James Nelson has now been 20 months sober, after almost taking his own life while battling addiction.
The 45-year-old Red Deerian’s battle with addiction began 20 years ago when he was working in the oilpatch, he explained during Red Deer Recovery Day, which celebrates and raises awareness about recovery from addiction.
“I made a lot of money and had a lot of money to burn,” Nelson said.
“I grew up in a home of alcoholism. … That environment – the broken home – contributed to poor thinking, poor judgement and a desire to find relief from the demons in my mind.”
Nelson began using cocaine when he would go out to the bars in Red Deer.
“I started using that sporadically at first and to a greater degree as my life went on. My drug use got to a point where it started to feed the guilt, shame and remorse that I had felt growing up. It started to become something I was terribly ashamed of and it started destroying my life, paycheque to paycheque,” he said.
“The more that my drug use continued, the more of my life it started to swallow up. It got to the point where it was a day-to-day struggle just trying to stay high.
“I lost the ability to responsibly work and eventually I was at a point where I wanted it to go away. I wanted to stop using for 15 years of my 20-year addiction. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. I was too ashamed to admit to people that I was an addict and I was struggling.”
Nelson said he tried to find a way out of his addiction, eventually getting to the point where he believed his only way out was death.
“Thank God that I didn’t die from that addiction, that day I tried to take my life. I came to realize after the attempt that I didn’t want to die, I want to live,” he said.
“I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life – I reached out for help. I was brought to a recovery meeting. I started to attend and put my best effort into listening to the advice of people who have found relief from their addiction and applying those principles to my life.”
The COVID-19 pandemic began during his first year of recovery. Even though he was struggling financially, it was the “happiest year” of his adult life.
“Financially it was the worst, emotionally it was the most difficult, but spiritually it was the most freeing,” he said.
This year’s Red Deer Recovery Day was held at City Hall Park Saturday afternoon. In addition to multiple speakers sharing their own stories, a number of local organizations that support those battling addictions had booths set up during the event.
Krista Black, event organizer, said it’s important to reduce the stigma around addictions so “people aren’t ashamed to come out” and ask for help.
“There are barriers people face when they have to change their lives to try to get better, such as wait lines to get into treatment or a fear of being judged when coming out and saying they have a problem. That keeps them from getting the help they need,” said Black.
“I think it’s important to unite and show people they aren’t alone. If we’ve done it, they can do it. We brought together all the resources available in the community that can help them.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/recoverydayreddeer.