Joshua is a valued member of Together We Can’s volunteer staff. Volunteering at our facility is an opportunity that is extended to clients while they are in a transitional phase of their treatment and are looking to stay connected to the roots of recovery. On Wednesday January 28th, Joshua sat down and told his story in the hopes that someone somewhere would find a similarity and get inspired. The following is a true tale of desperation transformed into selfless passion.
I was fourteen years old when I first used marijuana and drank. At home my father was overworked and had to deal with his own alcoholism and drug addiction problems, while my mother suffered from mental illness. Needless to say, I needed an escape and at first I started with playing instruments until I began using drugs and drinking every day.
After I started “escaping” I didn’t want to go to school much. At fifteen I started selling drugs and moved out of my parent’s house. I was caught slapped with two trafficking charges.I lived with a drug dealer. I was consistently involved with the wrong people. I was an everyday drinker – there was no binge drinking for me.
I tried cocaine for the first time at fifteen. At first I thought – this is it? I mean, at first I didn’t like alcohol either but I let it grow on me. MDMA was an early drug of choice for me but it kept interacting with my bipolar mood swings. Cocaine didn’t have any immediately noticeable side-effects.
Fast forward and I was eighteen years old and living in Alberta while working a job. At this time I remember at one point going to the food bank to get food even though I would borrow money from my parents and was working full-time. Liquor came first, never eating. I was constantly sick because of it. I kept this up for a while until I had to move back home because I was broke. I was really depressed, but still I took a mixology course and worked at a night club for a while when drugs became truly easy to access – nearly free. I had worked my way up in the club and while the money was good, all of the abuse escalated with it.
I had some connections in Germany for a job and ended up buying a plane ticket to London. I was going to travel across Europe and end up in Germany at a nightlife job.
In the two weeks leading up to the trip, I spent all of my hard-earned money I saved up for the adventure on using. It drove me to the brink of insanity and I tried to take my own life. I think that was the point where I understood I needed help, and so I reached out finally to my mother and father for help and went and saw a drug and alcohol counsellor. I was considering treatment and they said I had to go to detox first. At this point I was consuming at least 26 ounces of hard alcohol a day and the withdrawal was brutal. After I was done detox, I chose to go to AA meetings instead of treatment but still used marijuana. Things did improve as I acquired a job doing excavation, I bought a car, new musical equipment, started a band and began playing live shows, although I was still restless and anxious.
I had over four months abstinent when I took a road trip to Vancouver spontaneously in the middle of the night. Along the way I picked up a random hitchhiker and I drank with him. It was too much of a temptation not to.
Fast forwarding even more time after returning for work in Calgary, getting loaded, and then moving to Vancouver, I was in an AA meeting one day where I met a TWC Alumni who recognized I needed help. He checked in with me every day and when I went through the terrible process of detox again – this time on my own – he assured me there was a spot waiting for me in treatment at Together We Can and a few days later I was in.
That was 296 days ago.
I no longer wake up every morning wanting to die. My parents don’t expect a phone call in the middle of the night from someone telling them their son has died. Through helping myself I have now honed the ability to help others. There is accountability in my life. What I’m doing right now in my life feels divine – it is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and nothing has ever felt more right. I volunteer my time at TWC doing a variety of things I wouldn’t have done before. I’ve returned to school to finish what I had originally started and I became involved in my passions again. Music is the only thing that has ever felt pure or as good as helping others. It really is what drives me forward and without it I wouldn’t be alive. Every time I’m in my addiction it’s such a small part of my story, and I don’t want it to be like that. The years I spent in addiction I could have been making progress with my music, and now very week I participate like a client would in the Music Therapy Program. I love just being a part of it because it gives others the confidence to perform too.
If I had to give any newcomer a piece of advice it would be to find yourself a solid support group. Find people that can help you learn and grow and help you to live.
Together We Can has a personal commitment to respecting a client’s intimate recovery process and it is through projects such this that sharing experience, strength and hope can assist in a client’s healing process. Grief is a powerful motivating factor for many in addiction, however recovery gives people the opportunity to let go of the power it has over their emotions and decision making. Grief does not have to define you.
