A few nights ago I sat down at my computer and finally got these words down. Sharing this comes with a huge amount of fear, and I suppose it comes from a sense of shame and the fear of rejection. But sharing parts of my story has helped me to find a voice, and with this I'm bringing some of the darkest parts of me out into the light. So whatever comes from this, will come. Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support, your love blows me away every time.
The hardest part about sharing my story is figuring out where to begin. When I think back over the past 10 years of my life my mind goes to the happy moments, and I’ve found compassion for myself in the darkest phases and gratitude for how far I’ve come. While the past 20 months of living clean and sober have been incredible to the point that it brings me to tears thinking about all the beauty I’ve allowed into my life, there are still hard days and an underlying struggle that I have a tendency to sugar coat with a smile and humour, saving the tears for behind closed doors. This time I want to focus on the parts that I usually try to distract from; this isn’t my full story but rather a side of it.
I’ll start by saying I had an amazing childhood and through this all my parents have continued to be my biggest cheerleaders. But I was an emotional kid, and once I stepped outside the safety of home I became incredibly shy and uncomfortable. I don’t know when I started trying to numb it out. I remember taking cocktails of over the counter pain killers in junior high just to take the edge off, and when I was 16, I left home to go to a Mennonite residential school because I was starting to get in with a rough crowd and I wanted to feel safe and closer to my family roots. But a short while later I got pulled out of school and brought home after issues with prescriptions had me wandering around outside in thigh deep snow in my pajamas and one flip-flop. By the time I got home, I was sleeping for 20 hours a day and out of it for the 4 hours I was awake; the combination of prescriptions were blamed and my mom nursed me back to health.
At 17, and a few months before graduation, I came out and for the first time since I was little I felt content. I felt a deep rooted sense of joy and enthusiasm for life and made plans to move out to Vancouver for school the following year. Things were so good. I spent years trying to figure out where I went wrong, and it wasn’t until recently that I started putting the pieces together. Less than a week out of high school some old friends approached me about wanting in with the gay community selling blow at night clubs. The money was tempting and they said the stuff would sell itself; all I needed to do was try it once, to know what it was that I was selling. Having spent a lot of time around people who were selling it, I had seen what happened to people who used and had never even been curious about doing it myself. But I did it, and I didn’t love it, nor did I hate it, and then I did it again. The next few weeks were a blur of blow, tequila, nights that didn’t end, and being head over heels in an incredibly toxic relationship. A month and a half later I was standing outside in the middle of summer heat, and I realized I couldn’t feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. My body ached and felt cold, and I decided I had had enough and wanted to stop.
I could see so much concern on the faces of my parents and little brother, but I didn’t want to drag my family through my mess, so I decided to leave for Vancouver early; two weeks later I had moved. The next several months were spent going back and forth between Edmonton and Vancouver trying to make the relationship work, while working jobs I wouldn’t put on a resume to pay the rent. Seven months later I found myself homeless for the first time. I had hit a crossroads where the only two options I could see were staying in an abusive relationship or leaving with nowhere to go. So I left, without a penny to my name, no friends or contacts, no job, but dads who made a lot of calls and found a place for me to crash for a few days and then put me into a hostel until I could sort myself out.
I made friends quickly, slipped back into partying just as quickly, and within a couple months found myself without a roof over my head again. I managed to get through my 6 month school program showing up in the morning still high and having not slept, and often sleeping in the school basement when I had nowhere else to go. The next long while was such a blur that I have trouble pinpointing the memories on a timeline. I blamed all the shit going on in my life; the drugs were just there to give me a break from it all. The easiest way to get a place to sleep was to show up at parties, get loaded, and crash on a couch or just not sleep. I never stayed in one place for too long because I didn’t want people to get too close and see what my life actually was, so I hopped between social circles, bars, and house parties, pushing away friendships from people who tried to help.
Somewhere along the way my dads stepped in again and got me a place, and I don’t want to think about where my life would have ended up if it hadn’t been for that, but I was a wreck and didn’t know how to ask for help. It never felt like pride, more just complete unworthiness, and I eventually hit a point where I stopped caring; all I wanted was to numb and forget. The stories over the next year are a string of sad memories, black-outs, and hospital trips. I switched from drug to drug and often just mixed a cocktail taking whatever was easily available. At a few points I would have tested positive for every street drug I knew the name of. I didn’t leave my apartment for a full month, and ate by offering my couch for people to crash on if they would bring groceries and something to make me forget. I didn’t have an overwhelming sense of wanting to die, but simply didn’t care.
At 20, I went back home to the prairies for Thanksgiving and remembered what it was like to have food in my stomach and someone telling me they loved me every night before bed. I spent that time sober and wrapped up in the love and care of my immediate and extended family and decided to move home for a few months to get my shit together. Two weeks later I was living back in Edmonton in my parents’ basement, with a resolution not to do drugs – other than on special occasions. I quickly found a job that I loved, met some amazing friends, and my partner. A few months turned into three and a half years. I occasionally got a little out of hand, but for the most part stayed grounded through my love for my partner, family, and job. I got myself back into school and found a mentor who was the first person other than my partner to whom I opened up about the life I had while living in Vancouver. I began to feel proud of how far I had come, and was excelling in school, but missed the ocean and mountains, so when my relationship ended I decided to move back to Vancouver.
