In my mid-teens I was a bit of a drifter with no clear idea of what I wanted to do later in life. It was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be a professional sportsman or rockstar, being devoid of talent in both spheres and without the good looks of a Robert Plant or Marc Bolan that might have mitigated for a complete lack of musical ability. I was interested in writing and history, so considered journalism and I enjoyed science, but struggled at higher maths, so I was not going to be the astronomer that I had dreamt of whilst at junior school.
My lack of direction was exacerbated by having recently discovered by new best friend – alcohol! Things got so bad that, in my final school report before sitting my GCSE/CSE exams, the majority of my teachers reported that I had no chance of attending further education, when just a few years previously I was assessed as a shoe-in for university.
During this period, I would ride the bus into Leicester city centre and I became aware of some construction works along the Melton Road in Belgrave.
Over the next few weeks a bridge began to take shape and I remember thinking
“This looks interesting. What’s this about?”
And so began a thirty plus year relationship with civil engineering. I mustered down and proved my teachers wrong and was admitted to Sixth Form to study A Level maths and engineering science. Unfortunately, my burgeoning alcoholism was becoming dominant and I chose to drop out after one year, and signed on as a Trainee Civil Engineering Technician with Leicester City Council. During this period I received an excellent schooling in civil engineering and obtained a Higher Certificate in Civil Engineering via day release. I soon realised that I had more ambition than I thought and so in September 1985 I left a well-paid job and returned to full-time education. I studied Civil Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, gaining a Beer Drinkers First (Upper Second Class Honours degree) and then earned a Master’s Degree in Foundation Engineering from Birmingham University.
I loved my job, I loved being part of something that left a lasting legacy and, that I could see later and say “I was part of the team that designed and built that!”. As my career progressed it took me all over the UK and then Hong Kong and China and finally Australia. I had everything I wanted; a house, a family, a very well-paid job. Or did I?
As my career progressed, so did my alcoholism, depression and anxiety. A progressive illness is how many people describe alcoholism, and not only was it progressing, but so was my disillusionment with engineering. Long hours, a lack of consideration for the welfare of staff in order to maximise profit and a nagging feeling that I was not where I wanted to be. Throw a failing relationship into the pot and my alcoholism became dominant and my work ethics evaporated. On the outside, things looked great, but on the inside I was dying – physically, emotionally and spiritually. My engineering speciality is geotechnics; I design foundations. I know that if you build on saturated sand in an earthquake zone, you take your foundations deep to bedrock, because when the earthquake strikes, the saturated sand liquifies and down comes your building! My life was that house with shallow footings on saturated sand and my earthquake inevitably struck in late September 2013.
I spiralled completely out of control until finally surrendering and entering detox on 17 October 2013. Whilst in detox the idea of attending a residential rebab facility was planted and I was accepted into the Arcadia House Therapeutic Community. The only problem – I had to wait until early January 2014 for the next intake. I white knuckled it and attended as many support groups as I could during the period, remaining dry, but not emotionally sober – in fact I was as mad as a cut snake during that period! During my eight weeks in Arcadia House I lost my job on medical grounds, something that horrified me at the time, but now I realise it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. More importantly, during my time at Arcadia House, I was given the gift of the beginnings of an emotional sobriety.
As I left Arcadia, I reconnected with the internet and frantically searched for information about my beloved Leicester City. As I did this, a story in the Leicester Mercury caught my eye. After 36 years, the Melton Road Flyover was to be demolished.
The bridge that was being built as the initial seeds of my career path were being planted; as the early warning signs of my alcoholism were beginning to display themselves; that had been in service across the same time span as my career and my addiction, was now to be demolished at the same time that my life was about to take a new direction. It was the end of an era, in more ways than one. Now that has to be a message from a higher power.
Nearly four years on and I’m still taking a new direction. I’m studying for a double degree in Psychology and Sports & Exercise Science and I’m an active mental health advocate amongst other things, none of them related to civil engineering. Four years ago that would have been unthinkable, but once again I love the work I do and relish the challenges ahead. My depression and anxiety can still can hinder me, but I don’t allow them to define me or stop me.