Drunk, drug addicted and suicidal: Ben back from the brink
IN HIS darkest moments Ben Blacksell was suicidal, living rough and drinking and drugging his way into oblivion before one night in a swag, his thoughts turned to his grandfather.
Ben admits he didn't know why that night he imagined what his grandfather would say to him if he could have seen him - he had died some years before - but there is no doubt it changed his life.
"I just thought to myself 'is this what I really want for myself',” he said.
"Having that thought urged me to come home. It was like he was calling me to come back and own up to what I had done.”
He immediately called his parents and began the journey back to home where a remarkable turn of events meant a trip meant to take 8 hours took over 32.
"That sort of shaped this journey,” he said.
"I laughed and thought if I could go through all that to get back here nothing was going to stand in my way.”
Not long after being back in Grafton Ben's thoughts turned to joining a gym, which was the next step on his path to recovery.
"There was a few times I came to the car park and I sat in the car and I was like 'nah it's alright I'll do it tomorrow',” he said.
"And I would drive all the way back home.”
Eventually positivity won out and Ben made his way through the door of Anytime Fitness which led him to giving up the drugs, smokes and booze and shedding nearly 50 kilograms.
"The hardest bit was opening the door and you don't really realise that,” he said.
"You get that scared of what this certain image of the gym is and being overweight myself ... you feel like all this negativity is going to come your way.”
Ben quickly realised the idea he had built up in his head of what a gym was far from the truth as he felt instantly welcomed by Jenny Ryder and Kathryn Langford.
Finding a place that "felt like a family” helped Ben mentally as much as physically and he still uses that first session with Jenny and Kathryn as a motivator.
"They could tell I was hurting because I had been through so much and I didn't have any belief in myself,” he said.
"I couldn't even do half a push-up ... it was such a struggle.
"I promised myself every training session was never going to be as hard as that. I might feel tired, I might feel sore but it'll never be as hard as that first day was.”
Ben now credits the gym with saving his life as his work continues to pay off, shedding weight, growing in confidence, becoming an apprentice plumber and planning to achieve his dream of walking the Kokoda track.
"My mentality now, there is nothing that I can't do. There is Kokoda track next year. It has been a lifelong dream. But I never thought I would be able to do it because of my fitness and my mentality.”
"I'd be six foot under if I had not have opened that door and had these lovely people help me,” he said.
When Ben continued to train and open up to his trainers, both Jenny and Kathryn were taken aback by just how far into the depths of despair he had been.
So when he told them about his dream of walking Kokoda they almost instantly decided they would make it happen.
"It (his story) was a lot darker than we knew and we thought we knew him pretty well,” Kathryn said.
"We asked him what was your life goal and he said he wanted to walk Kokoda.
"We said we want to take you and we want you to reach your goal ... He deserves it for what he has been through, he is an incredible human being.”
Ben never imagined being in the position he was in now and desdcribed himself growing up as someone who "never had very much self-belief and never thought that anything good could come my way.”
Lying to his parents about where he went, Ben started drinking around age 12, was smoking marijuana by 16 and was eventually taking pills regularly which eventually led to an overdose.
But things came to a head when - during the space of just a few months - he had ended a relationship "on bad terms”, his friend was jailed, his father was in a car accident and a mate committed suicide.
Unable to cope Ben attempted suicide but was saved at the last moment by police.
By this stage he Ben felt like he had burned bridges and thought his only option was to leave town despite acknowledging his mother had stuck by him through thick and thin.
"When I left for Newcastle that was it. I was done with Armidale and done with Grafton because at that stage I was pointing the finger at everyone else and everything except for myself,” he said.
But even though his life continued to spiral out of control until that night in the swag, Ben says he now understands he couldn't have been helped until he was ready to help himself.
"If I had to go through all that to get to where I am now I would do it in a heartbeat. I wish I had done it earlier. But hey I am doing it now,”
I have never had self belief, I always believed I'd end up dead or in jail and the fact I have people believe in me now and come up and say 'you are inspiring for what you are doing'.
"And if by bettering yourself you can give the vibe to others for them to better themselves that is the biggest credit you can really get in life isn't it.”