Colin Underhill / Alamy
A SPORTING CHA
On his retirement from Change Grow Live , Chris Bruce reflects on the impact of trauma and the power of sport as a recovery tool
At 66 it was time to go . After emerging from detox in 1980 I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams what an incredible journey it has been , but in this article I wish to concentrate on two themes – trauma and how it affected me , and sport as a recovery tool .
In 1969 my father , a consultant physician , committed suicide . At the time I was at a boarding school in Sussex . This did not immediately lead me to start misusing drugs and alcohol , but it did have a severe impact on my outlook on life and on my fellow human beings . No one spoke to me about the ‘ event ’ – even the family remained silent . Friends stayed away and psychologically my view of people and life changed .
A serious injury at school kept me out of sports for a year and my elevation to the 1st XI football team was halted . Going up to
London in 1972 on the outside I presented as ‘ cool ’ and ‘ laidback ’ but on the inside I was rudderless and angry . Searching for a father figure with my trust blown away , getting stoned and having fun . That ’ s where I wanted to be . In the end of this particular downward journey I ended up with six years of addiction to diazepam after being prescribed them by a GP when complaining that I was unable to sleep coming up to college exams . The irony of it now seems incredible – a drug that slowed me down and eventually emptied me out , leaving me a paranoid wreck . Working through this ‘ residue ’ has taken time . AA plus NA and counselling and ten years of abstinence after my detox allowed my brain to start a healing process . It has been challenging at times . And on it goes .
Sport growing up was at the centre of my life . I was fortunate to be good at most that were on offer . My eye for a moving object was excellent . Football and tennis were my top two games , especially football . One of my great humiliations was being sacked from my college team in 1974 for turning up to a match still high from the night before . In 1980 prior to going into detox , when I lay in a snow drift in Yorkshire simply wishing for it all to end – most certainly my final rock bottom – I was mentally and physically gone . Then as I remember clearly to this day into my head came a powerful light with a question attached to it : What happened to the person who won his school colours ? Where was the fighting spirit ? On the first day in hospital I signed up for the gym and vowed I would play football again .
In 1991 I completed a threeyear BA in sports and American studies , played football again for the college team and captained the tennis team , even winning an international tournament . On a personal level I was back , but the mental recovery was still ongoing . At college I attended many sessions with the college counsellor , and my first job was a sportsfocused one with West Yorkshire Sports Counselling Association . I was one of four sports leaders , supporting clients on probation to engage in sport as a way out of their offending behaviour . One of my clients fancied getting some proper coaching at badminton and every week we met at the sports centre – he became a good player , improving week by week , and his motivation and self-worth improved . Time and again I saw for myself the positive outcomes for those who were signed up to our service .
In 1997 I won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to the US , and the research I carried out was ‘ can positive strategies help divert drug abuse and offending behaviour ?’. This too focused on sports as a way of re-engaging individuals in society through positive activities . When I returned , highly motivated , I took up the post of day care co-ordinator at Harrogate Alcohol and Drugs Agency , where I arranged outdoor activities , including hiking and
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