Eddie R. is fast becoming one of Aurora Recovery Centre’s go-to counselors, especially for the under-40 crowd.
And why not? He’s young, energetic, funny and smart – all the components necessary to combat addiction, especially if the person who is addicted is a little feisty. He’s been working at the centre since 2019, and is admittedly, still learning the ropes.
“I can tell you at first I was a little more-easy going, maybe almost people-pleasing a little bit. But, now that I have some experience, I don’t take as much crap,” he says with a laugh.
Experience and education. A powerful combination when it comes to treating the disease.
His is a story of dramatic contrasts.
The youngest of two boys, he came from a good home in the north end of Winnipeg. Dad is a third-generation owner of the family leather glove manufacturing business and coach of kids sports, while mom looked after things at home. The boys had their typical sibling rivalries, especially on the basketball front. But, overall, “My brother and I, we always had everything we wanted and needed,” Eddie says.
Yet, underneath the surface, something wasn’t quite right.
By his teens, the signs of trouble began to percolate.
“On the outside, superficially, l had lots of friends. Girlfriends, all that stuff. But, on the inside, I remember something just not feeling right. I obsessed about what others thought about me. Low self-esteem, foundationally.”
Like many, he lit his substance-use fuse with weed. The gateway discovery.
“I remember really liking it. I was a hyper kid. I remember it just kind of made me feel funny. Made food taste really good. And it calmed me down a bit. Right out of the jump, I really, really liked it.”
The progression through his teens to other substances changed him in a harsh way. Hallucinogens. Mushrooms. LSD. Cocaine. His grades dropped. He was expelled from schools over his drug use, and his family life became volatile.
“A lot of fighting. A lot of screaming. A lot of arguing. When the cocaine picked up, it was not a good time. It was a really dark time,” he says.
“I also live with bipolar disorder. Around the time I started with coke, I was living pretty much with untreated manic depression. Untreated bipolar disorder mixed with cocaine.
“I would rob my parents blind. I would take off for days at a time. They would call the cops on me. I would steal their car. Forged cheques. My dad is well off, so I would just forge cheques in my mom’s name for a lot of money. They didn’t know what to do with me.”
His lifestyle and anger spiraled as he neared his 18th birthday, when he would be arrested and put in juvenile detention for nearly a week. His options were limited. He needed to go to treatment if he was to return home.
Hazelden’s Youth Program in Minnesota was a top program in the U.S. at the time. Eddie’s parents would foot the bill, a huge amount of money invested. Eddie held his nose, made the trip. He did have an earnest desire to get off cocaine, but that was about it.
He completed 30 days and went home, and attended adult education to get his high school credits. Still living at home, leading a double life, he went to work for his dad.
In his mind, as long as he stayed away from cocaine he would be just fine.
He wasn’t. Recovery is not about one substance.
One fateful night, at 24 years old, he looked around the room and realized just how much trouble he was in.
“I wasn’t hanging out with good people. I was at a really shitty motel in Winnipeg, really grimy, gross. I was up for a few days, just high out of my mind. Hadn’t ate. Hadn’t showered. Just emaciated. Sitting in this room in this shitty chair in this dungeon of a motel room. I remember just sitting there, looking around the room and thinking, ‘What happened to me?’ I grew up in a good home. My parents were so loving. My brother … he and I were close growing up. I remember thinking just, ‘Why?’ How did I get here?”
He got up. Left the motel room and slunk back to his apartment.
The moment of clarity arrives for many in the most dingey of places. That was his. He would go home to his apartment to lay low for the six weeks it took to get into another program of treatment at the Addiction Foundation of Manitoba in Winnipeg. The last three days were hell.
“I just got so sick. It was bad. I went through withdrawals. No one knew what I was doing. I didn’t go for Suboxone or Methadone or nothing. I just sat there and suffered in my apartment.”
Eddie spent 40 days in treatment, then moved to sober living for over a year. He did what he was told. He stayed desperate, stayed teachable. He went to meetings every day. He got a sponsor, a man in long-term recovery who remains in his life as a key mentor. He waited two years before doing a solid, detailed living amends with his family. Talk was not enough. He had to show he was doing things different, and two years was the right equation.
He left sober living and moved in with sober friends. He had a job in demolition, in construction, and he knew that was not what he wanted to be doing the rest of his life. He began his journey towards officially helping others for a living and went to the University of Manitoba in search of his degree in Social Work, with an eye squarely on addictions.
Aurora offered him a practicum experience in the fall of 2019, and he jumped at it. By the time the spring rolled around, just in time for COVID, he was invited to remain on, full time, in a salaried position. Eddie had come full circle.
The reluctant student has become a teacher. In recovery.
“I just love helping. I love relating. I love being an open ear for people. Being understanding. Empathetic. I love to share my experience. I just love it,” he says.
He is into the gym and is fit. He will be back to playing basketball again as soon as he can, and he’s a bit of a self-proclaimed “video game nerd” on weekends. And, most days, you can count on seeing him at a meeting. His life these days is just fine.
“Every day, I try to go in with an open mind. With hope. With energy. Looking forward to the day. I’ve never had a job that I enjoyed as much as I do at Aurora,” he says.
And as he heads towards his third year as a counselor, he knows exactly where he came from, how he got there, what he is getting from recovery and, in particular, from working at Aurora.
“A sense of purpose. A job that I love. An identity that I love.”
By Jeff Vircoe