save addicts from themselves is compassion.
Emma talked about why she stayed with her husband. Everyone tells the families and partners of addicts that they should just leave them – walk away. “It’s very easy to look in on a situation that you’re not directly involved in and go, ‘f*** that, get out now’,” she says with tears welling up in her eyes.
“But when you’re in it, and you have that history together and you love someone so dearly... I wasn’t going anywhere.”
That got me. Addicts do have feelings, as we saw clearly in Matt’s documentary. It’s very frightening not being able to stop. Emma said in the film: “I was so scared he would die,” while admitting that living with someone with chronic addiction and alcohol issues was “unpredictable” and “anxiety-inducing”. But she never gave up hope that Matt would find recovery – which he has.
Some addicts never find recovery – obviously sometimes there is a cut-off point. My mum and dad did suffer greatly. Eventually though, they did give up on some of the tough love – and they let me back in. We had the odd incident that I don’t blame them for – like when they dropped me in a rehab car park late at night and drove off when it was shut. I’ve also been on the other side of the fence – an ex-partner relapsed when we were together. Like Emma in the documentary who struggled as she searched for Matt in pubs, loving an addict is exasperating and exhausting.
I’m not saying we should enable an addict, but we must still show them respect and love. It’s a balance – not about judgement and making them feel even less loveable than they already do,
As Matt told Lorraine Kelly on her daily ITV talk show Lorriane: “It was kind of like, she went through everything with me and stuck by me through everything and a lot of people at times told her not to.
“But she saw something in me and she knew she could help — and she did, massively.”