Jarne Verbruggen: What Paradise?
Jarne is more like a brother than a friend to me. Many know that he has been struggling with himself and with a certain demon, which is alcohol and other hard drugs. The love I feel for him is stronger than anything, as is the misery we’ve been going through lately. I believe fear is the opposite of love, and love is stronger than fear. I think the fear of seeing him lose himself will not win against the love for seeing him overcome this. I believe with my whole heart that he will overcome this demon. And I think skateboarding is the perfect weapon to do so.
A while ago I discovered the books ‘The Four agreements’ and ‘The Mastery of Love’, by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Mexican author of Toltec spiritualist and neoshamanistic texts. According to the ancient teachings of the Toltec, kids express their love through play. You could draw a parallel between those kids and skateboarders, who express their love through skateboarding. The bigger the love for themselves, the purer they skate. When I see Jarne skate, it’s full of purity and love, and I really believe that that love is stronger than the demon.
A lot of people are quick to judge, without really knowing what their judgment is about or aware of the consequences, for him as well as for themselves. They should realise that this judgment says more about themselves than what they’re judging. So please, stop doing that. Not only regarding Jarne’s situation, but in general as well. You’d better ask yourself: ‘Who am I to judge?’
Interview by Ben Daeleman
Translation by Sanne Verbruggen
Jarne, pal, I really love you man.
Jarne Verbruggen: I love you too, man.
Do you remember the night we were at the bar, around eight years ago? We said the same then, although we were a bit wasted. Remember what happened?
Yeah, we tongued, ha ha. And then we took our beers, said cheers and ‘never again’.
It just had to happen. Crazy we actually did that, ha ha. Back then the drinking and partying was only for fun. When did it start to become less fun for you?
That’s a while ago already, when I discovered I wasn’t drinking for fun, but because it had become a habit. And I realised I had a problem. I must have been 18 or 19. It didn’t go so far yet; I was still able to combine it with everything. Although… the only things I was doing were drinking and skating.
Bad things were already happening; I was always losing everything. I got into fights when I was wasted, doing stupid stuff. I think my Mom and sisters were already worried back then. But it was hard for me to admit that it was real.
You were also hiding a lot from me. Other friends knew more about it, because you knew I was really against it.
Yes. It was difficult to say, because I was ashamed. And for a long time I didn’t tell anybody because I’d been looking for help on my own, but I never managed to do it by myself. In some way I wanted help, because I knew I needed it. And at a certain moment I came out with it because I didn’t want this bullshit anymore.
I remember going to (the hospital in) Tienen and the lady asked you if it was your first intake. You said, very sure of yourself, ‘yes, and the last one’. But that wasn’t the case.
No, that’s not how it went. It wasn’t the last time. I didn’t feel good there. I felt locked up and I can’t stand that. I wasn’t able to do what I wanted and that almost made me want to go drink even more and do things that were not allowed. So I snuck out once to drink. I used to think those things didn’t help, because they confront you with what is wrong the whole time. But they do keep you safe from everything, so eventually it did help to be there for a while and come out of there stronger. As I started drinking more, from morning ‘til evening, it became more difficult to get out of that cycle. You don’t just do that.
What was a day like for you?
When I went to bed, I usually had some alcohol left. When I got up, I just started drinking again before I got a chance to sober up. I was still living with my Mom and Stepdad, just in my room on my own. Wake up and start to drink: very disturbing. Doing that, I just started feeling like a worse human being and it became more difficult to accept myself and get out of the bullshit. I really thought it was just too late. And the rehab centres in Belgium, they are basically monasteries with people who don’t know what it is like to be an alcoholic.
We looked for other solutions together and we found a rehab centre in South Africa. We flew there together. The flight there wasn’t really easy, right?
Yes, in January 2018. That flight… I was on medication when I wasn’t drinking to deal with the detox, and to keep me from drinking, but I had been drinking for four days straight when we left.
And you should have been sober for two weeks before going in. Why do you think you relapsed? Did you think, come on, once more, now I can?
Yes, definitely. And I’d lost all my meds. So I had to get on that plane after not sleeping for four days. I hadn’t eaten and slept; I’d just been drinking. I had a panic attack on the plane and then I started drinking and taking painkillers. But I did get over my fear of flying on that plane, ha ha. I didn’t care anymore.
So something positive did come out of it, ha ha! I remember you asked me if you could have one more beer after we arrived and was shocked by how fast you drank it. So you arrived there wasted. How did the rest of the time go?
