Getting unhooked from a life of addiction
Contributed photoThe exit doors of the hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan swung open and the rush of sub zero winter air pouring into the building produced a chilling and defining moment for Susan.
Her drug dealer boyfriend was in police custody on counterfeiting charges.
She was a longtime addict.
And now, far from her home in Tsawwassen, the then 18-year-old had nowhere to go.
What was her next step?
Embarking on the long road to getting clean and sober was the answer.
Susan—not her real name, like the others in this story who asked for anonymity—knew the only way to break the self-destructive cycle of addiction was to change her life completely.
Cast off the drug and alcohol use. Get back to her family. And create a purpose in life.
It's a fairly similar story for three other local 20-something addicts who have managed to a make change for the better.
And with the grand opening of the rebuilt Little House Society facility on June 10 in Tsawwassen they are keen to tell how they got unhooked from addiction traveled down the road to recovery.
The Little House Society is billed as a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and advancing education related to substance use, abuse, and addiction, and abstinence-based recovery from addiction. Its building on 12th Ave. adjacent to Brandrith Park, a small residential structure, fell victim to arson in 2009, and with the community's assistance it has been re-established.
The road to addiction
The original Little House was a source of help during Susan's recovery, now 27, who moved to Tsawwassen from Coquitlam when she was 14. She had already experimented with drugs—marijuana—at the age of 12. And by the age of 15 was addicted to meth amphetamines.
"To tell you you the truth, I came here as a new person to the community and the group of friends who accepted me experimented with drugs," she says. "There isn't a lot for young people to do out here that's not sports. So, free time is spent experimenting with drugs."
At first she said declined the invitations, but eventually gave in.
"It was a guy. He was more persuasive and I thought if I do it (drugs) with him, he'll like me more," Susan says.
In Grade 11 she was kicked out of high school in Tsawwassen and sent to an alternate program.
By the end of Grade 12 she was expelled from the alternate program.
Delving deeper into the drug culture Susan started associating with criminals.
"It's just part of that world," Susan says. "And I got in trouble with the law."
That was in Regina and the moment when she knew things had to change.
For Henry, it started with drinking at the age of 15. It was a way for the Ladner resident to break down the barriers of insecurity to become the fun-loving, focus of attention person he desperately wanted to be.
"After my first time drinking I spent the night in the hospital," says Henry, now 21. "I had to get my stomach pumped because I drank too much. And it went downhill from there."
As he got older Henry turned to harder drugs such as cocaine.
In Grade 12 he became disconnected from family and friends in preference for those with whom he was using drugs.
"I've always had a fear of social situations." he says. "I've always been a nervous person and my way to deal it was to take myself out of the equation and replace it with the effects of a drug like cocaine which I used to make myself the life of a party."
After a while that wasn't enough to break free from the shackles of his anxieties and Henry graduated to opiates and a preference for solitude.
"It was just me, my video games and my drugs," he says.
Not long after graduating from high school Henry left home for college on Vancouver Island at age 19. A change in geography was maybe a way out, he thought.
"I had a burst of motivation for the first month, then I crashed. I found a way to get drugs, drank by myself and stopped going to school altogether for two semesters," he says. "I went farther and farther into the depths of addiction because I didn't have anyone to remind me where I was going. I was truly on my own. And once I was left to my own devices it was well and truly over."
But while he recognized the downward spiral it took a bad experience while consuming halucenogenic mushrooms to present Henry with a moment of clarity to fully understand the position he was in and to change the direction his life was heading.
"I suddenly saw I wasn't the grandiose, good looking, athletic guy I thought I was. It was all an illusion."
He called his mother in the middle of the night and said he needed to come home and his parents, who had always been supportive through all his trials, accepted his return.
Henry came home with the intent to get clean, but experienced relapses that included cocaine use to get himself up for the sports team he belonged to.
But when the drugs failed to deliver the desired results it took a call from a close friend, Colin, a fellow addict and his former drug dealer in high school, to get him pointed in the right direction in a treatment program in New Westminster.
"I don't know what I was thinking walking up to the place, but it just felt right and was something I had to do," Henry says.
