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“Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.”
― William S. Burroughs

4 Years Ago

I stared vacantly at the open newspaper in front of me. I had stopped reading midway through a column on Vancouver’s growing drug trade. It wasn’t that the article hit too close to home. I just couldn’t focus. Nothing was registering. I gave a loud snort.

“Got the sniffles?” asked my mother. She sat next to me at the kitchen table, flipping through the Westcoast Homes section of The Sun.

“Yeah,” I replied, “Must do.”

My nose was dripping. I snorted once more, trying to clear the mucus from my stuffed nose. Shit, I thought, my runny nose is going to give me away.  Does she know?

No, I decided, she couldn’t possible know.

Get it together.

I could still taste the drip. A mix of cocaine and oxycodone.  The morning after a night of heavy use is always rough. Every part of me ached, and I couldn’t seem to shake the dissociative, half-awake half-asleep stupor clouding my mind. I nearly passed out as I made my way from the kitchen to the living room couch. This, I thought, is hell.

I kept my stash hidden under my mattress. I had accumulated quite a haul – an eighth of weed, a gram of powder, a full vial of Xanax, and a dozen or so oxys.  You know what they say: everyone has their poison.

Who was I kidding? Dope fiend.

Acquiring the drugs was easy. Anything and everything, just a couple phone calls away. I never resorted to dealing to feed my drug habit. Money was never an issue. Burroughs had to push junk in Greenwich Village to get high. I never stooped to his level.

My daily routine consisted of smoking, snorting, and popping. I refused to shoot my dope. Too dangerous, too hardcore. IV-ing would mean I have a problem, I reasoned. But deep down, I knew: I was an addict living on borrowed time. A part of me wanted to call out to the world: Help! SOS!

I OD’ed a couple times. Every addict has. I figure I also had at least one cocaine induced seizure during my nose candy heyday. It is what it is, I would tell myself.

My drug use often exacerbated my symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and OCD, and I frequently found myself in locked psych wards. Another admission, another notch in my belt. By the time I finally got my shit together, I had been hospitalized nearly twenty times.


I’ve come a long way. Leaving “the lifestyle” behind meant starting anew.  “This is a process,” my therapist once told me. Walking away from the crutch of drugs and alcohol required I abandon old friends, re-evaluate my goals and values, and learn to cope with the triggers and stressors of everyday life. This process hasn’t been without its setbacks. Old habits die hard, as they say. But I have learned to direct my uncertainties, fears and anxieties through healthier channels.

Today, I’m a different person. Sobriety suits me just fine. I often reminisce about my days as an addict. I find the whole experience quite unsettling, to be frank. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and admittedly, I’ve spent a long time running from my past. But I’ve come to understand my past does not determine my future, and true change occurs not by falsifying the past or by imagining a picture-perfect future, but by making healthy decisions in the present. I make daily efforts to live in the present, because I believe embracing the present is accepting the past.

 I have many questions, and few answers. I’ve learned, in life, answers are few and far between. What I know is addiction is trauma. I carry a lot of scars. But I take comfort in the wise words of philosopher Kahlil Gibran, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” So, I embrace my scars, knowing they may never go away. Scarred, but an addict no more.


About Andrew Woods

Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago). I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications. Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.

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