My name is Julian Harmel and this is my recovery story. My journey to recovery started sometime in April 2016. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact date as I was in the midst of a multiple weeks-long bender. A standard affair: the bender to end all benders. As usual, my loved ones were worried sick and anxiously searching the town for my whereabouts. These disappearing acts had become a common occurrence by this point. My family often wondered whether I was dead or alive.
I had loved alcohol and marijuana since I was a teenager, but things had gone much further by this point. I drank to oblivion on a daily basis. For the last two years, I had been playing Russian Roulette; mixing excessive quantities of hard liquor and Valium. Nothing seemed to work anymore. I couldn’t get enough of either. I became a professional at completely disregarding any obligations or responsibilities I had left. I became a fixture at the local Emergency room, and all the medical staff knew me on a first name basis. My life was a complete mess.
On this particular day in April, I was in a drunken stupor when I received a chance phone call from an Intake Coordinator from Together We Can named Jordan Davies. Apparently, while optimistically attending an AA meeting, I had picked up a sponsor. This sponsor had contacted a treatment centre. I was shocked. Who did this sponsor think he was? How could he have known that I had a problem? Sure, I had reached out to him, and he had tried to help me, but he went way above and beyond. Today I realize that all humans are worth helping, but at this point, I didn’t have any self-worth. I came to realize that this man had tried literally everything he could to help me. I don’t remember much about the phone call from Jordan Davies, but I do remember the profound realization that I came to that day; this truly was a matter of life or death for me. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
More and more days of drinking passed. Days filled with grandiose proclamations to my “friends”, liquor store employees and drug dealers. I kept telling them about how I was going to head to rehab and get my life back on track. I just needed one or two more nights of drinking. I’m sure you can guess how these statements were met. Head shakes and eye rolls.
Once again I ended up in the E.R. for acute alcohol withdrawals. Nothing new, I had been in this exact place many times before. Terrace, where I grew up, is a small town. The nurses knew my family and I had been to school with a few of them. I was living in a world of pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization on a daily basis. People looked at me with distraught expressions. I understood that they looked at me with sympathy and concern, but I didn’t know what to do. I felt utterly helpless and hopeless. The trembling broken man in front of them was a far cry from the care-free exuberant kid that they had once known. These episodes had begun to occur when I was 25, but I was now nearly 30. I was one of those patients who just never learned his lesson.
I was hydrated, supplemented, and administered medication intravenously. I was sent on my way with massive prescriptions of Valium and Librium. I had literally played the starring role in this exact tape many times before. You see, there are no detox centres within a 600km radius of Terrace, so this was the usual treatment plan. My mom picked me up from the hospital and drove me back to my childhood home where I went through some of the worst withdrawals of my life. The hellish intensity. Hallucinations. Sweating. Shakes. I can still remember them like they were yesterday. As luck would have it, I decided to stay in touch with Jordan Davies the entire time. I would come to realize just how good of a man he really was.
The prospect of going to Together We Can started to become a reality. The whole week before I entered TWC was a blur. Copious amounts of benzodiazepines will do that. I was a wreck; I could hardly stand, and everyday tasks felt like summiting Mount Everest. All of a sudden the plan that had been formulated by TWC staff was put into motion. I was instructed to be at the Greyhound stop at a certain time. I gathered all of my worldly possessions; a backpack full of old clothes and an Acoustic guitar. A miserable 24-hour bus ride ensued. I didn’t think I would make it. If this was what recovery was about, then I knew I certainly wouldn’t.
I arrived at Together We Can on May 2nd, 2016. I took one Valium on the bus the morning I arrived, and the disposed of the remaining quantity. I have not had to put another mind or mood altering substance into my body since. I had no idea what was in store for me. I was living minute by minute.
The first month of my stay was tough. I had become a recluse, I didn’t trust anyone, and I certainly didn’t trust myself. I had no social or life skills. I didn’t think I would make it. I had tried getting clean before, and couldn’t imagine that somehow it would be different this time. I was shell-shocked. I didn’t talk a lot and spent most of the time focused inward; stuck in morbid reflection. I hadn’t taken a sober breath in 2 years and now I was forced to explore this strange new world, that or return to what increasingly looked like a certain slow and painful death.
About a month into treatment I began to get some clarity and proceeded to truly weigh my options for what felt like the first time of my entire life. It hit me like a ton of bricks: I only had one option. I remembered my favourite quote of my childhood idol, Hunter S. Thompson, “anything worth doing is worth doing right”. I decided that if I wanted any chance of success in recovery, I had better give it my best shot. I followed the men who had come before me and did everything that was suggested. I gave recovery everything I had.
Once I had the desire and had made the decision to get well, everything began to fall into place as if by design. There are things that have happened in the last 3 years that I can’t even say out loud without my mind questioning if it’s real. Unexplainable things. Reconciliation. New opportunities. Miracles. The fact that a man who couldn’t get 3 days sober will be taking 3 years sober in a few months is a miracle in itself.
My life is very full these days; I get to lead a worthwhile existence and can now help men who are stuck in the place I once was. The safety and security of my life are no longer my primary areas of concern. I can now focus on self-actualization. The ability to care for myself allows my basic needs to be met. I can focus on the things that are meaningful; things of actual importance. Today, I have blind faith that things are going to be all right. I know that if I do the next right thing, good things will happen.
After staying in primary treatment at TWC for 90 days, I moved into a transitional housing residence. I went back to my old career and resumed working as a welder. Welding is what I had done my entire adult life up to this point. Yes, I was good at it, but I soon realized that I simply didn’t want to do it anymore. At 2 years sober I decided emphatically that I couldn’t continue down the same career path. I summoned up the courage and managed to take a fateful leap of faith. I decided to embark upon a new chapter with one mission in mind: finding a career that I’d actually like. Working in the addiction and recovery field immediately jumped out as the best option.
After saving a bit of money, I went for it. I put in my two-weeks notice and started volunteering at TWC. Another miracle. I soon realized that I had rediscovered home. Now that I had a purpose, all the small obstacles of a monotonous life began to evaporate. I started getting more and more shifts at work. Together We Can, the place that gave me a new lease on life 2 years prior was doing so again.
My ambition and passion burn inside like a cauldron of fire. I have rediscovered music, my first true love. The Acoustic guitar that accompanied my old bag of clothing no longer collected dust in the closet. I was afforded the opportunity to run a weekly music group for clients and decided this was my calling. I now record music and am going to become a music therapist. My musical pseudonym is Harmelody, and I just had the pleasure of releasing my first music video. I run TWC’s monthly event: The Originals Open Mic. I know that if I do a few simple things every day to maintain my sobriety and I keep moving towards my goals, I will inevitably achieve them. Three years ago it was unthinkable that the sky would’ve been the limit, but today it is. My thirst for life is unquenchable, and my faith is unshakeable.
You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep reliving the previous one. To anyone out there who is struggling with addiction, know that there is hope. Not only can things get better for you, but you can live a life beyond your wildest dreams. All you have to do is make a decision and pick up the phone. I recommend that you call Mr. Davies. There is hope out there, and it’s waiting patiently for you.
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