A brief biography of Justin Lippiatt
This is my story…
My ‘home’ was dysfunctional. After many years of bitter fighting, my parents decided to call it a day and got divorced. My younger brother, and I had stayed with my mother after she won custody. It was a tough season in our lives. We had great childhood together as a family unit (apart from my parents constant bickering and fighting). However, when it came down to living in split household, I seemed to have unwillingly taken on the role as the ‘man of the house’ and subsequently took on an inordinate responsibility for everything that went wrong. So when I had the opportunity to ‘run away’, boarding school seemed like an excellent prospect.
I wasn’t a bad kid. I was shy, and I suppose one could say…cautious and risk averse. I was lucky enough to be part of the ‘in’ group during Primary School, but things changed when I went to went to a prestigious boarding school for my secondary education. Suddenly, I was in Secondary School in a strict and regimented environment – an ‘alien in a foreign land’ – alone and vulnerable and 1000 kilometres from home.
The school was, and still is one of the most prestigious schools in South Africa. My father was extremely well off at that stage, and so money was no object. After my father and his girlfriend hugged and kissed me ‘good bye’ following Orientation Day, I found that excitement had quickly evaporated leaving a sense of isolation and insecurity such I had not experienced before. So there I was…desperately alone. Lots of the other ‘Newboys’ knew each other from other private primary schools. I knew no-one. I poured myself into academics, and sports. Believe it or not, I joined the choir just to ‘belong’!
Although I was a well built teenager, I was timid and excessively non-confrontational. I didn’t want to argue, I didn’t want to fight. That made me a target. I just couldn’t find my niche. Was I a nerd, or a jock, or an outcast? I felt like the latter. I felt like a misfit and an outsider. As a boy who would not – could not – stand up for himself, the emotional bullying, the humiliation, and the torment was relentless with no escape. The loneliness was a blanket that shrouded me and depression often engulfed me. I got letters from my mother and grandmother from time to time, and once I received a parcel. I put the parcel directly into my clothing cupboard and later found out that the contents were smashed (effective postal service I’m sure).and the juice of a broken jar of pickles perfumed my clothing for many months.
My father often used to say, “I am sacrificing everything to give you the best, don’t let me down!” The pressure of that statement was enormous and resulted in the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over me to make my life even more miserable.
Whenever, I was in a drama production, I would scan the audience beyond the bright lights desperately hoping against all odds, that my father or mother would be there. At every tournament or sports event, they were conspicuous by their absence. After the events families would gather the other boys and take them out for lunch or tea. Not me, I went back to the House and dormitory. I was one of three boys who would stay at the college at half-term, whilst the rest of the students’ parents came and took their kids on a long weekend breaks.
Ah…I longed for a family like that. On school holidays, I went home to my mother’s house. She had subsequently remarried and she had acquired two step-daughters. I hated going home because the private school holidays were not aligned to that of the public schools which resulted in me being home alone during the day until everyone came home after work and from day care. I hated going back to college even more. On their return back to the college, the boys would relive tales of adventure and recant stories of beaches and barbeques and…family. I felt like I had a shell of an existence. My little brother whom I loved dearly (even though there was a six and a half year difference in age), went to public school had a much better life than I did!
In the third year of Secondary School we started to have co-ed classes. We shared some classes with our sister college nearby. This created even more angst for me. I tried to circumvent being a misfit and an outcast to gain favour with the girls – with disastrous results. I suffered even more rejection and ridicule.
There were two major incidents that would set wheels in motion to change my life forever. The first of these incidents was this; the ‘blue eyed boy’ of our dorm was teasing me relentlessly, much to the guffaws and laughter of his wide circle of ‘popular’ friends and cronies. I couldn’t take it anymore! I lunged at him, and grabbed him around the throat and shook him violently. Apart from getting a huge fright, the young man didn’t suffer any harm or ill affects apart a dented ego. Retribution – my punishment – was that nobody, not one person, spoke to me or acknowledged me for two weeks. It was as if I never existed at all.
The other incident happened one night after lights-out. There was some taunting going backwards and forwards across the dormitory. The ring leader in our dorm and I were exchanging insults. Suddenly there was an explosion of blue and white flashes in my head, and I experienced sudden pain in my mouth. Almost immediately, I had that rusty taste of blood in my mouth. A few of my teeth were chipped. This boy had punched me in my face, whilst I was in bed with my eyes closed! I vowed that this would never happen to me ever again!
