Angel Wings and Anchors

Loyalty has become the strongest tie that binds me to my recovery and healing. One of the hardest transitions was the switch between being loyal to my addiction and being loyal to my recovery. The moment I was abused, my trust and faith in humanity were broken beyond belief. If I couldn't trust anyone or anything, how could I put my trust into choosing a new way of life and attitude? How could I trust that I could better myself each day a little bit more than the last, and let go of what was holding the best parts of me hostage for so long? Finding a way to trust others will always be a process. There have been setbacks along the way that have made me want to retreat into my comfort zone. But today, when people break their trust and loyalty to me, I know it's up to me to reach out. No matter what happens, numbing out the pain is no longer an option.

 

It's been said, "As long as the ties that tie us together are stronger than the ones that tear us apart, all will be well." To me, this mantra is like being on a hockey team. I know the guy that sits next to me in the locker room is willing to go to any length to support me, encourage me, stand up for me, and go to battle for me. Why? Because he knows I'll do the same for him in the drop of a hat. I trust that with my support system as well. Friends will come and go in life, and not everyone that's in your life today will be in your life tomorrow -- at least not in the same capacity. It's one part of life that is fluid. I do know, though, that I will always have a close support system, even if it's not the exact same one I have now. I'm loyal to them, because they are loyal to me. And when I struggle, sometimes I don't even need to say anything. They just see it, and act on it. I couldn't be more grateful for such a great squad. Having this support system is so crucial during recovery.

 

Respecting the process of recovery and healing is a key part of the journey. Nothing makes me happier than meeting someone who has been on a recovery journey for 40 + years and is still as enthusiastic as a rookie. To me, it means it's possible to still live a happy life, to be on a journey of healing and recovery, and to be free from the burdens of addiction. I respect the ones that came before me, who had to go on their recovery journey with zero resources. They were the trailblazers, and for that I'll be forever in debt to them. Without hearing them share their stories and experiences, I wouldn't have had a clue what to do. Sadly, there are also those who have lost their battle, having given it all they possibly could. The fallen soldiers in this war against depression and addiction take their aspirations, dreams, and goals to the grave. Maybe if they'd had more resources -- some awareness, healing, prevention, and education -- they could have lived the life of their dreams. We hold these people close to our hearts and keep them in our minds. We let them live through us, inspiring us to create change for future generations.

 

We learn every single day that pain is an inevitable part of life. But if you're out there living in despair, let me assure you of this: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUFFER ANY LONGER. Trust the process. Stay loyal to your recovery and healing journey. The better your ties are to the winners, the more likely you are to live with freedom in your heart, and perseverance in your soul. Respect yourself, and the journey you're on. No matter how heavy that door is to open, or how hard it will be to reach out, or how difficult things might get -- I challenge you to do it. There is great help and support right here waiting for you.

Recovery

Recovery is definitely a process. Most of all, it's a process of lifestyle change. The person who put his last drink away over a year ago is not the same person now --  I can't live like I did when I was drinking and expect to maintain my sobriety. The trials and tribulations I've faced have caused heartache, but also great pride. Living a sober life has changed my moral compass, and it has most definitely changed my priorities. Today, safety is number one, followed very, very closely by my sobriety. If I stay safe, I should never have to take another drink, I know in my heart I will never be able to drink safely again.

Living my life free of alcohol definitely has its pros and cons. Although giving up the high cost of low living has great value and potential, I didn't have a bad time every time I drank. I met some great people, and I did some great things. The disease of alcoholism that runs in my blood is 98% between my ears, and 2% in my will power.

The party scene was always a comfort zone for me. No one noticed my pain -- I could hide it a lot better than if I was sober. But arresting my disease does not mean that the party is over, at least not for me. I can fully live the experience of a concert now, without the fear of what tomorrow will be like. I can go to house parties where my friends drink. I can go for wings at a pub. I can live a happier life sober than I can in active addiction.

Despite my ability to be around alcohol without taking a drink, I have learned that there still comes a time when I have to walk away from the party. Remember -- safety is number one, and I'm not invincible . When people get really intoxicated, I have to remove myself -- that's what's best for me, and everyone around me. It wouldn't be safe for me to stay.

Playing the tape all the way through has given me some insight into what the likely outcome would be if I chose to indulge in alcohol or drugs again. Although I can still be around alcohol to a certain point, I've realized I cannot be around drugs any longer. I have seen and been around them in my year of sobriety, and it has almost ruined everything. I shouldn't have to tiptoe around and be fearful of who is using around me. I deserve better. I just remove myself from these situations. That's the safest, and to date most effective, yet unbelievably difficult approach. The difference between alcohol and drugs is that sitting in a pub or bar has its purposes -- chicken wings, watching the game, hanging out with friends. I wouldn't go in for a soda, and smell the beer taps. But regardless of my purpose, when the drunk level goes from enjoyable to sloppy, it's time for me to leave.