The first day I had to get up at 7am. I still didn’t have my medication; I didn’t know where I was. It was very difficult to get started there. But I did learn a lot from other addicts, about how I was handling things unconsciously, just to be able to go drink. The addiction is so much deeper than you think. I do things I actually don’t want, like fucking over friends or even family. It was difficult to realise that, but I had to. At first I didn’t want to believe I was doing this kind of stuff, it’s so deep…
I went to some of the rehab centre’s meetings and they explained how you can deal with someone you know who’s addicted. I learned that the amount of dopamine your brain naturally releases during an orgasm for example, is 200 units. Alcohol triples that, and for cocaine it’s times five. Your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making, seeing good from bad, has been bombarded with this dopamine, and after a while it just stopped working properly. Then your basic survival took over and that’s what happened to your brain, pal. They also say you have to keep seeing the person behind the addiction, and I’ve always done that. I know you’re a good person.
I was just manipulating the people around me, but I wasn’t aware of it. It sounds like an excuse, but that guy isn’t me, you know. That kind of stuff… And yeah, after South Africa, I relapsed…
How long did that take?
Only three days I think; that was horrible. I wasn’t doing anything anymore. I wasn’t taking care of myself; I didn’t give a fuck. I just had to be away from my thoughts. I wandered around, sometimes for five days straight, and it seemed like an hour for me. Afterwards I heard what I had done, and I started drinking again to forget that. So the cycle continued.
My door was always open for you, and the people from the rehab centre told me that didn’t help you. How did it feel for you when I said you weren’t welcome anymore when you’d been drinking?
That was really a slap in my face. They had told me it wasn’t good to have someone always be there for you.
That’s also why I didn’t want to tell anyone, because it would put a lot of pressure on me and I’d do it for someone else instead of for myself. I wanted everybody to leave me alone because then I would really have to watch out, because I would lose everything. That stuff doesn’t last.
How do you want to be treated?
Like the way you and Guillaume Périmony did. I was on tour with Guillaume in Paris and I had been drinking before the trip. Two of the three days I didn’t skate and Guillaume said he would leave me if he saw me drink. We were supposed to go to Marseille and I was really looking forward to it. But I wasn’t able to stop drinking; I fucked up. So Guillaume just left. That really hurt, realising I was able to do something like that. I feel safer with you guys, because I know the chance of me drinking will be smaller.
You came on a trip with us and promised you wouldn’t drink, but at the first gas station you already had a beer in your hands. We put you in the car and every time we stopped we had to lock the doors.
I had been drinking for a couple of days and to stop without sleeping is very difficult. It fucking hurts, physically and mentally; it’s not an excuse, it’s just like that. That’s why it was so bad that time.
Did becoming pro have anything to do with it? Did it get worse then?
No, not at all. People just didn’t realise how bad it was before. I stayed sober for a year in 2016, that’s why they wanted to make me pro. But I started using again and it got worse. So it had been going on for longer and it didn’t get better. The year I was going to be pro I got hurt a lot. I didn’t heal because I kept drinking. I felt like I didn’t deserve it. That’s why it took so long for me to start skating with my own deck. It didn’t feel right. Everybody thinks it got worse, but it was already bad.
For your sponsors it was a dilemma, they obviously didn’t want to keep paying you because they knew you were buying dope with that money. So they paused your contract… How did that feel?
I cried after that phone call. It broke my heart, but I also wanted to say thank you. The last thing I want is to lose everything. You think it won’t happen, but it did and that was a shock. It helped me, although it took me a while. I kept acting foolish for a bit, as if I didn’t care. I knew I was going to do something about it, but didn’t know when. Eventually it happened after a week of acting like an imbecile. I signed up in the hospital on Christmas morning. But I hadn’t had a phone for a month. I had given them my Mom’s phone number; they called her and said I could come in.
No, they called me. A week before I’d gone to the hospital with you, because you were motivated. They didn’t let you in then, and you started crying because you really wanted to do something about it. They contacted me, and I wanted you to come stay at my place. When I called you, you were in Brussels and you could hardly speak. You were supposed to come to my place, but instead you went to a bar in Mechelen. I stayed up all night, waiting for you. That’s the night they gave you Kambo, the frog poison. You could have died that night.
Just one of the nights I could have died…
They gave it to you when you were already hammered, which is so irresponsible. But then I got a phone call from the hospital, to let me know you were there. Apparently you took a taxi from the bar. It was a lot better than me bringing you, because it was you who made the decision.
