Manitoba

8 months sober: What it took to come back from meth

Travis Veilleux was at the bottom of a meth addiction eight months ago. Today he is living one sober day a time with a focus on exercise, good people and full-time studies.

'I have family back. I have friends. I have people who look at me and smile at me.'

Travis Veilleux is eight months sober after a 16-year battle with drug addiction, including crystal meth. (Kim Kaschor)

Travis Veilleux starts every day with a morning run — a ritual that has proved essential to his recovery from meth addiction.

"It's been 250 days clean now, I've never missed the gym once. I run five miles every morning — that's minimum — and that's what keeps me sane, sober, and just keeps me focused," he said. 

Looking back, Veilleux says he remembers the sense of hopelessness he experienced on meth.

"I think it was a year and a half, two years I was homeless, riding around on a bike and just alone, empty inside, stealing from Dollarama ... I was the walking dead out there," he said.

"The only thing that was alive in me was my heartbeat. I think that's what every addict needs to hit — it's a bottom, and it's a spiritual and emotional bottom."

In and out of rehab for 16 years

Veilleux has been in and out of addictions programs in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia for the last 16 years.

It took a new approach to addiction to keep him on track with his recovery, he said, which he found in a program called RE:ACT.

"It started with [addiction expert] Gabor Maté's work that pointed out that every addict he dealt with had childhood trauma," said Tim Fletcher, president and founder of the RE:ACT program in Winnipeg.

The program was launched two and half years ago in response to a growing desire among those working in the addictions field to provide programming that addressed the deeper problems behind a person's addiction.

In 2017, Travis Veilleux was an avid meth user. He says when he finally hit rock bottom, a Winnipeg addictions program called RE:ACT helped him find his way toward recovery. (Kim Kaschor)

"For all addicts, at some point in their life they saw addiction as the solution to their problems," Fletcher said.

"And so the question in really helping them was — what problems were they trying to solve by their addiction? It was childhood trauma — unmet need in childhood, abuse, neglect — and so that led to really focusing in on the effects of childhood trauma in the life of somebody who would become an addict."

The RE:ACT (Recovery Education for Addiction and Complex Trauma) program is an out-patient program, meaning clients attend classes five days a week but need to secure their own housing.

Out-patient formula important to staying sober

For Veilleux, the interaction with everyday life during the program has been an important part of staying sober.

"When you're in a 20-day residential program you're sheltered, you're away from society. And when they throw you back out, what do you got?" he said.

"You still got no house, you still got no coping tools to deal with life. That's the great thing about RE:ACT. You go there and [Tim Fletcher] teaches you and you get to go home and practice it the same day."

Travis Veilleux smiles as he volunteers at a thrift shop. Giving back to the community is one of the recovery recommendations of the RE:ACT program. (Kim Kaschor/CBC)

Fletcher describes the first phase of the program as very academic, with four weeks of daily workshops that focus on addiction recovery and complex trauma. The second phase is two months long and focuses on learning new ways of living and putting what clients have learned into practice. 

Choosing meth

Veilleux struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine for more than a decade until he tried injecting meth for the first time. 

"I shot it and it was everything I wanted. My place was spotless, I talked to people. Immediately I was hooked. I stopped smoking crack that night and started shooting meth," Veilleux said in an interview for CBC's Information Radio in 2017.

Over time, though, the initial positive effects of meth wore off and Veilleux started to isolate himself in the same ways he was isolated by his addiction to crack cocaine. He was anxious, paranoid and began hearing voices. 

'Running is probably the best medicine'

On meth, Veilleux says he was still having auditory hallucinations when he was going through detox and it took a return to exercising and surrounding himself with positive people for the psychosis to stop.

"What I knew worked for me was hard core cardio and getting back into weights. I love the gym and running is probably the best medicine for so many things," he said.

At eight months sober, Veilleux is a full-time student in a baking and pastry program at Red River College and has been able to secure safe, sober housing.

"I have family back. I have friends. I have people who look at me and smile at me. It's amazing the people who are coming back in my life ... life is amazing and there's no way in hell I'm going back to that scared, hopeless state of mind ever again. Ever."

About the Author

Kim Kaschor

Associate Producer

Kim Kaschor is a journalist living in Winnipeg. With roots in rural Manitoba, she has a passion for hyperlocal community issues, grassroots development and social justice. You can connect with Kim at kim.kaschor@cbc.ca.