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Byron Shire
March 9, 2021

Bricklayer Tony talks about the tough stuff

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Tony Steenson's life was running out of control until he stumped up the courage to start talking about his anger and fear. He will be talking about his experience this weekend at a Men's Health Conference at Lennox Head.
Tony Steenson’s life was running out of control until he stumped up the courage to start talking about his anger and fear. He will be talking about his experience this weekend at a Men’s Health Conference at Lennox Head.

Adam Warburton

Tony Steenson is a 36-year-old bricklayer from northern NSW. Just a few years ago his life was spinning out of control. This weekend he will be one of the keynote speakers at a men’s conference in Lennox Head.

Tony is now happily married with two children and is passionate about his job. But for a large part of his life he was a heavy pot user, and in his early adulthood he spent eight years on the drug ice, while still working full time.

Tony says, ‘For many years I participated in serious substance abuse in order to cope with what was going on in life and around me. My life was on a downward spiral and my health and relationships suffered greatly. But now, today, I am going from strength to strength and feel the best I have ever felt.’

Having never felt that his story was worth sharing with other men, Tony has come to realise that a significant part of his turnaround has been thanks to his ability to open up and reflect with honesty on what was a truly dark part of his life.

‘Many people associate drugs and drug use with broken families. But my family was a solid country family. We were beef farmers, and my dad was also a bricklayer. My first experience with drugs was with pot at the age of 13. Looking back, I felt uncomfortable around other people, and the drugs were just a way of fitting in, to gain acceptance with my mates.’

But, as Tony says, that innocent foray quickly turned into a daily habit that eventually included heavier drugs, including ice.

‘When I was in my early twenties, I desperately wanted to escape the boredom of my life. I had very little self-esteem. My whole life my dad told me we were ‘just bricklayers’ – and this is how I saw myself. Desperate to escape, I moved to Western Australia and joined a bricklaying gang. But again I found myself trapped in a culture of ‘working hard and playing hard’. All of the guys on the gang were into drugs, and I quickly fell into step in an attempt to fit in. Life quickly became about working hard to earn enough money to support my drug habit.’

The turnaround point for Tony came when he started to realise what an effect his drug taking was having on his relationship with his wife and children.

‘My wife started to make healthier choices in her life. She started cleaning up her diet, and drugs and alcohol no longer fitted in. So, basically, my lifestyle was no longer compatible. I had a choice to make, and at first that choice was to move out. But, eventually, my body was giving me signs that the life I was leading was not right. I tried to ignore these signs, but eventually I could not, and I had to start facing up to the reality of what my life was like.’

Tony sought out assistance from counsellors, and, with the continued love and support of his wife, started to make positive changes.

Tony says, ‘for me it was important to get to the realisation that really my problem was not with drugs. Drugs were the end result. My real problem was the way that I saw myself. I had a lot of unresolved sadness and anger, but could not acknowledge those feelings, and so I used drugs to keep those thoughts and feelings buried.

‘We live in a world where men are told that to have such feelings and doubts are seen as a weakness, as something to be ashamed of. But as I learnt, with help, to express those feelings I started to realise that those thoughts and feelings did not have to own me. After this, it became easier to deal with the attraction to drugs, as I realised I no longer needed them to bury my issues. Talking about things made me realise those feelings I had suppressed were not as painful as I had feared.

‘Many ex-drug users continue to see themselves as addicts, and judge themselves as such. But the fact is that we are not forever addicts. When I look back on those days, I just see someone who was struggling to deal with life, someone who could not feel like they could talk about how they were feeling to anyone. I do not see myself as an ex-addict, and these days there is nothing in me that is even remotely attracted to drugs (or alcohol for that matter).’

 Men’s Health – Starting the Conversation is free community event for men, women and children. It brings together professional speakers to talk about the situation with men’s health. But the lineup also includes real, everyday men from our local community talking openly on issues that for most men are considered taboo. Substance abuse, the challenges of single parenting, depression, and living with the challenge of a medically diagnosed heart condition are just some of the stories you will hear at the conference, as these men inspire all of us to ‘open up the conversation’.

When: Sunday 17 November 10am–3pm.

Where: Lennox Head Cultural and Community Centre, cnr Mackney and Park lanes, Lennox Head NSW.

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  1. What an uplifting story – I hope there are men and women that can change their lives too if they just have the courage Tony had to look at his pain and deal with it…yeay!

  2. This is a beautiful story, it moved me greatly how a young man can go through so much and then simply by being honest about his feelings and taking the necessary steps that follow can bring about such a healthy and a more full life for himself and family. We need to send Tony it to all schools in Australia and get him to share with all our boys and young men his story.

  3. Amazing story, thanks for sharing it. Tony’s story makes me realise how much effort us blokes can put into either covering up or blaming others for what I felt.

