Manitoba·Point of View

'Family has become the cornerstone': Finding family, finding happiness in life after addiction

Jason Walmsley, a recovering addict who has been keeping a diary of his recovery for CBC, says he celebrates personal milestones. "Throughout my journey of recovery, now 18 months sober, family has become the cornerstone from which sobriety remains possible for me," he says.

Facing an uncertain future, recovering addict Jason Walmsley says he is 'begging to be given a sober chance'

Jason Walmsley with his mother, Hilary. 'A mother will hold you close when the inevitable tears flow,' he says. (Submitted by Jason Walmsley)

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, he reflects on the role of family in his recovery.

Someone once told me that the brave choice will always be family.

You may not always agree with them or see eye-to-eye, but family is family, for better or worse.

When all others have given up, and when the worst of your addiction was there for the world to see, your family saw the person underneath and only ever believed in the best of you.

I didn't always believe this.

Family to me was a burden, an unfortunate part of life that held you accountable for the things you would rather not be held accountable for.

What a person active in their addiction refuses to understand is the bond that exists between families — especially that of a mother and child suffering from this disease.

WATCH | Jason Walmsley on sober living, family and the struggle to belong: 

Finding purpose, finding family as a recovering addict

3 years ago
Duration 3:19
Jason Walmsley describes sobriety and the struggle to belong.

A mother will defend you and battle fate for you, keep you warm from the cold and hold you close when the inevitable tears flow; not because she knows the answers, but because in that moment, she knows you're safe … and so she holds a little bit tighter, a little bit more.

A mother, though, cannot always protect her child from the heartache addiction brings. She cannot keep you safe from the destruction and consequences this disease creates.

Throughout my journey of recovery, now 18 months sober, family has become the cornerstone from which sobriety remains possible for me.

Those we love are the simplest and most complicated part of life, but also the most needed when faced with the seemingly insurmountable obstacle that is addiction.

A thousand regrettable and unforgettable miles are now behind me, memories that will never leave me alone, even on the happiest of days; prison, homelessness, hunger, fear …

Jason Walmsley in August 2018, in the throes of drug addiction, when he began serving a nine-month sentence in Headingley Correctional Centre. (Submitted by Jason Walmsley)

But looking forward, there are still thousands of undecided ones in front of me — begging to be given a sober chance.

I owe this to myself, my family and those who are no longer here.

I am indebted not only to provide a sober life, one filled with meaning and realized potential, but also to provide happiness in what everyday life holds for me.

I wish finding that was easy. 

'I want to be a part of their solution'

But becoming and continuing to stay sober does not make life any less difficult. 

If anything, being clean from drugs, things have become harder.

My meals may no longer come from the garbage can, or my bus fare from begging.

But attempting to find my place in this seemingly endless maze has proven as insurmountable as the addiction was.

I don't know where I belong.

Walmsley is now clean, sober and trying to find his purpose. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

I've been watching my life standing there, right in front of me. I keep looking and staring at it, trying to find my way in, but I can't.

In addiction, you relive the same day over and over again, and after a while you begin to see the person you have unwillingly become — the person that protects your misguided reputation, at the cost of your once sincere character.

I don't want to be this person.

All the regrets and mistakes, all the hard memories....maybe they weren't for nothing- Jason Walmsley

I want to be there for others, to help bring awareness and to share the stories of others as I have been given the chance to share mine — because addiction in our community has a face, and so many names.

Countless mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and children — Winnipeggers — suffering every day, looking for an answer to help bring them back from the darkness.

I want to be a part of their solution, and in doing so I think I will finally find the place where I belong  — the place I was always meant to be.

Then everything that's happened, all the regrets and mistakes, all the hard memories ... maybe they weren't for nothing.

Maybe my experiences being re-purposed — rather than repeated — is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

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.