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From addiction to recovery
Editor’s note: Narcotics addiction can affect anyone and not always the people who look like stereotypical addicts. Narcotics addicts could be anyone’s family members, friends, neighbours, acquaintances or co-workers. This three-part series on narcotics addiction looks at personal stories of how addiction can happen anytime, anywhere, how three people overcame their addictions, and the help available in the community.
Kate has been clean of drugs for six years and now she understands what led her to use and what she has to do to keep clean.
“It can still be a struggle sometimes but it is worth it. I want other people to know that they can get clean and have a good life,” she said.
Kate is program facilitator at the Vernon Treatment Centre, which has run day programs for drug and alcohol addicts for the past 25 years.
She wasn’t the type of person anyone would have thought would become an addict but then, as she said, there isn’t any typical addict background.
“I grew up here in Vernon. I had a good childhood with a close, loving family. We had a cabin at the lake, a cabin at Silver Star. I was the quiet, good girl at school. I don’t know why I felt about myself inside the way I did. I know now that it was a desperate need for acceptance and approval, the sense that who I was wasn’t good enough,” she said.
Kate started smoking pot in Grade 10 to be part of the cool crowd. She recalls that there was minimal drug awareness education in school, just a scary film about an addict dying on the streets of a big city, so far removed from the students’ lives that it didn’t make much impression on them.
“That was something that could never happen to me. I didn’t know that a person could become physically and psychologically dependent on drugs and alcohol. I was smoking marijuana and having fun but it drained me. I didn’t make the connection. I lost interest in school and quit in Grade 11 and worked waitressing. I had wanted to be a veterinary assistant but that dream got left in the dust. My family thought I was drinking too much but they would help me pay my bills when I had spent my money on drugs and made up some story for them.”
Kate had a brief marriage at 22.
“I was still emotionally 13. I had stopped growing emotionally. Addicts are always trying to get that immediate fix, trying to fill that void with outside things like drugs and shopping. It is a progressive disease which is unique for each person.
“Then I wanted more. I tried cocaine. It numbed me from fear. It made me more sociable. It was easy to get and it became a necessity for me.”
Kate went back to school for training and found a job she loved and excelled at. When not at work, she continued using alcohol and cocaine, which cost hundreds of dollars a month.
“Addicts become very good liars and manipulators. We turn into what you want us to be to get what we want. I got loans from my parents. They still thought my only problem was that I was drinking too much. I hate to think of what I put my family through.”
She had her first son when she was 28 but realized she wasn’t able to cope with taking care of him and sent him to live with his father.
She married again in her early 30s and had another son who she also had to give to his father.
“I was more and more self-centred, not thinking of anything or anybody, just getting my fix. Addiction is very hard on women because they will go places and do things they would never normally do just to get drugs. The drugs numb a person’s value system and moral system. I was chasing the high — the one more hit that would get me to where I wanted to be. By the time I was 42, I started using heroin and prescription drugs that I bought on the street and cost thousands of dollars a month. Outside of work, where I felt good because I was helping people, I just wanted to be high. My life was a mess.”
It got messier.
“I came home from work one day and found my partner looking as though he had died from an overdose. Even that didn’t make me understand what my life had become. He did survive but drugs were still as important to me as food and water are to a normal person.”
A friend who was in a 12-step program suggested that Kate try it and for some reason she did.
“It was scary and hard but I stayed clean and sober for eight months. I learned so much from the program and the fellowship, then a relationship broke up and I couldn’t cope. I went straight to a dealer and started using again. I picked up a crack pipe. I would have a hit off my pipe, feel good for 20 minutes, start crying, have a hit, again and again. I wasn’t eating and was very thin. I thought the drugs would take away the bad feelings but it made them worse. It was complete and total despair.”
She doesn’t remember much about her suicide attempt which came after a car accident which she also doesn’t remember. She took a deliberate overdose and woke up in the hospital, then when she went home called her dealer and got more drugs delivered. It was back to the hospital.
“That was my moment of clarity. I realized that maybe I didn’t have it all together. I was embarrassed that I had done something so public. I thought, ‘I have ended up a crackhead but I am really a good girl.’ I asked for help and got treatment and I’ve been clean and sober ever since.
“Recovery is a lifetime process. You have to learn to be OK with who you are. My drug obsession is no longer there but I still battle with self esteem issues. Being able to help people with addictions is very meaningful for me. I also get to educate other people about addictions and the stigma around them. Anyone could be an addict, they are not bad people, they are people who find it difficult to cope with life events,” Kate said. “You have to come to a point where you are ready to change everything in your life. Who wants to be an addict? You learn from your mistakes and people who understand help you. Stopping being a addict didn’t give me my life back — I didn’t want that life. I got a new and better life with a purpose and improved relationships with my family and children. I hope anyone who wants help knows that there is help available when they are ready for it.”