I don't feel bad for myself. Like I said before, just because I chose to put down the bottle doesn't mean I can't have fun. I catch more fish when I'm sober. I shoot a better score in golf when I don't have to play around the beer cart. Overall, my life as a whole is much better sober. Most importantly, I've learned about compassion for myself, and for my journey. I believe everyone should develop this feeling for themselves. We're human, not infallible machines. Rest easy with where you are at today. Don't remove the fun in your life when you remove the substances. Life is amazing when you choose to truly live.

STRENGTH FROM PAIN, IT'S POSSIBLE

When I was a little boy, I dreamed big dreams, believed if I worked hard enough I could attain what my limits would allow me to do. Example: My older brother was an exceptional hockey player, I remember he scored 40 goals in 18 games one season. I found that amazing, my brother kept a list of his goals on our fridge. Being 3 years younger than him, and not knowing about human development, I thought I should have 40 goals. What did I do? I went to the driveway, set up my road hockey net, and made a commitment to myself to put 40 pucks in a row into the net. I went inside and made myself a list, put it on the fridge and marked 40 goals next to my name. What that did was give me motivation to attain what I could mentally allow myself to.

It was competition in our house. I grew up with a mom and a dad and a brother. We loved sport, from hockey to soccer, to skiing, to basketball, to baseball and so much more. On the outside of our front door we looked like a good family, and in some aspects we were. But on the inside of our front door, there was massive pressure both educationally, and in sport. There was hurt and pain with no vocabulary, when we were hurting we were taught to be strong and bury it deep. Or at least that was the assumption as no one said any thing about talking about your pain.

So as I went through elementary school and high school, I knew who I wanted to be and had worked hard to attain those goals. Dreams were attained, goals were pursued with dedication and determination. When I graduated high school I received a bursary for being a driven student. So at the end of all that teenage stuff, I could allow myself to say "If I apply myself, I can achieve anything." Going back. Being a teenager that suppressed way too may emotions, it was not good for my future, and there were a lot of ups and downs. My family or school didn't teach me about addiction, or mental illness, or sexual assault. Going through the next 10 years of my life battling day in and day out with all of these.

When I was 21 years old I was locked in my apartment by the president of the Delhi Minor Hockey Association, and sexually assaulted. In that 45 minutes this man stole my dedication, my determination, my dreams, and goals. He put shame, guilt, embarrassment and a whole ton of emotions on my shoulders, that no one had ever taught me to deal with. I instantly felt filthy, resulting in self abuse. Even burning myself would not get rid of the dirtiness I felt, I tried drinking in excess to at least get some sleep, and shut my brain off. I didn't know what was happening to me. I couldn't look anyone in the eye, my employer, my fiance, my self, without feeling like an inferior human. This shame had me arrested. I didn't know why I was making the decisions I was making, all to keep these emotions down like how I grew up.

In 2 years after I was assaulted I had racked up $280,000 in credit card fraud and identity theft. Although that's a lot of money, what I had to show from all that money was terrible self-worth, no confidence, no friends, no teeth, an awful addiction to crystal meth and cocaine, and no cares for anyone, including, my son Nathan, who was born a year after I was assaulted. I have always beat myself up about that since. What I know now, is I did what I did because I had no other way of coping with life on life's terms. I did what I could with what I had. I wouldn't advise anyone to take the quarter million dollar crystal meth recovery treatment route. I had a lot of work to do. Hard work!!!! By 2010, I'd had 3 suicide attempts, gone to 6 drug and alcohol treatment centers, 7 detoxes and saw approximately 65 doctors or counsellors.

The issue was I would NOT talk about my past, and would not allow myself to rid that shame and guilt and embarrassment. I now know that was the combination to the lock that had kept me sick for so long. Living a sober life now I have a lot of recognition in that I need mental health counselling, I need to stay connected to those who loved me when I could not love myself, I need to support another human who has felt the despair of staying silent, and give them hope and strength. Today, I shed the guilt and shame of what has gone on in my life, I'm not the owner of it any more. The wreckage of my past is being cleared. If you think of a huge pile of gravel as all your 'problems' sometimes all we have is a teaspoon to clear that away, but it's better than building your pile bigger. Someday that teaspoon will turn into a tablespoon, and then a shovel, and eventually a bulldozer. Its a process, and it's at the speed of life, not at your speed that you desire.

Today I'm sober, Today I love myself, Today I respect myself, Today I'm proud of myself, and that's a hell of a long way from where I used to be. I will be successful not because I'm destined to, but because I'm determined to.