Young addict finds redemption

Barb
Barb Sweet
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Credits long-term addictions facility with helping him kick drug habit

James Abbott of Shea Heights said a long-term substance abuse facility for adolescents in New Brunswick turned his life around. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

The way James Abbott was going, he could have been among the toll of this province's deadliest year for drugs.

There were 13 drug overdose deaths in 2012 in this province, the highest number ever in a single year.

And Abbott wasn't far behind those souls - on one occasion he overdosed on sleeping pills and needle-injected Dilaudid, and woke up yellow skinned and with a swollen leg. He couldn't make it from his rooming house on Springdale Street to nearby St. Clare's hospital, so he had to call his father for help. He said he suffered some liver damage and an infection.

One evening last week, Abbott, a slight 19-year-old told the story of his road to near ruin and then redemption.

Sporting a slightly sideways fitted baseball cap and a hoodie, he glanced away at passersby, perhaps an old habit of watching his back on the streets.

Sentences were interjected with "You know what I mean?" when describing the more sordid details of his struggles and former drug life, an indication of just how commonplace that life is to those mired in it.

A tattoo on his arm bears the logo and date - May 30, 2012 - that he entered the Portage Atlantic adolescent substance abuse treatment centre in New Brunswick. He spent six months there.

But the overdose wasn't what got him there. Rather he'd been court-ordered to move home with his mother. And Abbott said she made all the calls that led to his admittance to Portage.

Now he's got a full-time job, a girlfriend that went through the program at a different time and hopes for his future.

"The biggest thing I learned was that I actually (expletive) mattered in life," he said.

"When I went to Portage, I thought I was a piece of shit. I didn't think I'd be anything in life. ... I thought I was going to die I did so much drugs."

Some others may have harboured a grudge against Abbott too, since he was convicted of numerous charges.

The crime, which all ended more than a year ago, relates to stealing he did to support his habit. The habit began with weed at 13 and progressed to Ritalin, Percocets, coke, ecstacy, OxyContin, morphine and his favourite - needle injections of Dilaudid, accompanied by heavy doses of sleeping pills.

"It just made me more whacked out of it," he explained.

Abbott, whose parents split up when he was 12, said he got curious about weed at 13.

He can't remember how he first funded his weed habit.

"I think it was lunch money and shit," said Abbott.

Eventually though, he was smoking it every day, and other drugs followed when he hit high school at Holy Heart.

Potheads, said Abbott, will accept anybody.

Groups, he found, were closed to those who weren't jocks - basketball or hockey people - or other cliques.

"People outside school smoking weed, anybody can go there and hang out," he said.

His lived for BMX biking. But he had back surgery in Montreal at age 15 for scoliosis, a condition in which the spine was compressed.

After that, he couldn't do his sports anymore and there were troubles at home and confrontations with his family over his behaviour.

"They had to put deadbolts and everything on their rooms," he said.

At 16, Abbott said he went to a youth shelter, was on youth services funding and worked a summer job.

That's when he started using needles.

Abbott's lifestyle led him to get kicked out by his roommates and he moved to the Springdale rooming house. He didn't go back to school that fall, having already failed Grade 12.

And Abbott's life spiralled further downward.

Abbott said he was ordered by the court to move home. But he stole money from his mother to pay for his drugs until she gave him an ultimatum - get out or go to Portage, he said.

"She saved my life," Abbott said.

"Although I was forced to go, I wanted to go. It's the best decision I ever made in my life."

At the Portage Centre, Abbott said he finished high school, got his teeth fixed and found true friends among the other young recovering addicts there. They all stayed in touch through Facebook after he finished the program in November.

Arriving at Portage after a week in detox in St. John's, Abbott admitted to having an attitude.

But one of the facility's case workers, Doris Belliveau, remembers him a bit differently than that. While he portrayed himself as a tough guy, he was actually traumatized by his drug life, she said.

Abbott was a chronic addict who'd come to the end of the line, but was not in denial and recognized he needed help, Belliveau said.

"We all fell in love with James. He is quite a character," she said. "We all hope he continues on his road to recovery."

For Abbott and other residents, the days at Portage started at 6 a.m. and ended at 9:45 p.m. lights out. A typical day included cleaning his room, helping other residents clean the facility, cook meals and clean up afterwards, and attending meetings and school.

The facility, he said, taught him patience, structure, empathy, how to be reliable and have a conscience.

The 64-bed non-profit facility for adolescents - ages 14-21 - has been open since 1996 on Cassidy Lake, near Sussex, N.B. Other centres are located in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia and the organization also has adult addictions programs.

The cost is $200 a day, said director Geordie Gould. But patients are often funded by provincial governments.

This province sends six to 10 addicts a year to Portage - young people referred through addictions counsellors.

Back home in St. John's, Abbott got into the Train for Trades program at Choices for Youth and moved on to a construction job. He now hopes to obtain a trade someday.

He's healthy and goes to the gym everyday.

"Everything is perfect. I have been sober for a year. You don't understand - my life was so shitty beforehand, the person I am now I never thought I would be in million years," he said.

"I had no confidence, no self worth - just a junkie."

He said he thinks the long-stay facilties are the best option for treatment - it was three months before he felt things turn around.

The province's two youth treatment centres - in Paradise and Grand Falls-Windsor - are expected to open in spring 2014.

But it's way too late to control the drug problem, Abbott said.

"It's a just a booming city, and nobody stopped it before it got too bad. Different people came in. It just got out of hand," he said.

bsweet@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Portage Centre, Train for Trades

Geographic location: Portage, Springdale Street, New Brunswick St. John's Montreal Springdale Cassidy Lake Sussex Quebec Ontario British Columbia Paradise

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Awake from NB
    July 10, 2013 - 15:38

    Based on his comments: Is the problem really drugs or that our youth feel worthless and alone? If we focus on providing safe, nurturing loving environments for our children, they will have no need to seek artificial sources of emotional pain management.

