Cooking pizza saved Tom Gozney from oblivion, and gave him the impetus to turn his life around.
I turned to alcohol and drugs when I was young, lost and struggling to understand myself and where I fitted in in the world. In my early years I was always a timid, sensitive kid and then when I started school I began to struggle. Unbeknownst to me, I had dyslexia. But it was at a time when dyslexia wasn’t really recognised and I didn’t understand why I found everything so difficult when other kids were doing so well. I began acting out through frustration – I adopted this persona of the clown and the naughty kid that really wasn’t me, but it got me attention and made me popular.
When I was 13, I was introduced to a friendship group outside of school that were smoking and using drugs and it felt like a natural progression for this persona I had embraced. It felt good to be a part of something. For the first time I really felt comfortable in my own skin, part of a group of boys that felt, at the time, like brothers. Drugs and alcohol became intertwined in my perception of who I was and allowed me to switch my brain off, or at least slow it down for a bit. At that time, it all felt manageable and fun but it wasn’t long before I was expelled from school for reckless behaviour.
By the time I was 16 it had got bad. My mum took me into a rehabilitation centre after overhearing a conversation and realising I had been using hard drugs. I just thought I was doing what all teenagers do and so I rejected it and refused help. The reality of my parents finding out and trying to help/protect me drove me out the house and to the escapism of drugs even more.
I finally realised I might have a problem was when I tried to stop and couldn’t. I got into trouble with the police – the reality of going to a prison was sobering and I knew I wanted to change. This wasn’t the person I wanted to be or who I felt I was deep down. But I couldn’t stop and it turned my world into a horrible rollercoaster where my issues with drugs and alcohol got worse with inconsistent periods of sobriety and then intense relapses and benders.
One evening I was attacked by eight boys when leaving a club. I lost all my teeth, broke my eye socket and smashed my skull. As a result of my injuries after the attack, I was struggling to eat or drink and that triggered an insane escalation. In rehab they always say there needs to be a rock bottom but there was no moment until then. That was my rock bottom.
With the support of my mum and girlfriend I finally admitted I was ready to accept help.
We found a rehabilitation centre in South Africa that focused on addressing the deep-rooted causes of my issues and helping heal them. Even then I tried to sabotage it. I was petrified. But I think I knew deep down something had to change and that I was capable of so much more.
Rehab and my recovery journey was so hard but my life was instantly better for it. I was determined to prove everyone wrong and finally get sober. I was blessed with a councillor called Oliver who truly helped me flourish, helped me unearth the severity of my issues and accept the damage they had caused. He changed my perspective and allowed me to be vulnerable. He changed my life.
Leaving treatment and returning home at 21 and sober was really challenging. I threw myself into cooking, there was something in the ritual of it I could just lose myself in, and it became a beacon of light for me in a tough time. I started having my mates over for dinners and one night we made pizza. Unlike other dishes or dinners, everyone rolled up their sleeves and got involved. I witnessed this insane sense of community and connection and it felt special.
I was inspired and began building my own brick pizza oven by hand. Building the oven and the experience of hosting those pizza nights gave me a purpose and a safe space to reconnect with loved ones. I don’t think anyone at the time really knew how much that oven meant to me. It saved my life and ultimately changed it for the better. All my mates started asking me to build them an oven and I became obsessed with the ritual, determined to build the best oven I could. I rediscovered my love for design and coupled with my drive for others to experience what I had. My company Gozney was born.
We’ve done some incredible things since, and I’ve built a business beyond my wildest dreams all with the aim of bringing that experience to as many people as possible. Today, the hardest thing for me in my life is maintaining balance, and it’s something I know I’m going to have to continue to work on.
You are worthy. You are capable. You have purpose. You are not alone.
Tom Gozney is founder of Gozney. Sales of his Signature Edition Roccbox pizza oven will raise funds for With You’s work across the UK.