At boarding school, I was befriended by a few other misfits (please forgive me, if you ever happen to read this!) and we learned to smoke cigarettes together and shared alcohol from time to time. It was during this phase that I got to know a guy who was a grade higher than me. He knew people! He was connected in the small rural academic town…and most of all, he knew girls! I thought he was the best thing since sliced bread – he was my hero!
During one mid-semester break, this young man and I snuck out of the College and we went to a party! There we were, smoking marijuana and drinking vodka on the pavement. The last thing I remember was thinking, “Man, this was what life was all about!” The rest of the night is a black void in my memory…
The next day, we were unceremoniously kicked out of our beds (with a really heavy head I might add) summonsed directly to the Head Master’s office. Oh boy, I felt so sick – and I had never felt more trapped in my life! He spoke to my friend first, and then me. All I could hear in my mind was my father’s voice saying repeatedly, “How could you do this to me?” The Head Master instructed us both to return in an hour to present our defence. We were to receive sentencing, and judgement. We were each caned, given ‘six-of-the-best’. We were told it was not over, because the school board had to ratify his decision (which he didn’t tell us), and that he would call us back shortly to tell us the outcome.
It was not over! It was not over! What did he mean ‘ratify his decision’?
An hour later I was called in. The school board had indeed ratified his decision – I was to be expelled. Expelled! Expelled! It can’t be! My father has sacrificed everything, and I had been expelled. What was I going to say? I couldn’t breathe! Calmly and graciously, the Head Master told me that because my father had not paid for the previous semester, he would be telling my father that I was not to return to the College, and that this would not affect my academic record My father was notified, and the next thing I knew, I was flying back to face my father. My father was angry! He was so hurt! I couldn’t speak I was so distraught, and I’ll never forget the tears of disappointment in his eyes…
That is where the raging battle between my parents for their ‘wayward teenage son began. My father and mother were constantly fighting over my affection and allegiance, and all the while I was tried to shield my brother from being further traumatised as a casualty of bitter divorce. In view of my expulsion and because I wanted to somehow make it up to him, I sided with my father and decided to stay with him. Exasperated, my mother decided that my father could raise my brother and I. Acting responsibly despite the circumstances, my mother took it upon herself to get me enrolled into a public school, where fees would not be a financial burden.
My first days in my new State High School were a nightmare. Everyone kept staring at me, not only because I was ‘new’ but also because I was still wearing the elitist old school uniform. Remarkably, a classmate had a brother that was enrolled at my previous school, so she sort of took me under her wing. I was extremely grateful. One of my first memories of the public school, was seeing two girls having a real no-holds-barred fist fight! One of them ended up ripping the other girl’s ear off! I was horrified.
It started again…the taunts, the whispers, the sneers…No more! I would scream into my pillow. No more! Please…!
Then I created the mask …
The simplicity of the mask was that no matter how afraid, insecure, or vulnerable I felt, no one would see me behind it. They would only see the mask. The mask was inspired by my brother’s primary school reader, “The Troll under the Bridge”.
So, I became; “Billy the Goat – the grass is always greener on the other side”. That was my mask. “Billy the Goat” was an instant success. He was crazy, rebellious, aggressive, daring, and most of all…he was fearless! Billy could drink more alcohol than anyone else, and he was funny and crazier than most people. He was a good sportsman too! The mask embedded itself, and was in a way, desperately massaged into place. Ah…to be accepted! To be part of the ‘in’ crowd. The status! I must say, that even as Billy the Goat, I never allowed any form of bullying to take place from our group. I hated bullies, I suspect that was just that I couldn’t handle anyone else going through the same things that I went through.
For the first time in a long while, I felt respected, and accepted. My claim to fame was my ability (or so I thought) to be able to drink more than anyone else. It was strange recently to hear someone talk about how the youth of today (2007) had fallen so far. People are horrified to learn that their teenagers are being dropped off at shopping malls where they get changed and go ‘party’, only to be picked up later by unsuspecting parents. We were doing that and worse in 1986!
Anyway, apart from being the drunk, and the clown, I felt lonely. The real ‘me’ always felt alone. My façade extended to the class room where I couldn’t let myself be seen as a nerd, focussed on academics. I spent my time harassing teachers and distracting students. Outside it felt great, inside it felt terrible. I just couldn’t get any girls to accept me as a serious boyfriend, someone to love, and be loved. How I longed for that. The best I could do was be loved as a brother. All the girls loved me as a brother! What was wrong with me? So I found ‘love’ in the bars and clubs my father frequented.
