Learning Through Experience: Phil’s Story

“Life is made up of opportunities, and each one presents a chance for growth and development. Whether we encounter success or setbacks, there is always something to learn from every experience”

Meet the Team | Think Pieces

By Phil Reynolds · May 2, 2024

I’m Phil Reynolds, and I have the absolute pleasure of leading as the Regional Manager for the Midlands & South. My responsibilities include overseeing the operational delivery of our work across Substance Misuse, Employability, Mental Health, Domestic Abuse, Criminal Justice, Gambling, and Young People’s contracts with my five wonderful teams. I collaborate closely with other members of our senior leadership team to support our directors in the strategic planning for both our short-term and long-term growth of the business.

I make no apologies for the long read, it’s my turn to write a piece on ‘meet the team’ and I wanted to give a sense of the real me and my lived and living experiences.

Why Intuitive Thinking Skills? To answer that, let’s rewind a few years to provide some context on how I got to where I am today! I had a wonderful childhood filled with cherished memories, growing up with loving and caring parents alongside my younger brother and sister. While I didn’t always prioritise my education during my school years, much of that stemmed from my preference for practical learning over anything academic. It was obvious to me from an early age that hands-on learning resonated with me far more than traditional textbook learning, and that remains true to this day.

When I turned 16 and left school, my Mum insisted that I find a job and kept telling me that I couldn’t just be sat around the house doing nothing, she instilled from an early age that I would have to pay my way and work. It was actually my Mum who arranged my first paid employment by reaching out to a colleague at her workplace and asked if her husband could take me on as a trainee carpet fitter. I stayed in that role for about 18 months, but unfortunately, my knees didn’t fare well with the physical demands of the job and it wasn’t long before I began searching for something else.

A childhood friend of mine offered me some weekend work at a 4-star city centre hotel in Liverpool City Centre where he was employed, and I decided to give it a try by joining the events team alongside him. I found the experience enjoyable—the dynamic nature of each day being different, the variety of tasks, and the daily challenges of setting up function rooms for various events and weddings were all aspects that I really enjoyed.

After a couple of months, I had a conversation with the hotel’s General Manager where I had the opportunity to ask about his role and responsibilities. He explained the operations of each department and the strategic planning involved in ensuring the hotel reached full room occupancy each night and that the restaurant met its maximum covers throughout the day across breakfast, lunch, and evening sittings. This conversation captivated me, and I found myself interested in pursuing a career in Hotel Management.

Despite not taking my school education seriously and lacking any real formal qualifications, I was determined to work my way up to hotel management through gaining relevant experience. Over the next few years, I immersed myself in various departments within the hotel, including events, restaurant, bar, reservations, accounts, night operations, security, reception, and housekeeping. This diverse experience proved invaluable as I pursued my goal of reaching hotel management.

From the early age of 16 – 17, I was engaged in the clubbing and bar scene with my childhood friends. Some of them, being slightly older, had already been experimenting with ecstasy, LSD, and cocaine during our weekend nights out. It didn’t take long before some of us younger ones joined them, and we had some amazing times during those years. At that time, my drug use was carefree, and I felt fully in control of my use and life.

Additionally, I found the social aspect of working in hotels enjoyable too. Different teams would often mix for nights out, and I would always make sure I was involved. This led to an increase in the number of nights that I spent out drinking and using drugs, extending from weekends to include midweek nights out. With the increase in nights out came the increase in my drug use. I didn’t quite realise this at the time, but it began to impact me in several ways; my finances were stretched thinner, my mental health became more erratic, I took more days off work due to the comedowns, I struggled to maintain stable relationships, and I even began selling drugs to those who I was going out with to support my own use.

I first started to realise that things were getting out of control when I was using more and more of the drugs that I had bought to sell, I was racking up debts with different dealers and I was now needing to dodge some of them left, right and centre. I would get to a place where I would have a period of staying in and not using drugs and I would get to eventually settle my debts and then the whole cycle would start again of buying more to sell but I’d end up using them myself and this yo-yoing went on for a good few years.

Surprisingly, I managed not only to maintain my employment but also advance into Hotel Management. I always ensured I performed well at work, but by 2008, I began to realise that my drug use had spiralled out of control. Despite my best efforts to stop using, I came to the realisation that I couldn’t do it alone. This prompted me to seek help from the local drug service for the first time.

Over the next 12 months, I attended key working sessions at the drug service, but in general, the conversations were just discussing how my drug use had been since my last appointment. While I appreciated being able to talk to someone about my struggles, I didn’t feel like I was receiving the help I truly needed. Consequently, I began to drop in and out of these sessions, eventually stopping my appointments altogether, while I continued to use drugs over the next few years.

In 2011, my excessive cocaine and ecstasy use meant that I reached my lowest point. While I wasn’t using every day, I found myself indulging in two or three-day benders at least two to three times a month, spending exorbitant amounts of money. My wages were insufficient to cover my drug use, so in addition to selling small amounts of drugs, I made poor decisions and abused my position of trust as a hotel manager, resorting to illicit means to obtain money for drugs. Driven by greed, it was inevitable that I would eventually be caught.

The consequences were devastating. Everything I had worked so hard for in my hotel career was abruptly gone as news of my actions spread throughout the local hotels. I found myself unemployed, my drug use continued, and I had little regard for anyone or anything. My family was beside themselves with worry, pleading for me to seek help. However, with a stubborn attitude, I continued using and accrued debts with a few different dealers, fully aware that I lacked the means to repay them at the time. It wasn’t really a great place to be, and I knew full well I was heading for trouble and putting myself and my family in danger.

