Jacob Skilling, Zac Guildford on giving broken men a break

There is no formula to get back out of rock bottom, but there is a common ingredient: connection. That has been vital for reformed criminal turned mental health advocate Jacob Skilling and his best friend Zac Guildford, the former All Black who publicly battled addiction.

Men are now using connection and other tools to help other men heal, such as Rachel Parkin from Seven Sharp discover.

The air was cold and the view was pristine. The deep, mouth breathing that came from the guys lying on the grass was hypnotic. But this was not an Ashtanga yoga session. They were broken men fighting to regain peace.

“Go there, brothers!” Skilling urged as he hobbled around in a moon boot (an injury he sheepishly confessed was a failed attempt at senior rugby).

“Get high on your own supply,” breathing instructor Steve Brown said, laughing from the floor.

For these “brothers,” laughter was medicine. Too many years had been wasted searching for artificial effects and external answers. Now they understood that the answers were within reach thanks to The broken movement.

“The Broken Movement is a collaboration of people who have been broken and healed,” said Skilling, who founded the trust in 2019.

“We wanted to create an organization that is qualified by experience but has a clinical aspect; “He understands mental health, he understands addiction, he understands trauma, he understands domestic violence.”

If ever there was a founder “qualified by experience,” it was Skilling.

“I grew up in an abusive home, state care, foster care, rehab, prison, institutions, sexual abuse, violence, addiction, suicide, depression – all the darkest parts, the darkest parts of the ocean that have hit me in my life.” . life,” she shared.

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“I think I’ve hit rock bottom more than once.”

For his best friend and trust operations director, Guildford, he publicly “hit rock bottom” thanks to addiction. The former All Black’s story from rugby hero to zero-stakes gambler is well documented, but his current situation – betting on himself and these men – is less so.

The Zac Guildford I knew was calm and cautiously welcoming.

Former All Black Zac Guildford is using his life experience to help other men.

“How are you these days?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” he said. “It’s been a journey for the last two years. I guess being responsible, leaving the past behind and looking inward instead of projecting outward.

“Yes, I’m in a good place. [I] to be able to help these men and also offer them employment, so [I’m] good luck”.

As the group performed different exercises (an “eye gaze,” a “sharing circle,” and finally a group haka), the impact of The Broken Movement was evident.

They were big, burly guys who shed real tears, got real hugs, and found real strength in vulnerability.

Josh Mong was among them: homeless but happy.

“It’s unconditional love,” he explained. “[You] to know what it feels like to be loved and not for what you can do for someone.

“[Skilling] has created this space [where it] It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you’ve done: gang member, ex-gang member, drug user, ex-user.

“This is a welcome place that you can trust and you can trust men, and that’s been the hardest thing… where a lot of our stuff comes from, you know?”

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For minutes, Taha Te Ama Martin and his younger brother remained hugging.

“How are you feeling after today’s session?” I asked him later.

“I’m one of the veterans of The Broken Movement, but I always feel overwhelmed when I see new faces,” Te Ama Martin said, his voice soft and deliberate.

“The biggest problem for me is having my little brother here. He has been on two wānanga with me. This is the beginning of his journey to better himself and his whānau.”

Mental Health Advocate, Jacob Skilling

Skilling said keeping pastoral care going is crucial. Today’s hilltop session was the “aftercare” of a two-day wānanga in March. The Fund’s main objective is the prevention of suicide, of which too many Māori men are victims throughout New Zealand.

However, like so many charities in the current climate, it is strapped for cash. Wānanga are held when funding allows.

“You know we’re a struggling organization, but we get by,” Skilling said. “If we can’t come up with the money to cover the costs, we’ll just come here [to Godley Heads] Because there is work to do.

There was a saying, he said, that went: “If not you, then who?” If not now, then when?

“I am a father of three children. I have left gangs; I left behind that whole world of rehabilitation, addiction, violence and prison because I wasn’t like that. I wore a mask to protect myself,” Skilling said.

“And now, I have shown these men that they can break free, they can break the chains through faith, strength and consistency.”

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For Guildford, the trust and its tools had been a game-changer.

“It allows us to make amends with whānau,” he said. “You know, I let my family down, my grandfather in particular. I called him yesterday and we had some good conversations, but I still have guilt and shame, and this really helps.”

“I guess just letting go and forgiving yourself is a journey. Sometimes we punish ourselves if we don’t forgive.”

And that, surely, is what it all comes down to. How do the broken heal and grow if they don’t know how?

Te Ama Martín summed it up.

“I always thank Zac and Jacob every day because what they have given back to me is hope, and that is what the Broken Movement is all about.”

Where to get help.

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