I had started drinking almost immediately after I started living with my dad. For the two of us it was a mutual beneficial relationship. My father had a ‘friend’ not a son, who was his drinking partner. My father was honoured and exalted by my friends. They called him, ‘XL’. He was extremely generous, and a well built man with shoulder length silver hair. All my female friends called him the ‘Silver-maned Fox’. Oh boy, he loved that! As my father’s drinking partner, I became accepted in all the bars. I was considered one of the regulars. I was a 15 year old drinking with 30 to 50 year old men. The ‘love’ came in the form of divorcees that had too much to drink. It caused a great deal of friction between my father and I. This was because we were effectively hunting the same ‘prey’. I had many infatuations, but never found someone to love me. Sadly, it wasn’t me the girls were looking at – it was Billy the Goat.
I had a ‘good time’ until I miraculously graduated in 1986! My father was insistent that I go to university. My whole life I had wanted to be a marine biologist. I had a whole library of books on fish, sharks, whales, and the ocean. I really wanted to become a marine biologist from as long as I could remember! My father’s plan was that I would go to university, and then go straight on to my uncle in Canada, or straight to California to Pasadena College in California. It didn’t happen like that. In those days in South Africa, white boys and men conscripted to the army for two years.
I was due to go the best university in South Africa to study marine biology on 15 February 1987. At the same time, I had been conscripted by the army, and was due to be ‘mobilise’ on the 13th (ironically I was eligible for deferment to go to university). There were a few of my immediate circle of friends that happened to be conscripted at the same time to the 10 Anti-Aircraft Regiment, based in Cape Town. It had the reputation of being a ‘spa’. The myth was that there was a bit of guard duty during the week, and then go to the beach over the weekend. I convinced myself that I could always go to university afterwards. My father was not at all convinced, and totally against it. However, much peer pressure, and far too much drinking saw me board the army train to Cape Town. I remember painfully, the tears rolling down my father’s cheeks as I boarded the train with bravado. I knew I had made a mistake, once the hangover started to set in. To reinforce my monumental error in judgement, the commanding officer told all the new recruits in one of the hangars that the regiment was no longer going to be known as a ‘spa’. He was determined to make it a Special Forces support regiment, and that we would receive the best and toughest training available.
We were allowed a grace period of one week to ‘adjust’. After that, the nightmare started. I had decided to enter into the NCO and Officer course. It was extremely tough. One of my acquaintances from school, committed suicide during guard duty. It was a stark reality of those who were just not equipped to deal with that kind of pressure and loss of independence. Once again I felt trapped! Even more than at boarding school! I just could not get out, except for committing suicide. Although the thought briefly crossed my mind, I was too scared to follow through. There was always the incessant fear of being victimised, humiliated, and tormented by the Afrikaans instructors (Bombardiers) who picked on the English speaking soldiers who were in the vast minority. I hated it at the camp. I was spiralling downwards into depression and hopelessness. That is when Billy the Goat made an appearance. He was fearless, bold, and cocky. He would go AWOL and go drinking with instructors! It was amazing that I never got caught! At the end of our 3 month period of basic training, we were faced with; “Kap om flou”. Directly Translated, it means “Fall over faint”. There were 360 of us that started off on the 150km cross country obstacle course over 4 days. Only 44 of us finished…
Being ‘Billy the Goat’ cost me promotion. I just wanted to get to the “Border” and become a lean mean killing machine. In November of 1987 I got my opportunity. We were sent through to the border of Angola and South West Africa (now known as Namibia). After 2 campaigns, the last being six months I was demobilised in December 1988. Billy the Goat was the ideal soldier in the sense that he was fearless. Billy the Goat may have been fearless, but behind the mask, Justin was petrified. Another thing that got to me in the army was the loneliness. I never had a girlfriend to share correspondence with, or look forward to seeing when on pass. In the two years I was in the army, I got three letters from my mother, three from my grandmother, and one from a school friend. I used to wait with a ‘pessimistic to be optimistic’ attitude every time we were supposed receive post. My fellow soldiers would get letters from family, girlfriends, fiancée’s, wives, and friends. They got parcels! I got a total of 7 letters in two years. I felt so isolated, and rejected.
I received my Pro Patria medal with pride, and sadness at our final parade. It was an especially emotional time for the parents of those who had lost their lives in a war that would become a lesson in futility. Of course my parents weren’t there. I would later be awarded the Southern African Medal and the General Service Medal.