I wanted it, because I knew it was my last shot to get in there. They’d tried to call me in three times before. That day was hell because I had to sober up, but I could just have left if I’d wanted to. I knew I had to do it, that this was the moment, otherwise it wouldn’t happen. But that was fucking Christmas morning. Knowing I was going to be there for the holidays didn’t really help to stay there. I was so wasted and didn’t get medication because I was still drunk. I had to stay alone in my room but I went crazy, so I laid down in the hallway. If I would have had to stay alone, they wouldn’t have seen me again. I ended up sleeping for a week. And then something just clicked; I got my motivation back. I didn’t want that bullshit anymore; I just wanted to get stronger again. I stayed there for a month, and got motivated to do stuff, started making plans. You guys came to pick me up; they allowed me to go skate for three hours.
At the start I couldn’t even skate. It was fucking disgusting; I could hardly stand on my deck. After a while things went better and I was allowed out on the weekend. I was skating the whole time and it felt so good. It made me feel happy again, and it had been a long time. And what did I do after that month…? I think I went to Barcelona.
Yes, you went to Barcelona, Ibiza, Paris…
No, I went to Barcelona another time, I think. Which seemed like a ridiculous idea. I don’t remember with whom… Keke (Enrique Mayor) and Roger (Ferrero)… I don’t remember…
You suddenly got so motivated that you planned a lot of things; you wanted to do one trip after the other. In South Africa they also told me that it was typical for addicts: to want everything right away. That motivation was awesome, but too much… You have to learn moderation.
I’ve always been extreme with everything. That’s why I can’t drink. I can’t even eat; I always stuff myself ‘til I feel sick. I also skate until I can’t anymore. I don’t have limits; I don’t know when to stop.
When you land it, of course. 🙂
Yeah… Can we also say some good stuff? We’ve had the bad part.
People don’t realise how bad it was. I was stuck in pure marginalisation. I was taken to emergency rooms three times in one month. Twice I almost died, once I had a hole in my head.
Now you’re really fighting it, and trying your best. But when you relapse, the consequences are getting worse.
This kid told you that you used to be his hero, but not anymore. What did that do to you?
That really hurt, because he was a small kid, who admired me. He saw that sometimes I wasn’t skating, but he didn’t know what was going on. He supported me, even though he didn’t know what my problem was. It always motivated me to hear him, but when he said that… It really hurt me.
Your sister told me you’ve been going to your dealer crying.
Pfft, I don’t know man, isn’t this a bit too much…?
But doesn’t that mean you actually really don’t want it? Because I know you don’t, man.
If you say that too, yes. But will people believe it? I know that I can really do it; I’m like a little boy that wants to prove himself. That is one of my biggest motivations to get out of this.
I think this demon is not going to get you. What can people do to help you with this?
I just want people to realise that it’s more of a problem than a pleasure. People don’t seem to understand and I don’t feel like explaining it every time. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone, and also not say that it’s a bad thing, just for some people it’s bad. For me it is, and that’s a pity. I wish I could just drink two beers, go home, and not wake up five days later. People have to know that for me it also started as something fun, but it escalated. Eventually I couldn’t combine anything anymore with all that boozing; I just lost my life. I wasn’t anything anymore. Fortunately I have skateboarding to keep me on my feet. It’s the only thing that can give me satisfaction. That’s what you need, and after a while I also lost that, the feeling of satisfaction. It took a while to find it back, but I did. It was just a click in my head, like the time in 2016, when we got back from this trip from Berlin with Phil (Zwijsen). After five days of drinking I asked you to bring me to the hospital.
You told me ‘bring me to the hospital, I’m fucking aching.’ And I know, I was in the room with my girlfriend, and you would’ve never come in if it wasn’t bad. I know your pain tolerance is really high, so you must have been in real pain. We drove an hour to the hospital and you couldn’t wait, you jumped out the bus. Phil and me did rock paper scissors to see who was going to tell the doctor. And I knew it was going to be me, I’d have to be the one to tell them.
They checked my stomach and I had seven ulcers, my stomach was bleeding.
That was a turning point in my eyes, that it really wasn’t OK anymore.
The moment I saw the two of you standing next to my bed… It still gives me goosebumps if I think about it; I had this click in my head and wanted to go for it. I wanted to get rid of the ulcers and it was one of the best years of my life. I felt good on my deck. But it was still difficult and I know it will be like that forever.
Do you really think so?
Yeah man. But I know how to make it easier. The longer I’m sober, the easier it becomes. If you drink again, you get back in that hole, and your body gets used to it again, until you start losing everything again.
You’ve been sober for two days now. In the part you just filmed, all those moments you were good. How often did you relapse in that period?
Those first trips were really tough, because I wasn’t 100% yet. During those trips I didn’t drink.