Personal grief counselling is one of many aspects of our program, and inspiration is found through others’ overcoming trauma and tragedy. Recovery is an ongoing healing process and should be treated with kindness, dignity, and compassion.
So you’re done treatment and, like most of us, you are now living in second stage housing or you are back at home with your family. You are feeling good about yourself and you’ve decided that it’s time to go back to work or maybe even school. Eventually you have to have that conversation with yourself and your support group. You’re eager to become busy and to do something familiar or unfamiliar that you can count on, but some people aren’t so fortunate. They either don’t have a job to go back to or maybe they haven’t had a job in a long time. Having a regular full-time job is a big deal.
Today that’s where I am at. I just turned 55 and let me tell you, it’s not so easy finding full-time work when you are my age. Even though it’s been a bit of a struggle, although I do have some work that I am getting from a friend of a friend. I am okay with that. But a bit of work here and a bit of work there, is just that… a bit of work. Looking for a full-time job is full-time work. I have to go out there and use my network of friends, my friends in recovery and put the message out there that Luke is looking for a full-time employment situation. I have to be proactive… I can’t sit at home and wait for people to call me back after I’ve dropped off a resume or had an interview. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in treatment, is that you have to be proactive! You have to do the work and so I’ve taken that approach!
It doesn’t matter where you are in your recovery there is HOPE! I see and hear about it all the time at meetings. So today I am going to talk about hope and how it has helped me.
So what is hope? Well hope for me is the expectation that things in the future will be better. Hope has become the foundation and the energy that drives me to find a way to get better and heal. It has kept me strong when I’ve encountered challenges. Hope has given me a sense of joy and peace, knowing that a better tomorrow exists for me out there. So, how do you find it? Finding hope is different for every one of us. Sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes we need to work to find it. So I’ve put together a list of some of the ways that I’ve found hope. Here are a few that have worked for me:
Listen to stories of hope: Listening to stories of hope, success and triumphs of others can help us find hope. These stories not only inspire us, but also shed some light on strategies of finding and sustaining hope even during the darkest times.
Think positive of the future: Look into the future and identify who and what’s important to you. It could be a loved one such as a child, spouse or parents. It can also be an event or something you always wanted to do. Looking positively into the future helps cultivate a purpose and direction in life.
Positive affirmations: Even Though it might seem like a simple process, positive affirmations do work. The repetition of positive affirmations leads to belief, and belief is at the heart of hope. Affirmations such as, ‘I am strong, I can overcome my challenges, I am a new person, I feel new hope and I can recover,’ rebuild a sense of self-worth and your belief that you are capable of achieving your goals. Not only do affirmations build belief, but also a confidence and a drive for change and action.
Leaning on a Higher Power: Many find hope by reaching for a Higher Power. This could be through spirituality, religion or philosophy. Reaching to a Higher Power is actually Step 2 in the 12-Step Process: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Simplified this reads as, “there is help for my problem and I believe I can address it.”
Accept your current situation: For someone it may be hard to accept that they are currently in a bad place. But the courage of acceptance is the first step in desiring a better future. Acceptance helps us realize that our current situation is not where we want to be, and helps us develop a vision of where we want to be. Without acceptance, we cannot take control of our destiny to reach a better tomorrow.
Have a realistic and meaningful plan: It is action that makes hopes come true. By the mere fact of developing a plan for a better future you will build hope. The more your plan, with firm action steps and dates, you will come to realize that your vision really is attainable.
The journey and recovery from addiction is never an easy one. No one can last long and keep fighting for recovery without hope. Hope is a very important ingredient in recovery. Finding hope and meaning, together with a solid plan, helps you move forward on your journey of recovery.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmund Tutu
So please share your experiences with us. We need them. They help make us better people.
Thanks for stopping by… Luke D
In collaboration with the Vancouver Recovery Club and local artists in recovery, on January 23 The Rush concert had the best-ever attendance and even went into overtime as the talented artists in recovery amazed the concert-goers with their dedication, inspiration and annihilation of addiction through the higher power of music and words. The Rush has continued to be a MASSIVE success!
The room at the beginning of the night was immediately jam-packed with a Friday night recovery crowd buzzing and bonding over the fact that many of their friends were given the courage to perform on stage. With TWC Alumni Basil on stage managing the microphone and artists mingling with the people before they performed, the filled room was constantly alive with fellowship and excitement. People from all walks of recovery turned out in support of the event!