I met amazing people almost the day I moved back, people that I am proud to call friends. We hung out on beaches, hiked mountains, and only occasionally went out to bars. I felt like my life was finally all coming together, until it suddenly wasn’t. Things started going sideways, and I found myself at the bar more frequently until one night I ended up hammered in a bathroom stall with a few girls who were doing lines. I remember my thought pattern starting with ‘gross’ and ending with ‘ugh you’re doing it wrong’ and a moment later the blow was gone and so was I. Over the next few months I started distancing myself from my friends and I could see my life unravelling and felt like there was nothing I could do to stop it. I tried limiting myself to one kind of drug, or to having only a certain number of drinks along with it, or to not drink and just do drugs, or every other insane resolution I could think of. Even though I wasn’t yet getting loaded every day, or even every weekend, on the inside I could feel the same swift descent. I started getting nervous about losing my home again, as well as the life I had built, so I broke down and started making plans to move back to Edmonton.
A couple weeks later, I had plans to have maybe one glass of wine and then head out to the bar. This is where I usually start my story. I wound up having the whole bottle and was up at the bar doing shots every 15-20 minutes trying to supress the cravings. That night I met a woman with whom I spent most of the night dancing, and afterwards she offered me a ride home, saying that she was sober. Something in me loudly clicked, and for the first time I realized that I hadn’t meant to get drunk. By then I had been practicing yoga for about a month, and I knew I was going to miss class in the morning as well as everything else I had wanted to do with my day. I woke up with a sense of clarity that I’m not sure I had ever felt before. I couldn’t see the direction my life was going, but I knew where I wanted to be, and I knew I wasn’t on that path, so I made a promise to myself that I was going to get clean/sober until my life hit a point where I could handle it again.
Nothing felt as hard as calling my mom to tell her I was getting clean, and then to explain that I hadn’t been in the first place and that there was a long history of abuse, but I knew that if I voiced it to her it would set it in stone for me and that my stubbornness would carry me through the days where self-love wouldn’t. I got myself registered in school, started picking up the pieces of my life, and with a lot of love and support from my dads I quit my job and spent two months meditating, practicing, travelling solo on the island, doing my YTT, and finding a strength that I didn’t know I had. Since then life has had a lot of ups and downs, and I’m grateful to have been present – really present – for all of them. To learn and feel my way through losing loved ones and all that other life stuff that just happens. Sobriety has been a gift in my life, and after celebrating my 18 months clean I realized how much I was missing a community. I had no close sober friends and I found parties with my friends exhausting because I always had to keep a guard up, so if I wasn’t at school or work I was alone at home, and I knew I wasn’t doing well. I did a month long self-reflection project where I realized how large of a role my addiction still played in my life because there were parts of me that I wasn’t honouring, but I couldn’t understand where the disconnect was.
I felt like I was in a grey area where I couldn’t see myself as an addict, but rather a person with a history of substance abuse who just couldn’t get it together. I knew that at that moment in my life I couldn’t do so much as have a sip of wine, but I thought that if I just practiced more, meditated more, just did more, I could get better and overcome it. I met a few women who had dramatically different stories from mine, but were all sober, and I began sharing with them. Hearing bits of their stories, and hearing some of my own thoughts finally spoken out loud, was enough to convince me to go to my first meeting – after almost 20 months of sobriety. A friend came to pick me up two hours before the meeting started, with only 5 minutes warning, knowing full well I would back out if given the opportunity. I was terrified to be there, and went in with zero expectations, with the intention to just listen.
In every story shared I found something I could relate to, and I realized I was exactly where I was meant to be – although it hurt like hell. Afterwards the same friend drove me home and sat and listened while I lay crying and venting on my living room floor. The next day was the toughest day to date in my sobriety. I felt like all my defenses had been torn down. But that day I had every person I knew from the meeting contacted me to ask me how I was holding up. There was no pushing me to talk, or telling me what to do, just reminders that they were there and acknowledgment that yes, it was going to be tough, but that it would get better – and it did. I told my close friends and parents that I had started going to meetings; where I feared judgment I was greeted with love, compassion, and a surprising amount of relief.
I’ve spent the last 20 months sharing my life and my journey through a social platform where I learned how to be vulnerable and share parts of myself, but never how to listen. I knew my story, but without listening to others who have had similar experiences I felt isolated and alone. This is all so fresh and I’m still figuring out where everything fits into my life and wrapping my head around it all, but for the first time in memory I don’t feel alone. So for now I’m giving myself space and time to learn how to listen, and though I feel like this is all long over-due, I also believe that everything happens as it’s meant to happen. Through this journey I’ve learned how strong I can be, but I have also learned that I don’t have to make the journey alone.