When I came into treatment in 2007, I had a chip on my shoulder, my face was withdrawn and my weight was a mere 164 lbs. My doctor stated if I didn’t stop using, my organs were going to be consumed by my body for nourishment. A 6’3″ bean pole of malnutrition. Crystal meth can do that to a body. My teeth were falling out and I looked 65 years old, when I was only 43 and just rotting to the core.
How I stumbled into treatment was through a legal problem. I was facing charges of robbery and break and enter. My excuse: “I just wanted my property back from my drug dealers.” How the hell did I end up in jail? My probation officer asked what was wrong with me as I kept showing up late for my probation obligations scattered and wrecked out of my mind. I told him I ‘think’ I have a problem with meth as I seemed to not be able to stop using it. From that point on, my journey of wellness slowly began to take place, but it was awfully long and painful.
Going back in time, I was a military brat. I come from a split family. Immature violence was the family dynamic and when the splitting occurred, a sense of ease and comfort arrived where I stayed with mom and my brothers went with dad. He was a drinker and she was depressed a lot. I was relatively well-behaved, did what I was told (kinda), sort of a mommy’s boy I guess. I was the oldest of three. Shortly after the split I was sexually assaulted by a man and threatened with death if I told anyone, which caused a stream of issues in my puberty years causing my mom to toss me out to the streets of Toronto at a very young age. No home meant no school as well. Things changed rapidly from there on in.
Street life, including the sex-trade, caught me by storm and I was introduced to drugs within minutes of engaging with the first client. I had no clue what was going on. I was scared; no, absolutely terrified, abandoned and desperately seeking safety at whatever the cost – but I had zero awareness of anything I was getting into. This was the year 1977, and information wasn’t really as widely available as it is now.
Yearning to return home, I found out that my mother had taken her life and now there was no home to go back to and she had left a big mess, both figuratively and literally. I didn’t know anything of my dad, recalling nothing more than punishment and rage, so I didn’t bother trying to find him. I didn’t think he cared, anyways.
There were dozens of us kids on the street. It was frightfully cold in winter and pretty intense and hot in summer and homelessness wasn’t so bad on hot days. We kids on the street all hooked in and hung out did what we thought was our lot in life. Sadly, some did not make it out: they were discovered dead in alleyways or dumpsters, beaten frequently and abandoned who-knows-where by their disturbing customers and their twisted desires. I was beyond terrified but I was also just so wasted that I stopped caring at all. No family, no friends, and no hope: I was apathetic.
I found solace in dance clubs from those cold nights. I was a minor so I had to sneak in and I did it just to stay warm in the winters. It was a game of cat and mouse, staying out of reach of authority figures as I feared juvenile detention, and I feared the sex-trade clients. It was later revealed I had multiple compound traumas to sort out from all this emotional mishap. There was no Covenant House at the time, now available to youth in the downtown area, and any safe place had some twisted desire or string attached. I hated life and hated mankind: earth was a horrible, terrifying place for me.
I remember just wishing my mom was waking me up from a bad dream that never ended, and saying “you’re going to be late for school,” but that was not to be.
In 1977 the world was exploding into women’s liberation, gay rights, disco/rock wars, and coming out of the hippie/sexual revolution. Drugs got fancier and the parties got weirder and I did not have a sober day until March 18, 2007. During my decades of drug use, I tried to be like other people, to have a home, a job, find relationships, be responsible, but I could not make it work. I didn’t understand any of it at all, so I just pretended. I did not understand money or bills. I got absolutely wrecked and always resorted to the ‘trade’ to assist. I couldn’t get anything right. I ended up with a stalker (before the term was actually coined) and this dude made a mess of my life, trying to keep me in the ‘trade’. Sex-trade work became escort, then to video to live web. Absolutely everything was warped and twisted and I realized this must be my lot in life. To be peoples’ play-thing for their uglier nature and I resigned myself to beings god’s biggest joke, doomed to die in active addiction as a degenerate of society. It was ugly and it was dark. Later in the journey paled in comparison. Jobs faded, friends became betrayals and family was truly a foreign concept. People who smiled and had happy lives became my enemy. I got caught in the Social Services net and consistently fell through the cogs of failed appointments and fiscal voids. Everything became more convoluted and I became homeless yet again. 1985 – 1987, 1991, 1996 – 1998, 2005 – 2007. I took residency in the various parks around the city. I was now officially a vagrant.
No one seemed to care, so why the hell should I?
