My name is Zach Firlotte, and this is my story. This is a story of a lost little boy who grows up to be a self-destructive man. A man who surrounds himself and those who love him with chaos and pain. A man who brought himself to the edge of death, on more than one occasion, but who also fought for his life and discovered who he was. I am a man who has found internal happiness and peace; something which never seemed possible.
I was raised in a military family. A military brat, I was born in Lahr, Germany, and lived on the military base in Baden Baden for the first two years of my life. We then moved to the base in Winnipeg where my father was stationed, and my first sister was born. A few years later, we moved to the military base in Vancouver, where my second sister was born.
I moved a lot growing up.
My mother and father were young when they had me and my sisters, and by the time I was 6, they had separated for good. At first, I lived with my mother. That wouldn’t last long. I blamed her for the family being torn apart and showed it with my anger. Eventually, I would move in with my father, a man who loved me unconditionally; he was extremely strict, but also fair.
At 7 years old, I was hanging out with kids a few years older than me. The trouble all started with minor theft and setting things on fire. I found it exciting, and I liked it. Exhilaration. At 8, my mother had moved to Abbotsford, and I was once again sent to live with her and my two sisters. My mother was going to school, working, and trying to raise 3 kids to the best of her ability. I ended up taking on a lot of the responsibilities of caring for my younger sisters. From a young age, I knew what pressure felt like.
I quickly realized that something wasn’t quite right with me. Throughout elementary school, I was constantly getting into trouble; whether it was stealing, fighting, or something else, I had a knack for getting suspended.
My father wound up moving to Abbotsford as well, and my sisters and I joined him. I think I mentioned earlier that I moved a few times growing up, well, I really did. He would do his utmost to strike fear into me; he impressed upon me that things wouldn’t go well if I continued to get into trouble. His strict, controlling parenting style only made me rebel even more.
One thing I always had, and that I never doubted myself about, was my athletic ability. I loved sports. I played baseball as a youngster, all the way up until grade 7. By then, I no longer found it fun and lost interest. There was a natural sport for a boy who was turning into a rage-filled young man: football. I decided to try out for the team and instantly fell in love with the sport. It allowed me to release all that pent up anger in a healthy way. Controlled violence, absolutely brilliant.
On the football field, I was confident and felt unstoppable; in school, I was riddled with, and driven by fear. I couldn’t pay attention in class and my grades progressively got worse and worse each year. I convinced myself that I was stupid and incapable of learning anything. I was afraid of being judged and never being good enough. School was a grind, but playing sports got me through. For a while, anyway.
Grade 10 is where I had my breakout year and established myself as one of the top football players in the province. Things appeared amazing on the outside, but on the inside, I was still that same lost little boy. The truth is, grade 10 was also when I started smoking weed and drinking.
The weed, I could take it or leave that. The alcohol on the other hand, well, that filled a void inside of me unlike anything else before. I felt confident, funny, charming, and once again, unstoppable! I would like to say that my addiction took a while to develop, but that’s simply not the case. After my first time drinking, I craved it and always wanted more.
By 17 years old I had been kicked out of my house and had dropped out of school. That promising football star, who just 2 years ago was provincially ranked, was no longer playing the sport. My parents had no idea what to do with me. This is when the emotional rollercoaster of pain really began for all those who loved me. I worked dead-end jobs which I could only ever hold down for a few months at a time.
At the age of 20, I was knee deep into cocaine and got arrested for selling drugs. My 22nd year on earth saw me swiftly receive an 18-month house-arrest sentence, ankle bracelet and all. Consequences. Tangible repercussions. I was living with my father at the time and wanted him to think I was abiding by all of my conditions, so I switched from cocaine to oxycontin. The high was less obvious and I thought I’d be able to hide it well. Stopping using didn’t even cross my mind.
Opiates took away any insecurities I had about myself and numbed me to any issues I was facing; so long as I was high that is. This quickly turned into an all day, everyday habit which I could no longer hide.
My addiction was taking a serious toll on my father’s health, as well as his relationship with my stepmom, so they asked me to move out. It was only a matter of time before I got into heroin, a much cheaper, more potent substance. I quickly became unable to support myself. Every dollar I earned or came across went to maintaining my habit. I was trapped. I convinced my dad to let me move back in.
My father was extremely hard on me, but he was also the one person who always had my back. He was always there to pick me up from each bottom I hit. My addiction saw me constantly lie, steal and manipulate my family. At 23, an intervention was set up, and, after a whirlwind of emotions and tears, I went to treatment.
I went to a faith-based program which was based around God and the Bible, and for a short time it helped me. I got a small taste of what it was like to be sober. My life got good. The issue was that I still thought I could drink as long as I didn’t mess around with any hard drugs. This is a delusion many an addict faces.
I decided to go work down south in the oil patch.
The next 7 years were fueled by drugs, money and toxic relationships. During this period, I was able to hold down good jobs and make lots of money, but I was always broke and could not manage my life whatsoever. I only had one thing on my mind: chasing the high. I constantly built my life up, only to bring it crashing down. I simply didn’t get ‘it’. From 2012 to 2016, I worked on a fishing boat and made up to $12,000 per month; I lived at my dad’s house, sported a vicious cocaine and heroin addiction, and had absolutely nothing to show for it.
