Gary

Counselling saved my life. It can save yours too.

Gary

Marketing dissident, football activist, graphic novelist, survivor.

I spent years beating myself up, self-harming, putting myself in positions of danger, just to escape the horror of being me, but now it’s different.

My younger and older self have been reunited. It’s not perfect harmony, nothing is, but it’s some kind of harmony and that’s enough.

Image from my Graphic Novel “Six” which explores my childhood with artwork by Iva Troj.

I’ve been a published graphic novelist for the past 30 years and I wanted to ‘tell my story’ in a way that chronologically and visually captures not only the abuse, but what my ‘acting out’ to make sense of what happened to me looked and felt like. Iva’s artwork is stunning; she listened to my story and it feels like she was there over the years, sketching as things developed, it’s that accurate.

 

Here’s me with Dario Gradi, the ex football manager who’s recently been banned from football for life as a result of The Offside Trust’s report into historical sexual abuse in sport.

Gary as a child shaking hands with Dario Gradi

Dario Gradi didn’t sexually abuse me, but two parents from the football team I played for as a boy did. They were at the same awards evening that this picture was taken.

People like Gradi allowed this kind of unacceptable behaviour to happen. For that, he’s equally responsible…

[Read the full story in the Guardian]

Football has always been, equally, my saviour and destroyer. I never felt more alone on a pitch full of teammates. But, at the same time, it became a refuge, a place where I could leave behind the feelings I couldn’t understand; where I could ‘sweat them out’. It gave me an energy, focus and desire to ‘win’ that came through despite my stolen heart. But, after each game, I came crashing down as if coming off a week of shooting speed balls. The utter emptiness, the arid, barren loneliness that I felt was so intense I had to fill the chasm with uppers just to get through to the next day.

I went on to play at a high level for most of my life. I founded and was chairman of  Brighton based, grassroots football club, Montpelier Villa for 25 years, I set up and manage VYD Improving Lives Through Football a grassroots, football activist programme that uses football and education to level up the playing field for people from disenfranchised backgrounds across Brighton & Hove. Football can heal but football can also steal.

Many times I’ve questioned my love for football. I blame it for what happened to me, but I courted it like a scorned lover that couldn’t let go, attracted by its unreliable quality, by its quality to provide a never had before experience; where will the ball land? How will I react?

I eventually come down ‘on the side’ of football, but it wasn’t easy. Now I’ve decided to ask it to pay me back; by using it to help others. I have a restless, driven nature; fuelled by social injustice and an unquenchable desire for equality of opportunity for everyone, no matter their background.

Read here how VYD is supporting 1in6.uk in an awareness raising partnership.

I suffered from trauma brought on by early-life unwanted sexual experiences. I always felt  incredibly alone, isolated, full of guilt, shame and lacking in any confidence or self-
worth until I had specialist sexual trauma therapy.

The effect of the abuse led to over 40 years of self-harming. Only six months of specialist
therapy addressed the core, crippling issues that abuse brings on. I had
hypnotherapy, regression hypnotherapy, other supposedly ‘specialist’ therapy, but all were
ineffective compared to what the specialist agency offered – and delivered.

Talking to a specialist therapist is the best and only way forward for someone who’s been
abused. Take it from me. I was dying from quiet desperation, from constant confusion and but there was a way out, a way through. Yes it takes courage, time and an ability to hang in there, but if you’re willing to be guided to a better place, believe me, you WILL get there.

I wanted immediate fixes but confronting and processing trauma takes time and is only really properly addressed if you give yourself to the process. I say
time, it took only 6 months of therapy. I was ready to end it before I met with them. I viewed it as my last chance. I’m glad I took it with open arms and mind.

I didn’t think I had a ‘problem’ in life for many years. I just thought everyone exposed
themselves, took copious amount of drugs, had overwhelming sexual fantasies, urges and
adventures with older men and women and made feeble attempts at suicide and that I was
no different.

I felt no shame or guilt about my actions, only numbness.

This was just who I was, right? No. I was stuck, I was acting out to explore and understand
what had happened to me.

Of course I knew about the abuse, I remembered it, it was buried deep in my psyche. I remember the feeling that invaded me throughout my life as a result; one of intense, uncontrollable, obsessional desire but also one of deep confusion and self-loathing. It just depended on the time of day or circumstances I found myself in as to what I would do, where I would go – and who with.

Opening up to a counsellor changed my life. The skill and experience and non judgemental
approach from my therapist, made it safe and acceptable for me to talk about what
had happened to me and why I’d acted out like I had.

Counselling saved my life. Quite literally. It can save yours too. You just have to have the courage to talk and to open up. I say just, but that’s everything…

The fall out from these ‘revelations’ has been brutal. An expensive divorce, not seeing my
three children every day, living on my own and the financial effect has also been really
hard to deal with. BUT, the emotional liberation, the happiness and the confidence I feel
has been built; I would say rebuilt, but I never had it in the first place. It’s been built and
now I know myself and, despite this sounding incredibly cheesy, I LOVE myself for who I
am and that is the biggest difference that’s been made to my life and, subsequently, others
around me. Loving yourself means you can love others. I still have issues with intimacy,
but from where I was to where I am…well, I’ll take that any day.

I can face the day now. I don’t have the self-loathing or sexual confusion I used to have. I
have confidence. I have clarity. I still have moments when all of this threatens to tip off the
edge of a cliff, but I can rationalise, I can regroup, I can refocus. I recognise when things
‘aren’t quite right’ and that’s… alright.

I spent years beating myself up, self-harming, putting myself in positions of danger, just to
escape the horror of being me, but now it’s different. I am the person I always thought
might have been within me. My younger and older self reunited. It’s not perfect harmony,
nothing is, but it’s some kind of harmony and that’s enough.

Organisations who specialise in crisis care, are genuine life-savers. They offer a personal, one-to-one, focused experience that, strangely, makes you feel so very special, listened to and understood. That’s incredibly powerful at a time when
you really need to be heard.

This site offers a helpful collaborative experience for people who are looking for information and support through self-help tools and really helpful videos as well as signposting to organisations who can help, from right across the country.
My mission now is to help spread the work about these services and help others who have been affected by trauma and
abuse.

Having a community of people who have lived experience alongside specialist counsellors and committed and empathetic staff is not only essential but really, really powerful.

Talk to them. To talk to me. Talk to us. We know. We care.

Gary