Sobriety is possible. So is happiness
Leo began drinking when he was 8 years old to escape the pain of living in an abusive household.
He continued using alcohol to cope into adulthood, including through several years when he worked as a Canadian border service officer. Even after Leo got married and had two children, a son and a daughter, he continued to drink. Unfortunately, Leo’s use of alcohol destroyed his marriage.
I knew I had stuff to deal with, but I didn’t want to deal with it. Booze always said to me, ‘Drink me and everything will go away. I will take your family, I will take your self, and I will take your dignity. I will take everything that’s positive in your life, and in return, I’ll take away your pain for a little while.’
Leo confronted his addiction after an accident in which he fell through a glass table in his apartment. He awoke from a coma to a compassionate, but straightforward, care team. His physicians told him that if he continued drinking, his liver would fail within a year.
That was an ‘aha moment’ for me. I had two doors I could go through: I could go back to the disease, or I could try to fight for my life.
Leo’s medical team connected him to Brentwood, a recovery home in his community in Ontario. He participated in a 90-day treatment program, where he received support from others who struggled with addiction.
The group leaders and most of the people who work at Brentwood are all in recovery, too. It’s huge that they have similar experiences in their lives. I can trust somebody who knows what I’m talking about. My recovery, my peace, my happiness has been achieved with the help of others who are like me.
Leo discovered that having compassion for others fostered self-compassion. He now works as a recovery coach and as the afternoon coordinator at the Brentwood Recovery Home men’s program, helping others through his own lived experience.
Leo also serves as a consultant to several human resources and employee assistance program organizations, teaching about addiction and recovery. Canada Border Services Agency, his employer at the time of his medical crisis, was instrumental through his hospitalization and recovery, and Leo wants to give back.
My company’s HR department and employee assistance program were really supportive. Professionals struggling with addictions should know they’re not alone. We think we’re alone, but substance use thrives on your isolation and pain.
Good organizations can help out in a nonjudgmental way. Hats off to employee assistance programs and HR. They saved my life.
Even though Leo has been in recovery for a decade, he still feels bad about himself sometimes.
I cannot take back the past, cannot unhurt my kids and myself. I don’t remember most of my life because I drank for more than 40 years.
Sometimes depression and shame hit him all at once. Five years ago, triggered by an encounter, he quickly made a plan to drink again and take his own life. The suicidal urge passed, yet Leo was left feeling his life was a lie because he had been helping others in recovery, talking to organizations about his recovery, but had come so close to relapsing.
To remain sober, he knew he had to talk about how close he had been to drinking again. Such setbacks help Leo realize that he, like everyone, is a work in progress. At these times, he thinks of the saying, “Let somebody else drive the bus for a while, while we figure things out.”
Leo sees a psychiatrist regularly for guidance and meets with a therapist weekly to work on the trauma from his youth, knowing he can always reach out to peer supports for additional help when needed. Helping others and sharing the gifts of his experience keep Leo going.
Lived experience is the biggest reason I’m trying to help out with this issue. There is a lot you can’t learn from a book, a computer, or a doctor. Sobriety is possible. So is happiness. Now I am actually calm and peaceful. I love myself.