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Kicking the heroin habit long-term with love, support and the light of the Creator

Good recovery takes a lot of support, sober friends, caring professionals and a positive community
Darrell Taylor is a retired mental health professional who has lived in the NWT and Nunavut for 20 years. He is originally from Ontario and is a member of the North Bay/Mattawa Algonquins.

This is the seventh and final installment of my son Gage’s story.

He was an addict for many years, hooked on hard drugs. He went from prescription painkillers to heroin. Then came the opioid epidemic in Canada and fentanyl. People were dying. But the good news is Gage kicked his habit. He has been sober for over five years. That’s amazing. How did he do it? It wasn’t easy. He had many setbacks, but he had lots of support.

Gage came to live with me in Yellowknife after he relapsed in Ottawa. He started doing great. He got a job. He was paying his bills. He was staying active, hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, going to the gym. But then Gage’s recovery was tested in a big way. He got a phone call from a friend in Ottawa. It was bad news. Gage had an ex-girlfriend named Angel for whom he still had strong feelings. She was dead. She overdosed. She was one of several friends who died from drugs. This was a big test for Gage. I was worried he might leave again and relapse.  

Angel’s death shook Gage to his core. Before Angel died Gage was catching up on life. He was growing emotionally, mentally and spiritually. He was healing. Instead of running away from problems, he started to face them. He did not relapse. He got through the dark time. He told me a year later that without support he probably would have turned to drugs to get over the shock of Angel’s death.

Active addicts and alcoholics are self-destructive, but this time Gage stayed the course. He had a lot of good support. He had a safety net. This is very important in recovery. Without safety and good support, a sudden tragedy can knock an addict off track. 

Although Gage is not a churchgoer, he is very spiritual in his own way. My son and I had many talks about spirituality. The Creator can communicate to us in many ways. Our higher power can speak through religion, but also through nature, beauty, art and human reason. He (or She) can speak through cultural traditions and our ancestors. People can have spiritual experiences looking up at the stars, or being on the land, in a church, in an art gallery, or in a sweat lodge.

The Creator’s voice is everywhere, even in “the valley of the shadow of death.” There are no limits to how God, our higher power, can speak to us. Gage loved Star Trek. We had many spiritual talks based on ideas from science fiction. Science fiction writers are like modern day prophets. Hey! In recovery, whatever works.

Gage was guided by the Creator’s light. He had the light within his own heart. No matter who we are or what we have done in the past, or what was done to us, everyone has the light. As a counsellor for over 20 years, I came to believe there is a living flame of light within each person’s heart. That flame never goes out. No one can put it out. In the darkest tragedies of life there is always the light of the Creator. There is always hope. We need to remind each other of this eternal spiritual truth.

We can be a light to each other. Loving, positive people are a great light. Gage was surrounded by loving people. For that I will always be grateful. The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous teach addicts to connect with their higher power, the light. This is why long-lasting recovery usually involves spiritual practices. Addicts need to replace the false comfort they got from drugs with true, spiritual comfort. That’s real comfort. Step eleven says: Sought through  prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Gage was a heroin addict for many years. He has been clean and sober for over five years. So how did Gage do it? How did he stay sober even in the face of tragic loss? He didn’t do it alone. He had the support. He had a safety net to hold him together and keep him from falling. He did positive things to stay healthy. He kept busy. He was growing up and learned to face his problems with courage. He learned to be patient, and he was learning to connect with a power greater than himself. 

Gage wouldn’t call that power “God.” But that’s OK. My son's recovery was solid. He stood the test. He can deal with the tragedies of life and death. He loves his life, and he has fun. He’s looking forward to a better future free from drugs. He loves his family and has good friends including other recovering addicts. They all support each other. 

To sum up, good recovery takes a lot of support. It takes a supportive family, sober friends, caring professionals and a positive community. It takes patience, courage, hope and belief in a higher power. It also takes having fun and enjoying life. If Gage can recover after years of heroin and fentanyl anyone can do it. Anyone can recover with proper support. Let us be a light to each other. Let us support each other especially when things get dark. 

“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Wait for the light. Connect with the light. And if you can, be the light.