Growing Up Around Addiction
My name is Samantha Armstrong, and this is the story of my life. I am a daughter, sister, dance enthusiast and counsellor. I may not be in recovery, or have first-hand knowledge of the internal struggles of addiction, but I can honestly say that both have greatly affected my life. When I make that statement, people often think of it as a negative, but in my case, it comes with many positives as well. I now work in the field and love doing so.
Addiction was prevalent in my life from the moment I was born. My father was wired to a variety of substances which eventually caused him to leave my life when I was two years old. When he left, he went on to struggle, and suffered on the downtown eastside (DTES) for a decade. Growing up as a young girl, I had no idea whether or not my father was alive. It left a hole in our family. I vividly remember looking for him out the window anytime we’d travel along Hastings towards Vancouver. I remember not knowing who I was looking for. All I know is that I wanted to find him.
I grew up living with my mom in a small, loving, but dysfunctional household. By the age of 8, I had moved to 15 different locations. We ended up settling down in Port Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver. Growing up I was artistic; I especially loved to sing and draw. I excelled in school and loved English class. As you might guess, I adored creative writing.
When I entered my grade 12 year of high school, at 18 years old, my mom asked me what I wanted for graduation, and my response was “to meet my father and have him at my graduation ceremony”. This seemed like an utter impossibility, given that it had been 16 years since I had seen, heard, or spoken to him. It was the pipe dream of a good-natured young woman.
In April of 2005, I met my father for the first time at a Starbucks in downtown Port Coquitlam. My mom had managed to track him down and made contact. He had been sober for five years, and a few weeks later I went to my father’s six-year cake. He made it to my graduation. Real-life miracles, an answer to a little girls dreams, made possible by fierce determination and recovery.
You might be under the impression that my only direct connection to addiction is through my father, but that’s not the case. In late 2015, a man we’ll call Keith, whom I consider to be my brother, came forward with the fact that he was hooked on fentanyl. He couldn’t stop. The family was completely distraught and at a loss for what to do. It was an extremely difficult time. Keith’s mother didn’t go to work for a month, his father appeared to be empty and lost, his sister was angry, and I felt the need to take action. I wanted to help him, but also the rest of his family. I have always been a fixer.
Helping Others With Addiction
At the time, I was working at the Salvation Army in New Westminster doing Human Resources and Payroll Administration. A colleague of mine at the time gave me the phone number for Stacy Wilson and the Together We Can team. We were able to get Keith into treatment the next morning after making the call. As you’re reading this, I’m sure you can imagine the relief we felt when he finally began rehabilitation.
Keith ended up staying in treatment for a full 90 days and then proceeded to enter the TWC transitional housing program to do second stage living. For the first time in a year, it felt like he was back to the fun, charismatic, and loving person I knew him to be.
As a result of putting work in, he now has two beautiful children, a wife, and a wonderful career.
Throughout his 90 days in treatment, I was the go-between for his parents, who continued to process everything that was going on, and the organization. It was during this tough time that I realized my true calling. I knew what I wanted to do, and the industry I wanted to work in. I quit my job and entered school full time to obtain my diploma as a Community Social Services Worker. I reached out to TWC, the organization that had helped Keith, for a practicum placement. In January 2016, they offered me a position, and I haven’t left since.
I now work front line with those who suffer from addiction. On a daily basis, I hear their stories – the good, the bad and the ugly. I hear their struggles and help them process and understand their thoughts and emotions. Through it all, I get to bear witness to the profound transformations that occur in their lives. I get to see people flourish and enjoy life again; is there anything more meaningful than that? I see people learn to love and have pride in themselves again. When people jump through adversity and shine bright, they finally become the person they’ve always wanted to be.
Today I am thankful for all of the different ways addiction has entered my life. I would not be the person I am today without it.
Life is beautiful, especially when it is full of love, and has meaning and purpose.
Read Samantha’s bio by clicking here.