A Lincolnshire man has opened up about his 20-year battle with a substance addiction and how he turned a self-care hobby of portrait painting into his full-time job, earning praise from Russell Brand in the process.
James Howe, 42, from Skegness, is a former construction worker who used to fit suspended ceilings for a living, before a combination of injury and addiction absorbed his life.
“I’ve had a problem with cocaine on and off for around 20 years,” James said. “I’ve always felt that something was missing in my life, that I was never good enough as a son, father or partner.”
James said he hit his rock bottom and almost pushed away his entire support circle, including his parents, girlfriend and three sons.
There were times where he wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning, through fear of never being able to escape his drug addiction.
He added: “It got to the point where I’d use every day, spend every penny I had on it and it would be all I’d think about, just needing more.
“I didn’t even enjoy using and didn’t want to but I couldn’t stop. I’d be in tears driving to a dealer as I didn’t even want to do it, but couldn’t stop.
“I considered a few times taking my life as I couldn’t see a way out or a way of stopping it. I had various health issues but it never stopped me.
“I used to work in construction having my own business, but I never really enjoyed it. I’d work away for weeks at a time on my own staying in hotels; it was a very lonely existence and I was very depressed.”
A decision was then made for James to go to rehab on December 15, 2021, staying there for three months and missing Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries with his family to focus on recovery.
It was at rehab where he found the strength and purpose he required to get better. James explained to The Lincolnite the concept of a 12-step programme he was taught while at the facility to focus his mind on more positive outlooks.
“We were taught a 12-step program which we understood we were powerless and our lives had become unmanageable. We came to believe that no living thing could help us stop and that only a power greater than ourselves could.
“So I now live by the 12-step program and believe in a power greater than myself, not a religious god or following but a spiritual one. That can be anything from the sea, the sun, nature; anything you want it to be.
“My head is clear and the chaos has gone, I’m happy to wake up in the morning now, as I know that my head will be clear and I won’t wake up wanting to use as long as I follow the program.
“I’ll always be an addict, but I can stay clean one day at a time.”
While in rehab, James began to take up painting again, something which he had excelled at previously despite his vices, as The Lincolnite reported on in March 2021, when James was selling his celebrity canvas portraits online.
James says that even though painting was a great distraction, he was aware that it alone would not be able to keep him clean, declaring: “I had already crossed the line of addiction and there was nothing that I could do myself to get back over it.”
In a real full circle moment, James was treated to a visit by Russell Brand, who came to Ark House, the rehab treatment centre James was staying at, to talk to the patients about his own experiences.
This was ideal timing, as James had not long completed a couple of paintings of Russell, and he showed his work to the famous comedian and actor, whose Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions book helped James through dark times.
James recalls meeting Russell Brand at the centre, saying: “He spoke to us all as a group then went round and had a picture and a few words with us individually. He was kind, caring and funny, what a man to take time out his busy schedule to share with us.
“He signed the two paintings I’d made of him and he said he was really impressed with my work. I’m going to keep one myself to remember my time in rehab, as it was the day I left treatment and marked exactly three months of me being there.”
Since leaving rehab, James has made over a dozen paintings, numbering each one to signify the amount of days he has been clean of his addiction.
We asked James what advice he would give to a fellow struggler, and he said: “I’d advise anyone to talk, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. If you can get to a fellowship meeting that works a 12-step program do it.
“I was very dubious before I went but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done; it’s saved my life and my relationships.
“If sharing my story can encourage just one person to get help then it was worth it.
“I’m going to carry on with my art and hopefully do some volunteering to help people with addiction and mental health problems.
“I’m also going to be doing some charity work with my art to raise money and awareness.”
You can keep up to date with James’ work and enquire to buy one of the paintings by visiting his Howe Art Facebook page.