My name is Mike Cain, and this is my story. This is a story of being lost, searching, and eventually finding myself. This is a story of addiction, service, recovery and fulfilment.
Have you ever woken up after a bender and sworn to yourself that you won’t ever do it again? Have you ever promised that you’ll stop subjecting yourself to the consequences of your actions? The first time I ever promised myself, I was 24 years old and I had been awake for 3 days.
I was scared to death. It took another decade for me to do anything about it.
Raised in Victoria, by a loving family of both parents and an older sister, from a young age I was made aware of the potentially adverse effects of drinking alcohol and using drugs. My parents cared about me, and I about them. To this day, I remember thinking as a child that I would never be someone who suffered from addiction. Oh, how times would change.
I was an avid athlete, playing soccer and lacrosse. I loved to compete and be active. These activities alone were what sustained me in my youth.
I remember standing in the parking lot of my high school and being offered a puff of a joint. I was 15 years old when I crossed that imaginary line. I had no idea that I would cross many more of these lines in my journey through alcoholism, and I certainly had no intention of doing so. Lonely and desperate for some sort of connection, I accepted that hit. I can honestly say that I didn’t even like the effect that the marijuana had on me, yet the next day I found myself seeking out that same connection. For once, I felt like I belonged.
At 18 years old, I found the substance that would eventually bring me to my knees, cocaine. In hindsight, I can see the inevitability of my downward spiral, but at the time it was simply exciting. I vividly remember sitting on my couch as I ingested that substance, thinking “this is what I’ve been looking for my whole life”. I had arrived. I knew that this could spell trouble, but the feeling that the drug gave me completely outweighed any of the aforementioned warnings I had received growing up as a boy.
By the time I was 22, I had morphed from a casual user to someone who was using on a daily basis. My life revolved around my next high.
I went on for a couple of years, holding on to my dirty little secret, but by 24 I was asking my mom for help. My mother, ever loving and supportive, promptly went about finding a solution. She helped me seek assistance for the first time, and I found myself attending my first meeting of the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous. As I walked through the door of a little church on Goldstream Avenue in Victoria, my walls went up. My judgemental nature won the day, and I immediately convinced myself that I was not like these people.
The next 10 years saw a downward spiral of epic proportions occur. The only growth I managed was that of my internal loneliness. My powdered cocaine use progressed to crack, and I didn’t do much other than use or think about using. I was lost. I was dying.
There I was, 34 years old and I had not accomplished much of anything since becoming an adult. I was desperate. I made a conscious decision to alter the way I was living and my trajectory in life; I enlisted in the Canadian Forces and commenced a career as a Naval Communicator. I had an idea that alcohol was a common theme in the Forces, but I didn’t realize that I had a problem with alcohol as well as drugs. I would come to find that alcohol, along with drugs, was my master.
I honestly felt that the structure of the Canadian Forces, as well as the fear of disciplinary measures from the chain of command, could provide me with a means to stay clear of cocaine. Today, I realize that every time I drink alcohol, I use cocaine as well; back then, either through denial or delusion, I was blind to this inconvenient truth. I now understand that I suffer from a physical allergy. When I start, I have little to no control over when I’ll stop.
It took me 3 years and 93 days to accomplish, but eventually, my alcoholism would cost me my cherished job in the Canadian Forces. Loneliness, hopelessness, and misery were the driving factors of my decision-making process.
October 29th, 2014, I had been awake for a very long time, and I was in a place where I was completely at peace with saying goodbye to my family, my friends, and my life. I was depressed and suicidal. Something had to give. There is a promise in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that says “we will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves”; while I was unaware of this at the time, that promise came true for me in that exact moment.
My telephone rang and for a reason that still baffles me, I answered the call. I was never one to answer my phone while I was under the influence of cocaine. I am eternally grateful that on this occasion I answered. I was offered a bed at Together We Can by my Veterans Affairs case manager Irena. I was offered a lifeline.
On October 30th, 2014, I got on a ferry from Victoria and headed to Vancouver. I was still under the influence of illicit substances. A wonderful thing happened that day when I got off the ferry; I was met by a smiling, non-judgemental face and was made to feel welcome. I could feel the compassion. This is the day that my life started to change.
Over the course of the last four and a half years, I have found myself pondering how in the world I could go from being hopeless, lonely and miserable, to having a sense of purpose, friends, and a family that can actually trust me. None of my progress would have been possible if I had continued down the path I was on, in fact, I can say with confidence that I’d likely be dead. Together We Can gave me a safe place to stay and introduced me to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Within the fellowship, I was introduced to the program of recovery, and from the program of recovery, I was able to let go of everything I thought I knew about myself. I was able to find this thing they call God.
I didn’t grow up in a religious or anti-religious environment; it wasn’t something I was exposed to. The whole God concept was something that was difficult for me to comprehend. One of my favourite lines in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which really resonates with me, is “when we drew near to him, he disclosed himself to us”. For me, that quote means that I use the 12 steps of AA to get connected to power, or God, and then through finding God, I am then able to find myself.
I can proudly say that since that fateful day at the end of October in 2014, I have managed to stay sober the entire time. I no longer feel empty or insecure. I decided that I wanted to be someone who gave others what had been so freely given to me. I wanted to help people.
I have stuck around TWC since completing treatment and have been employed in intake services, as the client care coordinator and am now a counsellor. A conversation with a mentor of mine, Jesse Kiss, is what prompted me to embark on the path of being a counsellor. I have completed my Canadian Addictions Counsellor Certification, and am in school pursuing further training. I am right where I need to be.
Nothing brings me more joy than witnessing the transformations that take place on a daily basis in the recovery community. For anyone who is out there struggling, military or not, know that there is a viable path forward; it all starts with taking the first step.