From the minute we homos emerge from the suffocating chrysalis of closet-dom, we are offered a host of partying options to make up for any sense of stunted adolescence. Unfortunately, this heady atmosphere can often be accompanied by plenty of chemicals and intoxicants to liven up the fun.
Some folks breeze easily through these years, using drugs and alcohol recreationally while they continue to build lives, careers and relationships. For others it’s not so easy.
“There’s a phenomenon of craving,” says Kimberley C, recovering addict and chair of public information for Cocaine Anonymous. “You pursue it, wanting another one and another one, unable to control it. One of the sayings we have is that we pursue this into the gates of hell, insanity or death. You’re just taken and you can’t stop.”
Cocaine Anonymous was a lifeline for Kimberley and countless others like her (all subjects for this article use only their first names and last initial to preserve anonymity). She’d spent an astonishing 27 years on the streets before entering what she and other members call the Rooms of Recovery. Kimberley credits CA’s 12-step program, based on the program laid out in Alcoholics Anonymous, for her life today: sober, in a stable relationship and having recently completed her certification as a paralegal. For her, the camaraderie and support from fellow addicts was an essential component to getting well, and she looks forward to widening that circle at this year’s annual Southern Ontario Cocaine Anonymous convention.
“The convention is a great way to connect with other member and other groups,” Kimberley says. “There’s a main forum with guest speakers from all around the world, as well as workshops for things like meditation, sponsoring others and working certain steps in the 12-step recovery program.”
The compartmentalized nature of the convention allows newcomers to absorb information in increments, rather than being overwhelmed with a massive group. Member Wayne C remembers his first convention fondly.
“The coming together of such a large volume of people really does strengthen the fellowship experience,” Wayne says. “It’s structured so that there are lots of things happening, taking away from the bigness of it. It’s a demonstration of manageable living, really.”
Wayne’s advice to members and non-members alike is to simply keep an open mind. “Come willing to do that one tiny thing, making the decision to come. And be prepared to leave having absorbed a lot.”
For many in the fellowship, this annual convention is also an opportunity to revel in their transformed lives while offering hope and encouragement to others. CA member Rick T believes the gathering’s balance of communion and learning are integral to rebuilding a life without drugs.
“We’re all together, celebrating our victory,” Rick says. “That’s very important for someone like me, whose entire life revolved around addiction.”
Rick’s long-term alcohol abuse took a turn toward crack cocaine after the break-up of a relationship. His subsequent alliances with sex workers led to experimentation with the crack cocaine, which quickly took over his life.
“It was an instant love affair,” Rick says. “I was using every day and running a crack house out of my home. It had completely taken over.”
After entering recovery, one of Rick’s biggest fears was returning to his Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, where his addiction had flourished. “I didn’t have a clue how I was going to stay sober when I came home. I was frightened as hell to go downtown. That’s when I started to meet people from CA and build a new community.”
Rick is still recognized by other addicts when he walks down the street, many of whom ask if he’s still using and how he got out of the addiction cycle. For him, eight years of sobriety have only strengthened the desire to help others in search of aid. “The spiritual power of our program is giving back and helping others to get sober. My story is pretty typical, but if it reaches out to someone in need of help, then that’s all that really matters.”