It Saved my Life

It Saved My Life
A story about change

Photos, words and film by Andrew Gough 

(additional image from Tennyson Tostee)

Trent Gardiner one of many who recovered from years of drug abuse and changed his life. Photo Andrew Gough

It was at the young age of 17 when Trent began is addiction to drugs. What followed was a life long struggle that fortunately ended for him ten years later. Saved by the rehabilitation process, it was the fear of continuing down his own path of destruction that over powered the fear of not having drugs and alcohol to escape his own reality.

The vague memory of his father driving him home from football practice at a young age still sits strong in Trent’s mind. His dad hadn’t bought him a soft drink after training and said they could share a beer when they made it home. “I remember on the drive I was completely obsessing over the thought of having that beer. Even at that age, I was obsessed by drugs in one form or another. As we pulled into the drive way I was out of the car and raced for the fridge. I opened the door, somehow knocked the top off the bottle and drunk as much as I could as quick as I could. I remember the feeling of being free for the first time in my life”, Gardiner said. This is where his story begins.

Alcohol and drugs are destroying the lives of many Australians. The addiction to escapism and avoidance from reality is what often causes normal people to throw away their lives. They willingly fall into the grips of an existence that is distorted, dysfunctional and often unbearable. Those lucky like Trent who have the strength to stop, and find a solution to their problem. They are the ones who have the ability to give themselves a second chance at life.

The use of drugs and alcohol within Australia’s adolescent society has always been a problem, and is of growing concern. In 2004/5, one in eight Australians were drinking at “risky levels” – five standard drinks or more daily; 32,000 Australians died in the ten years between 1992 and 2001 from alcohol‐caused disease and injury; and every year, 70,000 people are subjected to alcohol‐related assaults. Christopher M Doran in his studies conducted in 2010 presents some similarly staggering figures: “in 2003, 3.3% of the total disease burden in Australia was attributable to alcohol use” and that “in 2004/5 the total net tangible cost of alcohol use [lost productivity, health care, road accidents, crime] was $10.8 billion”. These statistics show clearly that alcohol consumption in Australia is problematic – it is a serious social issue that needs to be addressed. Here in Australia The National Preventative Health Taskforce (NPHT) has recommended the long-term goal of reshaping Australia’s drinking culture, to produce healthier and safer outcomes for Australian's, Australian's like Trent Gardiner.

                                               Trent , Brisbane 2013 . Photo Andrew Gough

Memories stay with Trent, from a past he would rather forget. Photo Andrew Gough

Where it all began

At 29, Trent lives earnestly in his flat on the Gold Coast, where he moved to after escaping a past he would rather forget. He didn’t come from a particularly difficult background like many other addicts. However there were things in his life that didn’t go according to plan. His mother walked out on him and his two sisters when he was only four years old, leaving his father to raise the family. After finishing high school, Trent’s father passed away when he was eighteen from a very aggressive form of cancer.  Trent started using alcohol regularly to escape from reality. He was also being influenced by much older teens.

Trent Gardiner age 29 outside his apartment on the Gold Coast. Photo - Andrew Gough

A quiet apartment and a fresh start for Trent. Photo - Andrew Gough

“I remember not liking the way that most of those drugs made me feel, but when I look back I didn’t feel like I had a choice. It was not necessarily the pressure I felt from the older guys to fit in, although that did play a part, but more of my own personal need to not feel anything at all”. At 19 and after a series of emotional relationship break ups plus the emotional pain of the death of his father,Trent made his way back to alcohol and eventually drugs like cocaine and speed.

Trent - The Beginning from Andrew Gough on Vimeo.

These traumatic experiences gave him a motivation to be pushed back to finding that feeling of escapism, when he was intoxicated or high. It helped him getaway from a reality that was in many ways very difficult. However Trent doesn’t blame these emotional strains for his past drug use. It was his ability to deal emotionally with the situation he was dealt. “The trauma that I have experienced in my life many other people have been through so I do not attribute that solely to my drug use. The problem I had and still in some ways have is that I don’t have the ability or don’t know how to let people in”, Gardiner said. Although Trent had gone from the ages of fourteen to seventeen not using any elicit drugs and only drank alcohol, at seventeen he was exposed again to these harder drugs. Enough time had passed that he was seemingly no longer afraid, moving past weed and acid, he started using ecstasy, speed, crystal meth, cocaine, MDMA, ketamine and Xanax all while still drinking excessively.

“The abuse of drugs started the very first time I took anything to change the way I felt. I was not taking drugs to have fun, I was using drugs to kill pain, escape my reality and fit in”. Trent Gardiner

Moving from Melbourne where he lived with his father, Trent now resides on the Gold Coast where he started his rehabilitation three years ago. Photo Andrew Gough

After a long 15 years of excessive drug use, the toll was being taken on Trent’s life. It wasn’t until he accepted his situation and understood that suicide was becoming an option that he realised if he didn’t force himself to change nobody would be able to. It was whilst living in a squat behind a home to scared to leave during the day time, only leaving at night to get on or to steal food, scared that he would live that way forever, scared that he would die that he rang a rehabilitation clinic. Where he would spend the next nine months of his life under 24 hour care. “I was completely out of ideas and suicide was starting to look like my only option” said Gardiner

The Change

After years of suffering through his addiction, Trent made the decision to turn his life around. The pain of living his life how he had for twenty years was starting to out-weigh the fear of change. He could no longer continue going down the path he had been on since age seventeen.

