Monday, 24 February 2014

Interview with John Taylor

IN 1978 a band from Birmingham burst onto the music scene. With their catchy synthesised pop songs, make up, lavish videos and pin up looks, the five young men that made up Duran Duran were a hit from the get go.
Number 1s in countries across the world, 100 million records sold, more awards than you can shake a stick at and a jet set lifestyle were all par for the course.
Indeed they epitomised the New Romantic era of British pop and the excesses of the 1980s enjoying huge financial and artistic success.
However behind all the glamour and fast living, for bass player John Taylor, things were not so rosy.
He was battling alcohol and drug addictions and by his own admission was behaving in a way he would never have done had he been sober.
But one day he realised he'd had enough and checked himself into a US rehab centre in Arizona. It was, he says, a turning point, and thanks to the centre's approach to tackling peoples' addictions, he's not looked back.
Now, 19 years sober and counting he has become patron of Mount Carmel, a drug and alcohol treatment centre in Aldrington Road, Streatham.
Headed up by chief executive Ruth Allonby, Mount Carmel has been running its successful and specialist detox management and counselling programmes for the best part of 26 years.
Offering family support groups, housing support and, crucially, free aftercare, the 18-bed residential centre also advocates the 12-Step programme John credits with turning his life around.
It has seen more than 1,000 people from all walks of life pass through its doors and boasts a success rate of about 65 per cent.
Yet despite its success, many don't know of its existence. They hope this will change with John's involvement.
"I was really struck by his infectious enthusiasm for the 12-Step programme when I heard him speak at last summer's UKESAD [UK/European Symposium on Addictive Disorders] conference," says Ruth.
"The story of his recovery from addiction was compelling so I was bowled over when he said he would come and talk to our clients and even more so when he agreed to be patron.
"He has been a few times and we've all been struck by how down to earth he is. He just speaks from the heart, and his own experience, and it's been an incredibly positive experience."
But although as we talk it's clear his passion for the work the centre does is real and genuine, John says he was initially cautious about getting involved.
"It wasn't an easy decision to say yes to," he says. "I was wary as it requires a huge amount of commitment and you can't do these things half-heartedly and I wanted to do it justice.
"But it's quite an extraordinary place. It's really down to earth, and does an amazing amount of good work changing peoples' lives for the better.
"I've been to speak to some of the clients there and was impressed by the warm and friendly atmosphere there. They advocate the 12-Step programme which I believe in and get results and the fact the staff care so much. So I'm really pleased to be part of it."
Warm, friendly and completely open about his past, the 53-year-old has a refreshing honesty and frankness about his addictions.
"I'm just one of those people who can't just have one or two drinks and then stop," he explains. "I wasn't in the gutter and drinking every day but when I did I just didn't have an off button and so ended up drinking to excess. It was the same with the drugs.
"I was just so miserable but hadn't put it down to the drugs and alcohol. I couldn't cope with life. I'd lost the map and was very unhappy," he remembers.
"It was isolating - I thought I had a string of issues but I didn't want to deal with them. You think you have got bipolar anxiety with all of these things going on but actually it's just this disease.
"It just got ridiculous though."
So he decided to get clean.... but he says it wasn't easy.
"It's one thing to check yourself in. It's quite another to come out at the end and be strong enough to start living your life.
"It's also very hard for family and friends because you come out a completely different person. And they have to deal with that change.
"You realise you can't rely on your family and friends. Very few people appreciate what it is to be a struggling alcoholic. It changes things. The family that has been begging you to get help is now struggling with the new sober you."
For John it ended happily which is why he's so keen to help promote the Mount Carmel programme.
"From my experience it's the only one that really offers that kind of turn around that people are looking for.
"It makes you acknowledge that drug and alcohol addiction are diseases which can affect anyone," he says. "It's important to buy into that. It enables you to put aside all of the blame which is very important. It took me a while to get that idea, partly as I was raised a Catholic and there are certain things you buy into and don't question.
"It made sense though because no one I knew was having the same issues like me. They didn't have a problem stopping drinking and had a degree of control. There had to be something different about me so it made sense that this was a disease. It's just part of my genetic make up.
"The 12-Step programme was my saviour in a way and has helped me live my life again."
But he rejects the idea that it's "culty".
"It does sound a bit culty," he laughs. "But it's really not. It's a programme that works. I'm living proof.
"It opens the door to healing which allows you to get on top of the other issues.
"It's about getting people through the door, bringing them out of the isolation they feel and connecting them with others who have the same problems.
"It's about abstinence. I am an all-or-nothing person and I feel abstinence is where it's at. It's a clean break.
"It's very challenging and a gradual process but you have to keep going," he adds.
"What's really amazing about Mount Carmel is they are with you every step which is so important.
"And afterwards they are still there to support you which is exactly what you need and it's so reassuring.
"There is such an enormous amount of information and a tool kit which are the resources to help you when you want to scratch the itch - when you've had a fight with your wife, lost your job, when life is just happening and you want to reach for a drink.
"Life is so challenging for most of us in one way or another so you have to have an alternative to reaching for that drink and that's what Mount Carmel teaches you."
And he's clear there need to be more places like Mount Carmel.
"Mount Carmel is a fantastic place. I am not a politician but I feel if the government is going to spend money on rehab or on people with problems they need to do it right," he says.
"People can offer so much and I think that's why if there was an argument for more money or government intervention it's that.
"It's a life change but it's so worth it. To get clean and begin again, build a sober foundation and have an extraordinary life.
"I can only say from my experience. People can become very useful members of society and it's in everyone's interests to help as many people to get sober."
And he admits since his stint in rehab, life has been good.
"Life is amazing," he says warmly. "I love my job, the band and my family and I'm working with the band on a new album which is great.
"I am a realist not a romantic but I feel like I got the golden ticket when I went to rehab. It's a difficult thing to communicate with people without it sounding a bit freaky," he adds laughing.
"I just want to tell people it's actually a tremendously noble step towards a better life. It's about debunking the negative mystique around rehab.
"I am hopeful though. Thousands of people have found a way. But people have to be prepared to pick up the phone and call Mount Carmel. No one can do that for you.
"You have to walk through the door and take that step yourself. It's never too late to turn your life around."

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