Growing up in rural England, it was Cam’s aspiration to tour for a living. At 17, he began networking around local bands and eventually landed his first job as a tech.
“It was a slow burn getting into the industry because I didn’t know a single person. I liked metal music, so I figured that was the best route in for me.
“I was drawn to the intensity and the excess of the lifestyle, I was excited, it’s all I’d ever wanted to do. Looking back, I was aware of my tendency towards excess. On my 16th birthday, I downed a bottle of spirits; partly because I liked it, partly to show off. I suppose my problem was defined by binge drinking, drinking to feel connected and to be freed from anxiety. Essentially drinking chaotically.”
At 22, Cam stepped up to the biggest shows of his career. Bigger stages, larger audiences, and more pressure. “I found it intensely stressful, I didn’t feel at all qualified for the position. Every night, I was drinking; drinking to celebrate a good show, drinking to forget a bad one. In hindsight I know I should have used the chance to learn and to grow, but at the time I simply couldn’t handle the pressure.
“In retrospect, I should have talked to the production manager and said: “Thanks for this opportunity, but I don’t think I can work to the required standard and feel it’s best that you find someone more suited to the role.” But I didn’t, of course. I just drank my way through it, I was too afraid to be seen as a failure.
“I didn’t know how to approach it. I found out they intended to move on to the next set of shows without me, and I was crushed. They were very gentle about it, simply saying the expectations were beyond my capabilities at that point. I agreed, and it confirmed all of my worst fears. I was a fraud, an imposter, and I didn’t deserve to be there. In hindsight, I understand all of their reasons were directly related to my drinking habits.”
This set Cam on to an even more destructive course. “At the time, it felt as though my career had taken 10 steps forward instead of one, which overwhelmed me to the point of failure. That made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough to be in the industry at all. I felt like an amateur, like an intruder at work. The whole experience sent me into a huge, downward spiral of anger, denial and resentment. I spent all of my savings, and available credit in the following three months, desperately trying to use anything to escape.
“I moved to my mum’s place in Paris while she was away for a few weeks. I’d rationalised that my living situation was to blame for my demise, which is ridiculous. I’d lost friendships, I’d lost my job, and the drink had stopped working. I just wanted to be alone.
“I was at a show in Paris, when a particularly important song in my life was played and brought crashing home the gravity of my situation. I got so drunk that I woke up with broken teeth, a busted nose, covered in blood, and coughing up bile. I know I’d tried to start a fight I had no intention to win, nor to survive.”
By the time Cam was 23, he was familiar with overdose – both intentional and accidental. “I got so low that I tried to take my own life a few times. Drugs just seemed the easiest, the least scary. Fortunately, I made it through, but I was emotionally and financially crippled by this point.
“I had seen adverts for Music Support online and decided to reach out. I was terrified. I knew then that I had to make a decision to get sober for good or accept that I would be dead in weeks. I just blurted out my story, hoping someone could tell me what to do. I couldn’t talk on the phone because my face was so sore, but they wrote back.
“I think at the time, I thought I was just suffering from depression, but I knew I couldn’t stop drinking and it was making it worse. Music Support read my email and responded rapidly. Within two weeks I was back in the UK and someone took me to my first recovery group.”
It took some time for Cam to fully accept the situation and commit to the support being offered. “I was convinced that a meeting like that wasn’t for me, as I thought I had depression and that drinking was simply the symptom of an underlying issue. I couldn’t see how they were linked. I went to a meeting and felt that all of the people in there were different to me. I thought they were all in a cult and, really, the last thing I wanted to do was hang out in a poorly lit room with strangers. I was so uncomfortable, but at that point, I was willing to try anything to get sober.
“Eventually I met another young person at a meeting and he told me about groups for younger adults, and people closer to my own age. I went along to that, I identified far more with these people, but I was still scared and very reluctant. Even though I had lost my job, my friends, all my money and was ruining my health, I still felt that I was different to them…
“I’m not sure what kept me going back in the early days, but soon enough things started to stick. When someone would talk, I could hear so much of myself in their stories, and it sank in. I was, in fact, an addict, and there was a solution. There was hope for me in these rooms. With the help of the people around me, I worked their program, and soon enough the changes spoke for themselves. I was maintaining sobriety, and I was connecting, openly and honestly with people, for perhaps the first time.
“Now, I have a healthy and productive way of dealing with things. When I talk about my recovery process, I connect with people, and it creates opportunities to help others, as I was freely helped when I was desperate.
There is still a little bit of fear when speaking openly about these things, but I find honesty is generally received well. When I speak about mental health and recovery, people seem to be open and receptive. I now have a great network of other recovering addicts working in all areas of the industry, who I can connect with in any corner of the globe.”
Following many years of sobriety, Cam is currently working with an internationally acclaimed touring act.
In his personal experience, he believes that human fragility and resilience are never too far apart. “In my experience, I had to hit the bottom, in order to be truly ready to address my problems. The pain of those lows provides powerful perspective, no matter how hard life feels in sobriety, you are always aware how much worse they would be without it. That bottom provided me with a solid foundation to rebuild my life as something wonderful.
“Having a charity such as Music Support on hand to say: “Thanks for getting in touch, it sounds like you’re going through this, so have you tried this or considered this?” and signposting you to areas of expertise, is really invaluable. There’s no judgement, they get it; they know what you’re dealing with and what’s expected of you at work, but your health must come first. You’re no use to anyone if you’re dead.”
In the years that Cam has been in recovery, how does he think the industry has changed and become easier to remain in for younger people who find themselves in a situation similar to his own? “The industry seems more willing than ever to acknowledge the burden that it can put on certain individuals mental health, and that acknowledgment takes the shame out of the struggle, and encourages people to get help, and to talk to someone. I would always encourage people to do so. Music Support helped me turn my life around and I will be forever grateful.
“My contact with the charity was brief, but effective. They got me where I needed to be. My recovery is ongoing but has undoubtedly changed my life; from my physical and mental health, to my friendships, and my career. It’s can be a rough ride at times, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”