In late October 2011 was when I eventually admitted I needed help, my family had been refusing to speak to me, dealers were chasing me with threats, my relationship was in ruins, and my mental health had plummeted to its lowest point. In stupidity, I chose to go on a massive three-day bender to block out how bad things were, and I overdosed—I found myself being rushed to hospital, with doctors working frantically to stabilise me. Thankfully, they succeeded, and I was subsequently referred to the mental health crisis team.

Unbeknown to me at the time, this was to be a pivotal moment in my life. The crisis team provided me with a safe space to open up without fear of judgment. It was a tremendous relief to talk and to have someone want to listen, it was easier to open up to someone I didn’t know. They discussed various options for support, one of which involved returning to the local drug service that I had previously frequented on and off for years. Despite my initial scepticism, I decided to give it another chance.

About a week later, I was at the drug service for an initial assessment. This time, things took a slightly different turn—I was introduced to a man named Richie, who was scheduled to teach a new course at the venue called Intuitive Recovery. Richie mentioned to me that he had faced similar challenges with his own cocaine use and that this same course had helped him put an end to his addiction. Intrigued but still sceptical, I was reluctant to believe that a mere four-half-days course could make a significant difference given the magnitude of my own challenges.

Despite my reservations over the course on offer, I left the drug service that Friday with mixed emotions and instead of embracing the opportunity for the additional support, I obtained cocaine on tick from two different dealers and went on another three-day binge, sending my mental health spiralling out of control again with a horrendous experience of drug induced psychosis over a two day period of no sleep.

On that Monday morning, after barely managing two hours of sleep over the entire weekend and still under the influence, I found myself facing a crucial decision. Part of me urged me to call another dealer and indulge in more cocaine, while another part urged me to attend the course and see what it had to offer. Despite my compromised state, something within me made me choose the latter option.

Little did I know, that decision marked the beginning of a transformative week—one that would profoundly alter the course of my life for the better. Throughout the week, I received invaluable education that provided me with a real simple understanding of why I continually chose drug use despite my desire to stop. I learned essential skills to identify the deceptive voice in my head that minimised the consequences of drug use and tempted me to engage in the destructive behaviours that I had been living.

As I practiced being able to recognise these using thoughts, I started to confidently challenge them and I gradually regained control over my choices in just a few days. The final day of the course arrived, when I made a resolute commitment that I would never touch cocaine again, and this decision was final. The realisation of this determination was immensely relieving. I could not believe the amount of learning I had achieved in just those four half-day sessions.

I maintained regular contact with Richie the course tutor, feeling motivated and rejuvenated by my newfound sense of purpose. Ten weeks after completing the course, I eagerly attended a graduation session to receive my NOCN Certificate in Addictive Desire Recognition. During the graduation, I had the opportunity to speak with Peter Bentley, the Managing Director of Intuitive Thinking Skills. I mentioned my drug use experiences along with my working background to him and expressed my keen interest in pursuing a role similar to Richie’s as a tutor if any opportunities arose.

Three weeks later, I received a call to schedule an interview with Peter, which took place a week later. I succeeded in the interview and was offered a position as an apprentice tutor for a duration of six months. However, during the interview, Peter expressed some slight concerns about my monotone flat voice and its potential impact on engaging learners in the classroom, but he did offer me the opportunity nevertheless.

Determined to prove Peter’s initial thoughts wrong and eager to seize the opportunity, I accepted the role. I recognised the importance of working on my classroom delivery and bringing my voice to life when teaching and just that I did! With a huge sense of excitement, I commenced my new role the following week, fully committed to demonstrating my capability and determination to succeed. My ultimate goal was to transform this opportunity into a permanent position upon the successful completion of the six-month apprenticeship. Here we are today, 12 years later! Not only did I keep people in my classroom, but I did it well and produced great outcomes!

As I reflect on my 12-years with the company, I cannot help but draw parallels between my experiences here at Intuitive Thinking Skills and my career in hotels. Similar to my previous hotel experiences, I’ve embraced the on-the-job learning, using each opportunity to develop and grow. Whenever a chance for promotion arises, I’ve been well placed to make it happen through my desire to succeed, and I secured numerous promotions within the company to reach the position of Regional Manager and be a valued member of our Senior Leadership Team.

I take immense pride in the role I’ve played in the company’s growth, as well as developing our teams and partnerships. Our commitment to living and breathing the company’s values and principles on a daily basis is what truly resonates with me. I’m extremely proud of the identity we have as a team and organisation, with each team member bringing a wealth of skills and diverse life experiences to the table.

What continues to inspire me is the ‘why’ behind what we do. This sense of purpose is what gets me out of bed each morning, I love that I am able to lead five remarkable teams in delivering value to our partnerships across various sectors. Knowing that our work positively impacts learners who seek our support fuels my enthusiasm and dedication day in and day out. It’s an absolute privilege to be part of such a meaningful company.

Personally, I am now someone that my whole family can be proud of, and they do express their pride in what I do and who I have become as a person. My relationship with my wife is filled with love and encouragement, and we cherish spending time together with our families, taking breaks away, and enjoying the company of our granddaughter and two Shar-Pei dogs. While I do carry remorse over some of my past actions related to drug use, I have absolutely no regrets. Those past experiences with my drug use and behaviour, though challenging at the time, have ultimately shaped me into the person I am today. Without having those experiences, I wouldn’t be in a position to help, support and lead others in the way that I do now, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.