Rough Road by Gray Hutchins
Updated: Mar 12
Gray Hutchins They/them The Clare Project & TNB Brighton/Hastings
Content note: addiction recovery, mention of cancer, death.
I have always been far from ‘a natural’ at sport, and I’m still far from it. At school I was big, clunky, and had a terrible sense of balance and coordination. On the inside, I also carried the weight of a painful of amount anger. The only silver lining of this combination was that it worked out ‘okay’ playing field/astro hockey, and for a few years I winged it playing defence on a couple of teams. Turns out if you’re pent up and pissed off, you can thrash a ball pretty hard…
It was quite fun, although short-lived, until I sustained a leg injury that put me on crutches and wearing ankle casts for several months. Shortly after that blow, my Mum got sick with cancer and all of a sudden I had to grow up, look after myself, and help with care at home. Everything else took a backseat, including school. After several years of on-off treatment, a much-too-long battle with cancer, she passed away on June 2nd 2009.
I was just 17 years old, had <50% attendance at school, and carrying the weight of a F-tonne of trauma. I hadn’t lived at ‘home’ properly for a number of years, flitting between friends, partners, wherever. My Dad was mentally unwell, the house held all the memories of my Mum’s deterioration and distress, where else would you go?
In Witney it was pretty normal to start binge-drinking, smoking and experimenting with drugs around the age of 12 – and that was certainly no exception for myself. If anything, I was the enabler of others. Over those 5 or so years, it really took the edge off, before propelling itself with such force through my 20s, it didn’t take long before I no longer knew who I was any more.
After moving to Brighton to attend Sussex Uni and stumble through a degree (I still know F-all about), I got a job in the SU bar, which aided me to be intoxicated most of the time - if not painfully ‘taking a break’ for a day or two until my next binge. There started the turbulent up-down-up-down behaviour of flitting between poor attempts at being the epitome of health by smashing out cardio/strength sessions in the gym 4-5 days a week, to being a lonely, depressed and aggravated drunk.
There was no happy medium, and I was getting increasingly frustrated flying between the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment after a solid gym visit, and the constant sense of impending doom after a juxtaposed session down the pub. Welcome hangxiety, beer fear. I never held onto much memory of the middle-part, all the ‘fun’ that came just a few hours before the hangover. The ‘fun’ that lost me most of my friends, repeatedly put me in ridiculously dangerous situations, and gifted me with several hideous health side-affects.
It took a while until I noticed I couldn’t go anywhere without a drink in me. If I wasn’t drinking, my mind was working over-time, catastrophising one thing after the next. After countless failed attempts at a week (or even just few days) of sobriety, I realised the only thing that came close to that sense of relief that alcohol gave me, was the sense of warmth and clarity I had after an intense cardio session. The few specks of light this eventually gave me, knew I needed to get out of the toxic working environment I was in, as it enabled and encouraged most of the self-destructing behaviour.
The next year or so was an uphill journey, a rough road to realising what I really wanted in my life, and what made me tick, but also what made my blood boil. The waves of intoxication and health-kicks were less intense, I had just turned 25 and I wanted to give something back. Feel a sense of purpose again. I had been out as Queer for a long time, and as the phases of sobriety got longer, and gave me more clarity, I began acknowledging my gender identity. After years of feeling suicidal, I was all of a sudden overwhelmed with the prospect of having a ‘future’. First and foremost, I wanted to meet more trans people, so signed up to volunteer on Trans Pride Brighton & Hove’s Committee in Autumn 2017.
Being thrown into the deep end of overseeing events and partnerships was really time-consuming, but also exciting and rewarding. Surprisingly, it was way better than the buzz I got from drinking. I wanted to give it my best shot, and with my new-found (albeit intermittent) clarity from the gym, I decided to challenge myself to three months of being T-total in the approach of Trans Pride 2018. No relationships, no fags, no drugs, no booze.
The first month was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I found myself desperately posting on recovery Facebook pages, reading sobering-lit until the early hours, emotionally journaling, and becoming increasingly socially withdrawn. I threw myself in up to my neck into my new job and volunteering, and was exhaustively busy. The only time I really allowed myself to positively ‘think’ about anything was at 5:30am at the gym, busting out a painful 60 minute HIIT on the cross trainer. After a few more weeks, those 60 minutes, increased to 90 minutes, and at one point I could smash out a rather inhumane 2 hours…If I was stressed I’d run harder, if I was emotional I’d reflect.
From there, I took every day as it came, and every so often I’d note down something in my life that was made better by not drinking. It was a tip I took from Catherine Gray’s book ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’. Some were more exciting than others, but the most life-saving of all, was that I had found a space in which it was safe to think – and that was solely invested in the solo act of running.
As mentioned previously, I am far from ‘a natural’ when it comes to any sporting activity. But when it lifts a fog that you have struggled to clear for most of your life, it naturally becomes of a part of you. A couple of years on from that part of my journey, I have worked slowly towards maintaining balance in all aspects of my life, and alongside running 2-3 times a week (occasionally embracing the company of my dog Charlie and/or partner).
Most importantly, I invest my frustration and compassion in the work I do in trans (TNBI) services and access to health, and my emotional outlet falls into the ‘tool’ of running. For me, this newfound enjoyment of sport was a magical – yet unexpected - bi-product of my rough road to recovery, and for that I am whole-heartedly grateful.
On April 19th 2020, a small team of us will be running the BM10k for LGBT Switchboard’s Grief Encounters bereavement service. Please keep an eye on my Instagram or Twitter if you wish to donate/join/train with us in Seaford or Brighton
– Thank you!