My relationship with my father went something like this: he loved me because I was his son, but he didn’t like me and couldn’t stand to have me around. He was watching his firstborn child slowly die right in front of his eyes and he didn’t know what he could do to help. Things took a real turn for the worse in 2016. I started to feel like I was mentally losing my mind, I quit my job and went to work for my brother-in-law. By this point, I was completely isolating myself. People started to prepare for the worst and distanced themselves from me.
I overdosed for the first time the night before the Superbowl, February 2016. I was supposed to play touch football and watch the game, but my addiction prevented that.
I had woken up in the middle of the night, ingested some substance, and gone back to bed. When my friend came to wake me up, I was unresponsive, foaming at the mouth and turning blue. He called 911. I was in the hospital on life support. I was in my late 20’s, supposedly at the peak of my life, but I was dying. The doctor thought I would be a vegetable; I had suffered a lack of oxygen to the brain.
Monday, and my whole family is at the hospital. There was talk of them pulling the plug. This is what addiction does to me and my family.
Later that day, I came back to life, something I believe to be a miracle. I looked around and saw everyone bawling their eyes out. I was overtaken with guilt and shame. Never in a million years did I think that this type of thing would happen to me. I was the star football player, you know, the unstoppable force. I swore to myself that this was it and I’d never do something like this again.
Once home, I looked myself in the mirror and the faucets turned on. I proceeded to cry for the next 4 hours straight. I felt broken, pitiful and devastated.
I would quickly find out that guilt, shame and fear are not enough to keep me sober; within days of feeling better, I was back to using drugs.
I overdosed for the second time 4 months later. My father and his girlfriend left the house to go house hunting, and I went into the bathroom to use before a shower. Once again, I woke up again in the hospital. This time, I was told, I had overdosed, collapsed into the door, and had been out for 5 hours in a sitting position. My father found me. I had to get my kidneys flushed so they wouldn’t shut down permanently. I was in a deplorable state.
I convinced the staff at the hospital that the only way I’d be willing to stay the 4 days they wanted was if I could smoke weed. Yes, I am a hardcore addict. After a few days in the emergency room, and another in the psych ward, I was released.
I accepted that I would likely die by the end of the year, and resigned myself to that fate. I believe that my family felt the same way. The past 16 years had seen multiple overdoses, a number of suicide attempts, and a lot of difficulties.
A friend of mine, who had also battled addiction, asked me the simple question, “what reason do you have to not go and try to save your life”, and I decided to give recovery another go. I sat there in silence. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was still an option. I made the decision to get help; July 16th, 2016 was my original clean date. I entered Together We Can for treatment.
I did very well in the environment, an all-star of sorts you could say. I gained the knowledge that addiction was a disease, and that I had an allergy. The allergy makes me crave more after I take my first drink or drug, and then the consequences ensue. Once I start, I can’t stop.
After treatment, I moved to transitional housing and volunteered at TWC, eventually landing a full-time position. I got into a healthy relationship with a woman who has turned out to be my rock. Dominique, the love of my life. She has been nothing but loving, caring, supportive and understanding of me and my disease. Everything on the outside seemed amazing and life was pretty good for the most part.
I stopped doing all of the recovery work that had got me to where I was. Slowly, I started becoming irritable, restless, resentful and discontent. In May of 2017, I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. I was 9 months sober at the time. I was certainly excited, but also extremely scared.
I wound up relapsing just before my 1-year cake. I had moved out to Abbotsford to be close to family, and to make more money. I wanted to save up for when my son was born. I never completed my 12 steps or the work I needed to do, and I was defeated by the pressures of life. As always, when defenceless, I turned to drugs for relief. I didn’t reach out for help while I was struggling.
It took me 3 months to burn everything to the ground.
The night before I got honest, I was standing outside in the rain praying to god for help; I told God that if he couldn’t help me, I wanted to die. I was alone, lost, empty and hopeless. I was about to be a father, and all I could think about was wanting to die.
November 2nd, 2017 is my clean date. It was a matter of hours after coming clean that I was back in TWC. They moved heaven and earth to help me. I blew all of our money on drugs, and after losing our apartment, my girlfriend had to live with my sister. She was safe and I was fueled by this willingness that I had never had before. I was going to defeat my disease. I did not waste my time in the gym as I had previously done, this time I did everything that was asked of me. I was determined to make sure that my son would never have to see his father high.
December 29th, 2017 is when my son, Krew, was born. The connection and love I felt from the moment I saw him has changed my life forever. I finally understand that there is no room for selfishness in my life. Being selfless is key to being a good father, boyfriend, and son. It is also the key to my recovery. Today, my life is amazing. I am not perfect and do make mistakes, but I am able to recognize and make amends promptly. I don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again.
I love myself, I am content, and so are those who I surround myself with. My girlfriend and I both have careers that we love and we have a home for our family. We’ll even be moving to a better place this summer. We are deeply in love. I have amazing people in my life.
Through recovery, I have rediscovered my love of softball. As a result of the sport, I have a new extended family. I get to go on trips and have fun. Actual fun. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. I am and will forever be grateful for my family, my girlfriend’s family and my work family.
I appreciate and recognize all those who stuck by my side when it was unbearable to have me around. I had people who loved me unconditionally and didn’t give up. They are the same people who I now love unconditionally.
For myself and all those I care about, I will always do my best to keep moving forward. I am committed to growing as a man in every aspect of my life. Every morning, I ask for the ability to be the best man I can be. I get to be a present father, boyfriend, brother and son.
Today, I am living an amends.