My journey to recovery began July 13, 2018, the day I came to Together We Can, hopeless, lost, confused and broken. I did not know what to except, but I knew I had to stop the destruction that was stealing my soul. Shaking and nervous, I was welcomed at the front door by a large, tattooed man who promised me everything would be okay. I couldn’t take him at his word. I was unable to trust anybody or anything, including myself. Life had become an illusion.
I was born in Richmond, BC in December 1989 to a professional mother and blue-collar father. Life took many turns for us as I was growing up. We moved a lot and experienced other issues that had a large effect on our family dynamic. With four sisters and two brothers, I have always had a deep connection to my siblings and have been blessed to be supported by each of them. At the age of 12, we made another move to a small town in rural Alberta. I had been to so many schools and made so many temporary friends, that I didn’t have faith this move was permanent. The school I went to was populated by 23 other students in my class, a majority of whom had been in class together since kindergarten. I was an outsider. Spending lunches alone, walking around the block and daydreaming of a world where people my age would talk to me, I felt alone, timid and ostracized. It was then that the group of older “cool kids” who would welcome me into their pack and make me one of their own.
From the beginning, the friendships I made were based on who could drink the most, smoke the most and cause the most trouble. Looking back on it, we were a group of misfits that didn’t know how to belong or cope with our emotions. We were all lost and simply existing in a world that didn’t seem to care about us. The most popular one that day was whoever held the pack of cigarettes. Each of our families had their own addiction issues and most of us were left to our own devices. We hung out at each other’s houses, because their parents didn’t care what we were doing, as long as we shared our substances. I always made a promise to myself that it would never get out of control, that I was only having fun and I’d stop if it turned into an issue. I had seen the road that alcohol and drug addiction can take you on and I wanted none of it. Even with this resolve, the peer pressure to try harder drugs and drink large amounts overtook me. I focused less on the harms and more on the fact that I had friends. People who thought I was funny, people who confided in me, people who understood me. With every drink and drug use, I became more confident, funny and a better friend. I had arrived! It was my time to shine.
After graduation, I moved back to Calgary where I stopped using drugs, simply because I had no idea where to find them. The drinking was the same though. I loved to have a nice cold one on a hot summer afternoon after a day at the office. I was given an opportunity to expand my skill set and manage an office in Winnipeg. I moved there is January 2008, not knowing a single soul. Here I was again, alone and afraid, but I knew what would help me forget the isolation and fear, booze. I was 18 and did not know where to turn. Getting drunk and chatting with old friends on the internet became my nightly activity. This is where my addiction really began to take hold. For the next ten years, I drifted in and out of drug use, but alcohol was always a companion. I moved around to try and start fresh, but I didn’t know how to make friends. I didn’t know how to cope with the feelings of loss and loneliness. It was impossible for me to get out of my own way. After a night of hard partying at the age of 24, one of my sisters caught me smoking a drug that she had seen rip our family apart. I was given an ultimatum, quit or she would never talk to me again. I didn’t want to lose her too, so I bit the bullet and joined AA in March 2014. The first four months were great! I started to make friends in recovery and became comfortable in my own skin. I was feeling great and thought to myself “Wow, it’s been four months. I am sure that I am going to do just fine.” On that note, I decided to pack up and move back to the West Kootenays to be closer with my mom, stepdad and younger siblings. It was with that move that I stopped attending AA meetings, I stopped doing any type of recovery work and I started to feel dread again. The only thing keeping me sober was the thought of losing my sister forever. Another job opportunity arose in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that I was excited for. I was going to open a sales office and really make my mark on the world. I packed up and moved back to the prairies. What I really moved into was isolation. I was blind to see that I was going to be alone again, and I didn’t handle isolation very well. It was January of 2015, I spent my days watching the snow fly outside while I worked countless hours, just to try to keep my mind occupied. I remember thinking that AA could help, they promised I’d be welcome anywhere and at any meeting. I looked up the closet meeting and it just so happened to be in the building that my office and apartment were in. Each night at 7:00PM in the meeting room below my apartment bedroom. I went to a few meetings and other members invited me for coffee and fellowship. They tried to help me get connected, but my mind kept telling me they wanted something from me. That their sobriety was not real, this was just a cult, so I stopped going. I would lay in my bed crying and white knuckling not going to the liquor store while I could hear the AA’s clapping and rejoicing in the room right underneath me. I hated them. By May of 2015, I had had enough. I was on my way home! This would solve the problem for sure I thought. I had the first drink of what turned into a three-year relapse as soon as I could see the mountains.
