Edmonton

He was once addicted and imprisoned. Now he's a Red Seal chef serving hope

Eleven years ago, Jay Barnard was sitting in a prison cell, ready to die. At 26, addiction had already consumed much of his life.

'I didn't know there was any way out'

With help from the Salvation Army, Jay Barnard overcame his addictions to build a new life as a chef, father and motivational speaker. (Jay Barnard/Facebook)

Eleven years ago, Jay Barnard was sitting in a prison cell, ready to die. At 26, addiction had already consumed much of his life.

Today, as a Red Seal chef with his own thriving seafood business, Barnard is giving back to the organization he credits with helping him find sobriety.

Barnard is in Edmonton this week to help launch the Salvation Army's annual $550,000 Christmas Kettle Campaign. He will be speaking at the annual Hope in the City fundraiser Wednesday afternoon at the Evario Events Centre inside the Holiday Inn on Parsons Road.

"The Salvation Army helped me gather the tools that I needed to have this recovery and this life that I've always wanted but didn't know how to get because I was so scared of myself," Barnard said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It turned out all that I needed was the help of some good folks and a counsellor to be honest with me about my issues." 

Hitting rock bottom 

Barnard said his issues were deep-seated. Growing up in Kenora, Ont., he struggled with addiction from childhood. He began using food to cope. He started drinking alcohol as a child. At age 12, he smoked marijuana for the first time. By 14, he started selling it to support his own habit.

Barnard said he felt gratified by the power, the money and popularity dealing afforded him. 

By 18, Barnard said he was addicted to alcohol and drugs. He got kicked out of high school and then out of the family home. 

By 21, he got arrested for the first time. His apartment was raided. Police found 264 grams of marijuana and 28 grams of cocaine, he said.

Following a stint in jail, he started using cocaine heavily. In the years that followed, he turned to heroin and crack to dull the pain.

At one of his lowest lows, a suicide attempt landed him in hospital for three days. When he was released, he bought a bottle of rye and an ounce of crack in an attempt to poison himself again.

And yet the cycle continued. Finally, when serving time for driving while suspended, Barnard found the strength to ask for help.

'They opened the door'

He began seeing a counsellor who suggested he seek residential treatment in Ottawa at the Salvation Army's Booth Centre.

It was the beginning of a new life. He found faith in a higher power and began questioning his destructive behaviour. 

"I fought drug addiction and alcoholism for the better part of 18 years and I had hit rock bottom and I needed to get help," he said. 

"When I landed in Ottawa, the Salvation Army had open arms. They opened the door. I had all kinds of fear because I had never entered that life before.

"I was a drug dealer for the better part of my life ... That's how I supported my habit and they gave me the opportunity to be me." 

It's just a message of hope, if you're alone at home and struggling like I was.- Jay Barnard

Since those first difficult weeks at the recovery centre, Barnard trained as a chef, worked in restaurants across the country and eventually launched his own business in Kenora, Ont. 

He now travels across the country as a motivational speaker, sharing his story. He's known as Chef Recovery. 

"I have a successful career, I have a business, I speak, I have a beautiful daughter named Destiny that I love but more importantly, I feel rich on the inside." 

"It's just a message of hope, if you're alone at home and struggling like I was," he said. "I didn't know there was any way out and I just continued to kill myself day after day but there is a way out." 

From a life of out-of-control addiction to success in the kitchen- Chef Jay Barnard is in Edmonton this week to share his journey of recovery as the Salvation Army kicks off its annual kettle campaign. 5:24

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