But between the trips you did.
Yes, when I was back in Belgium, passing by all those places again, like the train station in Mechelen, I kind of lived there for a bit. I passed by there sober and all the bums said hello to me. Then I realised ‘what the fuck!’
Your Spitfire wheels almost got cancelled. How did you feel when you heard that?
It broke me, but in a good way. It made me realise it just wasn’t right. This would be my only chance for something like that, and I was throwing it away. Then you realise you’re acting like a fool.
So you got a grip and they decided to make the wheel… Because also those guys believe in you.
I almost couldn’t believe it. It motivated me even more and I started going for it again. Just for skating, not exactly for the wheel, but for myself. But it was thanks to that wheel, yes.
This made you realise you could lose everything?
Yes, exactly that. It’s so crazy to come out with this. The idea that this will be published… When three years ago, I didn’t even dare to tell my sisters this stuff. Or you.
I think it’s brave, man.
I hope that people… I hope I can inspire people to watch out with this shit. Before you know you’re deeper in it than you think. And I’ve been incredibly lucky to have good people around me, who have helped me.
All those people, your friends and family, reached a point where we’ve had it with wasted Jarne.
They never liked him to begin with, I guess.
No, but they tried to help you. And now it’s in your hands. We believe in you, because we know you’re a strong person.
I’d like to prove myself, and I will. I’ve done it a couple of times, so I know I can do it.
You shouldn’t prove yourself to other people; you should do it for yourself. It’s your life.
Yeah, I don’t know… I’d like to prove myself to be honest. To say fuck you, you didn’t expect this.
Like that firecracker. Ollie to firecracker.
That was the day with Guillaume in Paris, when I’d been drinking. I really wasn’t OK. Fucked up actually. I didn’t land that trick because I was dead. And then Guillaume said ‘fuck you’. Six months later I tried and I landed it, because I was sober. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite and don’t want to tell anyone to not use anything. I just want to say I have bad experiences with it. I don’t want to offend anyone, because I also had fun, you know.
What are the positive things you got out of it?
I tongued with you, I would never dare to do that sober, ha ha. Of course, it was fun man, but at a point I didn’t do it to have fun anymore.
The last two years weren’t fun for anyone anymore…
I know… But are we just going to talk about this alcohol problem? It should all be there, but I want it to be positive, too. Because to be honest, I’m happy with how it is now.
We’re in Croatia now. Before you were living with your Mom and Stepdad, but they moved now. What’s your vision now?
I just filmed a part with Guillaume, and I realised it’s good for me to be around him, to not be in the same place for too long, and just skate and have a goal. And after this, I want to film a Thrasher part. I will have to look for a place, and I hope my stuff won’t have to be in your house for five years. I will look for a place in Brussels, as cheap as possible, so I can be there as little as possible.
So I can be close to you guys. I will have Byrrrh skatepark, good spots and Geoffrey (Van Hove) to film with. And it’s got good connections to everywhere. One hour to Paris, ten hours to Vietnam… You see? I think it’s a cool city, I feel good there. There are a lot of different cultures; the people are cool. I won’t be there too much, but I’ll at least have a place to come home, close to friends. That’s important to me.
We are also waiting for you to come back to Jean Jacques.
There’s nothing I’d want more; we’re going to do some heavy stuff. We have to go on tour, take all the guys with us.
Remember you’re our team manager.
I know, I just don’t know if the guys remember, ha ha.
I mention it once in a while, ha ha.
You know, I lived with my mother for too long. I’m happy she moved to Croatia now. So if some people want to do a trip to Croatia, she has apartments in Icici. You’re always welcome, ha ha. But I will have to start taking care of myself; I won’t come home and get food anymore. It will probably be a kebab. Or I’ll find some cookies in my backpack.
I just want to look forward and I think it’s amazing that you are so motivated and that you want to share this with everyone, it’s very admirable.
Yeah, I wasn’t so sure, but I guess it’s too late now. In some way it feels good, because I always tried to hide it. But the more embarrassed I got… I don’t want to come across as pathetic. I always want to be the tough guy and prove myself, but now I want to show my weak side. I’m surprised by the support I get. Like when I post something on Instagram, I’m really surprised by the reactions…
We all love you, man.
I’m getting a bit nervous from all this, I’m sweating like crazy, man.
Me too, man, this isn’t simple for either of us.
This is a big turning point in my life, and I think it’s a really good change.
I think so too, man, you look good.
Don’t start kissing me now, man.
Ha ha, no, that was once and never again, remember? Come on, give me a hug, bro. This was good.
Yes, this is good.