My father was extremely proud of his ‘mentally unstable’ son coming out of the army. He told everyone I was not of sound mind, and to a large extent this was true. Excessive alcohol consumption and social drugs, coupled with a complete disregard for my own personal safety, made folks particularly weary of me. I loved it! Now people really had a reason to fear me! The mask was reinforced on a daily basis. For a while my ‘weapon’ of choice was a 3 pound hammer – just for effect! I used to enjoy putting it on the bar counter when I sat down.
My dad was involved in all sorts of financial scams and schemes. Effectively he became part of a syndicate that dealt in foreign currency, illicit diamonds and emeralds, and rhino horn. Their speciality was white collar crime – ripping people off. It was inevitable that I would end up as the ‘muscle’ and enforcer, especially for my father. Often he would start fights with guys, and once they had reacted physically, he would come to me to restore the family honour. I did many things, to many people that I regret. I hope that one day; they would find it in their hearts to forgive me.
My father and I stayed in a hotel, and my brother eventually had moved back in with my mother. After staying with my father for a couple of months, I realised that our relationship was extremely destructive, not only to ourselves, but to those around us. I just could not sustain the lifestyle anymore. I was drinking two bottles of whiskey a day, and kicked that off with six beers or so for breakfast. I decided to get a job with my step father in the retail clothing business. I moved in with them, and started to try and clean up my life. I was a mess.
At the end of February 1989 (I was 19 years old at that stage), my father called me one day while I was at work. He knew all the right buttons to push, and so he enticed me to give up the ‘common’ life, and move to Jeffrey’s Bay with him. He had already bought me a surfboard, and a Volkswagen Baja Bug! What was I to do? An opportunity had presented itself, that I just could not refuse.
We stayed in a family owned B&B right on the sea. It was awesome! For months, the morning routine would be to get up at 6a.m and walk down the beach, armed with an oyster knife, Tabasco sauce, lemons, and a black pepper grinder. The surf at Jeffrey’s Bay was ferocious, and used to knock oysters off the rocky reefs, and wash them up on the shore. I loved it, and they are some of my happier memories. The owner’s daughter and I became quite an item.
It wasn’t long before my dad got locked up for not paying a hotel bill. It was a set up, and he got arrested. Whilst he was in jail, I tried in vain to find his associates who had all gone into hiding, or would not ‘get involved’. So, to raise funds to bail my father out I started commercial squid fishing on the ski-boats of the Eastern Cape coast. It was extremely tough work. The characters were very, very memorable. It didn’t take long before I had earned enough money to get my old man out of jail.
As soon as he was out, his associates came out of the wood work as if nothing had happened. I was extremely angry, and they kept their distance. It wasn’t long though before my father pulled another scam. In a sudden flurry of activity, almost like a whirlwind, I found myself driving down to Cape Town to catch a flight to Greece. Greece was the only country at the time that did not require a visa for South African travellers. We bought three Rolex 18ct gold Oysters to try and get the money out, as well as traveller cheques and cash.
We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and stayed in the Presidential suite in a major five star hotel. My mother and teenage brother came to see us off. My father gave my mother money and we said our goodbyes to my brother, who would resent us ‘abandoning’ him until today. He believes that we abandoned him, and if I’m really honest, I think we did. Being on the run from violent criminals is not exactly conducive to do the ‘right thing’ or being decent role models for a 12 year old.
We flew from Johannesburg, and arrived in Athens. I cannot help but smile at the memory of my father behaving like some multimillionaire playboy. He was extremely generous to say the least!
We left Athens and went to Mykonos because I insisted we get away from anybody trying to follow us. We were there for about three weeks. It is difficult to remember because of the total assault on me – culturally, visually, mentally and emotionally. The amount of alcohol we consumed was unimaginable and parties seemed to go on for days. My father wanted to find some ‘solid ground’ so we moved back to Athens, where we stayed in a hotel. I spent a great deal of time in Glyfada. Eventually, we decided that we wanted to move to a quiet island, somewhat off the beaten track. So after several discussions with local Athenians we decided on Kos Island. It was only about 10 nautical miles from Turkey (Bodrum) and would be convenient to renew our visas regularly which were only valid for 2 months on the islands.
So we moved down to Kos which forms part of the Dodecanese island group. The change in season meant that life on the islands was slowing down, and most tourist-type restaurants closed down for the winter. The challenge for us at the time was that the ‘old man’ continued to spend money like water. Towards the end of winter, the money had dried up, and the Rolexes had been sold for next to nothing. Our trips to Turkey had been expensive. We had asked the daughter of the owner of the B&B in Jeffreys Bay to bring over any proceeds from the sale of whatever she could salvage in terms of assets we had left behind, and then to bring the money over to Greece. I was elated at her arrival. She really was one of the nicest and most decent people I have ever met.
