Manitoba·Point of View

Life after jail and off meth is a slow journey to optimism, says recovering addict

Out of jail and in a residential treatment program, Jason Walmsley journals his latest challenges — and successes — on his journey to recovery.

In his latest recovery journal, Jason Walmsley says he's experiencing a 'dangerous word' called 'hope'

Jason Walmsley is slowly preparing himself for life outside the residential treatment centre that's currently his home. (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, two-thirds of the way through his program, and close to a year into his sobriety.

Today the body of man was found.

I watched through my window as the police sealed off the corner of Higgins and Maple, the place where this man's final breaths were taken.

I watched as the ambulance and fire trucks arrived, then watched as the police waved them past — there was nothing for them here, nothing that could be done. 

His life ended less than 200 metres from the bedroom these words were written in. 

He was well known here. But is now just another statistic.

Last night, wrapped in the blue flowered comforter my mother brought me, there was no question of being safe and watched over in this bedroom — this man did not have that. 

Last night he was alive — this morning he was not.

Jason Walmsley looks out his window to the street where a former acquaintance, also struggling with addiction, was found dead in early July. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Doing nothing and continuing in our addiction means that our lives can never be our own. We will never experience a fulfilling and meaningful future, because we allow our addiction to steal that choice away from us. 

Not only will our lives belong to addiction, but our deaths as well. 

'Success is on the horizon'

I live on the front lines of addiction in Winnipeg, experiencing first-hand the great successes and great failures of those struggling with addiction.

It can be an onerous and traumatic experience residing here, even at times dangerous; but a beautiful and remarkable woman shared with me an ideal that has made a lasting and significant impact on me:

"Leave those you meet better than when you found them" — and she could not have been more right. 

I cannot disappoint my loved ones again.

Being a part of the Anchorage program (Salvation Army) has been an exceptional experience for me. 

This program leaves addicts better than when they walked through the doors — myself included. 

I have learned that emotion — not intellect — guides an addict's recovery process; that we cannot logic our way through a tangled mess of emotions and the trauma from our past. This has been an invaluable realization for me.

Jason Walmsley says he feels safe and 'watched over' in his room at a residential treatment centre. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The counsellors here focus on treating the kind-hearted and compassionate human beings we once were, not the callous and indifferent drug-addicted villains we've now become. 

They are nothing less than amazing.

In this moment, success is on the horizon for me. But in these experienced times of continuous great failures and disastrous disappointments, countless others have also been within reach of success.

Perhaps, then, the horizon is much further than it seems …

Eleven months into residential treatment, there exists this dangerous word called "hope." My immediate reaction is to drive this feeling deep down and ignore its potential implications. 

Hope means expectation, and expectation means disappointment. 

I cannot disappoint my loved ones again.

Walmsley says he finally feels a sense of hope that he can beat his addiction. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

My father and mother, brother and sister-in-law; beautiful nieces and grandmother, best friend Eric and his wonderful fiancée, Brittney — these are the people who matter; in the end, nothing else matters. Yet somewhere along the line, this elemental and simple truth was forgotten. 

I will never forget this again. 

'The internal enemy'

During my one-on-one sessions, my brother is often the unnerving topic of discussion. Working through the feelings associated with that relationship has been a strenuous obstacle to overcome, as I'm sure it has also been for him. 

The worst part is the feeling of admiration for my brother — his dedication, commitment and unwavering morals and values. He has always shown great resolve in working toward and attaining his goals, persevering through hardships and difficulties that most others would have given up on. He is someone to admire and aspire to become — but I can never be him.

Emotion may guide this process, but that emotion needs to be as educated as my intellect. I can never be him …

I learned long ago through my addiction how to die. Now I need to learn how to live again.

In less than a month, my commitments at the Anchorage program will come to an end; and so will begin the long-awaited second chance to implement the lessons I've learned. 

Graduation day will be my 353rd day sober, almost an entire year. I'm terrified of that number, but not from the fear of failing (that talent has long ago been mastered). 

What scares me now is the internal enemy of doubt and the fear of actually succeeding; the voices inside the addicted mind asking:

Will I be good enough? 

Will I continue to deserve the second chance that's been given to me? 

Will I be able to give to those I love?

Will I even be worthy of love? 

Fact of the matter is, I learned long ago through my addiction how to die. Now I need to learn how to live again.

I can succeed, and I will.  #weareworthsaving

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


Winnipeg-born Jason Walmsley, 32, has spent more than 18 years learning first-hand the desperation associated with the addicted life. He believes finding a solution to addiction must begin with addressing the root causes and offering long-term residential treatment, at little or no cost.