Rugby union has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. It was never something I did on weekends. It became who I was.
You'd think that would allow me to be who I really was, especially around teammates at clubs in Canberra, Sydney and Cowra.
But I hid my sexuality for 18 years. It sent me to some dark places and I struggled with addiction as I tried to cope with toxic shame.
I'm now 38 years old and happy to report, I'm a survivor of toxic shame. I hope sharing my story can help others, including Israel Folau.
Because if rugby was more to Folau than simply something he did, he would be able to see his homophobic comments were dangerous and harmful.
Not just to people playing the game we love, but to anyone in society struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.
I would love to sit down with Izzy to compare notes about the experiences we've both had.
I know that's not going to happen now the lawyers have been called in, but maybe someday we can quietly and calmly discuss everything that has happened this year.
I know how dangerous homophobic comments are because I've lived through hearing them for the majority of my adult life.
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I need to tell as many people as possible, mainly blokes, that things are going to be OK. My personal experience is a tribute to that.
The very real, and very serious part of this issue is today's statistics around suicide. It is the leading killer of men in Australia and the last thing we want is for individuals to feel they have to retract or may consider ending their lives because of their sexuality.
The poor statistics around suicide double, and in some cases triple, when you add in other social factors like religion.
Rugby has been a part of my life since I was a boy, hanging around with the old man at the Cowra rugby club.
I started playing when I was at Cranbrook after moving to Sydney for school when I was 12, then joined Easts. Eventually I became a manager and a coach at the club.
I knew I was gay at about age 17. I struggled to come to terms with what was going on through my late teens, hoping it may have been fleeting bi-sexuality. But when I left school I knew I was gay.
Having now been through three years of recovery and some serious soul searching about who I am, and who I want to be, I look back at those years and wonder how the hell I survived.
My heavy binge drinking started at around 15 years old. I was a legend at all the parties. The first out of our group that could scull a beer really quick without spewing. This was the beginning of my destructive relationship with substances as a coping mechanism.
I slowly but surely deteriorated into an average lower-grade player, who got on the drink too much and took loads of recreational drugs.
The only time I felt happy was when I was intoxicated, in some form or another.
I took up coaching and luckily for me it allowed me to stay in rugby. But unfortunately, my story got worse.
People started asking questions about my sexuality in my late 20s. It sent me to a deep, dark place that I still find hard to talk about.
Toxic shame. It's frightening. What's worse, having had plenty of counselling now, and having been through rehab, I am aware of how I created this "everything is still OK" version of myself.
It was obvious to many I was in a rut: gaining weight, and using drugs. But I didn't have people around me to help me face what was happening.
I kept reverting back to substances. Life moved forward, but I was completely lost on the inside and suffering from extremely poor mental health.
Fast forward to a few years ago, I was running a pub back in my hometown and boom: I get exposed to methamphetamine. The drug of all drugs as far as thinking you are being productive and going OK.
I was addicted after 18 months. I lost 12 kilograms, lost the pub, almost lost mum and dad as well, I'm sure.
It was horrible. I fought with one sister and the other had to watch from the sideline from Perth.
Lucky for me they are amazing people, and we were able to overcome those dark times and commence the healing process as a family.
I am now living in Canberra - the place I want to call home - coaching at the Uni-Norths Owls, a truly fantastic club.
I volunteer on the phones for Lifeline and I'm ready to wrap this story up and get it ready to present (if all goes to plan) to rugby clubs and schools as an empowering resource to make sure no one suffers like I did.
I intend to build a resource for presentation to students and rugby players to share my story. Hopefully it raises awareness about toxic shame and why we need to make sure we have genuinely inclusive rugby clubs.
That's where chatting to Folau could come in handy. I'd love to talk to him about why he felt compelled to post homophobic remarks on social media.
I am incredibly concerned there are plenty of same sex attracted rugby participants who could be suffering from the debilitating toxic shame faced.
No one at my footy clubs cares I'm gay. They care about how much I love the sport, the club, and getting out there and having a crack.
The main message I hope people receive is that there is a choice.
You can choose to let someone suffer, like I did, for so long and face the very real risk of a downward spiral in life, lost, confused and, in a worse case scenario, considering suicide.
Or you can choose to make a genuine effort to call out homophobia in rugby, take a pro-active approach to make your club a safe and welcoming space for same sex attracted participants.
I am lucky I have a substantial network. I have the backing of a major not-for-profit to make this dream come to life.
I am in funding-partnership requisition mode and would love to hear from anyone who thinks this is an important venture. My hope is this story finds someone, anyone, who needs a hand.
Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.
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