Stephen Matthews, graduate of the NEXT Project in 2014, delivered this speech at our 4th birthday party on 12 April 2018.
First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Stephen Matthews. I am 38 I work as a youth worker in Streatham. I have 2 fantastic, sometimes annoying, teenage kids and a wonderful partner who is also my best friend. I was on the very first NEXT course when Foundation for Change was set up, 4 years ago.
When I was asked to do this speech I decided I didn’t want to get up here and talk about my story. It would of been very easy to talk about where I have been and where I am now. But the truth is we all have a story – it don’t matter if your rich, poor, if you live in a mansion or if you were raised on a council estate – we have all lived, and a big part of living is sometimes we get broken, and this is what I really want to talk about because I feel this is something you can all relate to.
It could be the passing of a loved one, going through a divorce or separation or being in a job you really hate. There are hundreds of reasons.
Sometimes life is hard and for a moment a part of us is broken. If we are unable to change what is breaking us, the moment can last for a long time.
Now, most people find ways from a young age to put themselves back together when they get broken. This could be learning how to change their surroundings, getting counselling or finding people to vent to, socializing with positive groups of friends, or just as simple as finding a hobby. There are so many ways people can pick themselves up and no one thing works for everyone; we learn what works for us.
But what happens when we are unable to learn what works for us? What happens when so much gets broken in a small amount of time that we can’t keep track of what’s fixed? What happens when we are unable to escape what is breaking us? What happens when you are a 12-year-old me?
Well just like at home when you get a small leak from a pipe you can’t change the problem, you don’t have anyone to help you fix it, and you have no clue how to fix it yourself so you just cover it up with duct tape (and yes I know many of you have done this)… The problem for me is that my duct tape was drugs and the more broken I got the more duct tape I needed until I forgot what I was even covering up and as long as it was covered I had no need to learn how to fix it, so I didn’t.
Now I’m going to let you in to a secret I learnt when I stopped using drugs. As much as drugs covers up the fact that you are broken to you it doesn’t work on those around, you especially your family. What is broken about you is obvious to them as it effects them and the horrible truth is it can be part of what is breaking them and this is more than true in my case. See, when I was 33 my partner knew what was breaking her and our family and she had the ability to change it, so she did. I was removed from the house and in that moment I lost everything; my home; my family. And then I realised that I had a problem but I had no clue how I could make it right.
At was at this point I decided to give up drugs. I was recommended an absence day program. From there I got involved in as many support groups as I could and as far as the drugs were concerned this really worked for me. However, by taking away the drugs, all of my brokenness was made clear and most evenings for months I would cry myself to sleep. I even had thoughts of ending it all a couple of times. Even when my partner took me back, the pain I was feeling was still there and this made me so confused: I had everything I wanted, but I still felt broken…
Looking back, I now see why. You see, all of these programs helped me get stuff fixed, my partner taking me back also helped me, but they were all doing the fixing for me and what was being fixed was only the stuff that needed fixing in that moment.
In the months to come I still felt broken and home life was not great as I knew I was only there because my partner cared about me and loved our kids and she did not want to see me suffering more then I had to, but she did resent me for it.
About six months in to my recovery I was offered a place on the NEXT Project and I’ll be honest I did not really listen to what it would involve. To me it was just another group to help me occupy myself and show my partner that I was trying.
What I really got was a life changing opportunity that I am so grateful for and I will tell you why.
Liz and Bob have a great way of making you feel cared for and listened to. They can empower you with the simplest of words. They have a way of explaining things in the easiest way to understand. When they are teaching you don’t just learn it, you live it. But for me the main thing that makes them so different and so life changing is the fact that they don’t just fix you or placate to you needs, they teach you how to fix yourself and challenge you to ‘man-up’ – to take responsibility for your life – whilst still keeping you safe and cared for.
See, for me, the Next Project was one of the hardest things i’ve ever done in my life but it was one of the best. I walked in there on the first day a 12 year old boy who was broken, clueless and lost with no knowledge of how to fix it, and I walked out on the last day a 34 year old man with the tools to not only fix the problems I had lived with for 22 years but also the tools to fix whatever life would throw at me next.
Just some of these tools are taking responsibility, acceptance and education. Liz showed me that I was smart and able to learn and if you can learn, you can grow. They also showed me that I was not alone. So many people go through bad stuff and you can sit there and feel sorry for yourself or you can step up and make the change. It’s going to sound cheesy, but they laid the foundations for me to change and I have built on that a sturdy frame and for this I can’t thank them enough .
The last thing I would like to finish on is to let you know that when you support someone on this program it goes well beyond just them. You see by me becoming who I am today I have become so much more… I’m a loving father and partner who provides a caring supportive and stable house hold; I’m a youth worker who provides self-belief encouragement and fun to over 80 young people every week; I’m a friend who offers a shoulder to cry on or a kick in the butt when needed; and with all of these people I share the tools I have learnt in the hope that none of them will ever be broken and unable to fix themselves.
Thank you all for listening. My name is Stephen Matthews and, thanks to this program, I will never stay broken again.