Before Portage, jail was a looming threat: possession with intent to traffic, driving under the influence, and possession of methamphetamine. I had no intention of going to therapy until I learned I was under investigation for trafficking. What appeared to be the biggest mistake of my young adult life transformed into the best decision I ever made.

I had been to Portage once before, following a near-fatal overdose, but left after one month. I was a master manipulator; I could convince my parents with delicately crafted lies, and I even fooled myself into believing I didn’t have a significant problem. I didn’t need Portage, or so I thought. Yet, here I was, facing it again.

What would my friends think if I went back? Would they ever speak to me again? Ending everything seemed like a better option for everyone at that moment. I had essentially lost everyone I cared about. Yet, a glimmer of hope remained. I yearned for the life I had dreamt of: making my parents proud, having friends who weren’t afraid to be close to me, not hurting people, and caring about myself.

The first month was nearly impossible. Living with strangers, waking up early, and the fear of missing out on the good times my friends were having without me. I left them a P.O. box number so we could exchange letters, hoping not to feel so isolated. I couldn’t wait to hear all about what they had been up to, what the newest drama was, and if they missed me. But the mail never came. Why not? Everyone I considered a friend had the address. This was one of the first hurdles I had to overcome. My drugs were the only thing they were missing. To them, I was just their “burn” buddy, a faceless provider of their favorite pastime.

Feeling neglected, I turned to the solidarity found in the shared struggles of my fellow residents at Portage. I found warmth in the camaraderie of a community of peers. People my age, going through the same struggles at the same time. They were there for me. I could laugh and cry with them.

I began to take pride in the good work I was doing. Before rehab, personal hygiene was a low priority. In Portage, it was paramount: dressing well, smelling good, feeling good.

Progressing through the program had its challenges. Not everyone will get along, but being an older member and seeing new residents start where you started is empowering. I mean, you’ve made it this far. Helping others who share the turmoil that is addiction is euphoric.

When it was time to leave, I nearly fainted. The joy on my parents’ faces at my graduation is a memory I’ll cherish forever. It happened so suddenly. I had made it. No jail, no grave. I was there. I had overcome a challenge that felt as insurmountable as Sisyphus’s punishment. The impossible task, the never-ending hill.

Now, with two years of sobriety under my belt, life post-program is almost harder. You are thrown against the elements. It’s a whole new life. I never reconnected with those old friends; maybe I would have if they had reached out. But I’m sure they’d only try to leech on my newfound sense of purpose. I’m sure they haven’t changed, still wasting away at the end of a rolled-up five-dollar bill as I once was.

I’m happy with the new relationships in my life. Since I left, I have been offered drugs. As hard as it is to say no, it was harder to throw away everything I had fought to accomplish. I’m now pursuing a college degree in addiction counseling; I have found comfort in helping those with similar struggles. Things still get hard, and substances are always available, but I’ve learned resilience.

I couldn’t have done this journey without my caseworker’s support. My parents played a large role towards the end of my program, but when I felt most alone, my caseworker stood by me. I cannot thank the Portage staff enough.

I also thank myself for taking the hardest step of my life and turning it into one where I can thrive. I honestly care about myself for the first time. My parents, who once deemed me an “unapproachable monster” they were trapped under a roof with, are now my best friends. Things are good now, thanks to Portage.

For all those living with addiction issues like I used to, we know what we are doing is wrong. Denial is a key player. We want help but we don’t know where to start. We worry about the “what ifs.” What if it doesn’t work? What if I’m destined to be this way forever? It’s much easier to do nothing than it is to do something. Life doesn’t have to always be like this. The side of things where the grass is greener does exist. We can’t see it because we have never been there before. I encourage people like us to take that risk. All it takes is an open mind and one foot in the door to get onto the path of recovery.

Things do get better.

Kaos, Adolescent Program, Portage Cassidy Lake, 2023

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