TWC Alumni Jordan H. (seen in the photoblog with a Nike shirt and hat) was one such performer that took the stage and busted out some incredibly complicated rhymes and at one point even freestyled because of a soundcheck problem! This is exactly the kind of bravery and willingness that people require to stay clean and break through more social and mental barriers in their life. It was truly a spectacular act only seen at The Rush.
Together We Can offers a unique Music Therapy Program headed by Jeremy Reid and Matt Rands who facilitate and organize our clients and create opportunities JUST LIKE THIS. That’s right – The Rush performances for TWC Alumni and clients stem directly from TWC’s Music Therapy Program. For more information on how you can participate or donate to assist in the program, please Contact Us!
Thank you to the Vancouver Recovery Club for hosting the event, and also a BIG thank-you to Two Mice photographer Dominic McDowell for the priceless devotion it took to position himself to create the perfect shots he did. Visit http://www.twomice.ca/ for more of his awesome work.
A humble thank-you to the International Buddhist Society in Richmond, BC for providing a truly unrivaled spiritual service.
For more information regarding our Meditation and Mindfulness Program, please contact Jarred Blancard at Together We Can.
“A Taste of Nirvana” project aims to provide a glimpse into one of the many altruistic teachings of Together We Can Society. If you wish to support more programs such as this, contact us for more information on how you can help at 1-888-940-9854
For information about the International Buddhist Society, visit: http://www.buddhisttemple.ca/
Who: Jimmy Sandes
What: TWC Second-Stage House Manager
Clean Time: 11 1/2 months
I arrived at Together We Can on February 10th when I relapsed after five years clean. Up until that point I was directionless but I understood the principles and assistance available if I simply reached out. I found myself in treatment after years working at a different facility running similar groups, and humility was an important principle for me to practice early on to get well.
After two months in first-stage treatment, it was suggested to me that I should enter the second-stage living program. I knew that I wasn’t personally in a position to financially manage my life if I moved out on my own, and as such I took the advice they gave.
Second-Stage granted me the freedom to slowly start getting my life back on track and the ability to explore some options such as school. To attend post-secondary had been on my mind for over three years, and I was finally in a place where I could pursue this dream to its fullest extent. I am currently a full-time student at Emily Carr University of Art & Design, and in my first semester I achieved a 95% average in my classes.
As well, one of my goals was to rebuild and maintain a relationship with my family. They were integral in my sobriety before and I have successfully gained respect and trust back with them to continue the reciprocal bond we have. I found a new level of stability that I was never used to.
One of the most important things I can do as a house manager is to continuously acknowledge to my peers in the house that I am no different from them. We are all addicts living in recovery and as a result I ask them to continue to keep my accountable as I would them. To find balance in my life is to allow others to speak into it.
I came into the position of house manager under the pretence that I would be an example of experience, strength and hope. With almost a year clean again, I feel that second-stage was an imperative point in my life that I encourage everyone to follow through with to solidify their recovery. Today I am in my family’s life, meaningful relationships, sponsees, and most importantly: integrity.
Thank you, Together We Can.
At first glance, TWC Kitchen Manager Mark Oliveria fits the stereotypical profile of an individual who knows his way around a cookhouse: a stocky frame encompassing European features with a look in his eyes that govern his environment more than words ever could. These are necessary qualities for a man that holds the weight of an entire facility on his shoulders from the minute he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes home to his family.
To describe Mark as focused is an understatement. His job requires a unique type of discipline and ongoing compassion in a way that few often encounter. From seven-thirty in the morning until whenever-the-job-is-complete o’ clock at night, the kitchen and the people in it are his. At quarter after one on a quiet Thursday, however, his strict demeanour softens and the words that spill out of his mouth are the only things I pay attention to. After all, as Mark makes abundantly clear to anyone new to TWC, everyone’s story is valuable in some way or another.