My drinking really was out of control, my days blurred for the most part.
There were two jobs that I had that stand out for me whilst in Greece. One was working on a 78ft motorised yacht called the Riomada, which took exclusive guests up and down the Turkish Coast. The other was running the Palace Beach Restaurant and Bar which was a great deal of fun and highly lucrative for me, especially since I had to support my father too. In the early hours one morning, an acquaintance of mine from Passport Control, came to me and warned me that the police were coming later that day to arrest us on the suspicion of smuggling. In a hurry I gathered all my stuff from my apartment which I shared with the young lady mentioned previously and also got all my dad’s clothing from his place. I got whatever local and foreign currency I could get with really short notice and we caught the ferry to Rhodes Island, hoping to draw some of the funds I had stashed in a Greek bank account, but the authorities had already restricted the account. Without much money, we boarded another ferry to Cyprus in the hope that we could catch our breath and strategise about our next move.
I can honestly say that in hindsight I must have been going through some sort of nervous breakdown. We had almost no money, yet we continued to drink excessively. Between looking over my shoulder, trying to protect my dad (and rein him in), and the fact that I had abandoned this girl back in Greece, I was in an emotional and physical mess.
We arrived in Limasol in Cyprus, and I started to look for some sort of bar or waitering work to survive. An immigration raid just prior to our arrival put paid to that. We were in a jam, and there seemed like no way out. As we struggled to find our bearings and figure out some sort of survival plan, we met two Israeli’s who befriended us and assisted us in gaining passage (sleeping on the deck of a ship) to Haifa in Israel. They acted as immigration references and gave us some local currency after we sold several items to them. After we arrived in Haifa, Israel we caught a bus to Tel Aviv. We headed straight for a recommended hostel, and on arriving found that we had enough money for one night’s accommodation each, two beers and two packets of cigarettes. That was it. We had planned to get to a Kibbutz, but it would take three days to arrange and funds which we never had. I started washing dishes and cleaning toilets the next day.
So, I worked at night whilst my father drank on the bar tab which I always paid the next day. Emotionally, I was over wrought with guilt and shame for leaving the girl in Greece, and tried to use whatever spare money I had to get hold of her, but to no avail.
Eventually I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant during the day (considered a promotion!) and occasionally got the opportunity to work nights on a shrimp trawler out of Jaffa harbour. It was during this time that my father befriended an English girl, and when we met, we hit it off straight away. I think that she liked the rare glimpses she saw of Justin, but 95% of the time she saw my mask.
We decided to move to England from Israel, and that we should get married so that I could stay in the UK. I ‘arranged’ a bona fide one way and a fraudulent return ticket back to Israel. I was told that South Africans didn’t need a visa to enter. Boy, I was naïve! The ‘old man’ and I parted ways and I was off to England. I should have realised the plan was flawed when I was strip searched and interrogated for 3 and a half hours at Ben Gurion Airport before leaving Israel, and subjected to another 5 and a half hour interrogation at Gatwick Airport in the UK.. I got to stay in the UK for 3 days and then my girlfriend followed me back to Israel.
Once we had returned to Israel, the Gulf War broke out, and after many destructive and violent situations I found myself in, my father and I decided to part ways. He went to a Moshav in the Negev, and I stayed in Tel Aviv. Whilst folks in the hostel rushed to put their gas masks on and get into one of the sealed rooms (to prevent contamination by chemical or biological weapons). I would sit on the balcony with a beer in one hand and a hashish joint in the other, with a friend of mine who was a self-confessed satanist. We would watch Sadam Hussein’s Iraqi Scud missiles blowing up Tel Aviv and Ramat Gaan. It was surreal. All I ever seemed to do was drink cheap Romanian vodka and smoke hashish. Work, drink, pass out, work, drink, pass out…
My girlfriend and I went to a Moshav in Tulkarm (near the West Bank) for six weeks to save money, and later returned to the UK with a ‘Letter of Consent’ to get married. We left Israel, and my father behind.
I got married in 1991 to this young lady. I can honestly say that she was my ‘world’. Sadly, I could not give up drinking, and even worse she never got to know the real me. It is a tragedy, that no matter how much I loved her, I could not bring myself to ‘reveal’ who I was, because as someone once said, “The lie had become too big”.
