25 Apr 2011
Ed Brown is a purple belt BJJ student under BJJ School’s Felipe Souza. I’ve known Ed for a couple years now and we’ve worked together closely on a number of media projects. Ed wanted to share his personal story with me on this blog.
Meerkatsu: Hi Ed, let’s start by introducing yourself and telling the readers how long have you been training BJJ?
Ed Brown: I’m a soon to be 36 year old purple belt student at BJJ School under Felipe Souza. I’ve been training BJJ ‘clean’ for 5 years and 7 months. I have been training BJJ for longer but I only count the clean years.
Meerkatsu: When you say ‘clean’, what do you mean?
Ed Brown: Clean from all substances. I had a major problem with alcohol and cocaine. I used to turn up on the mat on a Saturday morning having had an all night bingeing session, awful.
Meerkatsu: Blimey, how did you manage to train like that?
Ed Brown: It was very frustrating, I was trying to do jiu jitsu but my state of mind was not in the right place and I would get beaten up. I just wasn’t committing to the sport. I don’t count those years as part of my BJJ learning period.
Meerkatsu: How did the substance abuse begin?
Ed Brown: I grew up on a rough estate in South East London and some of my friends, from a very young age, were committing crimes and smoking weed and harder drugs but ironically, I avoided the bad stuff like the plague. It was when I hit my late teens after a number of incidents that made family life for me an unhappy time and I went off the rails. It started off with alcohol and progressed from there to weed and cocaine.
Meerkatsu: How did drugs and alcohol abuse alter your behaviour and personality, I mean what about jobs, relationships etc?
Ed Brown: I was what is often termed as a ‘functioning addict’. I was able to hold down a job, train BJJ, have relationships, all without anyone on the outside knowing about my addictions, but in reality, I was a mess underneath. Very few people knew I had a problem, even my own family.
Meerkatsu: What would a typical bingeing session entail?
Ed Brown: I don’t like to quantify or glorify my using, but for the purpose of this interview I shall give you a rough idea. A typical night out would start off with some alcopops, then progress to harder drinks and then a few grams of coke and continue until closing time. It wasn’t so much the odd nights out. I knew I had a problem when those single night benders would grow into two nights in a row, and then I needed something on the Monday, and then Wednesday and so on until I couldn’t function unless I was abusing on a daily basis.
Meerkatsu: What was the turning point for you?
Ed Brown: I moved from away from Croydon and, er, to Brixton...yeah, not exactly the wisest of geographical choices if you are trying to avoid drugs! But I was nearer family and things started off well but eventually I would fall into the same set of bad influences and I ended up worse than before. But one night, after another all night bender, I was on the street and wanted to score some cocaine and I couldn’t score. I knew where to get some crack instead and was about to head off to the dealer when it suddenly hit me that I was now desperate enough and rock bottom enough in my life that I would consider using crack. That was the turning point.
Meerkatsu: What do you think would have happened if you had opted to take crack?
Ed Brown: I would definitely had got more worse, maybe not be here, I don’t know, I mean I was already in a lot of trouble. That one moment of clarity decided it for me. I had to do something.
Meerkatsu: Where did you go to seek help?
Ed Brown: I first went to see a therapist and we talked about my addictions but one time I attended and I blacked out in front of her. She referred me to the Maudsley Hospital to ask for help and they directed me to Community Drugs Project in Brixton. When I walked in to my first meeting at the CDP and looked at everyone, I was like: look at these people, addicted to hard substances, I was definitely on some sort of moral high ground thinking I was better than your typical ‘drug addict’ because I was ‘only’ using cocaine and alcohol.
Meerkatsu: And presumably you realised after a while that your attitude was wrong?
Ed Brown: Yeah, I soon learned that addiction was not about what you were addicted to, it was more about how the person felt about themselves underneath. I had very low self esteem, extremely dishonest, I was constantly putting myself down and yet really judgemental about others and myself...I was a very unpleasant person and my head was wired all wrong.
Meerkatsu: So tell me about the treatment, how does someone with a quite chronic drugs problem get out of their situation, what was it that worked for you?
Ed Brown: Well first of all, I am definitely not cured. An addict is never cured, that’s not the way it works. I am a recovering addict. After attending the CDP I was advised to take part in the 12-step program.
Meerkatsu: What is a 12-step program?
Ed Brown: Well briefly, the 12-step program is a set of principles that guides the addict towards recovery. One of the main aspects is recognising that there is a higher power – I’m not talking about God or religion, although it does sound religious – it’s about finding a faith or God of my own understanding – something more powerful than me that I could believe in. The principle within the program can be applied to a multitude of problems. Drugs for me were just a way to deal with the world. Other people may use other things that will have the same affect ie: food, sex or gambling. A Twelve step program can be applied to all of these potential problems.
Meerkatsu: So what is your ‘God’?
Ed Brown: Jiu Jitsu!! Nah I’m joking. I don’t get too analytical about it really. Each morning, I get on my knees and I pray and each night before I sleep I pray. I make sure I follow my recovery program, which includes attending meetings to share my feelings honestly with other members, sponsoring those who are new to the program and provide a service which is to do something practical that helps the program. Those are the four cornerstones of the program: share, sponsorship, service, working the steps. It gives me structure in my life where before I had none and it helps with all areas of my life.
Coming in Part Two, Ed discusses how jiu jitsu has helped change the course of his life for the better.