Casual drinking began for me around age sixteen. I was at a party one time after practise and since all of my buddies were drinking, I decided to try it too. You never want to be that guy who doesn’t follow the leader at that age. At the time I was very serious about my sports and academics alike and the drinking at parties thing only happened once in a blue moon. Nothing progressed for me until I turned eighteen and was plagued with career-ending injuries that left me feeling alone and futile. I never really accepted that I wasn’t able to play football anymore, and it led to a series of bad decisions that, for me at the time, were beginning to become clouded with some prescription painkiller abuse. I moved out of a really positive environment living with my mom and into a cramped, stressful, dirty environment with a girlfriend I had at the time. She did a lot of drinking and I went along with that. It turned into smoking pot, as it always does eventually, and my painkiller use increased simultaneously. Drinking and using the pills eased much of the discomfort I had, both emotionally and physically. I was living in a lifestyle and encouraged it within myself to continue the way I was going because I was already doing it. There was a sick acceptance in that. Money went to booze, drugs, anything to stay on the level. Rent was second for me.
The girlfriend became pregnant and while she had a child from a previous relationship, I wanted to be there for our baby and take responsibility for supporting them. This was short-lived and actually became a cycle of trying and failing even after my son was born. It went from good intentions to, “how are we going to pick up today and maintain throughout the month?” Don’t get me wrong, though. From time to time I would somehow get a good job and support my family and my drug habit for a while, but the depression always lingered. I knew deep down this wasn’t how living the rest of my life should actually be, but the progression of my addiction came at great cost and all at once.
My son had been born healthy, but in his most important developmental years my ex-partner and I noticed he was maturing in a different way than the other children. He rarely spoke and for the longest time he would only point at things he wanted. It wasn’t until age four that I decided to explore some developmental testing, and the results came back but the diagnosis wasn’t quite clear. In 2008 when he was seven years old, I made a decision to get off the prescription pills and move from Ontario to Vancouver for work and a better life. A geographical change, looking back on it now. I was running from problems I hadn’t even begun to think about solving, and I wanted the easiest way out.
With the assistance of a doctor in Vancouver I was off the pills and thought I was really on my way out of the lifestyle. I worked a kitchen job at the time and brought my family out to live here, and with them came a new opportunity for a proper diagnosis of my son’s learning abilities. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Aspergers was what he had, but it seemed to light a flame under my motivation I had never experienced before. Good or bad at the time, I’m not sure, but it was a flame.
I had broken the relationship with his mother because of infidelity and drug abuse, while at the same time continuing to drink and take MDMA until I found cocaine through a friend of mine. I lived without consequences and looking back on it now, it still stands as one of the most shameful times in my life. I had a son who needed a father and here I was making good money, destroying my body, and making promises I couldn’t keep. I was severely depressed and deluded. Something had to change, but it wasn’t bad enough for me quite yet.
Two major experiences come to mind when I look back on my life in addiction. The first being Christmas of 2011 when I had $1200.00 in my pocket and swore to myself up an down that I would give half of it to my ex-partner to buy Christmas gifts for our son. I blew it all on using, and when I saw him over the holidays he said something that would forever change me as a father.
“I didn’t want anything for Christmas except you, dad.”
I couldn’t even give that to him. Myself, of all things, he had just wanted his father, and I denied him of that right.
The second experience was later on at the lowest point I’d ever been in my life. I was living under a bridge and remember repeating to myself that things weren’t that bad. Winters would be tough, but summers would be better. Can you believe that? It was the best I could come up with at the time. That was it for me – this was going to be my life. I had resigned myself too it. I had utterly given up.
When a homeless shelter support worker in Vancouver helped me get into Together We Can, the interactions with my son changed invariably. As the most emotionally intelligent person I know, Manny (my son’s name) said things to me like, “I’m glad you’re back dad. I’m happy you’re better now.” There was no guilt, no shaming me with what I had done to him growing up. There was an altruistic effort that I had never known in my own life, and here my son was teaching it to me.
The support worker provided me with the ideal example of one addict helping another. He didn’t need to do what he did, but I consider him a major influence on who I am today. To show that love and compassion to someone when they’re completely down and out – it’s miraculous. There was no judgement, and I have carried this attitude with me into my job at TWC for all who walk through my kitchen door.
At one time in your life, just as there was in mine, there’s going to be a spot for you in the front row of loneliness and you’re going to need someone to tell you that you’re worth it. Somebody told me that, and I’m here today because of it.
