“First it’s about making the decision that you don’t want to carry on taking a substance or that you want to control a behaviour, and then it’s about developing self-awareness, understanding your triggers and learning tools to deal with them”
Interview with Paul Sculfor
Paul Sculfor’s life was a boy-made-good success story. Born in London Paul made the best of the looks he’d been given, worked hard at his modelling and acting career and became famous on both sides of the Atlantic. He was good looking, wealthy and living in California –so why did he move back to London change his whole life around and set up a charity to help people walk away from addiction?
Founder of Stride, Paul Sculfor talks about why he started the charity and his ambitions for it.
How did Stride come about?
In 2004 in California, British male model, actor and presenter Paul Sculfor, having obsessively pursued work and play and dealt with stress that this, and the transatlantic travel it involved, with a variety of substances, suffered burnout. Paul sought help, he moved back to his home land and checked in to a treatment centre suffering from exhaustion and anxiety, He began a 12 step programme which was founded in the late 1930’s and has shaped many people’s lives through the decades. He took time out and, with support and determination, learnt to get to and maintain a happier, healthier more balanced lifestyle. Studying Pa-kua marshall arts -meditation and mindfulness.
“I wasn’t addicted to anything specific, but I used alcohol and other substances – anything at the time to change the way I felt. I was addicted to drama and adrenalin and wouldn’t settle to anything. Basically I was so tired of being tired and burnt out. I had worked, travelled for work and partied as hard as I could.”
Some ten years later, over a cup of tea with his wife, respected nutritionist Dr Frederica Amati, the couple discussed how people wanting to escape addiction but without the financial means to afford the treatment like Paul had received cope? Neither knew the answer but their gut feel was that with their combined knowledge and experience they could offer help.
His positive experience giving up on alcohol and other substances made Paul want to understand about addiction and how it affects people, with the ultimate goal of helping others, but he realised that the starting point for this should be working out how to balance his own life,
“Dealing with addiction is like dealing with an incident on an aeroplane, you have to give the oxygen to yourself first before you can give it away, so I learnt how to live myself, how to balance life, how to not get too overwhelmed or make irrational decisions”
For two years after he left the treatment centre Paul didn’t return to work but spent his time studying mindfulness meditation and a 12 Step Programme until he was ready to return to work with a different outlook upon life. The programme taught Paul to be mindful of navigating the highs and lows of working in fashion and to keep his anxiety to a level where he wouldn’t have to seek an external solution, like having a drink.
What approach does Stride advocate for walking away from addiction?
“First it’s about making the decision that you don’t want to carry on taking a substance or that you want to control a behaviour, and then it’s about developing self-awareness, understanding your triggers and learning tools to deal with them . Until an addict acknowledges their problem and decides to seek help the only thing they will listen to is the insistent voice of their addiction. They need to continue to use their Drink or drug of choice to either function in their life or to shut life out. This will be more important than their relationships work etc Even though they know people are trying to help they can’t listen because their need is shouting louder.”
“I personally believe in an abstinence based approach to recovery rather than harm minimalisation to addiction, for example allowing yourself one beer on a Friday. Usually someone who has an addiction is either thinking about it, how not to do it or finding ways to do it and not get discovered. For an addict it’s about eradicating all that thought process, arresting that addiction but being mindful of it all the time and understanding their own thought process. If you are truly addicted and feel the need to control it then it’s out of control. If you no longer have to control something then it’s not out of control – you’re better off totally without.”
“It’s also about how to change your mindset to know that you’re not missing out, that actually you’re gaining something – you’re gaining freedom from something that you had to have before, that you were chained to.”
“Stride is about community, which is so important because addiction causes separation from family, friends, community and ultimately yourself. The objective of the 12 step programme is to bring you back to a community, to teach you how to be with yourself again, to be loved by others and to love. Someone with addiction can easily fall down that route again, which is why community is so important, providing support and understanding.”
What’s the purpose of Stride?
Paul and Frederica started Stride as a grass roots charity for people who either need therapy or help to be put into treatment, which is what they have been doing for the last eight years.
Whilst financial support secures treatment for those who need it, Stride is not about throwing money at a situation. Paul always speaks individually to the people who contact Stride to gauge whether they will benefit from treatment. If someone genuinely needs to go away for 28 days – to learn about themselves, learn about addiction and learn what’s the best path for them, then Stride will help them into that treatment process. “We concentrate on individuals to help them get whatever they need because one person that gets completely clear of their addiction is like dropping a pebble into a pond. There’s a ripple effect, it helps their family and their friends. We don’t spread ourselves too thin we try to get people completely sober and free from addiction so they can help others. Rather than just giving money to people to just get treatment with no plan beyond that.”
Saving and changing the course of individuals’ lives is the driving force behind Stride but Paul and Frederica are also committed to educating people about what addiction is and how addicts can and should be helped, so writing and sharing articles about this is also important to them.
“It is incredible how people are still uninformed about what addiction is, and there are so many people that have an addiction that are functioning but are so deeply unhappy. “There’s still a stigma attached to addiction despite AA being active since the 1930’s.”
What does success look like for Stride?
“Success for us is someone not dying because we have helped in some way. Being a small charity we work through people we know. We are very much focussed on making an incremental difference by helping individuals to walk away from their addiction and teenagers to walk away from putting themselves in the way of addiction. We work in a structured way but beyond this our objectives have to be loose because people don’t recover to a time schedule.”
How does Stride help addicts?
Stride takes a very personal approach to helping people to walk away from addiction. So far the people Stride has helped have come through mutual connections. Paul spends one to two hours per day, six days a week talking to the people Stride is supporting on their journey. Through the people Paul and Frederica have helped and people they’ve met through their careers and experiences Stride is building a community that supports and promotes the work Stride does.
What does Stride have planned for the future?
Stride has started a schools’ programme to educate young people and teachers about addiction. The programme offers schools in East London and Essex talks by Paul and Jamie Skipper, who have first-hand knowledge of addiction and alcoholism, with a Q&A session afterwards. Paul and Jamie talk about peer pressure, which often contributes to the sort of behaviours that lead to addition; about the importance building of self-esteem; about whether certain people are genetically disposed to addiction and about how the impact of trauma can trigger addiction.
To date what are you most proud of achieving with Stride?
“I’m proud of anyone we have helped to overcome their addiction. To sit with that person and to see the light come on and go from not wanting to live, to struggling to function to wanting to live and to thrive and to want to help other people. That for me is amazing. That’s what feeds me.”
How can people help Stride with achieving its objectives?
Funding for treatment comes from kind people who donate via our Just Giving page and who support the fund raising events we organise. To date these have included polo days and track days. We are planning more of these and other events. People can join our mailing list to receive details of when and where these are happening.
“One of our objectives is to educate people about addiction, and through improving understanding to help people be less judgemental and more supportive. So one way people can help is to educate themselves and spread the word.”
As an example of how changing perception can help addicts and benefit society Paul cites the positive impact of treating drug addiction as a medical issue rather than a criminal problem in Portugal. You can read an article about this which appeared in Time magazine and there are other useful articles about addiction in the resources section.
If you are suffering from addiction and looking for help walking away from it please get in touch. We will either help you directly or refer you to another organisation if this is more appropriate to your needs.
If you would like to discuss holding a Stride addiction workshop at your school please get in touch.