Brothers in Recovery: Ian and Justin’s Story

July 18, 2023

It often said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection. And whilst most friendships in life are created over shared experiences, Ian and Justin’s bond transcends the everyday. Fourteen years ago, they each flew to Sydney from opposite ends of Australia and were admitted for treatment at South Pacific Private – within an hour of one another. The rest was history…

“My name is Ian, and I came to South Pacific Private fourteen years ago because of my alcohol use. My family GP was an expert in drug and alcohol issues, and he quickly saw all the signs and the symptoms, giving me a frank and fearless assessment of my chances if I didn’t get some significant help. I lived in Canberra at the time, but it was South Pacific Private that he recommended. I also had another family friend who’d been through SPP with success as well, so I had that professional and personal affirmation that SPP was a good place to start getting well. I was scared, I’d been drinking for so long, but I instinctively felt like SPP took an approach that wasn’t going to be too brutal.”

“I’m an alcoholic and sex addict in recovery. Fourteen years ago I was living a very chaotic life, in fact, a double life. The progression of my alcoholism and addictive sexual behaviour had become all-controlling. I was in an unmanageable cycle in my life where if I wasn’t drinking, I was acting out with other people. I was married and at the time our three children were still quite little, and I was running my own business. My role within the business in sales enabled my behaviour, as I was out of the office a lot.

At my lowest, I was so out of integrity and not even participating in life. I knew I couldn’t stop what I was doing and had pushed everything to the nth degree when it all came crashing down around me, which I knew it would eventually. I was so compulsive and self-destructive in my behaviour and my thinking. That’s how I ended up in South Pacific Private, where I started my journey and where I met Ian. He checked in on the very same day, about an hour before I did.”

“When I saw Justin for the first time, I’d only been at SPP for an hour or so. I remember thinking to myself when I saw him, ‘geez, that guy looks like shit, I’m lucky I don’t look that bad’.

Little did I know he was thinking how relieved he was that he didn’t look as bad as me. It was a great example of the lack of self-awareness that we both had in that moment.

From my perspective, Justin and I seemed to bond over the shared desire to work hard. People used to tease us a bit because we’d go and do our homework while others weren’t, and I guess that kind of bonded us together in the beginning. We didn’t have tons in common, we were in different stages of life. Justin had three kids and a business, and I had the beginnings of a successful career in film that I’d ruined, and my health was problematic. But our common ground was that we both had a lot to lose, so we connected over that. There was a shared mindset of ‘let’s do this, take it seriously and hold each other accountable’. That’s one of the things that I first picked up from Justin, that he was just as screwed up as I was but that he was willing to do whatever it took to make things better and I really appreciated that.”

“I remember when I arrived at the hospital, I was so scared. I was taken upstairs to the communal client area where I noticed Ian was also standing. When I saw him, I thought ‘oh, God, that guy looks like crap’. Little did I know, I looked just as bad.

I often think that Ian came into my life for a reason with some Higher Power or the universe working in amazing ways. Sometimes you’ve got to be open minded to see those signs. We went through this journey together, we supported each other. I was desperate, my marriage was ruined, I hadn’t seen my kids in some time, and I knew I was sick and had to get better somehow. I didn’t understand any of it, but having a friend like Ian by my side was a gift. We laughed together a lot during those weeks, and we were honest with each other. When either one of us was in our worst place he would be there to pick me up and I would be there to pick him up.”

“Justin and I actually ended up doing the same Family Program together too, and when you sit and witness each other with their loved ones, it’s an incredibly vulnerable experience. It’s like you’re experiencing your own stuff, but you’re also experiencing their shame, pain and fear. I think it bonded us even more, that real vulnerability that we shared. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than witnessing each other do the work with our family.

I think that’s what created a foundation for our friendship. We can be honest with each other in a way that is so unique because we know literally everything about each other. There are very few people on this planet who will understand what it’s like to go through the program, Family Week and Changes, but Justin does. After an experience like that with another person you either never want to see them again or you’ll be bonded for life! We’re lucky to be the latter.

I had some exposure to spiritual people before I was in recovery, but a lot of them disappeared after I went into SPP. One of the most lasting spiritual friendships I’ve had has been with Justin. It’s fascinating in the sense that rehab is not necessarily the place you expect to find this sense of brotherhood, but I absolutely believe Justin was put into my life for a reason. And I’m so grateful that we checked in on the same day, within hours, and that we were brought together to do this work. I take a lot of faith and hope from that.”