I have Manny full-time now. I have met and become engaged to a spectacular woman that understands both my situation and Manny’s, and every day I wake up incredibly astounded that there is an unconditional love exhibited from her the way I’ve needed all my life. We live in a beautiful home where, yes, I occasionally do cook!
As for my son, I really have to take a moment to brag. He excels in creativity, visualizations, and in video games and puzzles he can out-do anyone. He creates his own comic books and mold clay and is extremely self-educated. He has the ability to watch a TV show – History Channel, National Geographic, and absorb the information as if its being imprinted upon his brain permanently. I consider myself so fortunate to have a son like him. I see other parents worrying about their children getting into fights at school or staying out too late at night and getting into trouble. He lives an honest life and doesn’t believe in lying or treating people badly. If he sees something wrong he wants nothing to do with it. He has a kind soul. He’s fifteen years old right now and I can’t say enough about him and the way I learn from him each day.
My idea of progression has changed, however the definition of compassion remains the same. When I see a guy waiting to dig into a meal, maybe his first in quite a long time, that has the same empty thousand-mile stare I once had, I know what to do now. We share more than food and plates and a seat at a table. There’s an understanding there and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Most importantly, I no longer have the urge to just be a dad for my son. I want to be the best dad there is, and without being clean and sober I would have never had the opportunity.
Let’s face it everyone… recovery is a process, and you’ve probably heard that over and over again. And perhaps you’ve heard the slogan from the 12-Step tradition: “it works if you work it.” If working your program feels like you’re climbing uphill knee-deep in mud in the middle of January in some back country hike, Then you’re in some serious… doo-doo.
So let’s all start by being HONEST about our recovery. Addiction for many people is kept under wraps. That’s the only way to maintain it—to lie about it. And besides, to admit your addiction would hurt your reputation. And you don’t want to that… Or do you?
So what if I told you that being completely honest with yourself was the only way you’ll ever even begin to conquer your addiction? Part of beating your addiction is beating your pride. Let me explain. The moment you begin to say, “I can beat this addiction, and I can do it today,” isn’t the moment that you begin down the road to recovery, but rather the day that dependency on your own will power prolongs your addiction. There’s a reason the 1st step in a common 12 step program is, “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Experts say that when someone is caught in the sea of addiction, their will power becomes “practically non-existent.” Think about the last time you had a drink or took a drug. Why did you do it? It probably wasn’t because you wanted to draw out your addiction, or keep hurting your family and friends. At the point in which an addict decides to consume an addictive substance, he or she has lost the consciousness to remember the pain that same substance brought them and their family last week—or just yesterday!
Somehow the desire for what that drug will do for you erases the long-term effect. Somehow your memory turns off, or begins to fade, and your desire for a “high,” or for a release from reality is switched on and shifted into a high gear.
I say this knowing that honesty is of the utmost importance in recovering from any addiction first-hand. Admitting that you can’t beat your problem on your own and understanding that your addiction is forcing you to live a lie are key steps an addict in treatment must take. To be honest with yourself during recovery relies upon not deceiving yourself. We should be honest with ourselves concerning our character, about how we feel, our thought process, how we carry ourselves, and how we act and behave towards varying circumstances. There are countless advantages from being honest with ourselves. In our recovery, we are better able to notice our character defects, short-comings, negative thoughts, anger, and personality flaws. When we are honest with ourselves we gain the capacity for positive change to occur. Our desire for positive change helps us to feel better about ourselves. We become more aware of our true person, enabling us to have the opportunity to make the changes necessary to grow in our recovery.
In our journey it is just as important to be honest not just to ourselves, but with our dealings with others. Why should we lie our lives away? We now have the chance to make amends, heal our past wounds, rebuild our relationships based on trust, along with many other things that would be possible if we maintain self-honesty, as well as outward honesty. An ever-increasing amount of opportunity for personal growth in our recovery awaits us as we are honest about our addiction, our addictive behaviours, and our powerlessness.
You will reap the benefits of working an honest program. By being honest, we are open to utilize the many other spiritual principles offered in the 12 Steps of recovery. I have personally learned that I must be honest regarding all aspects of my life if I am to continue along the road that leads to further personal growth, spiritual enrichment, and positive change. I am grateful to share this message, and it is my hope that we all can adopt these principles in all our affairs.
