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Addictions recovery tested by devastating circumstances

After receiving devastating news of his girlfriend’s death, I was worried about my son, writes Darrell Taylor. Could he hold on to his recovery? Would this tragedy knock Gage off track? Would he relapse again?Black Press file photo

This is part six of my son Gage’s story. He relapsed when he moved back to Ottawa. He was addicted to opioids and using fentanyl. A relapse can be deadly. I was worried that my son might not make it.

Addicts and alcoholics are usually stunted emotionally (I include alcoholism as an addiction). Addicts stop growing up. Gage was stuck in “rebellious teenager mode.” It was his way of escaping reality. It’s hard for anyone to face the cruel realities of the world. Life has many challenges: accidents, health issues, losing a job or losing a loved one. Addicts are usually very sensitive people. They carry a lot of pain inside. To cope with their emotional pain, they use drugs to distract. I saw this playing out in Gage.

Another strategy addicts use to hide their pain is to act tough — this is especially true of male addicts, but I have seen some very tough female addicts and alcoholics too. Gage looked tough on the outside. He was a “punk rocker.” He wore Doc Marten boots. He had a spiky blue mohawk, and he wore a lot of black leather with silver studs.

One of Gage’s jobs in downtown Ottawa was working as a doorman in a punk bar. It was his job to throw out any rowdy drunks — not an easy job in a bar visited by the Hells Angels. But Gage had his soft side. I saw this in all the punks, skinheads and goths that he hung out with. They looked tough on the outside, but once I got to them, I saw they were soft and vulnerable on the inside. Most of them used drugs, including Gage’s goth girlfriend, Angel.

Angel was from a good family. She was a talented, young artist. She had a beautiful singing voice. She and Gage had been together for over seven years. They were very close. But their relationship was volatile, and it was nearing its end. Even after their relationship was “on the rocks,” Gage still had strong feelings for Angel. By the time my son came to live with me, their relationship was officially over. However, they remained friends.

After Gage relapsed, he phoned and asked if he could stay with me in Yellowknife. He really wanted to get off the drugs. He knew it was dangerous. There was an opioid epidemic across Canada and people were dying. I told Gage he’s welcome to come up North and move in. He did just that.

There were some initial bumps in the road getting set up in Yellowknife. But Gage found a job and was doing very well. He had a good doctor monitoring his recovery. He got the meds he needed. He had lots of support from my circle of friends who accepted my son with open arms. Gage and I went fishing, hiking, biking, and we were having a good time together. I thanked the Creator. Gage even started making his own friends at work.

A big test

One of Gage’s new friends was Sue. She was a friendly Inuk from Nunavut. Sue was a single mom with a teenage boy. She shared a lot of stories about Inuit culture. Sue was born on the land. On their breaks together, she told Gage stories about traditional life. Gage learned to appreciate the tough life the Inuit lived hunting and fishing to survive. It was a hard but amazing life in many ways. Gage came home one day with a beautiful pair of sealskin mitts. Sue made them as a gift for Gage.

I was happy to see Gage learning about the North and seeing the struggles Indigenous and Inuit people were having in a rapidly-changing world. I had an old, big-screen TV. It still worked and I did not want to throw it out. Gage came home from work one day and said, “Dad, I know what we can do with that old TV. Sue’s boy wants it. He wants to hook it up to his Play Station.” We dropped it off at Sue’s apartment.

Gage was making progress. He was not doing drugs. He was meeting new people and learning new things. He started to talk about the things that adults talk about: paying bills, doing taxes, work benefits, and how to save money. He was maturing in ways he missed when he started taking drugs. Addicts have a lot of catching up to do while in recovery. Gage was catching up quickly. He was growing emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. But he was about to get a big test.

I remember the day well. We were pulling out of the Canadian Tire parking lot. Gage’s phone rang. He got very quiet. Then he exploded. He was kicking and hitting the dashboard with his fist, yelling and cursing. Something terrible happened. I finally got him to calm down. I asked him what was going on. A friend from Ottawa called with bad news. Angel overdosed on drugs. She was dead. Gage was devastated.

Now I was worried about my son. Could he hold on to his recovery? Would this tragedy knock Gage off track? Would he relapse again? I prayed for Angel, and I prayed for Gage. I asked the Creator for help. Gage was going through a dark time. Others may not have seen it, but I saw it. I believe in the darkest night, somewhere there is always a light. But where was the light?

Part seven coming soon.