Many people refer to their recovery as a journey. I see my life over the last 10 years more of a story — a story that began with myself as an individual who had achieved success in life with a career as an executive-level business manager, my life complete with all of society’s considered trimmings of success: a family, a house, cars and a boat.
However, sadly, and as a result of my addiction and mental illness, the life I had enjoyed came crashing down and, in the end, I was reduced in life, for periods of time, to being alone and surviving and living on the streets of Metro Vancouver.
In recent years, I have reflected on the reasons why this happened. My conclusions are in two parts: As a minor factor, I have to consider the fact that there is a history of both mental illness and alcoholism in my own family. Recent research would suggest that this has been a factor, and there is susceptibility for both disorders within myself.
I also believe that the major factor was the lack of balance in my lifestyle. This unbalance was created with holding a senior business position with all the business targets to achieve along with and the endless business trips. I now believe that this lifestyle of all work and no play fed into both my addiction and mental illness difficulties.
In hindsight, I see that I was self-medicating with alcohol to get through the day, without realizing it was going to lead to a serious addiction problem. At the time, I was unable to do anything about it. The substance kept me going.
Many people think of addiction these days as related to drugs. But the most commonly abused drug is actually alcohol. There is a progression from drinking to heavy drinking to alcoholism. And I didn’t realize I was making my way through those steps, slowly becoming addicted. If you have an underlying mental illness as well, you can quickly find yourself in a position where you no longer have a choice. The alcohol is driving the bus, so to speak.
I think society accepts heavy drinking, but as soon as you become an alcoholic, you’re nuisance, and you’re a waste of time, quite frankly. There is a change in public perception.
Over these last 10 years, which I now call my “wilderness” years, I had frequent spells of time in both psychiatric wards and treatment facilities. These times, sadly, where not successful.
However, during these years, I never lost the drive to regain a quality of life and to also regain my sense of purpose. This drive to succeed was always my goal, but it was a target that I, despite effort on my part, could not
achieve on my own.
Now today, I am very happy that my story has changed, and I have to thank the medical services I used in B.C. for this change.
I am aware that my story may now sound like an old cliché, but in the last two years, I completed treatment programs at both the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction and at the Rehabilitation and Recovery Program in Coquitlam. I can now finally see my life on an upward slope.
For me, the real benefit was the length of the program. There was no “magic” moment. I had a prolonged period of time where I could focus on healing from what I had been through, both physically and mentally, in a safe environment. You don’t have to worry about getting a job next week or getting groceries — you have the time to heal.
My brain was able to reset, and I was able to rebuild my confidence and self-esteem so that I could move forward.
"My brain was able to reset, and I was able to rebuild my confidence and self-esteem so that I could move forward."
I have re-gained the hope that I can be healthy again, further regained hope that I can rebuild a life with aspirations to achieve, and I can be content with a sense of value in myself and with a sense of purpose in my life. I thank both Burnaby Centre and Coast for their patience with me in my recovery.
Now, with Coast Mental Health, which operates the Rehabilitation and Recovery Program, I am active in several steering committees, reviewing and proposing actions in their treatment programs.
In addition, I have also been fortunate to be accepted as a member of the Patient and Family Experience Council with BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services with a goal to enhance the delivery of services to individuals with both mental health and addiction challenges.
Finally, I consider it worth noting that in the undertaking of the above activities, I try to bring a sense of empathy, compassion and understanding for the individuals in receipt of mental health and addiction services. Further, I do appreciate (nor do I underestimate) how difficult it can be to recover in life, using this comprehension of the realities of the recovery task as my guide in the committee. I hope I can assist individuals who are developing their own recovery story.
Learn more about National Addictions Awareness Week.