Addiction is never a simple issue.
Just ask Bob W., who asked that his full name not be used for privacy reasons.
Throughout his life, Bob has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and at one point, not too long ago, he found himself homeless in the Downtown Eastside with nothing but a garbage bag full of dirty clothes to call his own.
But that's not the whole story; and Bob, 63, wants the public to know there is hope, not just for himself, but for anyone negatively affected by drugs or alcohol.
This week is National Addictions Awareness Week (Nov. 19 - 25), and Burnaby Substance Use Services is opening its doors to the public to inform people about what services are offered for youth, adults and seniors, including assessment, counselling, recovery referrals and education.
"Our clients come from all walks of life - doctors and lawyers, as well as blue collar workers," said coordinator Steve Giannopolous, who noted 90 per cent of addicts are not recognizable as such.
It was here that Bob started weekly counseling and group therapy sessions six months ago and discovered a way to deal with the root cause of his problems.
With support from his counsellor, he has finally been able to talk about his childhood traumas and realize they were not his fault.
Coming to terms with his past has allowed him to discover the reasons he became an addict, he said.
"This is a disease," he said. "This isn't something I chose. Nobody chooses to ruin their life."
Growing up in a wealthy family in Vancouver, with parents who were high-functioning alcoholics, Bob felt his already fragile self-esteem plummet when he was sent to a school where he was physically and emotionally abused by his teachers.
At age 12, to deal with his weight problems, he started taking diet pills, which were easily obtained and quickly misused.
"They're basically speed," he said.
Not long after he became addicted to the pills, Bob started stealing rye from his parents' liquor cabinet at night so he could get to sleep.
In high school, he discovered athletics, which allowed him to lose weight and kick the pill habit, but the alcohol was something he found he couldn't do without.
From there, Bob remembers his life as a series of moments between days when he would black out, his memory scattered and broken.
Despite this, before he turned 21, he was married and started a family and began a career in radio broadcasting.
"I made a lot of money and I spent a lot of it at the bar," he said.
For the next 13 years, he and a business partner ran a successful advertising agency, and except for a couple of drunk driving charges, Bob followed in his parents' footsteps as a relatively high-functioning alcoholic.
"Things were good, you know? I had the six-bedroom house in North Vancouver, I drove the fastest car, great clothes; I had everything."
He never told anyone at the time, but with all the creature comforts and a family around him, Bob was plagued by a fear of losing everything, and assumed no one would understand if he talked about it.
When he got his third drunk driving charge and had his license suspended, he finally decided to admit his alcoholism to his family and promised to never use again.
For the next six years he stuck to his word, but remembers that period as one of the darkest of his life.
During a family vacation in Maui, Bob recalls sitting on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, crying by himself.
"I didn't know why," he said of his depression. "I know now. I've had so many frigging issues in my life, when I was drinking I was putting them all (away)."
It didn't take much for Bob to slip back into his old ways after his business partner one day decided to pour a shot of vodka into his soda water when Bob was in the washroom.
Later, when he left the restaurant drunk for the first time in six years, Bob got a call from his past, a former friend who met up with him and offered him a hit from a crack pipe.
"This was the answer to all my prayers, because with crack you don't black out," he said. "...and I somehow figured it wasn't addictive. But I could not stop, and I just kept using and using and using."
Eventually, Bob lost his marriage, his home, his business and his relationship with his three kids.
He was sleeping on the street, and sometimes on the floor of another crack addict's apartment on Hastings Street.
She suggested Bob seek help, and for the first time in his life, Bob decided to do just that.
It wasn't a direct route, but over the past nine years, he has been through several recovery programs and attended meetings and got himself a sponsor.
He also got himself a job and an apartment and a little dog, and he had a good relationship with his roommate, though they were both still using, on and off.
When she moved into a recovery house, he quit drinking and using, too.
The plan was for them to get a house together, but two weeks later she called to tell him she'd met a man she was going to marry, and Bob was crushed.
"I had nobody to talk to and I just cried like a baby," he said. "So I came here."
That was six months ago, and after hitting what some might say was his "rock bottom," Bob decided to get clean and get healthy.
He focused his energy on health and wellness and started working out every day, as well as eating right and seeing his counsellor every week.
After struggling with weight issues all his life, Bob says he has a handle on his food addiction too now, which he hadn't even been aware of before.
In the last six months, he's lost 85 pounds and no longer needs to take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure.
"I really got serious this time," he said. "I believe if you're going to change, you really have to change everything."
Being able to express his feelings and share with others in similar circumstances, Bob said the Burnaby Substance Use Services has offered him a life-changing opportunity through their counseling program.
"When you come to a place like this or go to a group session or go to an AA meeting, you meet people that are exactly the same as you; they have exactly the same problems, and they talk, and you can say, 'Yeah, I understand that. I'm not alone anymore. ... Who knows where I'm going to end up tomorrow, but today I'm a happy man."
The Burnaby Substance Use Services is a branch of Fraser Health, and offers free services to all residents of the Lower Mainland.
This week, an information booth is open for anyone interested in learning more about addiction recovery and related services at the Tommy Douglas Library, Burnaby Hospital and at three local seniors centres.
For more information, visit the centre at 320-7155 Kingsway, or call 604-777-6870.
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