Craig Mealing joined the army when he was 16 and completed tours of Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan during his 23-year service.
After leaving the army, he turned to alcohol and found home life difficult. He was aggressive and had night terrors. He became homeless as a result of his mental health problems and in November 2015 was diagnosed with PTSD.
I thought I was fine but I was drinking to cover up my mental health issues
“When I left the Army in 2013, I was drinking heavily but I still managed to get, and hold down, a good job,” Craig says. “I thought I was fine but really I was using drink to self-medicate and to cover up my mental health issues.
“Alcohol really got a hold of me – I’d go to work, do my job and then come home and drink on my own. It was my partner at the time who said I needed to get help after there were a couple of occasions when I lost it with her.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD but just after this I became homeless as, due to my behaviour at home, my partner had kicked me out.”
It was at a two-week residential course with Combat Stress that Craig first sat behind a potter’s wheel.
“I first tried out working with clay as part of my occupational therapy,” he says. “One of the occupational therapy technicians helped me get started and that was it, I was hooked.
“For me, working with clay and ceramics is the ideal distraction to keep me off the drink. It’s hard to throw a pot with a can of Foster’s in my hand! I find it relaxing and it helps to reduce my anxiety – all food for helping with the symptoms of PTSD.”
Craig went a step further to take ownership of PTSD, naming his business Pots The Soldier Designed. Items he has made – from mugs to honey pots – can be bought via his website.
“I’ve lost everything but I’m happy with what I have now,” Craig says. “I still have up and down days but I now have plenty of tools to help me. I’d never have thought working with clay could help me so much, but it’s changed my life.”
Journey’s End is out now in cinemas