Moving cities, houses and changing partners still couldn’t help him escape his addiction. “I rang the treatment centre and within five days I was in. For the first time in my life I felt completely safe. The way I had lived my life up until that point was the very best way that I knew how to and it took me to the point where I needed twenty four hour care for over a year of my life. It was clear now that I was not doing a very good job”, said Gardiner.

“I guess the point of my life that brought on change was when the drugs stopped working as they once had and I was no longer getting relief from anything or anyone.” Trent Gardiner

Trent spent nine months in the treatment centre and five months in a halfway house. It was not until even after the first five months of treatment that he realised and admitted he had a chronic drug problem. From that day onwards he made the decision to remain completely free from all drugs and find a way to be free from not only active drug addiction, but free from the horrible unhealthy places his thoughts could take him. “The rehab process was incredible. It saved my life. It was the start of the changing of my life”, said Gardiner.

Trent - The Change from Andrew Gough on Vimeo.

What Gardiner remembers most clearly about his time spent in the treatment centre is the stories of recovery every Tuesday night. Recovering addicts would talk to the group about what it was like, what happened and what it is like now. They were people who had been where he had been, done what he had done and felt like he still felt. They were from a 12-step program known as Narcotic Anonymous (NA). The rehab took him and other addicts to meetings of NA a few times a week. “At these meetings I would hear hope. Hope for myself. I would hear others share about how they felt alone in the world, separate from everyone and couldn’t stop using drugs” described Gardiner.

Attending NA meetings each week keeps Gardiner grounded and emotionally strong. Photos - Andrew Gough

According to NA worldwide “NA is a nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. We are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. This is a program of complete abstinence from all drugs”. The national and international Narcotics Anonymous service runs a strict and extremely successful program. Their renowned 12 Step approach is what saved Trent Gardiners life and undoubtedly many more. NA stand by the fact that, the only way to keep from returning to active addiction is not to take that first drug. “If you are like us you know that one is too many and a thousand never enough”.

From the grim stories he heard each Tuesday night at NA about how these people were able to stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way of life, that the message finally hit home for Gardiner.  This process appealed to him because he knew he was not going to be in treatment forever, and would need the ongoing help and support of others just like him.

After graduating rehab and going into a halfway house for a time, he was then ready to find his feet again in society. “I was able to move into my own place and to start working again. I have been clean (abstinent from all drugs) for over three years now. I have worked through many of my core issues through the 12 steps. I am in a career that I only ever dreamed of and never thought possible” said Gardiner.

Since making it through the 24 hour care of the treatment centre and moving out of the halfway house, Trent has been clean for over three and a half years. He gives his credit to the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous, and his time spent in rehabilitation. Whilst still attending regular NA meetings every week Trent can share his story, which might give hope to those who were once in his position.

Life beyond Rehab
After over three and a half years clean from any use of drugs or alcohol, Gardiner now runs an up and coming music and promotion business and is in his words doing his dream job. “Trent is a co-owner in the business and works more as the booker for the bands. He has a exceptional taste in music and style. Has a knack for bringing people together and obviously nails his job as a booker in bringing bands to venues and venues to bands” said business partner Kurt Paradise.

Trent's love of music is one thing that helped him turn his life aroundPhotos - Andrew Gough 

Trents ability to communicate with people and his love for music has helped him overcome an often troubled past. Describing himself as once, scared, hurt and troubled, he is now described by friends as incredibly grounded, sincere and honest. “Trent was the first recovering drug addict I had met, now I have met many more through him and they become incredibly strong people. It is only when they hit the lowest point in their life from my perspective do they choose to turn their whole life around”, said Paradise.

Trent - Moving on from Andrew Gough on Vimeo.

For Trent his changed life and strong personal strength has made for great trust and respect within the music industry. Even though his days in rehabilition are over, often life can be difficult. However Trent has proven he has the ability to push through and keep his life ontrack, thanks to what he learnt whilst in the clinic. “I am clean and have found a new life, but not everything is perfect. It isn’t. Life is still at times very difficult and very painful and some days I find life extremely hard. As long as I stay clean life will never be as painful as it once was".

                  Trent and Kurt Paradise now run an up and coming music promotional label. Photo by Tennyson Tostee 

It was at the young age of 17 when Trent began his addiction to drugs. Saved ten years later by the rehabilitation process and Narcotic' Anonymous, Trent now lives a life much safer then he once did. It was the fear of continuing down his own path of destruction that over powered the fear of not having drugs and alcohol to escape his own reality. Life isn't always easy or perfect for Gardiner but he lives knowing that he had the strength to change his life, and now the ability to change many others. Trent Gardiner's story is one of many that gives strength to the Narcotics Anonymous program.  It undoubtedly saved his life.