To keep me on the straight-and-narrow, especially in my first year of sobriety, I did a LOT of reading. Books, blogs, news articles… anything that would help me better understand alcoholism and the ways to win the battle. I often got in touch with the authors to say thanks for the inspiration or whatever, and it’s through that act of connecting with other people that I realised the importance of sharing and support in tackling booze issues. This is also what spurred me on to start writing, which is why I created SoberPunks, and it’s in the spirit of connecting with other people, with booze addiction as common ground, that I ended up chatting online to Dylan Kerr.
Despite spending plenty of time chatting to Dylan over the last 12 months about addiction therapy and potential ways to learn more, it was actually only last week I learned that Dylan has in fact played Addiction Counsellor to the stars.
“Holy fuck!” I thought to myself.
“I better interview this guy for my wanky blog!”
Cheers Dylan for talking to SoberPunks. Tell us a bit about you, your background, and your job
My name is Dylan Kerr, I am a certified substance abuse therapist working in Thailand and around the world. I work full-time as a counsellor for The Dawn Rehab in Chiang Mai (www.thedawnrehab.com). I have been working in this field since 2006.
At the age of 19 I began to get into rave music and partying a lot, it was pretty hedonistic. I was in quite a few circles of people who used pretty heavily, and at the time it was all fun and games, but over the years I saw it getting progressively worse for everyone involved. I knew that kind of lifestyle couldn’t last forever.
In my late teens I was very depressed, and what saddened me more was how badly I got treated. I sought help from the NHS and all I got was anti-depressives – they virtually did nothing beneficial except for making me sleepy and apathetic. It wasn’t until I was around 22 years old I discovered CBT, and when I first began to work on myself through CBT it really opened my eyes. I felt very much sold on the idea that you could change the way you think about yourself and the world. That life wasn’t a continued pattern of defeat if you didn’t want it to be.
These two things really inspired me to get into the world of therapy and helping people with addictive disorders.
Can you elaborate on what CBT is?
CBT stands for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. For right or wrong reasons those with a lot of recurring issues regarding anxiety and low moods begin to interpret the world or their own being as a constant disappointment or a continued pattern of defeat. These thoughts, subconscious or conscious, promote feelings of anguish and anxiety.
Sometimes we don’t know that we think upon the world in this way, we have just been shaped by experiences. CBT helps a person make those observations about themselves, and understand that their experience of the world can be altered by thinking or behaving in certain ways. If you can begin to have more enhancing thoughts rather than defeating thoughts then you shape your life into something better.
SoberPunks is focused on alcohol problems. In your work are alcohol and drug problems treated under the same banner of ‘addiction’ or do you need to take different approaches where the problem is predominantly alcohol?
50% of the people I meet have alcohol issues. We treat both addiction and alcoholism as the same problem. Unknown to some, alcohol can actually be more complicated when detoxing.
One major culture difference is that around 90% of adults in most western countries drink alcohol, those who take class-A drugs is about less than 15% so you can turn your back on drugs and drug users but it’s a lot harder to turn your back on alcohol and drinkers.
It was reported in NME a couple of years ago that you would be touring with The Libertines as Pete Doherty’s personal drugs counselor (http://www.nme.com/news/music/the-libertines-46-1224152). This must have provided an incredible insight into the type of person Pete is. Are you a fan of the band? I bet you can provide us with some solid gold stories from that experience!
Yeah I was Peter’s counsellor from late 2014 to 2015. We first met at Hope Rehab Center in Thailand. The rehab was run by a former punk actually, Simon Mott, he was even in the film “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle”. His brother Toby Mott also runs a museum of punk.
I can’t say a great deal except for what has been leaked already, it’s fine for a client to talk about their experiences as much as they like but I can’t really go into any details about the type of therapy he has experienced with myself.
I did feel a bit bad for Peter years before I met him – I felt that he was targeted heavily by the press for using drugs. He essentially was a vulnerable young drug addict, all the press could do was draw so much attention to that and try and scorn him as much as possible. I can’t imagine that ever helps anyone to change. Peter, in my view, was also imprisoned for quite a mickey mouse crime for one of his first offenses.
Oddly enough I was never that into the Libertines, but I did like Babyshambles quite a bit. It was a bit heavier and I prefered that kind of music. I think this was about the same time I was getting into rave music so my tastes really went wild around that time.
Most people who come to me for help come to me because of some severe underlying issues that remain unaddressed. Those who love drink too much usually seem to be able to stop when the good times turn sour, those who struggle though seem to have deep unresolved issues. They are usually trapped in some form of anguish or agony.
In terms of being on the road, that was quite an eye opener. It was very interesting and quite an experience. I was being flown around the world following them during one of their biggest world tours. I was in private jets, helicopters and 5-star hotels. It was about as high-flying as any counsellor can hope to ever get really.
Arriving in Glastonbury by helicopter was quite an experience, it was kinda odd mixing with everyone backstage. I met Florence and the Machine and the late Lemmy from Motorhead. It’s a funny place to be because everyone assumes you’re a somebody, so you’ve got household names giving you a wave and asking how you’re doing. Quite a surreal experience for me.
My friend is Ozzy Osbourne’s personal recovery coach, and he’s the only person I know personally who has done anything like I have. I have heard Ozzy’s doing really well. I believe he’s been off the drink and drugs for 4 years now.