Seeing his friend Colin there, looking healthier than he'd seen him in years, inspired Henry to make the effort to stop using.
Colin, also 21, says he felt compelled to help Henry get clean.
Colin's story was similar to his friend's—drinking alcohol at an early age to heal the emptiness and sadness he felt inside. Then he graduated to increasingly more potent drugs—much of them pilfered from his family's medicine cabinet.
By the time he was in Grade 10 Colin was dealing drugs, and cocaine and oxycontin use was a regular habit.
"The opiates like oxycontin became my drug of choice," he says. "It made me feel so good."
His addiction to the drug became so ingrained that following an accident at work where he cut his knee badly, all Colin could think of was being able to get as much pain medication as possible from his doctor.
"At the hospital I pretended to be in severe pain and played that off for months."
After completing Grade 12 Coiln started using heroin on a daily basis.
"I wasn't working. I was like a homeless junkie. I didn't live on the streets. I was on my friend's couch. I was kicked out of my parents' house. No one would hire me. All I did each day was use heroin and cocaine," he says.
Knowing he was going nowhere in life Colin attempted treatment for his addiction. The first try failed.
Colin returned home and promptly relapsed.
That happened mainly because Colin says he never fully accepted he was an addict.
"I always told myself that I could drink on the weekends, and life would be good if I could only do the odd hit (drug use) here or there."
Relapse for those in the 20-something demographic who move back to the family home is prevalent, says Jim Stimson, president of the Little House Society who is working on bringing together those like Susan, Henry and Colin for regular support group meetings.
"The highest rate of relapse for young adults is when they return to live with one or both parents," Stimson says, "especially if the parents have not done any recovery themselves. Because the addiction compulsion is not gone. It's just been treated. So, what happens is that the illness is a living entity that doesn't want you to really quit. And that sets you up to create conflict. And there's no better place to create that conflict than in the home with those who you are closest to. And bingo, the relapses start happening.
"You gotta stay out of slippery places," Stimson said. "You don't want them (recovering addicts) in places where's there's constant chaos and disagreement."
Those parents who buy into the education side of addiction more likely to have their children succeed in treatment.
Colin's family did and last month he celebrated his first anniversary of being clean.
It's been five years clean and sober for Jane.
Her journey through addiction started with struggling to gain acceptance in school, "and l was looking for a different way to cope than other people," says the 23-year-old single mom, adding the birth of her son is what made her change.
"I got into drug debts, health problems and was homeless, but none of that scared me or shocked my world. It was me being pregnant with my son that changed things. It changed my aspect on life."
Part of that was the challenge set out to her by a friend who said the best way to ensure she kept her child after he was born was to immediately go clean. And that meant throwing out her current supply of drugs.
"I really knew something was wrong with my life when I started crying over the fact of crushed (discarded) dope," she says laughing.
But she did it—went clean for a week. And that stretched to a month, then five months.
"I managed that because my son also filled something I'd been searching for," she says. "Whenever I went to treatment I was told that I had to be doing this for myself, not someone else. But that wasn't good enough because I didn't care if I lived or died at that point. For me, using drugs was a slow process of committing suicide, which I was committed to."
She says that in her mind she never believed in the unconditional love from her parents.
"I always felt that I didn't live up to their standards of what a daughter should be, so when I found out I was pregnant I finally got what I was looking for—unconditional love."
New lives with purpose
Today, Susan, Henry, Colin and Jane have lives with a purpose—ones they believe other addicts can attain with the assistance of programs in facilities such as The Little House.
Susan completed a degree in criminology and aspires to be a probation officer. Henry and Colin have full time jobs they enjoy. And Jane wants to help other addicts.
"When I decided to get clean not even a brick had been laid on the Little House foundation. But I think with something like that in the community there's no way of predicting what it's going to do, but the potential is there for lives to be saved and families to be happy," Colin says. "I never learned anything about what addiction was when I was young. I learned that drugs were bad. But with this here there's the chance for people to understand what addiction means."
"Now that it's (The Little House) back in the community I think it will be well utilized because people will realize that it's a safe place to go to get the resources they need to help their own family," Jane says.
For more information about The Little House Society visit littlehousesociety.ca.