December has always been a difficult time for me.
As a kid, it was Christmas day that my mum decided to split up with my dad.
That whole week he left her and I alone as he went off gallivanting back to England whilst we were in Russia. We were living behind the Iron Curtain whilst he worked a contract as a foreign worker for British oil & gas. He went home that year and we knew nothing about it. We just expected him to come back, and I guess he expected my mum to be fine with it.
I remember that day well, even today at 37. I had woken my mum up at the early hours of the morning to open my presents up and she sat in the shadows crying. I was 5, and this was the start of the Jinx that was Christmas.
Before I settled down, I moved over fifteen times in the space of ten years, all around the time of Christmas. I was never good at facing up to my problems so I would just run away from them. Pack my bags and move off to another house thinking that I’d be able to outrun the hell that was my life.
I used to fear December. The worst of it being that I knew I was going to spend that day alone. I had ostracised my dad for being far too toxic, and my mum lived over 300 miles away.
I can’t remember the last Christmas I spent with my mum. December is just far too busy for me. It’s too stressful, and I’ve never been able to cope with that added pressure on top of my already present stress.
December finally changed for me in 2006. It was the first year in my life since I was a child that I had spent the entire month sober. And the first time in longer than I can remember I enjoyed the month. I had a girlfriend during that month, another first too. It didn’t end well but boy, was that exciting. I also flew home for the first time in years to spend holidays with my family.
Family is a subjective term in my eyes. Something I’ve realized over the last twelve years. Sometimes you’ll meet people that could be part of your family, and other times you can walk into a new family. I’ve had both.
When I stopped drinking, soon afterward I began shedding my old friends, and bad habits. I started to creep into other social places; places I hadn’t been before. It wasn’t long before I had nestled myself into several other families.
I think a strong sense of belonging is needed as a human, and I was growing myself some deep roots.
The first family I joined was the New Thresholds family. This was the first feeling of total belonging I had since forever. I felt at home with these guys. NT was a workplace rehabilitation centre for people with mental illness and disabilities.
Since I was in recovery from a severe psychiatric illness, I was right at home there. They took me on as one of their own. They knew I was trying to help myself and they wanted to help me.
I received some strong grounding; this was the first place I could act like myself and not feel an idiot for it. I began finally accepting myself for who I was there, something I hadn’t felt before. Previously I always felt as if I needed to act a certain way, or be a certain person. Not there. It was a long journey of course, but this was where it all began.
Then my wife came along. I met her at New Thresholds as she was preparing to go back to work. All she needed was a place to get some routine. She didn’t have a mental illness like me but she suffered a terrible back injury and was trying to find gainful employment. We sat at our desks and talked together for hours and hours about our lives, and one day she invited me out. I accepted and the rest is history.
I slowly eased into her family too.
Natalie’s family have treated me like one of their own. I’ve now a good understanding of how helpful and grounding strong family roots can help a child grow. I learned it from all what I’ve received from my wife’s family. I’ll be paying it forward for my son.
Then in 2015, I nestled my way into a group of talented and excellent writers with whom I mostly talk with daily. I’d like to think I was part of their family too. Online it may be but I’ve had a wealth of help and opportunity from them all. It’s not a self-made thing, this online journey. I needed to work with lots and lots of people.
Now it’s time to create my own families. I have two of them. One is this magazine full of wonderfully skilled people. From managers to editors to writers — you all do me proud with your awesome words and your excellent skills; from scheduling to writing, you are all the best team a man can ask for. To me, you guys are family too.
I’ve also created my own family in discord. A wealth of men and women wishing to work together for the common good of bettering men. Yes, those guys are my family too. We started back in August of 2018 with one or two people interested in the idea. Now we have over 400 people in there and growing. Those guys are my family too.
I have lots of families, don’t I?
One thing I’ve learned in life is that a person can’t survive well without a strong sense of belonging. That’s why we see football teams with followings that are cult-like. That’s why we see men down at the bar drinking with their buddies, or people in social groups taking outings together. That’s why we see some strong connection with some people and hobbies. We all have that one thing in connection — we want to feel like we belong.
I’m hoping to give my Son that strong sense of belonging, that he belongs to our family, that whatever happens he’ll still be accepted and loved for who he is. That will free his mind up to go and do other amazing things with life. Something I never had the opportunity to do because I never quite felt like I belonged.
We didn’t stay in the same place for long, the men my mother would meet would come and go — the only real sense of belonging I received in my life was from friends and my football team. I don’t want Alex to be shackled to an eternal sense of feeling like he doesn’t belong. I want him to feel like I do now:
That I’m someone, and I belong somewhere.