“I had quite a number of spiritual experiences in South Pacific Private and Ian was one of those. That’s how I look at it. I draw a lot from him. I always know that if I need him, he’ll be there for me and vice versa. In recovery, a lot of people come and go. The Family Week was one of the most brutal weeks I’ve ever had in my life, but Ian was there too so we were doing it together.”

“I think we both really helped each other with the rejection side things too. My wife at the time didn’t come to Family Week, neither did my dad, and Justin got some pretty brutal rejection in that week too, but we were able to support each other in that. I know I probably would have got through it all without him, but I’m so grateful for being gifted someone like Justin in this. Not everyone gets someone to walk alongside you. My first 18 months after leaving South Pacific Private were probably the hardest, being in sobriety and putting my life back together. But it was helpful to have that grounding experience, and that grounding friendship with Justin that I could always go back to when things felt like they were going off the rails.”

“Staying sober in all areas of my life is a real challenge but my first three years in recovery were the toughest. When you go into treatment, you leave all the hard stuff behind. But it’s all out there waiting for you when you get out. The betrayed wife, angry business partner, all the people that you hurt – that ripple effect.

When I was leaving South Pacific Private, I had this fantasy that when I flew home there would be people waiting for me at the airport with ‘welcome home’ banners. But when I landed there was not one person there waiting for me. Not one. It was a real awakening for me. It hit me right between the eyes, and it was then I realised that the work had just begun.
That’s where our friendship really helped. We saw a lot of each other those first few years. Any chance we’d get if we were interstate we would catch up and we talk because really, we didn’t have anyone else.”

“And we both had, you know, ‘life’ to deal with. I unfortunately experienced divorce and death during that period, and so we really connected with each other through those sorts of things too. Justin is the person I call when tragedy strikes, but also the one I call when something great happens. With alcoholism, both those times can be dangerous, so having someone that I can talk to who gets it is amazing. People don’t understand when you’re feeling twitchy because something great happened in your life. I can’t go and celebrate with a beer. But Justin understands how it feels to be tempted in those times and that’s powerful.”

“I agree. I’ve certainly lost the obsession to drink but every now and again it’ll come up again. It might be in summertime somewhere, with people all around me drinking. But I just I acknowledge it and then I just let it go. I don’t obsess about it, and knowing I have someone out there like Ian who understands that is so valuable.”

“It’s great to have someone who understands the gifts that recovery gives you as well. For example, Justin’s recently become a grandfather and I don’t think there’s anyone more excited than me because I understand how close he was to losing all that. He almost lost his family and his daughter. And if he hadn’t done the hard work, he wouldn’t be getting to see his grandchild now. We’re one of the few people who understands the magnitude of what it means to us when these great things happen in our lives. I’ve been lucky enough to have remarried and had a daughter as well and he knows better than anyone that there’s no way I’d have all this without my recovery. We get to celebrate things with each other on a level that nobody else really understands.

“In the early days when people say the best is yet to come, it can be hard to believe, but it really is true. If you had told me that I was going to get my marriage and family back, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ve worked very hard on my recovery in all areas in my life, and the rewards really do come. My marriage has never been better.

While my wife never forgave the behaviour, doing Family Week meant she saw where I’d come from – a dysfunctional family. It gave her this insight into how people become addicts. It was the person she loved, not the behaviour, and she was able to separate the two. When I got out, we were able to do quite a lot of work on our relationship. I’ve got a long line of alcoholics and addicts in my family, and she understands that for me to keep my disease at bay that I need to go to meetings and speak to people like Ian to live a life of honesty.”

“I look up to Justin, there’s so much I’ve gained from him around marriage and fatherhood. I remember someone asking me once why Justin was so important to me, and the best analogy I could think of was that for me, my recovery has been putting life back together brick by brick. And I remember saying to someone that laying bricks is hard by yourself, but it’s a lot easier when you’ve got someone passing them to you. And that’s kind of how it’s always felt with Justin.

Every June for the past fourteen years we have flown to Sydney to meet up at South Pacific Private to celebrate how far we’ve come. It’s such a highlight because we get to go back to the place where it all began, acknowledge another year of recovery and talk to the current clients.

We don’t understand what they’re going through, but we get the sport they’re playing. We know what it’s like to sit in those rooms. We know how lonely that experience is, but we also know there are special things that come out of it. Our friendship is a real example of that. One of the miracles of South Pacific Private has been my relationship with Justin and I’m so proud of and thankful for that.”

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