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My substance use to sobriety story


By an anonymous BCTF member


If I was asked four years ago to describe someone with substance issues, I would have proceeded to describe the couple of people I knew who had struggled immensely with alcohol when I was growing up. People who drank every day, whose lives were falling apart, who lost jobs and had a hard time finding new ones. People who couldn’t stay sober, no matter what the consequences. I have family members who have had significant difficulties, to varying degrees, with alcohol. They worked through 12-step programs, with different levels of success. They also imprinted onto me that I would never want anything to do with a 12-step program to work on substance issues. In fact, I never imagined I would have a substance issue. I believed I had it under control.


Throughout my life I have faced many struggles; probably more than the average person my age, but things had settled in recent years, and I was working in a school. Dizziness and chest pains became a sudden and frequent occurrence in my life. I attempted to solve this problem by indulging in a glass of wine or refreshing Caesar after work, which turned into every day, and then multiple times per day. Alcohol hadn’t even been part of my existence and routine during stressful periods of my life, but it was routine now even though my personal life was better.

"Substance use...may not happen when you expect it. My most significant struggle with substance use didn’t happen when my personal life was most challenging; instead, it snuck up on me when things in my life felt calmer."

After visiting my doctor for the fourth time because of dizziness and chest pains, she asked me to head immediately to the hospital the next time it happened. What I didn’t realize was that it was happening only during work hours. This was the first clue that eventually led to me being evaluated for panic attacks and questioning my drinking habits. I was adamant that my alcohol consumption was under control until I decided to substitute my alcohol with a new substance, pot, which had just become legal and had a good reputation for “chilling people out.” I thought this could be my answer to all my panic problems.


Wrong! Pot can make things much worse. I had seen my students turn to pot as a coping strategy many times, and I of course knew this could have serious and negative effects, but again, my denial convinced me that would never happen to me.


Ultimately, it did happen to me, and I found myself admitted to the hospital for a pot-induced incident. As much as the experience felt like a dream to me, it very much scared my friends and family. I was now on full medical leave from work, primarily based on stress and my inability to avoid panic attacks.


I was fortunate to have the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) Health and Wellness Program helping me navigate my various needs. After my hospital stay I asked BCTF staff if there was any help available for substance use. I was encouraged to attend an independent medical exam by an addictions doctor. I had some immediate regrets after agreeing to this. I felt I was opening a huge can of worms and admitting that I might have an issue with alcohol. Almost like admitting defeat.


At the end of my appointment, the doctor asked me what I wanted out of this process. I basically told her that I wanted the deep pain in my chest to go away. This was the beginning of a long journey to where I am today.


Initially, the doctor’s recommendations put me in the same panic mode as I’d been in to begin with. I felt the recommendations were rather harsh, especially considering that I asked for help and was not forced to seek it. I was told I would be monitored for up to two years by a medical monitoring program and have random urine tests, as one of the stipulations was that I was not to have any substances during that time or I wouldn’t qualify for long-term disability (LTD). At this point my sick days had run out and LTD was my only income. I was also sent to a two-month treatment program where I started attending a 12-step program three times per week—the one I swore I would never be a part of—and eventually met my sponsor.

"I am concerned that, like me, many educators, especially those in small communities, refuse to attend any kind of 12-step program because of worries around anonymity and confidentiality."

I remember the day my partner dropped me off at the treatment centre; I was more nervous than ever before. Who would I be meeting there, and what would they make me do? I went in with a mindset focused on just getting it over with. It ended up being the most eye-opening experience of my life, in good and bad ways, but certainly in a fulfilling way.


The treatment centre had people from across Canada, and from every walk of life. They were all people who were introspective, creative, funny, and had big hearts.


One of my biggest concerns with starting treatment was anonymity. After teaching for more than 20 years in a small community, anonymity is almost impossible to maintain. How many of my former students or students’ parents would I run into? How many times can you go to any place in a small town and be anonymous? This is what inspired me to write this article. I am concerned that, like me, many educators, especially those in small communities, refuse to attend any kind of 12-step program because of worries around anonymity and confidentiality. Fortunately, anonymity has not been an issue for me—thank goodness for virtual supports. I have been extremely well supported by the BCTF throughout my journey and feel my anonymity has been protected throughout the process.


Since joining a 12-step program, other teachers in treatment have reached out to me. Some are at the beginning of their careers without continuing contracts, concerned about being found out and not getting “that job,” and some are at the end of their careers. Of course, we are all in different situations, but we must find a way to support each other, and we must lean on supports provided by our union when needed.


Substance use is real and can sneak up on any of us. And as my story shows, it may not happen when you expect it. My most significant struggle with substance use didn’t happen when my personal life was most challenging; instead, it snuck up on me when things in my life felt calmer. People from all around the world and from every demographic have the same issues with substances. In fact, a saying rings true for us: it’s a thinking problem, not a drinking problem.


I am forever grateful for the life I’ve been able to rebuild today. The BCTF has given me something I never thought I wanted and, in fact, wanted to run the other way from—fast. I’m very lucky that online meetings exist in the world of substance use.


If you find yourself even questioning if you have a problem with substances, there are online meetings that are welcoming and where you are able to stay anonymous. I encourage you to take that first step and reach out to the BCTF Health and Wellness Program. It can change your life. It changed mine.


Visit bctf.ca or call 1-800-663-9163 for more information on the BCTF Health and Wellness Program.

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