Minority Ethnic & CulturalGrowing Up in Division

My Experience: Growing Up in Division

19 April 2024

I felt like there was no way out. It was like I was stuck in a rut where it was a straight line to crime, drugs, self destruction.

NB: Guest writers name has been changed for anonymity 


“I grew up protestant all my life. I didn't know any different. It was red, white and blue until a few years ago.

I was always in and out of trouble through loyalist activity, but that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to grow up and live that high life as a drug dealer, crime organiser, whatever it was.

I grew up hating the police.

I didn't see why I needed to be friends or be close with what we knew as the ‘other side’ -  the catholic side. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of getting into trouble.”


A Troubled Past


“Then I suffered a real bad patch, and was diagnosed with depression. I was feeling lost, and it was then that I was referred to a local youth charity by my GP. Having someone to talk to was really helpful, I was starting to feel a little bit more myself, but then COVID hit. I was stuck inside, with the same feelings of being lost, and I ended up going back to my old ways. It felt a bit like the saying, "You can take the boy out of the estate, but you can't take the estate out of the boy”. 

“I didn't realise at the time that going back to it was my downfall. I was getting in trouble again, doing a lot more worse things, taking drugs, selling drugs, and getting involved in paramilitary activity. Whether it was doing stupid stuff in cars, or going after people, really just anything. I was sort of the little hangman. I was just attached to a string and they were just pulling the strings for me. I had no fear. I didn't have a care in the world. I took my own life for granted. I didn't really care about family or friends or anything. I was just living day by day.”

“I felt like there was no way out. It was like I was stuck in a rut where it was a straight line to crime, drugs, self destruction.”


Breaking the Cycle


Describing what changed for Steve he spoke about a big awakening, and how he received help from his relationship with a local youth organisation, “One Saturday night I was arrested and I spent the night in a police cell. When I got out, I wouldn't even leave the house. I was afraid to be seen by anyone.”

“I had fallen back into the trap, my mental health was worse than ever. I went back to my GP and explained that I felt I really needed somebody to sit me down and have a serious conversation with me. I needed somebody to take it deeper and help me understand. So they got me back in touch then with the local youth organisation to do some more one to one sessions.”

Steve continued, “As soon as I went in and saw the team youth worker, I just burst out in tears. I felt like I let them down, and felt like I sort of betrayed them. I went in that night crying. The youth worker took me up the stairs and we were sitting in a room and he's like, what's happened? There was no judgement. It was just how can we help you? And what can we do next? There was no thinking about the past or what I'd done. They believed in me. A better version of myself that I could be proud of. They didn't want to change me, and they didn't want to change my beliefs. They wanted me to be me, to be safe being me and most of all to be happy and hopeful for the future me. I felt understood. Having those chats about what my future could look like, let me see another side of life that I had never seen before.”

“It was strange because I assumed that the youth clubs are full of all your goody two shoes kids. Kids that can't do no wrong. I remember thinking… but I'm not like that, that's not me. I'm rough and ready. It was like, wow, who are these people? I shouldn't be accepted here in these circles.” 

“It doesn’t matter though, you are accepted there, warts and all. Doesn't matter where you're from, who you are, the colour of your skin, what religion you are, what you’ve done or what your background is. You're seen as a young person, you're not seen as anything else. You could do all the wrongs, but in their eyes, they're just there to help, they are not there to judge you, not there to change you.”

“I was never told, don't go near that culture again. Don't follow that tradition. I’m a young, Protestant, male. I still go watch the parades and still go to the bonfire, but I see it in a different light now. I go because I enjoy it. I go because I like to remember why the bonfires are there, why the parades are there. I don't go now to act Jack the lad and be this big man who is afraid of no one.” 


Finding Hope and Healing


“I've learned so much since, it’s been a crazy learning curve. The people I thought of as ‘the other side’ are so like me. They are the exact same. There's somebody on the other side who's living the exact same life I'm living right now, and I didn't see that at the start, but now I do.”

“The local youth club began to feel like a second home, a place where I could go when I needed to, where I'm not worrying about looking over my shoulder, seeing who's there, worrying about the police coming, worrying about having to go and do something that's dangerous or put my life in danger. And ever since then, it’s been an easy flowing journey of a better life.”


Overcoming Challenges


“I did meet some challenges on my journey, and sadly some of them were from the people I loved the most - my family. I felt that I still had to defend my culture, defend what I believed in, defend my family's past and that was sort of a fight and battle with my family as well. When I had that realisation of, ‘this is not me anymore’ I had to almost turn my back on my own family to become a better person. And that was a long struggle, having to say no to family, for my own good. And after long nights of conversations, arguments, and very hostile situations, they started to see why I want my life to be different. As time has moved on they are finally seeing the positive influence I am having on other family members. I do think they are starting to realise that I’m actually doing a really good thing here.”


Sometimes on our journey to a healthier happier life, we have setbacks. We slip back into our old ways of being! And that is ok. It’s important to remember that our journey towards our goals, healing, or understanding ourselves is rarely a straight line. We might trip up, but we dust ourselves off, and we try again. That means trying something different, moving ourselves out of our comfort zone. In Steve's case, he had the courage, determination and strength to go back to the youth workers that had helped him before, despite the heavy feeling of shame. 

It's normal to have these experiences when we are trying to do something as difficult as turning our life around.


Steve’s Advice


When asked “What would say to somebody reading this, who is experiencing similar difficulties? Feeling stuck or that they are going down the wrong path?”

Steve advised, “Look at the other side. Whether you're Catholic, Protestant, any other thing, look at the other side. If you're having battles in your life, with police or anything, look at their circumstances as well. They are the same as you, just wearing different colours and it's easier than it looks to change and you don't even need to make drastic changes. You just open your eyes a wee bit more, and it sounds very blunt and sort of quite hard, but it just takes time. 

“It's also about speaking to the right people as well and actually participating and showing up. It's not 90% youth work or help from a counsellor, and 10% yourself. It has to be a 50/50 effort. You can't say you're going to do something and then expect somebody else to do it for you. The control is in your hands and you have to want to do it. You have to give it your all.”

“You need just to forget about what everybody else says, what your friends say, your family say. And if you need help, reach out, find a youth club close to you and just go in or write them a letter or something. Just write down your name and your phone number and just say, here if you get a chance can you give me a ring? And they'll do something for you.”


Empowering Youth


Through this journey, Steve decided he wanted to become a Youth Worker himself. He wanted to have an impact on young people in his community. So he started volunteering with the youth organisation that had helped him so much. He wants to use his own lived experience to help young people who have lost their way, who are struggling to cope, who need an understanding and non-judgemental ear. He has since completed mental health, suicide awareness & self harm training. He completed Youth Work qualifications too, and it’s clear to see that he will be a valuable asset within his community. 

It’s obvious that the youth work that Steve participated in helped him to see a different path for himself. Before, he really felt that he was stuck on a path outside of his control, a path that was destined for him. The work that he did in his one to one sessions with a youth worker gave him the space to take a step back, consider his own needs and make plans for his future, on his own terms. It takes a great deal of determination and bravery to move away from familial, cultural or generational expectations in this way.

Youth clubs can provide a safe and supportive environment where young individuals can explore their interests & needs, develop important life skills, tackle social isolation and much more.

If you or someone you know could benefit from youth work be sure to check out organisations near you that can help.

If you'd like to share a personal experience story to inspire others just let us know, via the Join The Conversation Button at the bottom of this page, leave a rough outline of your story and your contact details. You don't need to be able to write well, for example for "Steve's" story, we met up for a chat, which we voice recorded with his permission, then we worked together to create this article! 

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