  4. “Talking about things made me realise those feelings I had suppressed were not as painful as I had feared.”
    What an amazing realisation, that enabled you to live your life without drugs, Tony. You are a true inspiration to men and women, thank you.

  5. It’s interesting that this article fails to disclose the connection between the Men’s Health Conference and the Universal Medicine cult headed by self-appointed messiah Serge Bengayon. In the interests of transparency and ‘one-unified truth’ the general public should be informed of who is really behind this event.

  6. Tony has made a 180 degree turn around and can now live in the joy of his heart with full health. This means more then any nasty comment made by uninformed gullible readers who are most likely the haters using a pseudonyms. Critics can critic all they want — BUT how we live life is our own responsibility and each choice will have its effect. Tony emanates his new choices and it is here for all to see – these true choices have brought him back into himself and he was able to let go what did not serve him at all. That really says it all! Look into Tony’s eyes and you will know – here we have a true man that is dealing with any issues and no longer buries them in alcohol and drugs etc.

  7. Hi Tony, I heard the session with you, Adam, the Doctor on Kelly Higgins-Divines programme on 612 ABC radio. It was one of the most powerful conversations on Men’s health I have heard in a long time. Keep up the good work. John

  8. Wow .. What an inspiring story .. thanks for making the change Tony, your a true inspiration .. I love the honesty .. it is so refreshing to hear

  9. Loved this down to earth account of how life has been for Tony. How his has, through his own choices, looked at and express his anger and sadness eradicating any further need of the self medication that many resort to with the use of drugs and alcohol.He is such a real role model in this day and age where drugs and alcohol are the norm.
    Great article for the echo to print. We need more articles like this encouraging not only us, the reader, to be more honest with our selves but also encouraging our kids and grand kids to be real and have the courage to face how they are feeling instead of resorting to self harming vices in order to fit in. Great reading!

  10. I went to the Real Media Real Change conference in Brisbane on the weekend. What I loved about Tony and the other men’s stories was that it helped me understand what men go through a lot more and I feel like it will help me better understand the challengers that my 3 year old son will face as he grows up. I have met Tony before at a Universal Medicine workshop (not a cult) and I already knew a little of his story but still got so much out of it. I have seen so many male relatives and friends affected by drugs, depression and suicide that I found this conference so refreshing and even healing – i think anyone who attended would find it difficult to have a cheap shot at these men standing up and so honestly and openly sharing there life.

  11. This is truly an inspiration story. I attended the Real Media Real Change conference in Brisbane on the weekend and had the honour of hearing Tony’s story in person, along with the stories of other men who have made changes in their lives through taking responsibility and making simple choices in their lives. It is inspiring to hear men begin to open up and share their experiences and what it really going on for them. I doubt there is any one person who cannot say they do not have a man /male in their life, so it is important and relevant for all of us (male or female) to begin to understand what is going on for men, and to support this sharing. And as Rebecca has noted above, let’s not forget that our little boys grow up to be men — so how important to understand this from a young age and to support and encourage the young boys in our lives to open up and share what they are feeling, so that they can also become men doing the same thing.

  12. I too attended the Brisbane ‘Men’s Health – Starting the Conversation’ Conference on the weekend, and heard Tony’s story first-hand, along with others. I learnt so much about men and what they deal with growing up and later on too – how naturally tender and sensitive young men struggle to cope with what life and society demands of them. As one speaker pointed out, it is no wonder, with the pressures they face, men are increasingly suffering from depression, ill-health and the effects of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. We have a long way to go in terms of letting boys just be, but I’m glad we’ve at least started an honest conversation about what’s really going on here. I sincerely hope we continue that conversation.

  13. Dear Echonet,
    this is truly front page news. An absolute triumph and success of a man who battled with his demons and won out on top. HANDS DOWN. I’d love to see more stories like this making bigger headlines in our media. What an awesome message for men everywhere and what a fantastic role model is Tony for our young boys and men. I don’t have the words to say how inspired I am to see this article, and after hearing Tony speak at the conference, meeting him and knowing he is a real, down to earth man I say again that this story needs to be honoured with the appreciation that it deserves. FRONT PAGE NEWS!
    As a psychologist, I see so many people who suffer with drug and alcohol addictions, and many think they are cursed to suffer this for the rest of their lives. Tony’s story speaks truthfully and simply about how opening up, seeking support can truly change your life. Well done Tony, you are an amazing man.

  14. Thank you, Echonet, for publishing a truly inspiring story, showing that the way it is for most people these days is not the only way, that opening up and sharing your feelings, being honest about your life and the fact that it is not working, asking for help and allowing yourself to feel supported and loved, can make all the difference.
    Tony Steenson is an amazing man, not because he is special or different, but because he has made choices to truly love and care for himself, and his life has turned around because of this.
    I had the pleasure of attending the Men’s Health Conference at Lennox Head on Sunday. All the speakers were awesome and I learnt something about men and about life from each and every one of them.


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