The next three years were a living hell. An addict can always find their tribe no matter where they are and boy, did I find mine. These people were having fun! They were laughing and enjoying life. Something I had truly missed for the past 14 months. This quickly turned into using for days on end, drinking in the morning to stop the shakes, becoming involved with drug dealers so I could get a free fix. Everyone has a different bottom, mine was depression and suicide. I didn’t want to be around my “friends” anymore, but I couldn’t stop using for more than a day. My mother and family watched me slide deeper and deeper into a mess that I could not get out of. I fooled myself to believe that by having a job, making my insurance and cell phone payments, that life wasn’t that bad. Every time I remembered how terrible I felt, I used more drugs and took another drink. This helped numb it. Finally, my family could take no more, it was treatment, or they wanted nothing more to do with me. I was enraged that my own mother said she couldn’t trust me anymore and would no longer watch me kill myself. How could she betray me like this I thought? It was this conversation and the boundaries set by my mother that shifted my perspective, however. I started to see the hurt I was causing everyone. I began to toy with the idea that maybe I needed help.
In July 2018, I entered the TWC Awakenings House. I had great resolve that I was going to do this right. I was going to get it the first time and never have to leave my life behind again. My plan was to stay for 60 days and move back home. Even my employer was willing to take me back after I had admitted using and drinking on the job. I owed this to my family, my employer, to everyone but me. I knew I was an addict going in, but I still had so much to learn.
I connected with the other guys in the house pretty quickly. It was strange and seemed silly that others connected with me because we had a common problem, addiction. I thought treatment was just a place to go, get dry and head back into life, a changed and renewed man! I started to realize that it was so much more than that, this was a complete lifestyle change. I was about 25 days into treatment, when the group facilitator looked at the group and very sternly stated “If you want to live, you have to change everything!”. It scared me, of course I wanted to live, but what did he mean by change everything? He had my attention and I wanted to know more. At the break, I asked him what he meant by change everything. He clearly explained it to me, “Steven, change everything. Change your work, change your living situation, most importantly change the people you call friends”. I made a split decision right then and there, I was staying Vancouver, leaving my job and having faith that this will work out. My family was sad that I was not coming home but they understood. My employer felt betrayed, but eventually, he understood too. Here was my jumping off point, it was time I took accountability and started building my own life. It was time I started to see the value and potential I have.
After treatment, I volunteered at Together We Can helping with shift support and driving at the Alliance Program. It was here that I was given trust and an opportunity to show what I was made of. I was awarded the house manager position at Alliance and soon became a salaried staff member. Alliance at the time was TWC’s LGBTQ focused centred, geared towards helping queer and trans individuals get the chance to start living in recovery. I came out as gay at the age of 17, but had so much internal homophobia, that I had never even had a gay friend. Alliance changed that for me. The other staff, volunteers and residents showed me that it was okay to be who I am. Today, I can say with the help of Alliance, I am no longer ashamed of my sexuality and I can embrace the fact that I am a deserving and loved individual. Today, I am blessed to be working with Together We Can and am happy to call my co-workers my family. It amazes me that a majority of our staff and all of our volunteers are recovering addicts. These are the same people who lived under bridges, stole from their families, and burned their lives to the ground. Today, we are all motivated to help the new person and spread a message of hope.
Over the last two years, I have learned many valuable lessons, the biggest is that recovery is a lifelong journey. If I want to stay clean, I need to maintain a program of recovery that includes attending 12-step fellowship meetings like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, I must talk about my problems as they come up, I must have faith that there is something bigger than me out there and I do not need to control every outcome. It is my opinion that the piece we must never set down is helping the newcomer. In order to keep what I have; I must give it away, as freely as it was given to me. There is a therapeutic value of one addict helping another. Everyone speaks about the gifts of recovery and I can tell you the biggest that I have been given. The first is the true friendships that have blossomed over what is truly a short time. I have a support group that wants me to succeed and that’s all they want from me. The second gift is that my mother no longer lays awake wondering where I am or if I am still alive. I can never repay the sleepless nights, anxiety and anguish I have caused her, but I can give her son back. I can make a daily living amends to her, so she sees that I want to be the best son possible. I cannot express in words how grateful I am that my parents, sisters, and brothers have stuck beside me through all of this. The more I work on myself, the more they get to see that recovery is possible. The biggest gift of recovery though? I love myself today. I value the person I am and am excited to keep growing, learning and changing. I know there is a great life out there for me and every day that I stay clean, I am one step closer to it.
For those of us that do relapse, do not feel shame or guilt, you can do it! Build a community of loving, like-minded individuals. We do not shoot our wounded. You can stand up and live a life that you are proud of. Like me, you can see your own potential and recover from a hopeless state of mind and body. We can do this together!