Transitional Housing Program
At present, life is pretty good and getting better. But over the years my life has been impacted by both mental health and addictions. I have also experienced a whole host of other life experiences that have been no less than challenging for me, my family and friends. I have been homelessness, lived in shelters, attempted suicide, overdosed multiple times, and lost my job.
Growing up I struggled with depression, anxiety and insomnia. Unfortunately, I was never treated for these issues as a child or adolescent. In the early 1990s I experienced a bad break-up. This was the beginning of a downward spiral. I started drinking heavily, started to take prescription drugs in large quantities, and used cocaine to ease my feelings of depression. Life became meaningless and void of pleasure. It was nine years from the point of heavy drug use to the first time I received or accessed any service or help. This was too long.
Over the years I have been in-and-out of many addiction treatment programs. None of them worked for me. I kept going back to drug use to cope with life. I had nothing to look forward to on the other side. But in June of 2014, I entered the intensive 4 month residential treatment program at Stonehenge Therapeutic Community. While there was lots of good stuff happening there, I would say I pretty much felt as though I was faking it most of the time. I couldn’t see how I would make a go of it once I was back in the real world. I never did graduate from the program. While they wanted to help they did not have all the supports that I needed. I was too complex.
From the intensive residential program I moved into a less intensive housing program offered through Stonehenge known as the Addiction Supportive Housing Program (ASH). At this time I had achieved 4 months of sobriety thanks to the structure of the residential treatment program at Stonehenge. Not graduating didn’t mean that I hadn’t accomplished important and meaningful growth. I did, and I was determined to make something out of my life.
One of the first things I started doing when I began living at ASH was volunteering at the Guelph Food Bank. To be honest, this was the first thing that I had done in over 10 years which felt truly meaningful. It was good for my self-esteem: to know I was doing something and giving back. It was so much better than doing nothing and meaning nothing. It was not easy, but I was starting to grab hold of something that felt like it might be going somewhere; that would ultimately be a lot better than where I had been.
A few months later I started working out again at the YMCA. Over time my workout routine became more structured and this gave me more meaning and purpose. By the time last summer rolled around, I had also started running and biking. My goal this summer is to complete the Guelph Lake Triathlon.
My interest in volunteering increased as I gained better health and more clarity and purpose. I used to be a teacher, so I set my sights on volunteering as a tutor. There were challenges in reaching the point of being able to tutor someone. At first, I didn’t have a phone so I missed many calls to arrange for training. Then I had to take a course in using computers. More than 8 months after my first call to Action Read, I was able to tutor someone. Then came another course, Work Readiness and another course in January and February, to obtain certification in teaching English as a Second Language. Now I am a volunteer tutor at Action Read in English as a Second Language, and I am looking forward to working in this field.
Another very meaningful volunteer experience is being part of the North End Harvest Market in Guelph. The market is a free fruit and vegetable market to support low income families and individuals. I got connected with the Harvest Market when I was living at ASH. One of the ASH houses has a garden that donates produce to the market. It would be hard for me to overstate what a high point in my week being there represents – the volunteers are such genuine, fun, and decent people who truly care about making life better for people who face more than the usual share of challenges; and as for the people who access the market -well, you can see the gratitude and joy in their eyes when they leave with all that great (and really nutritious) food!
I am proud of all that I have achieved. As I write this, I am almost 2 years free of alcohol and drugs. I have not smoked a cigarette in a year and I have worked with my doctor to come off all psychiatric medications. I work hard to keep my body healthy by running 50 km and swimming every week, and I am working at the Chalmers Community Services Centre part-time.
For me, there are many reasons why I want to continue rebuilding my life. The three most important reasons include: 1) I want my parents to never have to worry again about their son and whether he can live independently, 2) I want to give back to the community and help others, and 3) I want to do this for me…I deserve it, and I’m worth it!