  • Deb
    June 11, 2013 - 09:31

    I am so proud to see you have turned your life around James. There are far too many young people taking the wrong path these days. Anytime you are feeling the pressure you remember where you were and how far you have come. You have such a bright future ahead of you. We know you can do it, you've completed all the steps to become a better and sober person. God bless your mom for tough love. Stay strong, keep inspiring many.

  • DAVID
    June 10, 2013 - 19:06

    great job young man keep on the HIGHWAY because that other DIRT road is a LOST and LONELY road

  • cindy
    June 10, 2013 - 17:07

    congratulations and God bless you for your courage and determination.its a scary frightening world we live in more so now than ever before..it truly warms my heart to see a young man on the road to recovery. you do have a great life ahead and strength to follow the path laid before you..thank you for speaking out maybe your brave words will help another that is wearing the shoes you wore.good luck in all your future plans

  • Jane
    June 10, 2013 - 09:21

    I don't know this person but i am so happy what he did to make a better life for himself thumbs up awesome ,I hope you will keep it up and best of luck to you in the future.

  • Islander
    June 10, 2013 - 09:16

    God Bless you young man and I hope you stay on the right track. So glad to hear a good story for a change about a youth turning his life around. Your parents must be so proud of you for taking control of your life. May the good Lord grant you happiness, peace and good health all the days of your life.

  • Kevin Power
    June 10, 2013 - 09:00

    This is a good news story for a change, one that shows a young person turning their life around to do positive things. There are far too many others who continue to go down the slippery slope. Congratulations young man and continued success in your new life.

  • Brenda
    June 10, 2013 - 08:46

    James...I don't know you, but let me say how very proud I am of you. Yes, you do matter to those who count and those are the people who are interested in your well being and not in your demise, which is where any kind of drug leads, from weed on up the line. I hear weed being defended so often as "nothing" and "just a bit of fun". You are living proof of where a "bit of fun" can lead. Weed might not be the worst of the drugs out there, but its the start to finding out very quickly how deep one can get in. You have an amazing future ahead of you and the opportunity to make a real difference. You mentioned in your interview having to be "Jock" to be part of the group. You don't have to play sports to be a "Jock"...as "sports jock" maybe, but not a Jock per se. I would consider a "Jock" someone who stands up for what is right, who works hard at school and work, who embraces life and can be a role model to those who like you once did, feel like they don't belong. You have such a fantastic opportunity now to stay on the 'straight and narrow' and share your story with the students and youth groups and hopefully make a difference in a decision another young guy or girl will make about whether or not to get involved with drugs...just by telling your story. You are a hero!! You have battled and you have won! I will keep you in my prayers and I hope you will continue to know how truly remarkable a person you are and the great life you have ahead of you. Your parents, your family, your true friends are all, I am sure, so very proud of you. Go get 'em!!!!

  • Alice O'Rielly -Tobin
    June 10, 2013 - 08:38

    Congratulations a hundred times over !!!! I don't know you but I know so many young people that could relate to your story and hoping they follow your path to recovery !!! I hope that you have a wonderful life rich with lots of Love from your family and newly found true friends. God Bless your mom who stood by you through it all and showed you the meaning of " Tough Love"....

  • Good to see
    June 10, 2013 - 08:24

    Good to see he got his life back. Any chance of returning or paying for all the stuff you stole? We have too many stealing stuff to pay for drugs that they cannot afford. The honest people have to suffer. Beside the dealers, somebody is buying the stuff. It's sad to see young people steal thousands of $$$$$ of stuff, get caught, and tell the judge "Sorry, it was the drugs". That doesn't help the honest person that lost the atv, skidoo, generator, snowblower, etc etc etc etc . I guess this is another example of why weed should be legal ????

  • Awesome
    June 10, 2013 - 08:18

    A great story, sending love and light your way. Wishing you a wonderful life ahead. Always surround yourself with people that will have your best interests at heart. Remember if you are having a BAD day reach out to someone!! Blessings

  • PHMC
    June 10, 2013 - 08:10

    Great job James. Your hard work is paying off. Continue to be the change you want to see in the world.

  • Way to go
    June 10, 2013 - 07:48

    Awesome story... I hope you can be an inspiration to other youth who are headed down the wrong path and are able to find their way back as you did... stay strong and please stay sober... God bless you!

  • Politically Incorrect
    June 10, 2013 - 07:40

    Once we start referring to people by their aflictions, disabilities, whatever, we dehuminise them and treat them only as labels. Mr. Abbott isn't an "addict;" he is a PERSON with an addiction.

  • Sean
    June 10, 2013 - 07:38

    The best thing this province could do to prevent and reduce crime would be to ensure that any addict who is ready to go to treatment can do so without delay. A six month wait time means six more months of crime, because addicts have to do what they have to do. Police can only catch people after the fact, then you're looking at months or more in and out of court rooms and then jail time. It would be a far better investment to avoid all that up front, and help the general public not only feel safer, but be safer.

  • Ann Ring
    June 10, 2013 - 07:29

    This is a wonderful story. One day at a time you can have a wonderul life. Well done. You are helping so many people by this story, good luck with the rest of your life.

  • BKJ
    June 10, 2013 - 07:24

    Good on ya, Man....keep up the good work and stay on the straight and narrow.

  • Barney
    June 10, 2013 - 07:14

    All the best to you - it's great to read that someone has turned their life around. The hard part is staying the course now...................but with hard work & determination you can do it. You see now what's on the other side. I wish you all the best.

  • kent
    June 10, 2013 - 07:03

    Good to see him turn things around.