In March 2007, my probation officer recommended an addiction counsellor, who suggested Together We Can. The hook was the fact I would be able to eat and get off the street. It took many weeks of coaxing until I decided to give it a shot. I was skeptical though, as I was fearful of every man and trusted not one of them. I was greeted by a man at the facility who was very welcoming and explained that he knew I was terrified. I couldn’t stop crying. He showed me my room and I went to sleep. I awoke a day later and the journey began. 12 steps? Screw that. Group? Yeah sure – didn’t like it. A room full of strange men – ‘you don’t know me’ and ‘I’m not like you at all.’ AA sucked, plain and simple.
Days turn to weeks, then the first month. The work got pushed on me and I fought it every step of the way. During a group baseball game, I was not allowed to play and I was told to read the promises, page 83 of the Big Book. I read it and threw the book back to the counsellor, stating, “that might work for you, and I doubt it will happen for me”. The counsellor said I wouldn’t know until I tried and gave it 100%. If, after committing for the next two months to no avail, he would personally refund my misery and drive me back to the park to live.
SLAP! – no food, no dry clothes, no home and fighting with everyone: he had a point. So I got busy, I asked how to spell things, what words meant and had the staff check my work as I committed to trying something different. I gave it all I had. I finished the work, pages and pages of writing, as fast as I could. I just wanted out. Then I was introduced to the NA step guide. No Big Book, but The Basic Text instead. It resonated with me and seemed to speak my language. Hopelessness, despair, insanity and fear were the words I could identify with. No ‘outside issues’, it was all inclusive.
I got a sponsor who had many years in the program. He said things like “take it easy” and “everything will be fine” and “don’t stress out” as he walked me through what a recovery program was all about. There were many ways to recover and many programs out there. I was encouraged to investigate and so I did. CMA, Smart, CBT, SAA, all of it. My weight was up, I was able to sleep and started to make some alliances. These dudes cared when I took my milestones, 30, 60 and 90 days of sobriety. The first time sober for me in over 36 years. Heck, this wasn’t that bad. 104 days later I graduated but I was fearful about not having a home or family to return to: was I going to get high again? That was the plan if I left TWC. It was suggested I go to the second stage housing program. A sober place with more freedom to develop a life.
I continued developing, volunteered at TWC and the VRC. I went to Hope Bridge Services where the awesome team there heard my story and asked if I wanted to go to school. I stated I couldn’t afford it, being a reject on the street. They found me a grant and off to college I went. I moved to a community wellness environment called The Daniel House, where the people that ran it, Elaine and Kevin, encouraged spiritual development and sustainable life development. They too cared, but being Christians, I felt like a sinner being a sex-trade survivor. Elaine spent many hours explaining divinity from her point of view and she and Kevin both expanded my concept of God. The quest to define this god thing began.
I was so surprised how many people took a serious interest in my wellness and development. What was the string attached, what did they want from me in return? I asked why and they said someone did it for them so they pay it forward. If I was grateful I should do the same. And so I did, and started volunteering at TWC from 2007 – 2010. I spent many hours trying to assist men DEVELOP AN INTEREST in getting well. Sharing my story stating if I could do this, so could they, especially if they have loved ones and family behind them: I didn’t and had to work harder to do this for me.
In 2010 I relapsed and it was terrifying. All the terrible things I left behind returned once again and the reason was due to the sex-trade issue being kept a secret – my story was withheld and it took me out. After 6 months I came back to TWC and restarted everything. This time I knew what I needed to do: extra 12 Step fellowship meetings, more sincere SAA and Smart recovery. I needed to try meditations and I needed to get back into service real quick. Everything moved quickly, again I graduated after 110 days, went to second-stage and started doing support work within a week. I got back on the horse and stopped being a secretive individual – I no longer focused on my wants – it was about saving lives and giving hope: it was about getting as freaking real as I could. No more victim – I was done with drugs and everything they brought me.
I did support work paired with being a house manager. A house manager paired with administrative work which lead to program creation and implementation. I was encouraged to develop a program based on my view of recovery. The Discovery Program was born and implemented as a direct result of the challenges and wellness development I managed to sustain. Every hurdle was met with mind-expanding assignments, and the journey of reclaiming oneself began.
I graduated college, I developed social responsibility, fiscal congruency and I smile very frequently. I did the course in miracles and the master key system and I have worked 9 sets of steps from 5 different fellowships. I no longer hate life and mankind. I forgive most transgressions before they occur and I live guilt and shame-free today. I assist countless men to do the same as much as I can because, just for today, I am as God Created Me, and so very proud of that.
I am truly grateful my story is the way it was so I could develop into who I am today. I have a story, I AM NOT MY STORY. TWC and SAA have my heart. Divinity IS my soul, and that is the art of being human.
Yours, in continued service,
James is currently a counsellor at The Discovery Program at TWC and is a highly respected colleague with years of experience teaching, counselling, and guiding clients through the program on their way to long-term recovery. Check out his bio on our staff page and our Discovery Program page to learn more.