Manitoba·Point of View

'More needs to be done': A recovering addict calls for action to stem drugs' deadly toll

walmsley pov

In his latest recovery journal, Jason Walmsley moves on to transitional aftercare

Jason Walmsley has reached the one-year mark in his sobriety. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

In May 2019, Jason Walmsley was released from Headingley Correctional Centre in Manitoba, after completing a nine-month sentence for crimes he committed to fuel his drug addiction.

Walmsley spent his days behind bars taking part in the Winding River Therapeutic Community, a long-term addictions recovery program offered inside Headingley.

Upon his release, he was sent to a residential treatment program in Winnipeg.

Walmsley has agreed to share his journey on the outside for the CBC in regular intervals.

Here are his thoughts, after graduating from his program and moving into aftercare, a full year into his sobriety.

The most important lesson has been to make mistakes, to mess up and fall down, to not know the answers … because this leads to learning the lessons, cleaning up the messes and finding those answers. 

The lesson has been to fail forward. 

I have graduated both the Winding River and Anchorage programs and have now been moved into the transitional "aftercare" initiative. 

Two programs, 12 months, 354 arduous days sober. 

I'm still an addict working through the demons of my addiction, still cleaning up the messes from my past and still undeniably and unavoidably scared. 

I fear the known hardships in front of me because I have been 110 pounds and 230 pounds all in the same year, worked hard to stay sober and given up the same day. 

I have promised the world and refused to follow through, given hope to others and taken it back from them. 

I found rock bottom many times in my life but have fought my way back from the depths of my despair. 

My story may be filled with broken pieces, terrible choices and unsightly truths … but there is solace in the fact not one day in my addiction has been wasted.

From those hardships and detriments came compassion, understanding and an appreciation for the battles others are going through that we know nothing about. 

I try and remember that the pain I feel today will be replaced with the strength I need for tomorrow, but those are just motivational words creatively placed in a sentence that sounds good. 

My recovery has always been incumbent on actionable follow through.

I must walk the talk. 

Emotion is the driving force

There are still days where I sit in my room and cry, where the introvert within me takes over and the painful memories buried deep inside resurface without my permission.

Tears run down my face in what should be an emotional release that has an end, but one year into sober living these poignant moments happen more often than I'm able or willing to admit. 

Emotion has always been the driving force behind my addiction, either shutting down and feeling too little or opening up and feeling too much; but imposing guilt or shame upon myself for the decisions a lifetime passed will never change what's already happened. 

Punishing myself is not the answer.

Giving up is not the answer. 

The only semblance of an answer moving forward is radical self acceptance. Taking ownership of the pain I've caused and the trauma I've endured, because in the end hurt people hurt people.

I don't want to hurt people anymore.

Walmsley says it's important to take ownership of the pain he's caused and the trauma he's endured. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Recently I attended the Purple Ribbon Campaign for overdose awareness held at City Hall in Winnipeg. Family and friends gathered to bring awareness and to remember those who have been taken far too soon.

It was a mournful event.

Listening to and speaking with mothers who have been through unthinkable horrors, somehow finding the strength to be there.

With every son's name that was spoken or daughter's picture that was shown there was one undeniable and inarguable truth taken from that day …

More needs to be done. 

Levels of government face off with one another while an entire generation of our country's children are being lost. Last year, an average of 12 people died each day in Canada from an opioid-related overdose.

Twelve broken families and distressed communities. 

Twelve human beings with dreams and aspirations, families who cared for them and loved them … gone. 

Every … single … day.

Opioid-related deaths are so prevalent in recent years that the overall life expectancy of Canadians stopped rising from 2016 to 2017, the first time in over 40 years.

Think about that.

All levels of government must set aside their political rivalries and work together for the common good to effect meaningful change.

Premier Pallister, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, Mayor Brian Bowman and respective members of the legislative assembly … 

"We must meet the challenge rather than wish it were not before us."

– William J. Brennan, Jr., former associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court                                

I can appreciate the politics of being a politician, but while the conversation of what needs to be done happens, while promises are being made for the upcoming election, while arguments are being made for and against proven initiatives … we have lost and are continuing to lose those we care for most in this world. 

Lisa. Ryan. Ayron. Stephanie. Bricey. Jesse. Christian. Nikolas. Joshua. Destiny. Rob. Jeni. Blair. Adam. Evan. Wesley. Gabriel. Jordan. Alex. Michael. Kyle. Isaac. Wayne. Josh. Jessie. Curtis. Bruce.

More needs to be done. 

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.