We moved to South Africa with our entire lives in our back packs. We stayed with my grandmother for a little while, and then moved into a cottage on my mother’s property. I got different jobs in the insurance industry, and then in the entertainment industry.
One night my father arrived on our doorstep. Both my wife and I were surprised that he had pitched up out of nowhere. As it turned out he had spent the previous year or so in Cyprus, with a stint in Cypriot prison for working without a visa. His arrival complicated matters, and put enormous strain on an already fragile marriage. Eventually I had to give him whatever funds I had, and ask him to leave. He had nothing, and nowhere to turn, but he wanted to go to Durban. I dropped him on the side of the highway with a backpack and a tent, and he started hitching. To this day, it is one of my most shameful and painful memories – watching my father in the rear-view mirror as I drove away. I had to choose between my father and my wife…
I blew it more times than I care to remember during our stay in South Africa. I really put my wife through unnecessary pain and suffering – all caused by my stubborn refusal to lay down the bottle.
We moved back to the UK in 1993 and tried to start again. As soon as things started to get better, I would somehow make a mess of it and create some sort of disaster. I can honestly say that she tried hard to make things work. I just would not stop drinking, and when I did drink things always went pear-shaped. She always forgave me, and my lack of self will and addiction continued.
Midway through 1995 my world fell apart. My wife told me that she was leaving me. It destroyed me emotionally. I tried so hard to reconcile, but every time I got close to reconciling, I would end up drinking. I take full responsibility for our separation, as well as the further breakdown of our marriage. I just would not, could not stop drinking – and the drug abuse compounded issues…
My wife and I met at Heathrow airport for the last time on the 12 December 1995, in the departure lounge prior to my flight. I had thrown away every opportunity to regain her trust and to reconcile. She was crying, I was crying. We agreed that I would return to South Africa to see my family, and get my head straight. The plan at that stage was that when I had sorted myself out, I would return to the UK and start the process of rebuilding our marriage.
I barely remember my trip back to South Africa, I drank a bottle of whisky on the plane, and was well into the next once I arrived. Friends fetched me from the Johannesburg airport for a reunion and to stay the night, which I ruined after being rushed to hospital after splitting my chin on their tiled floors.
In some sort of stupor I decided to catch a bus down to the coast. I arrived in Durban and lived with my brother for a couple of months. It was during this time that my wife sent me ‘the letter’. A “Dear Justin…” letter stating that she could not see a future for our marriage and relationship and that she needed to move on. I fell apart at the seams. It was a black hole of depression, filled with utter despair, shame, guilt, regret and pain. The emotional anguish constantly gnawed at me. I drank all day, and as much as I possibly could to hide from myself and the way I felt. I ended up staying with my father for a short time which was not healthy given our predisposition to destructive behaviour. I often slept rough, and some very, very dark places.
Those who have been through this situation will know that the estranged partner is always in ones thoughts and dreams. There is always the hope of reconciliation, no matter how irrational. I even believed at one stage that she was going to arrive in Durban and tell me all was forgiven! I would see ‘glimpses’ of her in crowds, and on the beach. Reality was a fleeting companion during those days. I know the pain of a broken heart.
The next couple of months were a blur, or a haze of constant emotional anguish, hopelessness, depression and drunkenness. Some of my long time school friends got me to travel from Durban to Johannesburg. I arrived homeless and destitute as a ‘tramp’– a description I embraced out of self-loathing. At our High School Reunion in 1996, I misbehaved once again, confirming what everyone – teachers and alumni knew: Billy the Goat was a loser, destined for jail or death. I managed to stay with another friend of mine. All we did was drink. All I could think of was drinking, and getting drunk. I constantly dreamed of reconciliation with my wife, but the reality of loss became more evident. I am ashamed to say, that I had wished at times that she had died, so that I could in my selfish way, have closure. I tried on several occasions to commit suicide, but either the situation or my overriding sense of self-preservation stymied every opportunity. The guilt seemed unbearable, and my self-loathing was relentless.
I met a woman who was ten years older than I and we became a couple. There was some semblance of normality…at first. However, it wasn’t long before my drinking got out of hand, and drugs were fast becoming a real problem too. I smoked marijuana every day and couldn’t wait to lay my hands on ecstasy, cocaine, and various other combinations of LSD, acid or ‘dots’. Things very quickly started to spiral out of control. My partner convinced me once and for all that I had a problem.
