My Enthusiasm, My Smiling Face
Saturday was Luke Dutton’s 36th birthday.
And when I spoke with him earlier this week, he told me, “My mother had my funeral planned before I was 30.”
Contrast was clear to me, though, when he said, “my main message is where I am today with my hope, my enthusiasm, my smiling face, and my character shining through.”
Luke is indeed a shining example of transformation.
Four years ago he jumped off a high rise apartment building. He meant to end his life. His survival started his transformation, but it wasn’t without lots of bumps. He still planned his death “many times,” and always while under the influence of alcohol or some kind of drug.
Luke says, “I have quite a hyper personality.” He says that with his hands waving about. “I’m just very passionate and enthusiastic about this sort of stuff,” referring to his ongoing recovery from severe depression and substance abuse.
“I say that with such a buzz, a light of fire,” at least that’s what I think he said. I struggled to understand his “broad northwest” British accent with which he pronounced “everything” as “every fing” and “brother” as “bruhver.” And it endears him to me even more.
“But ultimately, I only elected to change because I wanted to. Because I accept myself for who I am, and every day, I wake up grateful!”
Ask For Help
As a personal recovery coach and licensed psychotherapist, I help men every day who make truly courageous decisions.
Unfortunately, they got to places that were so bad that they had no other choice but to ask for help. Some still wouldn’t ask and only grudgingly accepted it.
“Yes, I wish I did get help [much earlier]. I wish I did speak out at the time. But because I was embarrassed . . . there’s a stigma about mental health. There’s some sort of pride, you know, insecurity about speaking of mental health.”
But Luke got over that, and he got over it with a vengeance.
“I’m quite proud to share my story and to give an honest assessment of where I’ve been and where I’m at today.”
The literature Luke was shown to help him rework his life includes this promise:
You will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
“I don’t regret my past because . . . I actively help and contribute to saving lives. When I do, then I’m sending a message of hope.”
And hope is what Luke Dutton is full of!
He posts on his Facebook account multiple stories of encouragement and inspiration every day.
Twelve years ago, Luke was a champion bodybuilder in the UK. He was ultra strict in his training regimen.
But that was because he wanted to stand out and get positive attention. It had little to do with true fitness. He had a dysfunctional childhood, was bullied in his early teens, and didn’t feel loved or even accepted. He said, “I never, ever had arms around me from my dad and heard, I love you, son.”
He’s quick to say none of that justified his getting into drugs and drink, but I didn’t take it as such.
Explanation vs. Justification
There’s a difference between justification and simple explanation.
I took it as an explanation of why Luke made choices that nearly cost him his life. We risk sounding like we’re defending and justifying ourselves when we try to explain why we did something.
We can fall into the justification trap when we answer what sounds like an honest question.
“Why did you do that??” a wife questions her husband after he’s only been merely thoughtless or when he has seriously injured her trust in him. The confusion is in his wife not actually wanting an answer to her question, “why.” She more than likely only wants to feel heard that his behavior really hurt her.
I regularly encourage my clients to respond to such questions as if they were statements (such as, “I’m very hurt that you did that.”). If he gives an explanation, it’s almost certain to sound like a justification. He’s better off saying something like, “you must be very hurt by what I did. I was completely thoughtless, and I’m very sorry.”
I’m not suggesting you ignore your wife if she actually wants an answer about “why.” If that’s the case, just make it clear that you’re about to give an explanation, which might sound like a justification, but that is not your intention.
Alternatively, you might simply share your hesitation about answering directly, “I hesitate to say why I did that because the explanation is likely to sound like a justification, and that’s not my intention.”
In Luke’s case, I didn’t feel he was justifying his use of drugs because of his life circumstances. Instead, it illustrates for me how fragile we all are, and how I can be more alert to treating people with understanding and encouragement.
You’ll see below how naturally Luke is developing this character trait.
How to Prevent Your Own Defensiveness
Recently, one of my grad students voiced concern about future clients making hurtful or objectionable comments. She asked how we, as therapists, can stay understanding and not get rattled by clients.
