Here is a memory: I am 26, and high on a toxic mixture of cocaine and beer and vodka when I hear the slow thump of footsteps coming down the basement. I look up and see my father crying and he says this: “I need you to leave my home in the next month. I don’t want you to die in the basement.”
His words shook me because when all others had left, my parents were the only support I had, and it seemed like even they had had enough. And why wouldn’t they? I weighed 98 pounds, could barely keep any food in me and I was urinating and defecating blood.
Now as I celebrate 19 years of being sober, I recall this moment vividly like a scene deeply etched on your mind from a horror movie, a reminder of how close I was to loosing just about everything—and yet I didn’t.
I started drinking when I was 11, a few sips from a stolen beer from a friend, which eventually grew to a beer every weekend. A few years later, I was drinking every weekend. By Grade 7 and 8, drinking beer on the weekend with friends was par for the course. By the time I was in high school, drinking with new friends became the new normal. It was a way for me to mix up with everyone, regardless of race or social class.
Soon, I was having six beers on the weekend, and by the time I was 21 and enrolled in BCIT to become a heavy-duty mechanic, I was downing 12 beers a day. And then there was cocaine, introduced by friends at a party. There was a lot of supply of cocaine and heroine and other drugs in BC, and everyone was doing it and so was I. You take a little bit and then you want more and your brain is always chasing after that first high.
It didn’t take a long time for me to become an addict.
By the time I was 23 or 24, I was drinking a two-litre bottle of vodka, straight and spending $250 on my cocaine habit. I funded that by stealing money from parents, siblings or relatives. I recall looking forward to relatives coming from California because I knew I could siphon off money from them.
Rather than snorting cocaine, I was now injecting it. I had been pretty much fired from every single job because drug habit isn’t an easy thing to conceal from your employers.
My dad walking down the basement was the extreme point.
It was shocking to hear those words from him, but it also made me realise that something had to change. I was taken to the doctor, who told me bluntly that I had 3-4 months to live. “Your organs just can’t take it anymore,” were the words of Dr. Doran that I still remember very clearly.
By this time, all my friends, family had given up on me and even my parents, my only support, had started to push away as they had to live their lives. It was this sudden realization that finally made me seek help.
Through the Sea to Sky Community Services, I was placed in a Fraser Valley rehab facility on May 4, 2002. Cleaning up wasn’t easy. I was surrounded by criminals and convicts and we were all there for an extreme detoxification of the mind and the body. We were put on methadone to slowly wean us off the heroine. I remember weeks of nightmares, throwing up incessantly, and literally pulling my hair because I just couldn’t handle the reaction of my body and mind as it was taken away from drugs.
And yet I stuck there, and slowly the fog started lifting. We had group therapy for five days a week where the therapists would essentially pull our life apart and teach new life skills. I opened my first bank account when I was 26.
After the stint at rehab, I came back to Squamish, even though many people move away from the places they came from to break the life pattern. I decided to come back to town because I also had a certain epiphany. I realized that when I do something, I give it my 100 per cent. I keep my foot on the gas, whether it was work or drugs. I am always up for a challenge and with that in mind, I decided to come back to Squamish.
One of the first things I did was I apologized to people I had stolen money from, and not just over the phone. I made it a point to do this face to face and it was a pleasant experience to know that people were not mad at me, and in fact many cried and hugged me.
I had also grown spiritual and I wondered about myself and my purpose here. I worked on myself and wondered about who really this new Neil Deo was. I also immersed myself in music, played guitar and drums and started going to church and to this day read the Bible.
Joining the fire department as a volunteer was a big step for me, and a lot of my friends are firefighters. One day, I also summoned up the courage to ask someone I had known for some time for dinner. Stephanie agreed to go on a dinner with me and the rest, as they say, is history. I am so grateful to her, my parents, my friends, and of course my three girls, Alexis, Melia and Toni, who give my life its purpose.
But I also know that I still have a lot of healing work to do with my siblings and friends.
Do I feel the urge to drink again? Yes, that urge is there, present always like a lingering nightmare that stays even when you are fully awake.
But I also know that there is my family and my friends who will keep me accountable. I can easily visualize 50 firefighters dragging me out of my home to kick my ass if I took so much as even whiff a drink.
I have narrated my story at schools in Sea to Sky and beyond and the crux of what I say is this: If I could do this, anyone can.
There was a time when no one would have trusted me to put out a garbage can, and now the district trusts me to take a fire truck and go take care of its citizens.
It doesn’t matter how far you are in addictions, there is always a way back to those who love and value you. As for the families who are dealing with a family member who is an addict, all I can say is please do not stop loving for love is the only force strong enough to bring them back to you — and life.
Neil Deo is a heavy-duty mechanic and a volunteer firefighter with Squamish Fire Rescue.