The story was, she fostered me when I was two weeks old. My birth mother was too unwell to look after me, and when I was born I was very sick too. My Dutch parents emigrated from the Netherlands and they ended up fostering me until they adopted me when I was five years old. They already had their own family. But my Dutch mother, she was amazing. She loved children. She was so caring, so beautiful.
One of my fondest memories was when she’d sit me on her lap and sing a Dutch lullaby and tickle me at the end, and then repeat it again and again. I never got sick of that song or her tickling. She made me feel secure, safe and loved and that I belonged to the family even though I was the black sheep, literally. I just felt that love. But she got cancer and died when I was seven. After she passed away, I felt alone and missed her love.
My dad remarried quickly. And it kind of broke up the family. So I’m seven, dealing with being a dark boy in a white family and getting teased and bullied at school, dealing with my mother’s death, and dealing with being sexually abused by a male family member. That’s a tough one. I didn’t fully resolve that until three years ago, right after I went to a psych ward.
I felt really abandoned, to be honest. And I was angry. I was the angriest little kid. I resented my step mother and in my mind I thought she hated me because I hated her. I always reacted with anger, always getting into fights at primary school. There was nothing else, just anger.
I got into smoking a lot of weed, ended up selling it, ran away from home a lot. And then the police busted me at a park, took me to the station, rang my parents and they said: ‘no, you can keep him’. I was only 13.
That first night in foster care I’m thinking, ‘nah f**k this, I’m gonna run away’. But they treated me with kindness and I fell in love with them. My foster Mum had a knack for being able to talk to me. She was the first person that actually listened. And my foster Dad showed an interest in me, too. He taught me how to change a head gasket in the car, how to change an oil filter, how to work the engine. So I ended up staying with my foster family until I was about 18.
Being of Māori descent, I wanted to find out my tribal roots. I met my birth mother when I moved to Australia. And initially it was a bit surreal. She confirmed what I found on my adoption papers: that my real dad was Croatian. Anyway, at one point I had nowhere to live, I had no money, I was broke, I didn’t know what to do. So I rang her and she said: ‘look, you can come live with me’. So I did, for just over a year. She was working in a florist at the time in Chapel Street and I started working there too. We took over the business and became partners. I know how to make flowers, I know how to make bouquets, boxes, I’ve done weddings. And while I lived with her I learnt my history and how she met my father. She said to me: ‘I wanted you safe, that’s why I adopted you out, so you’d have a better life’.
I’m glad I met them because now I know why I was adopted and I don’t have any more questions. But I was still angry. That was my greatest challenge for a long time, dealing with that anger and trauma. I was so angry that I became quite violent. I used to get locked up quite a bit for assault, drunken drugged disorderly behaviour, getting in fights, caught with drugs.
The longest was January 2009 when I spent just over a month in the Melbourne Remand Prison. The toughest part was having no control over your life. Sure you got to eat, exercise and socialise. But under the prison rules. You were locked in your cell by 8pm, woken up at 6am. You had roll call three times a day. Surrounded by men. The strip searches were the worst, so demoralising and embarrassing as you’re butt naked bending over being inspected by the guards. This was one of many cross roads in my life that steered me towards a better life, a better me.
I’ve hit rock bottom twice. The first time was back in 2008 in my mid-30s. Back then I was heavily into the party scene, the drug scene, and I was still quite violent. My relationship was volatile. I really didn’t want to be that person. But I never thought I’d be able to change. I believed I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t a good man. I didn’t deserve to be alive. I thought, no wonder you’ve been abandoned all your life. Who would want a person like me?
Everything was snowballing. I just broke down one day, and I told my partner I didn’t want to be here anymore. I didn’t want to live anymore. That was a defining moment, when I was ready to give up. If anything, it was exhausting. You’re just constantly exhausted and in a state of hopelessness. You’re just trying to work through each day and trying to give yourself a reason to continue.
I was in the hospital for 12 days. They gave me medication and diagnosed me with borderline bipolar, manic depressive and high anxiety. I’m thinking, you’re just giving me an excuse for my behaviour. Within a week of leaving I was back in. I just wasn’t coping. And I wasn’t taking the medication and I wasn’t talking to the counsellor. And I was still violent. And my partner left me. I sabotaged every relationship I had because I believed I didn’t deserve happiness.
So I went back and they kept me in for a month. But I listened to them and when I left the hospital I was doing all the advice they said, I was seeing a shrink, started taking medication. I was slowly getting better. But old habits crept back again.
