Be Proud of who you are...

Good morning all, Sam here wishing you a happy pride weekend!!

Pride in London is a celebration of love and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, as well as serving as a reminder that there are still changes needed for full acceptance. We are lucky as a country to be able to express who we are and have the freedom to be ourselves, but there are still so many countries where this is not the case.

So what does pride mean to you?

For me, like many many people, I have found it a struggle in the past to figure out who I really am.

I grew up in a rough part of Manchester and I never really 'fit' into any particular friendship group in primary school, having friends in the 'popular kid' group as well as the 'not-so popular' crowd. High school divided us in to categories depending on intelligence. Many of my existing friends being in the 'sets' below me - the group of 'swots' (aka the ones who did well at their studies!) becoming my natural category! - However, to have friends, it was necessary to dumb down my intelligence, or lets say, to have the friends that I had chosen, I was encouraged to hide whenever I excelled at anything. To be honest, I didn't have a higher than average intelligence, its just that the school i went to was so bad, that I was the highest achiever in my year! However, I was not allowed to take PRIDE in that. I was not able to be excited about my achievements, and instead felt embarrassed that I had done so well.

When I moved on to college in Rochdale (a rougher part of Manchester!) there were new and distinct groups of people - I ended up in the 'misfits' group. I was happy to be in this group, but by now I had found a taste for beer and I had been told so much by my high school friends that I was not good enough. After 3 months, I quit college and went to work in McDonald's - neither of which anything I was particularly proud of!! My 'friends' dictating to me how to act, how to dress, how to spend my money for another 3 years, almost driving me to suicide.

The drinking spiralled, (the long version of that story is here) and, even after moving away it took until I was 25 before I hit rock bottom. Making the decision to give up booze was THE best decision of my life. Realising I can NEVER drink again made my life worth living again. Over the 5 years after giving up alcohol, my life was all about trying new things - with a sober perspective! I went to Glastonbury for the first time in 2010 (6th time this year!) and people always comment on how amazing it is that I can get through a festival totally sober!! I always wonder how you can get through a 5 day festival with a hangover!!!

Although I felt PRIDE in my achievements and of who I was becoming, it was only when I left my ex, left my job, my friends and my new 'home town' of Swindon to go travelling that I started to realise how amazing I am!!

I'm not going to say I 'found myself' while I was travelling... but the thing that I did find is that I met many people, each with their own unique story - each time I recited my story, in various depth, to a LOT of people, I was told how strong I am, how interesting my story is and how PROUD I should be of myself!! In reality their story was just as strong, just as interesting and deserved just as much PRIDE!

So yes... I am PROUD of what I had become! 5 years later, I am happy with 'me', I have worked hard on shaping what that is. Creating SMASH London is a way to share my story to more people - either fully, or subtly, to help inspire and motivate others... and that gives me great PRIDE.

As with everyone, I am still, and always will be, a work in progress. With my studies about body image this year, I have discovered a new found PRIDE in my body - seeing that whatever it looks and feels like right now, it belongs to ME, it is mine to love and to cherish. It is strong and it is healthy and that is what matters.

I am PROUD of all the SMASH London community that take an active role in shaping who we are. Each of you have YOUR stories. Be PROUD of where you are right now. From where you have come from.

I am PROUD of my amazing friend and business partner Ash, who is the most incredible person with his equally as amazing story.

I have PRIDE every time someone shares with me their journey, their struggles, their achievements, their excitement.

Every achievement is worth being PROUD about! Celebrate as much as you can and share love with those around you. Because what is a world without PRIDE?

What are you PROUD of?...

Sam and Ash

PS. This week Ash did a couple of amazing Pride spin classes and donated his instructor fee to the amazing charity The Kaleidoscope Trust. Along with donations from his spin participants, he raised over £100 for the charity, who help LGBTQ+ people in countries that don't have any laws or rights to protect them - some of which still have the death penalty for being gay. If you wish to donate please visit their website!