From grief to growth

I lost hope, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling ok again. When my mum died, I never wanted to face the world again.

How are you? I’m Chris and I just had my 18th birthday. You might not know this, but your support saved my life. Thank you.

If you’d asked me three years ago where I would be today, I might still be on the streets drinking straight rum every day, skipping school and thinking my life was going nowhere.

Why? Because I lost the smartest, bravest and most caring woman I’ll ever know. My mum.

I wasn’t always like this.

Growing up I was a happy kid. I had my mum, my dad who has been a truck driver for 25 years and my four older brothers and a younger sister. Our house was fun and crazy and I loved every minute of it.

We all loved fishing and I remember how we would all go down to the jetty and see who could catch the biggest fish. My mum nailed it, she would always catch the biggest fish and she’d beat us every time.

Now that I’m 18, I think I know why they call it the ‘good old days’. Because not long after that, my life changed forever. I was just four years old when my mum was diagnosed with lung cancer. I only really understood when I was six and I wanted to go to the hospital with her. I wanted to comfort her when she experienced so much pain in the treatment. She had beaten cancer four times, but unfortunately, it had returned.

I’ll never forget that sick feeling I had in my stomach. I wanted to scream and cry but I had to hold it together for her. I remember saying to myself that ‘I can’t lose my mum, she’s my everything’. But I had to show her I could be strong for her. Just like she was strong for me. Always there to help and guide me. I was just nine years old when she died.

I remember the day of the funeral so clearly. I watched my dad and older brothers put on a brave face, but I knew deep down we were all broken inside. My dad spoke about the funeral for one day, checked we were all ok and then that was it. He just tried to encourage us to get on with our lives. But I knew he was hurting real hard. We all were.

Dad had six kids to feed and support so he was back on the road driving trucks 15 hours a day. My brothers and I never talked about feelings or stuff like that and so when I was having a tough time, things just got bottled up and I buried the hurt inside of me.

I hated going to school.

If anyone talked about my mum, I would lash out in anger. It was easier to put on a pretend mask every day and hide that I was really feeling sad and alone.

Every boy needs help facing their troubles. Can you donate to Top Blokes today to help boys like me open up and get support?

I tried to just get on with life but it wasn’t working. I was 14 years old when I started skipping school every day. I thought, ‘Why bother going?’. I would hang out on the streets and met older people who were drinking during the day. So I joined them. Before I knew it, I was drinking three bottles of rum a week. That’s 2.1 litres of pure spirit going straight into my growing body. I didn’t know back then how it could wreck my body and my brain but to be honest with you, even if I did, I wouldn’t of cared.

I had lost all hope and felt like I was nothing and going nowhere.

I was then only going to school 25% of the time. My dad found out and kept trying to get me to go to school. He said “Get the hell to school or you’re going to have nothing in life”. I did go but just to get him off my back. So I just sat at the back of the classroom and did nothing.

I gave the teachers a hard time. Any chance I got I would be a jerk, finding a way to insult one of their family members. I knew it hurt them, but it wasn’t as bad as I was hurting.
The school saw that I needed help so they asked me if I wanted to do the Top Blokes program. I thought, ‘A program? I don’t need someone to lecture me’.

But it wasn’t like that at all. In our first session I met my mentor Nick and he asked me “How are you going?”. I was like “Huh, you talking to me?”

No one had ever really asked me anything like that before. From then I felt an instant connection. Nick and our other mentor, Colin listened to us and asked, “What have you been up to?” This kindness is what kept me going to the sessions each week.

I see so many guys in my community who are in trouble.

They are hurting and lost and they don’t have anyone they can turn to for support. They desperately need a mentor in their lives to help them get through the dark times, someone to show up and listen and just be there.

Right now, Top Blokes has 350 boys on the waitlist. Please donate today:

  • Just $30 can help two boys open up with their peer support group where they learn that they are not alone.
  • $50 can fund a life-changing mentoring session for a boy who may be about to give up on life.
  • $75 can empower two boys to tackle mental health stigma and build resilience.

Slowly they taught me how to take off my invisible mask and I learned how to talk about hard stuff. I took away so many lessons – how to talk about my feelings, how to control my anger and the dangers of alcohol and drugs, that was really powerful too. I still remember the workshop Nick and Colin ran on alcohol. They explained how alcohol can damage my body and brain. The statistics of how many people die from drinking every day really shocked me. It kicked me in the butt and I was like, that’s it, from now on I’m going to stop drinking every day. And I did.

Once I’d made the decision to take control of my life, everything got better from there. I’ve learned valuable lessons about responsibility and resilience. I’ve found the courage to turn my life around. Top Blokes believed in me when no one else did.

And each week I went back to the program because I felt like I could just be myself. I felt safe. Safe to open up and just be honest with what was going on inside my head. I could see how Nick and Colin were creating a safe space each week for us boys and they would role model heaps of things like empathy, kindness and taking ownership of our choices. I wanted to do the same, show my mates that I would believe in them when they might not believe in themselves. So I started to rise up and be a good friend.

I graduated Top Blokes and I stayed in school and finished Year 12.

I am only the second person in my family to finish high school and my dad couldn’t be more happy that I turned my life around. When I found out that Top Blokes was looking for a program graduate to become their first trainee I knew I had to apply so I can help more boys like me.

I was pumped when I got the job. Now I work three days with Top Blokes and am studying a Certificate IV in Youth Work at TAFE. I get to work alongside Colin, Nick and the rest of the team to mentor boys.

Like one boy who I mentored this year. His mum just died. He looked so sad and alone. I told him, “I lost my mum too”. It was just a few words but I knew that he instantly felt understood and heard. That someone else knew what he was going through and that can be huge when you are in a dark place. That’s why I love being a mentor at Top Blokes. I get to help other boys just like me in the community and I still get to grow myself. I can’t stop smiling when I start a mentoring session, just knowing we can bring the best out of these kids. It’s an awesome feeling.

And because of this, I’ve finally become the man I know my mum would be proud of.

Because I’ve learned that we all face challenges that make us question life. But it’s how we choose to react to them that makes the difference. I know boys who are struggling right now and my goal is to make sure that they don’t suffer alone. And that’s why if I could have one wish granted, it would be for all boys to have a mentor, someone that will listen to them and to never feel alone during their toughest times.

We have over 350 boys who desperately need the support and guidance of a Top Blokes mentor. Your donation gives these boys the help they desperately need before it’s too late.

Thanks for reading my story.

From Chris
Top Blokes Graduate and Trainee Youth Worker