Dan Butcher's addiction became so extreme that he begged the Priory to take him in. Two years on, the former City high-flyer has launched a social networking site to help others like himself
It was the bleakest time of his life. Holed up in his car, parked close to his office in central London, City high-flier Dan Butcher spent six hours in the same place, snorting line after line of cocaine. He was hiding his addiction from his wife and his employers and his eight-grams-a-day-habit was costing him thousands.
It was the rock-bottom moment, following years of addiction, that led 35-year-old Butcher to resolved to change the way he lived his life. Weeks later, he was in the Priory recovery centre. Then he set up The Recovery Network, a social networking website that allows addicts and their families to discuss their problems anonymously.
The story of how his life spiralled out of control can be traced back to his childhood. Butcher says he had a stable upbringing, the youngest of six children in a middle-class Surrey family. He says he was a shy child, and when he took a job in the City as a trainee stockbroker in his late teens, he felt he did not fit in.
"As well as working hard in a stressful environment, you were expected to go out with people in the office in the evenings and be part of a crowd," he explains. "It was the early 1990s, and in those days it was all about hanging around in flashy nightclubs and ordering champagne."
At that point, the former trader says, he was opposed to drug use. But because he felt he had always been an introvert, he says, he found it hard to fit in with his more outgoing colleagues. When he heard that cocaine helps its users lose their inhibitions, he began experimenting with it.
"That was the biggest mistake I ever made," he says. "When I first used it, it either made me loosen up or tricked me into believing that I was having a good time. I started using the drug on what I would describe as 'special occasions', but along the way I started using it when I had a bad day at work. It made me forget about things." He began using it weekly, then five days in a row. He would sleep in his office after a heavy session, and get no more than three hours' sleep.
It was around then that he met his wife, Helen, 32. "She was my route out," he says. "She didn't drink much and she despised drugs. She knew I'd used drugs in the past, and I stopped. Then our relationship progressed and we got married."
Then, in 1999, Butcher's father died. The former City trader coped with his grief the only way he knew – by taking cocaine. "He was my best friend. I couldn't cope with it. The first time I cried about his death was when I received news of it. The next time was when I was in the Priory in 2006. During the intervening years, I blocked it out. That was by using drink and drugs."
After years of trying to fight his dependency, by 2004 Butcher's habit had reached even more extreme proportions. By this point, he had reached the height of his dependency. "I could not function without it. By the late stages of that year, my day consisted of waking up and then having coke on my way to work. I had become so paranoid that by 10 or 11 in the morning I could not bear to meet anyone else in the office. I would make any excuse not to run into people. I'd say I was playing golf, or in a meeting. But in reality I would be in my car doing coke."
Butcher was hiding his habit from his wife and his employers, and would blame any erratic behaviour on alcohol. His predicament reached crisis point when he was arrested at a police checkpoint while driving through Berkshire. The officers were randomly searching vehicles. They discovered 3.5 grams of cocaine in his car, and assumed he was a drug dealer. They were forced to search his house. As he sat in a police cell, his wife was informed of Butcher's situation.
"Those eight hours inside were my first wake up-call," he says. "I realised I had a problem. And I swore I would never take drugs again. When I was released, I took an almighty bollocking from my wife – and I deserved it."
But, in June 2006, he began taking cocaine again, prompted by stress at work. By this point, he was hallucinating, a result of cocaine-induced psychosis. He spent five days before he finally asked for medical help in October 2006 in a hotel room, feeling suicidal, continually using the drug.
"The thought of driving into a brick wall at 100mph was not unappealing. I felt like I was the most weak and useless individual on the planet. No one else had problems. But the reason I didn't go through with it was because of my wife and kids." He telephoned Helen, and she threatened
to leave him if he did not seek help immediately. He went for an assessment at the Priory Group's rehabilitation centre in Roehampton, south-west London. That was on 8 October.
"I literally begged them for help that day," he says. "I told them that I would do what it takes to make it all go away. Interestingly, I went in there with what I thought was a drug habit and I was told I was an alcoholic, too. I never thought I was an alcoholic because I didn't drink before lunchtime. But I soon realised that when I would go out I would start drinking and never stop. Every night I would down at least one bottle of vodka and copious amounts of champagne."
In the Priory, he soon realised he was with kindred spirits. "On my first day, I was introduced to the rest of the people in the addiction ward – in other words, the people I would be living with. My head told me instantly that they weren't like me. But within an hour, for the first time, I felt at home. They understood what was going on in my head. It was the first time in my life that I found people who were thinking in the same way as me.
"There were lawyers there, a couple of famous pop-stars, and one of them I have stayed in touch with. There was a barrister, and a surgeon, and a guy who once owned a construction company. It was not my idea of what I always thought addicts were. Addiction affects everyone. If you walk into room of recovering addicts, by talking to these people and being honest about what is going on inside your head, it was stopping me thinking about taking drugs."
When he emerged 28 days later, he pledged to change his life for the better. And it was the strength he drew from his fellow addicts that inspired his next move. He came up with the idea for a place where people could "meet" online to discuss their addictions.
Now, he runs the result – his website, the Recovery Network – full time. The site, which focuses on any kind of addiction, has education and social networking strands. The education section has information on sex, gambling and alcohol, along with drug dependency. This is joined by social networking. Here, people can "meet up" online to discuss their problems. Like Facebook, users log on and can create a profile. They can then view other people's profiles and see if they can relate to them. If they think they can, they are then able to offer up a friend request.
One can post blogs to one's video diary via a webcam, and go into chatrooms to discuss addiction. The site now has more than 3,000 registered users (about 40 per cent of these are family members of those suffering from drug addiction) and 10,000 unique visitors a month.
Butcher is about to launch another site that incorporates advice on mild mental health disorders, along with panic attacks and anxiety, depression and self-harming. In a month's time, online therapy via webcam will be available.
It costs £8 a month to join the Recovery Network. Butcher says: "During my addiction, the cost of obtaining my substance of choice was irrelevant. If people are serious about fighting addiction, it is a price they will be willing to pay."