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Tough love filled the void in my life

2 September 2020

Tough love filled the void in my life

Nigel finds purpose and hope after years of addiction.

words Nigel Johnston

I grew up in a middle-class family in Melbourne, went to private schools and was successful in sports, schooling and work. I joined the Australian Defence Forces at 18 and was introduced to alcohol.

I immediately knew I had a problem. I didn’t drink like others drank. I drank to change the way I felt. I drank to excess. I made poor choices when I drank, which affected my career, friendships and finances. I stopped drinking after I left the Australian Army and I thought my addiction was cured.

I completed an economics degree and went to work in Canberra. I enjoyed the fast-paced, work-obsessed environment of the government’s Treasury Department. This suited my addictive nature and I was quickly consumed by a work obsession. In 2007, I was introduced to cocaine. I again knew straight away that I was in serious trouble. My addiction had reawakened.

Within five years, I went from owning an apartment in Melbourne, having a good career and a strong network of family and friends, to being homeless, broke, spiritually bankrupt and alone. I went into a ‘self-destruct phase’ after being fired from my job in March 2011. This nearly cost me my life.

I cannot recall all the details that led me to The Salvation Army, but I am sure God intervened. I walked into William Booth House [addiction recovery centre] in Sydney in 2012 and asked for help. I couldn’t live like this anymore. My first impression was a feeling of safety, being valued and surrounded by people who cared.

I stayed there for nine months and completed the Bridge Program [a clinical and therapeutic residential drug and alcohol recovery program]. This transformed my life. I gained a deep understanding of myself and how my addiction had impacted my life and the choices I made.

I learnt that I had a void within and I was using drugs to fill it. I attended an Alpha course [a program that introduces the basics of the Christian faith], where I was introduced to Jesus. I found that Jesus filled this void perfectly and removed all urges to use drugs, providing me with purpose and direction in life.

I recalibrated my life with the support, encouragement and ‘tough love’ from the management and staff at William Booth House. I identified a new set of values and behaviours that would support my recovery. I took a strong interest in helping and supporting others, gaining a deep satisfaction from seeing others recover from addiction.

After graduating, I was offered a job. This provided me with the opportunity to ‘give back’ and help others in a professional capacity. I worked at William Booth House for about five years in a range of roles, including as program director.

In 2018, I left the centre to focus on the next stage of my journey. I used this time to learn new skills and set new goals. I decided to study at university, earning a master’s degree in supply-chain management, with the goal of working in a procurement role with The Salvation Army.

In January, I moved to Melbourne to take up an opportunity in the Finance Department at The Salvation Army headquarters. I gain a great sense of fulfilment in helping front-line staff help people in need. God, through The Salvation Army, has given me a new life and for that I am eternally grateful.















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