I grew up in a lad culture. Violence, substance abuse, football, pulling women, living fast, and sticking two fingers up to authority were the unwritten rules for lads growing up in tough social housing schemes. Showing feelings or weaknesses were against the rules. Many of us never knew our biological fathers. I didn’t know mine. It messed up my identity for years to come.
It didn’t help that we attended a high school that was prone to violence and bullying. So much so that a student ended up on the national news discussing how suicidal it made them feel. That wasn’t the only reason we had news reporters gathering outside our school like middle-class tourists. The school had a notorious reputation due to its not-so-proud place at the bottom of the league table for all the important criteria; this included attendance, behaviour and educational attainment.
So you can imagine growing up with the social norm of being bottom of the food chain. It’s not hard to guess why lads like me had no self-esteem; no self-worth; no self-belief. In fact, the only sense of self many had was of a self-fulfilling prophecy – the inferiority complex of expected failure. Quite often, this bleak future was predicted to a lot of the ‘problem kids’ at my school by certain teachers. Teachers obviously already burnt out by the time we arrived.
Fast forward to being aged 16 and leaving school with no career prospects but plenty of severe addiction and mental health issues, undiagnosed of course. The chances of owning a house were slim to none and Maggie Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme resulted in less available social housing than ever before. So where should these young men, with a lack of identity have found their sense of purpose at such a young age? A platform for their future?
To answer this, I need to tell you what keeps me clean today; the pillars of my recovery. As they were all missing from the sixteen-year old’s life who left school after 4th year with no qualifications, as a ready-made addict, with severe mental health issues and suicidal tendencies. Prone to violence and a lad culture lifestyle.
Education. Absolutely key. I was finally educated in my mid-twenties when West Lothian College gave me an opportunity. A lifeline. It wasn’t just that I finally realised I wasn’t daft. Or that I finally learned sociological, psychological, and criminological subjects that gave me answers to the questions of why lads like me ended up how we did. Subjects ironically using gentrified language that meant the very people being studied might find the conversations being held about them, hard to decipher.
Above all of that was the nurturing. The positive reinforcements. The hope and belief that entered my mind and soul when lecturers said things such as, ‘You’re going to go far, Aidan. I feel it in my bones.’ The growth such statements provided for me is something you cannot quantify. But it certainly topples teachers who were so scared of the young teenagers in high school that they literally looked the other way while kids got horrifically bullied in classrooms. Or the teachers that often reminded you of all the types of job you would never get as an adult because of your behaviour as a child. Behaviour impacted by factors we didn’t understand.
College led to university and by the time I was 30 years old I graduated. This meant that until I was 30 I didn’t have a career path. Until then, I couldn’t realistically earn enough to live a quality of life; to go on holidays, to enjoy a bit of freedom. I know there are other ways to earn in life without a degree, but it’s not as accessible to kids that leave school aged 16 with substance abuse issues and enough trauma for three lifetimes.
Luckily, I found recovery through a 12-step fellowship. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s fine. There are many paths to recovery. But for a lad caught up in addiction with no cash to fund therapy, and a lack of social resources, it was a lifesaver for me. Abstinence is my way of life now. As my resources grew through employment so did my ability to pay for much-needed therapy. I had also been lucky to receive therapy freely provided by my college and university, which I duly snapped up.
To my shock, even my degree in social sciences didn’t guarantee security in jobs. Each job I have had has been in the third sector. Nine months here. Twelve months there. Eighteen months if you are lucky. Nothing permanent. Nowhere to plant my feet. No basis to convince mortgage lenders of long-term security. Two identical jobs with different organisations could offer a stark difference in wages depending on which funding pot the jobs came from.
But by 34, I have achieved the unthinkable as a published author. My book Euphoric Recall is smashing barriers each day. I was told over and over by those in the literary world it was pointless. Hopeless. It could never be done. Rejected everywhere. Until someone gave me a chance. And now you are reading my words because Guts Publishing took a chance on a working-class laddie, in recovery from addiction. I am back at university doing an MSc still searching for a permanent career path. This year, aged 35 I will finally leave a social housing scheme and enter the housing market. Thirty-five! And this is massively down to my partner’s steady career as a nurse.
So, back to the males I grew up with, even some of the lads I wrongly assumed to be enemies back in the day. Most are still struggling with extreme addiction and severe mental health issues. No exaggeration. Some are dead (violence, overdoses, drug-related incidents). Some have been institutionalised or incarcerated.
So what have they been denied? Education. Career options. Housing. Therapy. A fair chance at life. I’m not saying we all came from broken families or even poverty. Though some definitely did. I came from a stable, loving family. But the system we were all born into was flawed for many. Rigged you might say. And now I see my peers in their thirties and many of them are broken. Many have no fair opportunities to turn things round. A lack of hope. Identity. Aspiration.
They left school at 16, thrown onto the merry-go-round and have never found a way off. Instead of society handing them something to cling on to, a reach pole to pull them off, they are getting pelted from the sidelines with terms like ‘toxic masculinity’. I am going to stick my neck on the line and say I feel phrases like these are weaponised by many who will never understand the pressure young lads grew up under. Instead of being healthy young men in their thirties, whose rates of opportunity are on the rise in correlation with their maturing years, the only rates that seem to be through the roof for them (in Scotland) are suicide, addiction, overdose, and incarceration.
It’s just my opinion and I certainly don’t excuse bad choices we have made or generalise to all male experiences. But so many males I grew up with are struggling. Males who deserved better.
Aidan Martin is a debuting memoirist. His first book, Euphoric Recall, discusses in detail his recovery from addiction and many traumas including sexual abuse.