The second time I hit rock bottom was 2019. That was a pretty bad year for me. I was taking a bit of gear on a daily basis, put on a lot of weight – about 15 kilos – and being a personal trainer I wasn’t feeling good about myself. And those same feelings came back, but worse. I’d been trying for years and I’m thinking: ‘mate, you’re 47, you’re not gonna get any better so what’s the point in being here?’. The tipping point was when I got in my car, went to Bunnings, bought a hose, bought a rope, I was googling how to tie a f***ing hangman’s noose and I thought: ‘this is it, I’m out of here, I’m f***ing done’.
I’m driving out of Bunnings and I looked at my dog. I’m looking at Cody and Cody’s looking at me, and I’m just thinking: ‘what the f*ck am I doing?’ I was advised by a friend 13 years ago to get a pet, to help with my anger, depression and anxiety. Since then, he’s been my rock and lifesaver. And in that moment, he saved me again. I thought, well 10 years ago you went to the hospital and they kept you in there. You know what, I’m going to go to the hospital and say to them: ‘this is where I’m at’. And they’re either going to go: ‘come with us mate, we’ll help you’, or they’ll go: ‘mate you’re kidding yourself, go away’. And I thought if they say ‘go away’, that’s it I’m out of here.
After three weeks, people were wondering where I was. I panicked about that, so I got on Facebook and put a video up when I was in the psych ward. I was pretty high on medication and I just blurted out everything. I told everyone where I was, that I didn’t want to live anymore at that time but I’m doing my best, I’m on medication, I’m here because I don’t feel like I’m good enough. Right after I’m thinking, you f***ing idiot, but it’s already out there. And the next day I had about 30 people rock up to visit me. It was pretty amazing.
I thought, all these people actually do care. And most of them were my clients who I’d been training, some of them for 20 years. And they just rocked up, gave me a hug, told me they loved me. It was amazing. That was a very defining moment. Because it was then that I realised that I was loved. And I was good enough.
The psych ward was my sanctuary. I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t the only f**k up. The others were very diverse in their own state of mental health from schizophrenia to suicide victims, mostly who’d had mental breakdowns like myself. Seeing them get better enlightened me that I was going to be OK. It was a life changer. I was determined to come out of there better and not have to go back ever again. I can’t thank the Alfred psych ward and staff enough for saving me.
There was this one psych doctor who said: ‘Roy, I think you’re ready to go home. Do you feel ready?’ I said: ‘no, doc’. He goes: ‘my advice to you is, take your medication, stay off the booze, work hard and see your counsellor. I heard about all the people who came and saw you, it’s great you have a lot of people who love you, but it’s time for you to get back’. So I left with that mindset.
Then lockdown happened. And I let the depression set in. I spoke to a mate in the Gold Coast and I said to him: ‘mate, I’m sick of these lockdowns, I’ve put on so much weight, I’m depressed, I don’t know what to do, I’m not passionate about my work anymore’ and he goes: ‘mate, come up here to the Goldie’.
When I got there, everyone’s friendly, everyone’s happy and straight away I was like that’s what I need to do, change my mindset. Think positive, be proactive and make good out of a bad situation. It was exactly what I needed. And I was able to bounce back quicker.
So I came back, started training, started eating well. I haven’t had a drink in five months, I don’t take drugs anymore, I’ve dropped 19 kilos and I’ve been passionate with work. My mindset’s been running positive.
I made amends with my Dutch family over the years. My Dutch Dad, he loved me. He used to come and see me all the time in foster care. But he worked a lot. He was the provider. One of my most cherished memories was going to the movies with my Dad. Rambo Part Two. Coming from such a religious family I was so surprised that the old man took me and I felt privileged to get that one on one with Dad.
He passed away in 2003 from emphysema, and he called me three days before he passed to tell me he loved me and how proud he was of me. He said that in my Dutch Mum’s eyes, I was the favourite. The special one. Who knows if that’s true but it gave me the warm and fuzzies.
After everything I’ve been through, I learned that you don’t have to do it on your own. You’re not alone. You’re not the only one. I learned to back up what I say. I can do it. I know I can. I believe in myself. I know my triggers now and I have my coping mechanisms. Even with being in lockdown, there’s no anger anymore. I don’t have that depressed anger that had always lingered underneath. Look, I still have my bad days but I know it’s just a bad day and I know it’s not going to be forever.
I’m very proud of where I am today. I’ve been smashing the work, attracting what I put out there. I’ve been through a lot so I’m able to communicate with everyone. Some will say, I’m just flat today. By the time they leave the session, endorphins kick in, they feel invigorated again and they feel a lot better. I’ve got my passion back, and I’m really enjoying where I’m at.