Eaten up by the Chemsex scene, Ben Kaye found himself spiralling into drug addiction. His life rotated 180 degrees hitting rock bottom – but after seeking treatment, at the age of 42, Ben is now a qualified counsellor and an Advanced Practitioner helping other LGBTQ+ people overcome their alcohol & substance misuse issues. He is part of an organisation called ‘We Are With You’ and is the founder of its LGBTQ+ recovery group. Being a queer person in recovery can be isolating, Ben craved a community that he could relate to. Ben said: “I decided to create the group because I needed it – I needed it.” His work has been recognised nationally, in 2021 Ben was Shortlisted for LGBTQ+ Role Model of The Year, and his work continues to be rewarded.
Ben is an advanced practitioner who focuses on equality, diversity and inclusion, in particular LGBTQ+ substance misuse issues, primarily across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. He is part of an organisation called ‘We Are With You’ offering free confidential support with alcohol, drugs or mental health issues. Ben Kay and I met at the R Hub: Educational Resource Centre and Centre for Recovery in Boscombe. With a warm smile, he introduced himself, dressed in a relaxed red jumper and straight blue jeans. Ben guided us into a room filled with multicoloured chairs, it was bright and welcoming, we sat next to each other, Ben was positioned upright in his chair with his hands together.
We spoke about his upbringing, growing up in Gants Hill, Essex, in a time where it was illegal to be gay, Ben wasn’t taught about same sex relationships. “It was a very different time,” he reflected. Ben had a stable childhood, he was privately educated and came from a loving family home, things were always good and he always tried his best. However, Ben always felt an expectation from his parents to be a certain way. To become a certain person. but he knew he was never really that person, he exclaimed; “I knew from young age I was slightly different.” Things soon changed for Ben when he was fifteen years of age, his parents divorce was the catalyst. The turning point. Ben sunk into the spiral of addiction. At this point Ben was left with an unfinished education, caring for his mother and not being able to go to university. His upbringing became polluted.
Drugs came hand in hand with Ben exploring the gay scene. At this point in his life, he was reaching out for drugs to self-medicate. It was no longer a means of fun, it was an escape from reality, a way of making himself feel better. Ben was using daily, addiction is like a bottomless pit, Ben related his experience to slipping down a glass cylinder, not being able to hold on to the sides. In 2017 Ben went into recovery. “Nothing got better that easy,” he interrupted, and then stared at the wall. It is clear that Ben saw his recovery at a pivotal point of his life as a chance to start again. He has been in recovery for close to six years; his sobriety date is August the 15th.
Ben walked through the doors of the ‘We Are With You’ organisation in Bournemouth. He asked the engagement coordinator at the time if they had an LGBTQ+ group. They didn’t. Ben went through a peer mentor training course with the organisation and was able to launch his own LGBTQ+ recovery group. Impassioned Ben stated, “I wanted to create a community, for my community, that didn’t exist, and I was encouraged to do so,” Ben smiled proudly. “I grabbed life with both hands and made the decision to make a difference for the community because it is needed.” When asked what made Ben the happiest, he quickly said: “Making other people happy and being part of someone’s journey of recovery.” Ben wanted to find people like himself, Queer people in recovery, and continuously help them.
In 2021 Ben was awarded with the High Sheriff of Dorset award by Mr George Streatfeild, for his contribution to the community. Ben said: “I changed my life around completely to help others, and for it to be recognised means the world to me,” he paused with nostalgia, “there is a lot of pride in having my life back and to be in a career doing something I really like. Helping other people and being where I am today makes me proud.” Ben has been fortunate enough to have been published by or featured in several different articles, as well as appearing in a YouTube video for Attitude magazine, the video has 27,000 plus views to date, people from around the world have reached out to Ben praising him for his work, as well as sharing stories of their own. When The High Sheriff was asked to describe his first impression of Ben, he only had positive things to say, “We were immediately impressed by his dedication to helping other people, especially those in minority groups or being marginalised. He embodied everything that you would want – kind, thoughtful and caring.”
Stephany Keenan, a colleague from ‘We Are With You’, has known Ben since he was a paid member of staff. Working with Ben for four years, Stephany has seen Ben develop in confidence and praised him for his resilience, she said: “Ben is probably one of the most driven people you’ll come across, the sector we work in can be a challenging environment, it takes dedication and determination, to maintain his level of motivation is a skill.” Stephany stressed the stigma surrounding addiction, branching into different communities, one being the LGBTQ+ community. She spoke about Ben’s strength and determination to be able to support those individuals. She said: “Ben is tenacious, he fights strongly for what he believes in, and the group is an excellent example of that.”