My name is Keith McNeil, and I’m going to tell you about my journey from addiction to recovery. This is my story; a tale about the unconditional love my family showed me and the pitiful isolation and depression I put myself through. I am fortunate to have made it out the other side. I’m going to share about the heartache I and everyone in my life endured, as well as the amazing changes and accomplishments I’ve been fortunate to experience of late. This is the story of my life.
Born in 1997, I grew up in Dominion, Nova Scotia, a small, close-knit town that has been home to many generations of my family. Raised in a single parent home, I have 2 siblings, a brother and sister who are 9 and 6 years older respectively. My mother worked for the school board and did everything she could to provide for us. She was and is a rock; a woman who I admire greatly. Along with my mother, my grandmother spent a great deal of time looking after me as I grew up and showered me with constant love and attention.
I never met my father. The hole he left in my life was something that took me a long time to deal with. He is currently incarcerated and has suffered from a crippling methamphetamine addiction for the last while. I always wished that he was in my life, and I never understood why he wasn’t. Luckily, I had my brother. He was the father-figure I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
I was always popular growing up and excelled at playing the role of class clown. My grades were never as good as they could’ve been, but I had no trouble achieving middle of the road success with minimal effort. At school, I cruised through classes, and outside of the halls, I cruised on a skateboard.
Skateboarding became a big part of my life from the moment I picked it up when I was 10. I loved it and found a community. The skate-park was my second home and I quickly started affiliating myself with older guys. When the weather permitted, I spent as many hours with my second family as with my actual one. I longed for acceptance, and acceptance I received.
I tried smoking weed for the first time when I was 12, and by 13 years old, once I was in high school, I was smoking weed on a daily basis. It made me feel confident, cool, and most of all, it numbed my feelings.
Around the same time, I started drinking on the weekends. I’ll never forget the first time I drank alcohol, I remember thinking that it was the most fun thing I’d ever done. All of my inhibitions were gone and I felt truly free. I wanted more and wished it would never end. Each week, I would look forward to the treat that awaited each weekend; alcoholic beverages, banter, and socializing.
My mom did everything in her power to give me everything I could possibly want or need, but the reality is that we grew up poor. I wanted things. I wanted the things that I saw many of the people around me with. There was only one solution – I’d have to get it for myself.
I started experimenting with crime, or more specifically, selling drugs. I started with marijuana and quickly added substances like Ritalin and “molly” to my repertoire. I would eventually progress to cocaine as well. I felt powerful, important and self-sufficient. I truly believed that I had discovered what I would do for the rest of my life. In reality, these were the delusions of a young man who didn’t understand much about life.
The money came in, and life seemed good. The problem was, that along with selling these things, I rapidly began using them as well. I made the seamless transition from smoking marijuana daily and drinking weekly, to using all types of things as frequently as possible. My mother turned a blind eye, probably more due to the fact that she was busy working to provide for the family than anything else.
I scraped through the end of high school. I was preoccupied, busy and care-free. I either didn’t think or was incapable of caring about the long-term consequences of my actions. Like many teenagers, I was short-sighted and fixated on the present.
My grandmother, who had played a crucial role in raising me, passed away from Alzheimers and dementia. My brother, the man who I had idolized growing up, moved away after he joined the military. Many of the core aspects of my life changed, so I doubled down on the new course I had set out upon.
Once I graduated, I followed through on the path that was laid out for me. You see, I was enrolled in a trades program during high school and a placement in welding was set aside for me. I excelled initially, for the first few weeks anyway, but quickly my addiction caught up. My priorities were completely distorted and the line between right and wrong had become completely blurred.
After the first year, I dropped out. Having never grieved the loss of my grandmother, nor processed the absence of my father, I sought constant ease and comfort through abusing drugs. I had ignored trauma, instead choosing to drown my feelings.
My shady behaviour continued and I got a job at a call centre on the side. I was desperately unhappy and my life had no meaning. I was existing, not living.
I was abusing cocaine. I was knee deep and saw no way out. I would stay up for between 3 and 5 days at a time and then crash for 24 hours afterwards. Drug-induced psychosis was a regular occurrence and people started wanting less and less to do with me.
Around this time, my house burnt down after a teenager set fire to the adjoining duplex we lived in. We had no insurance and lost everything. All of my worldly possessions went up in a cloud of smoke and I was left with nothing.
If it wasn’t for my aunt and uncle, who we moved in with, my mother and I would’ve been homeless.
I went on for another year and a half living addicted and lonely. I had resigned myself to my fate and believed that nothing would ever change. I was desperate, depressed, destructive and in denial. I regularly had suicidal ideations. I was literally dying: emotionally, physically, mentally as well as spiritually.
During this time, all the inhabitants of Cape Breton had been hearing about Together We Can through a steady stream of media attention after the Danny Mackillop story. I had a friend named Tanner, who, although he had been in just as desperate of a situation as me, was now sober after their program. I also knew of Wayne Binder and Daniel MacEachern who were local guys who had completely altered their lives as a result of the program.
My mother suggested I attend. I must say that despite the desperate reality of my circumstances, the idea of change was daunting. I had convinced myself that I was destined to be a drug addict and doubted that the program would work for me.
Eventually, my mother gave me an ultimatum; she would move heaven and earth to ensure I could go, or I would be on my own.
I went on one final bender, a truly nasty affair. While contemplating my future and recovering, I stayed in bed at my uncle’s for what seemed like forever. I waffled, going back and forth in my mind deciding what I should do. Every option, good and bad, was on the table.
I am grateful to say that I ended up making the right choice. I told my mom that I wanted to take her up on her offer of a trip to Vancouver for a stay at TWC. She and my uncle took care of the details and within days I was boarding a flight.
I arrived at the airport and was greeted by a man named Nick Randell, someone who would eventually become a good friend of mine. I felt welcome immediately and quickly realized I was right where I needed to be. I slept for an entire day, and then promptly got to work.
I haven’t looked back since starting. I expected to find people in recovery to be boring and leading unremarkable lives; oh, how I was wrong.
Quickly, I found many men who were living lives I would’ve previously only dreamed of, and they told me that with work I could have exactly what they had. I made a decision early on that I would humble myself and just take instruction. I was given a platform to explore all my repressed emotions, trauma and angst.
I got a sponsor, homegroup and did the steps. Once I was done 30 days, I was eager for the opportunity to volunteer with helping newcomers at the centre. I had to practice patience, but a month later, once I was 60 days clean and sober, I was allowed to start volunteering.
The freedom, fulfilment and joy I have experienced these last 7 months are far beyond anything I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Despite being 21 years old, I really feel as though I’ve just been born. I feel alive for the first time in forever. The opportunities that have presented themselves and the relationships I’ve made have been life-altering.
Today, I work as a staff member at TWC and get to spend time with people whom I both admire and respect. I just received a promotion. My relationships are no longer all about what I can get from people. Today my relationships are mutually beneficial, authentic bonds.
The trajectory of my life has been forever altered, and the fact that I can play a small part in doing the same for others is the greatest gift I could ever ask for.
If you’re reading this and considering making a change for yourself, please do it. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.