I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. For me, this was an extremely humiliating thing to do. Making my first public declaration – “Hi, my name is Justin. I am an alcoholic” – was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. I was sober for six weeks, and then fell off the wagon for three months. Then I went back for another seven weeks, and fell off the wagon again. It was during my ‘sober’ times with AA that I learned something called ‘substitution’. I substituted one substance of addiction, for others. It was a recipe for disaster. I ended up smoking 8 to 10 joints a day, and took whatever other drugs that I could find. It seemed as if drug addiction was quickly entrenching itself.
My relationship with the older woman ended, and I moved back to my drinking partner’s place. I started drinking excessively again and the loneliness and depression settled in. I was ‘alone’ – again. I felt ensnared by this self-perpetuating cycle of drunkenness and associated destruction. The dreams of my estranged wife haunted me at night, and shame and guilt hung around my shoulders during the day. Still I drank.
One Sunday night my drinking partner and I went to a ‘sundowners’ club. I was trying to sign a credit card slip at the bar, when I noticed this beautiful brunette standing beside me. “Excuse me madam! May I borrow a pen?” I asked her. Later on that evening we got better acquainted. She got drunk and I for some reason stayed sober. I knew that I was going to marry her, and that she would be the mother of my children. It was the last time she ever got drunk. I unfortunately didn’t stay sober. Her name is Barbarah.
We met on 6 July 1997, as I’ve mentioned previously, but we only really started seeing one another a few weeks later. I just hadn’t learnt a thing – I drank and drank – and took whatever drugs were going at the time. Barbarah came from a dysfunctional, domestically volatile home where alcohol abuse formed the cornerstone of her upbringing. Both her parents were alcoholics. She actually hated alcohol, and it seemed incredible that she met a hard-core alcoholic and drug abuser.
As our relationship progressed, it became evident that my irresponsible and self-destructive behaviour was not something Barbarah had signed up for. It must be said here, that NO ONE thought I would be alive to see thirty years of age! If there was any hope of me making it to thirty, it would be in a prison cell. No one had any hope for me, including myself. There was of course the mask…
One Sunday night in February 1998, Barbarah and her cousin went to find God. I wasn’t particularly bothered as I sat at hope with a beer in my hand. That night Barbarah found Jesus. Later on that week Barbarah told me that not only was she going to church on Sundays, but she was going to attend a mid-week Bible Study too. This was too much for me! “You better choose! It’s either the church or me!” I told her.
I lost, Jesus won.
After being thrown out the house for the second time, I convinced her that I would change. I even went to church with her on Sunday. It was a strange feeling as the Pastor delivered his sermon, seemingly focussing his attention on me for the entire service. What really shocked me, was that he seemed to know about the mask and all my insecurities and failings! I was so furious, that when we left the church I shouted at poor Barbarah for revelling details of my personal life to the Pastor. She categorically denied it of course, and I sensed something was happening. Something completely outside of my control.
The following Friday, I was ‘coerced’ by my work colleagues to go out for one drink. I agreed, but I was determined I wasn’t going to drink. However, two hours later I was sculling one Guinness after another. Somehow I realised when it was too late that I was drunk, and there would be no denying it. I felt so ashamed, that I couldn’t go back home and face Barbarah. I eventually ended up at my friend’s house, where I spent the weekend – drunk. In the early hours of the Monday morning, I had a vision of the face of Satan laughing at me as I lay in the spare bed at my drinking partner’s place. His face was inches away from mine. I have never been so terrified in my life!
I jumped out of bed and went to work (in the same clothes that I had worn on Friday). During my lunch break I had to leave and seek help. So, I went to a church nearby, and pleaded for someone to help me! I was so desperate! I knew that I had blown it again. Barbarah would not answer or return my calls. How could I have made the same stupid mistake again? I had the sickening feeling that it was all over for me…
I convinced my mother to call Barbarah, in the hope that she could convince her that I needed to see her. I just need one more chance! I just need one more chance! I just need one more chance! I can change! Please! I begged God all the way to Barbarah’s house. I knew that this was it. This was the T-junction in the road. There would be no more chances. “If I only could convince Barbarah…”
I remember watching Barbarah sitting on the bed crying. My stuff was unceremoniously shoved into black dustbin liners in the lounge. I could hardly breathe. I was so scared. I knew that this was to become the turning point in my life. This was it. I begged Barbarah for one last chance. She was the only opportunity I had a real life, at happiness. She reluctantly agreed to let me stay, if only to prove to herself that it was not worth pursuing the relationship.