That’s amazing, and very cool. It’s often said that the best way to stay off the booze is to support others. The theory is that your responsibility to them will give you reason enough to stay away from the drink. For those familiar with the AA, this is, I believe, the 12th step of the programme. Would you agree with this, and if so, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to stay sober through supporting others?
From what I have observed about addiction over the years is that a lot of alcoholics can suffer from vulnerability and ego-mania. Ego-mania is essentially self-obsession/narcissism. When you start looking after other people you aren’t so inwardly focused all the time. Self-care is important but self-obsession is unhealthy.
I do believe that in order to work in this field you need some kind of primary or tertiary experience of drugs, alcohol or mental illness. Hopefully you will have your issues under control before working in this field though, ha-ha!
I think if you can demonstrate to people that you’re able to practice a form of self-care, self-awareness and change then it’s really good for people to see that as a role model for their lives.
You’re in a lift travelling to the top floor of the Shard in London. The lift stops at floor 34, halfway up, and a young lad gets in. He turns to you and says “My drinking has got out of control. I need to stop completely, but every time I try I fail. Things are bad dude”. Then he offers you a Polo mint. You have 30 seconds left before he gets out. What do you tell him?
Giving up drinking isn’t just a matter of putting down the booze, you need to re-engineer your entire mind and the way you think about the world and your place in it. If drinking is your default setting then you need to go to any lengths in order make your default setting your best setting. Get therapy, give your mind and body a complete MOT service.
In practical terms, what does that mean? Should finding a therapist be a priority for a suffering alcoholic? If so what type of therapist, and where is best to look for this help?
I should have qualified that. You really need someone who is a substance misuse expert of some description. These can come in all forms, recovery coaches, counsellors, psychotherapists…etc. However, you’re really not going to make progress unless it’s with someone who fundamentally understands addiction.
Rehab can be a good option for those whose addiction is a constant pattern of relapsing back, it can be very difficult to find the right person or the right therapist.
For instance, if you go a 12 step meeting everyone is going to tell you 12 Steps is the only way to change your life. You go to a doctor and they’re just going to prescribe you medication like antidepressants or antabuse (medication that stops you from drinking by making you sick). You go see a transactional analysis counsellor and they’re going to say unless you re-parent yourself by exploring how you experienced the world from the age 1-4 you won’t succeed. You see a CBT therapist and they’ll get you to CBT your way out of your problems.
However, I’m more biased towards the latter because alcoholics are defined by their behaviour also. You may feel depressed or upset but you actively drink on top – you act – you behave. I believe this must change.
There are likely a lot of people out there, myself included, that feel they have managed to capture their drinking problem before it has reached such depths that they require rehab or therapy. For me personally, ‘playing the tape forwards’ has been the most powerful tool I’ve used to combat the booze cravings. I visualise the final outcome of picking up that drink, and it deters me from ever doing so. Would you support this type of approach for those who feel they can manage without therapy or rehab? Any similar tips or tricks that you think others in my position could benefit from?
I think that’s the journey of most people. AA, by it’s own description in the Big Book, is for chronic hopeless alcoholics. Most people get to a level of self-management through having personal insight and their own revelations. This can be inspired by going to groups or rehab though.
Playing the tape forward is a very powerful tool, people are able to see ‘where is that drink or night out really going to lead?’ I think if you fundamentally understand this, that having “a few” or “just one” is going to flush you down the plug hole, then you won’t do it.
In my practice I try to condense my knowledge down into easy to follow techniques. I’m a big fan of rational emotive behaviour therapy for this. It’s so basic but so effective if you use it properly. It follows the simple premise that before acting out you write down how you’re feeling and responding to events, then you go over your thoughts, you dig deep down inside and try to go over how you can reframe these thoughts and feelings. If you practice it enough it becomes a new way of thinking. It also helps you get to some of your core belief systems.
Some great and very thought-provoking information there. I think therapy isn’t considered as an option generally until a salvageable booze issue has grown into a real problem – but maybe the less chronic alcoholics amongst us could in fact benefit from considering therapy early, to help reprogramme the way we look at alcohol and therefore save ourselves the impending daily struggle with the bottle, and potential further relapses. Is that a fair summary?
I think everyone needs a little guidance in life at times, a lot of the people I meet positively identify that there was something seriously wrong in their life before alcohol manifested. That they always felt depressed or disenchanted with life. If those issues always remain then alcohol will represent in their lives eventually. Therapy gives people other ways to self manage and live through those moments. A lot of mental health issues or either character defects will always be with a person and they will come out more profoundly at certain times in a person’s life. It’s how we manage those periods which is the most important aspect.
Finally, what are the future plans for Dylan Kerr? Any nights out with Mr Doherty planned?
I still stay in contact with the music industry regularly and give consultation to some managers, bands and individuals on issues regarding addiction and mental health.
I’ve worked with quite a number of very high profile individuals, Kyle Falconer from The View, famous England cricketer Alan Mullally, and quite a few Australian rugby players.
I would like to do something again on tour perhaps. I feel that with my insights into that world, and with the experience I’ve had, I could really put something together for that very niche field. It’s something I’d like very much to collaborate on with someone else.
Dylan is a top lad, and always a pleasure to chat to. Listen to the dude, he KNOWS his shit.
J to the T