I told her that if we think about ourselves in that moment, we will become defensive. But if we think about the client, their experience, their pain, their questions, their losses, their personal world, then we will more naturally accept them compassionately. This is summed up in the popular quote,
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
People like Luke Dutton are learning this from actual experience.
“I’ve felt hopelessness. I’ve felt worthlessness.” When he hears despair in someone, then he says they’re reaching out to him, “and there’s hope in that right there, isn’t it?”
If you recognize worthlessness “in someone, put your arm around them. Be as approachable as possible. Understanding and empathy make a very powerful world.” Luke thinks men struggle to reach out more than women because “they feel a bit of pride about it, you know. Whether it’s substance misuse, depression, mental health issues, ultimately, there’s help out there on every avenue.
“There are professional counsellors, psychotherapists, support groups, personal coaches,” but Luke turns no one away. He’s the first to admit he’s still learning and growing, but he’s now attentive to others’ needs. He’s mindful to stop and listen . . . and wait until that hurting person says something.
How did Luke become so other-focused?
“Well it’s funny, we chatted the other night.” Luke’s was talking with his recovery mentor. “I’d written the word “integrity” down in my literature,” his notes from his recovery studies, “and he said, Luke, he said, Google that word.” Luke thought it meant something very different.
“So okay, Google dictionary. And it says something along the lines of adherence to moral principles, loyalty, honesty, and all that sort of stuff.
“And ultimately, that’s something I’ve never shown. I’ve never shown it to other people. And, you know, it needs to start with yourself, I believe, Kevin. It needs to start with me.”
What Kind of Lows Did Luke Experience?
“So there was things that was legal. I mean, in the UK, things called “legal highs” had come out.” Around ten years ago, “there was chemical compounds, stimulant-related drugs that was made from fertilizer, and very, very cheap. Synthetic substances that cost very little money and had very big effects.”
From 2010 to 2013, Luke was getting high every week on about $50 for a weekend. “And honestly, I went from Friday night to Monday night without sleeping, high on this legal substance.” Even though they conducted drug tests at work, these cheap drugs weren’t detected.
“I spent about three years not sleeping from Friday to Monday.”
What others were spending on a week’s worth of food, Luke was spending on these synthetic street drugs in a weekend. “But I was still getting by. It’s not like, for example, crack cocaine that cost a lot of money. I was earning quite a low wage at the time, but I was self sufficient.”
Or so he thought.
“But I had a very detrimental habit. And that’s why my mental health depreciated. Sleep is imperative” to good health. “To go two or three years without sleep for sometimes 72 hours every week, you know, it hit mental health real bad.” In addition to this, Luke was training heavily as a bodybuilder taking these substances “in addition to steroids and performance enhancing supplements.
“It was just a massive, massive, burning the candle at both ends.”
And that was a few years before he even first tried to commit suicide.
Yet, today Luke says, “I’ve never felt so strong physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
“I would encourage anybody with any sort of mental health or addiction-related issues, if they’re not happy with life, then that’s when you accept help. Follow what others [who know better] tell you to do.”
I asked Luke about his tattoos. He paused briefly and turned to his left forearm. “I say this with great pride, even to tears,” and I heard emotion in his voice as he read to me,
The hardest part is not finding what we need to be. It’s being content with who we are.
Luke got that tattoo about ten years ago when he was arrogant and full of false confidence. “ . . . but I can truly look at this now and say I’m content with who I am as a person.”
Luke has another tattoo across his chest that says, Even the best fall sometimes.
“So my message is that, no matter who you are, what you’ve got, what you’ve been through,” even with “commodities and luxuries . . . you fall down.
“But what you need to do is dust yourself down, get back up, and start again. And no matter how many times you do that, you keep doing it.
“It’s like seeing your children learning to walk, they fall down 1001 times and they keep getting up until they get it. And I think if you put that analogy into life, then I think that’s a good starting point.”
I think that’s a good starting point, too.
It’s a good place to begin making courageous decisions, decisions that will transform your life, just like Luke Dutton did.