Warning: This article mentions suicidal thoughts.

When you talk to Matthew Ellengold, you can barely imagine he was someone who, at one point, didn't want to live.

In the depths of alcohol and drug addiction, he laid alone in his bed of his London flat, hoping he'd never wake up.

Matt's story isn't your average "before-and-after" weight-loss story and his abs are far from most impressive part of his journey.


He has now been clean and sober for three years but his journey to rock bottom started back in 2010, four years after moving from New Zealand to the UK.

For the best part of his thirties, his life revolved around drugs, alcohol and parties. For a while, drugs were something he did as part of his social life. As his self-confidence diminished, he started isolating himself and stopped going out so much. That didn't stop the drug use, though - in fact, it only made it worse.

Rather than using cocaine only when out with friends, the Kiwi man started using it at home, alone. That's when he knew he'd truly lost control.

His mental health deteriorated fast and, hiding his addiction from family and friends, he didn't feel like he could ask for help.

To the outside world, at least for a while, everything was fine. He had a good house and a steady well-paying job. Behind close doors, his life was falling apart. He hated how he looked and wished for his own death.

He knew he had to stop using cocaine but didn't know how. He felt like asking for help would be "admitting defeat". He thought: "If I stop using, what am I going to do for fun? How boring will my life be? What will people think?"

I thought I could control my drinking and using, that I would be able to use how much I wanted, start when I wanted, stop when I wanted. I tried all sorts of ways to control it, to use on my own terms, but my experience over a number of years proved to me I couldn't," he tells the Herald now, speaking proudly, clean, sober and the healthiest he's ever been.

"It took me to not wanting to live anymore to finally admit that I wasn't in control, and that I needed help to stop. Unfortunately anyone struggling with addiction will probably have to hit rock bottom, and most likely be like me where I had one rock bottom after another, before they admit defeat.


"And people need to realise that you could be struggling with addiction and still have a job, have somewhere to live and still pay your rent, you might only use on the weekends or every other day and not daily, which was all the case for me, but that didn't mean I wasn't an addict. My rock bottom might not have involved being unemployed, homeless and drinking on a park bench, but I wanted to die, can't get much more of a rock bottom than being dead," he says.

He said the first practical step towards his recovery was reaching out to Cocaine Anonymous in London. "Walking through that door was pretty scary for me, but it was the beginning of my path to recovery."

"Anyone struggling should know how brave and courageous they are for taking the steps to get help," he says.

Matt, originally from Havelock North, tried to hide his addiction from his family but knows, to this day, the pain it caused them, however indirectly. However much weight he loses, the weight of hurting his parents is one he still carries with him.

"No one in my family knew the extent of my addiction but they were affected by it," he says. "My behaviour was appalling and embarrassing at times.

Even after kicking his addiction, he struggled with his confidence. Photo / Supplied
Even after kicking his addiction, he struggled with his confidence. Photo / Supplied

"I hurt them. My poor mother, especially. I stole her peace of mind frequently. I remember once sending her messages, constructed arguments, about why she and everyone would be better off if I was dead, and why that was the smart thing for me to do, to kill myself. I then turned my phone off, used cocaine for 12 hours and completely forgot about it," he recalls.


That was just one example of how drugs turned him inwards and made him focus only on himself. When his parents visited, he'd let them down, abandoning plans, being unreliable and letting his volatile mood affect his behaviour around them.

Once he started going to Cocaine Anonymous, he started getting clean and sober. One day at a time.

Years of drug and alcohol abuse had had devastating effects on his body and his physical appearance now had an impact on his mental health.

Matt in 2017. Photo / Supplied
Matt in 2017. Photo / Supplied

A newly sober man, he knew he needed to look after himself, emotionally, mentally and also physically.

Last year, he joined UP Fitness in London and embarked on a strict 24-week exercise and eating regime that he says completely changed his life.

In January this year, he finished the regime and felt like he'd completed another big step in his recovery.


He lost 28kg in 24 weeks and trimmed his body fat from 35 per cent to 10 per cent. With each kilogram shed, his self-confidence slowly returned.

Matt Ellengold wants to inspire others to kick addiction. Photo / Supplied
Matt Ellengold wants to inspire others to kick addiction. Photo / Supplied

He's finished his "transformation" but now maintains an active fitness regime, doing four training sessions a week and keeping his average daily steps at over 10,000.

"I love the feeling I get from working out, I feel great afterwards, I love the structure and discipline it gives me, I love that I now care about myself to do it," he says.

Along with the workouts, he also maintained a strict nutrition regime.

"What that strict nutrition programme taught me was that I can now control what I put in my body, how much I need to eat, to not eat just because I'm bored, to not emotionally eat. Of course I'm not perfect at it! But I'm pretty good at it. I certainly understand and am aware of it today."

Matt wants to tell his story because he knows there are people out there who are still at the "I hope I don't wake up tomorrow" stage of addiction that he was at a few years ago. He wants everyone to see him and know that there is a way out, that however low you're feeling today, you can turn life around.


Physical exercise, he says, was key to maintain his sobriety, because it was key to improving his mental health.

"The physical fitness was the beginning of showing some self love, some self care to myself, that made me feel better about myself. I started to like myself more.That made the self loathing get less, that made the embarrassment I felt about my size get less. And you bet that all improved my mental health. And still today every time I exercise I still feel the same feeling. A sense of achievement from doing whatever exercise I set out to do. I think anyone struggling with mental health issues will definitely feel better from physical fitness, its certainly been my experience."

The former drug and alcohol addict credits his physical fitness with improving his mental health. Photo / Supplied
The former drug and alcohol addict credits his physical fitness with improving his mental health. Photo / Supplied

Matt says he'll "always be an addict" and says the "disease of addiction is lying dormant within him". Every day he says he practices recovery.

"I'd like to keep spreading the message to anyone suffering from mental health and addiction issues that there is help out there, that there is hope, to not give up on life."


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.



• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202