It was at the end of one of those long foggy Tuesdays in January that I sat down with TWC Counsellor Matt Rands with coffee, questions, and a few escaping yawns. Sitting across from me wearing his usual attire – a blue checkered collared shirt, black hoodie, and a focused gaze – he began to speak and I started to listen. At thirty eight years old, the words that came out of his mouth were both remnants and new beginnings but all at once an incredible view of what it meant to overcome one of the greatest of personal tragedies and to rise anew. This is a brief glimpse into his life.
How long have you been working in the field of addictions?
“Fourteen months. I began my work at Inner Visions Treatment Centre and I’ve progressed in my career to where I am today at Together We Can as a one-to-one counsellor. Simply put, I knew that I had to be at the core of the solution at all times to maintain a personal program of recovery.”
What is your main role as a counsellor?
“I assist clients in letting go of the grief and the shame they carry by acknowledging that they weren’t in control of their behavior due to their drug abuse, while still emphasizing that the responsibility to resolve and make amends for the wreckage of their past lies within only themselves. It’s a delicate line to walk, however what I believe to be one of the most crucial pillars of recovering from obsession.”
Why is this so important to you and your recovery?
“For me, the healing I sought didn’t happen until about eight months into recovery when I started to make formal amends to people. The important necessary groundwork was laid in treatment by simply being around other addicts in recovery that carried a sense of ease and comfort to them that has eluded me all my life.”
You seem to be directly referencing an experience in your own life. Where did this journey for you begin?
“There was a lot of happiness in my life long ago. I was married to a beautiful woman for three years, and seven years ago she passed away from cancer. I was a ‘functional’ alcoholic at the time, but she definitely managed to keep me in check. Losing her created numbness in my life that left me feeling dead inside and as a result I lost the ability to function outwardly as a normal human being. All of my hopes and dreams were dashed in seconds due to her passing. There was a progression in my life, but it wasn’t a healthy one. My addiction became far more formidable.”
Many addicts have their own description of a ‘bottom’ or that end-of-the-road type of experience. Was this it for you? What do you consider the ‘bottom’ to be?
“For me personally, the bottom is when I was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually admitting defeat. My way wasn’t working anymore. I ended up in Nanaimo spending my last ten bucks on a six pack of cheap beer and crying. No hope, no use, no help.”
And then what happened?
“I used the one brain cell I had left for good rather than bad. I stopped talking and began listening to a message when I had come to the realization that I was full of everything bad I had fought against my entire life. I had become a monster. Honesty used to come easily to me because of the unique and relaxed open communication I had with my wife. We shared our lives with each other easily. I knew I had it in me somewhere.”
What do you consider the most important thing an individual can do while in treatment?
“To get honest about what their life actually looks like. To get honest about who they feel they are as a person is essential to the counselling process, otherwise they are no use and true healing cannot begin. Treatment is a safe environment to do this. The delusion of reality that addiction causes is so deep that even the definition of honesty is skewed for many people. I wasn’t able to personally heal until I admitted to myself how I felt about myself. It’s that simple, but for some it is so difficult, and that’s okay. I can help with that.”
Where are you today and what do you value and take with you for tomorrow?
“Relationships are the most important things in my life. I didn’t know what I had until it was gone and they are now the only things that carry purpose for me. In my recovery, my sponsor is an incredible individual whose passion for recovery is all encompassing. He ‘walks the walk and talks the talk’ as they’d say. He’s there to counsel me when needed and draws a distinct line between us that maintains sponsor-sponsee relations rather than friends. As a result of this however, I consider him to be one of my closest friends. This is a long way from where I once was.”
Any resolutions for 2015?
“Every day is a new year for me and every day I wake up, start over, and try to do a little better. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I don’t, but both are able to teach me something. That’s redemption.”
With a nod and a handshake, Matt and I both stand up from the table and we end the formalities. It’s nearly the end of the work day and there is still coffee to be had and notes to be written. I thank him for his time and experience and he turns the corner to return to his desk where he writes tasks for tomorrow; a day where healing will begin again with a story, compassion, and a desire to stay clean.