Like most non-believers, I believed that it would take an extraordinary act of God to take place, before I committed myself to God, the walk of Salvation, and a real relationship with Jesus. Bizarrely, I imagined being struck by lightning in the service, because that would be the only way God would be able to show me He was real! When we went to church that Sunday, that didn’t happen. However, I felt something change inside of me. When the altar call came, I stood up and walked to the front to finally surrender my life to God. There was nowhere else for me to go, Jesus was my only option for a better life. I chose life…
As soon as I gave myself to Jesus, and I accepted that my sins were forgiven something within me happened. The mask of deception and fear that become so intertwined, so embedded in my life that I couldn’t remove it, came off. It was as if the Holy Spirit had slipped His Hand under the mask and supernaturally just popped it off.
I can only begin to share what sorts of emotions I went through. I felt vulnerable, afraid, guilty, shamed, convicted of sin, and insecure. However, I had never felt so free. I felt this huge burden lift from me. I had received the miracle of being reborn and set free! I was a new creation. It was wonderful, because I knew I would have Jesus and Barbarah by my side. For once I had a glimpse at true happiness.
A convicted murderer is not set free from prison because he receives the free gift of Salvation. In God’s Mercy and Grace we receive Salvation through Faith. However, we still suffer the consequences of our actions. The sin may be forgiven, but the consequences still need to be dealt with. For most new converts that is the bitter pill to swallow. That said, I would never have had the strength and courage to face these consequences by myself, and certainly not as the ‘real me’. God’s Grace is sufficient for all, and in all things.
I had accumulated a great deal of debt (mostly through underhanded means) which I had to repay. The enormity of that fact was something that I battled with. My car got repossessed, and creditors were out to get me. Barbarah is an awesome negotiator, and with God’s favour, she managed to get settlements for all my debt, which we repaid from a small inheritance that she received from the death of her father. It took us a year to be freed from all the debt. That was one of many miracles of God’s Provision.
I stopped drinking, smoking cigarettes (I smoked about 30 a day), and taking drugs on 28 March 1998. I always celebrate it on 1 April – “April Fool’s Day”. We abstained from our intimate relations until we got married on 11 October 1998. I was officially divorced on 9 October, two days before we got married. Our first year together as a married couple was very hard for Barbarah and I. We stayed at home or went to church events and meetings, because I couldn’t even face going out for a pizza, because all I would want to do is drink.
Our marriage was often on the rocks, until a fiery old lady and Christian counsellor put me in my place and ‘kicked’ my attitude out the door. Her counsel got Barbarah and I through some of our toughest challenges. My volatile temper got dealt with next. We kept soldiering on in faith and hope.
On a Young Adults / Youth camp, Barbarah and I were told we were going to have a baby. This was confirmed a couple of days later. We were going to have a baby! One morning at about 4:00am, The Lord spoke to me and said, “Blessed be your son Gabriel, who will breathe the Fire of God!” I knew it was going to be a boy, his name was Gabriel, and God had a very special plan for him. Gabriel Jonathan Lippiatt was brought into the world at 1 second past midnight on 9 October 1999.
It was in June of 2000 that one of the most painful things I could imagine happened. My father died. It was not really his passing that affected as much as the fact that he would not forgive me for giving my life to Jesus. He never got to see his grandson. He never got to be proud of the real me. In hindsight his unforgiveness may have been based on me having lived a lie behind the mask. He didn’t really know me. His forgiveness would have meant a great deal to me, and somehow I have come to terms with the fact that I will never have his forgiveness.
Michaela Dorothy Lippiatt was born on 26 February 2002, and she completed our little family unit. We are an extremely close family. It was only through Jesus, that I got what I always dreamed of. Through Grace, and not because I deserved it, I was given a beautiful wife, and two beautiful children. Apart from God, they mean everything to me. I am happy! I am blessed! I love Barbarah more and more every day. What a wonderful blessing that is!
At the beginning of 2005 we decided to head for the distant shores of Australia to seek a better, more secure future for our children. Through miraculous and Divine intervention we moved to Melbourne, then Sydney and Brisbane and finally to a regional country town called Gympie in Queensland! With both of Barbarah’s parents having passed away (her father was murdered and her mother died of emphysema) and my mother too in 2012 from complications from a hip operation, we continue to be a close family unit. At the centre of our family is Jesus and He has made a way for me where there was no hope!
For those who I have hurt, and whose lives I have destroyed, I ask for forgiveness…
So, that is my story. That is how I got set free. I was finally able to become the man I had always wanted to be. I left for dead “Billy the Goat”, and the mask. I was no longer captive to ‘someone else’. Instead I became a husband, a father, and a servant of the Almighty God.