My story begins in France, where I was born and spent my childhood and early adolescence. After my parents divorced, my mother got custody of me, so I grew up with her, my brothers, my sisters and my stepfather. I only visited my father when I was on holiday. When I was 13, I decided to go live with my father to escape my stepfather’s physical and psychological abuse. The year after, my father and I started thinking about trying out a new adventure in a new place. Since I was already failing school and starting to take drugs, I thought the idea of starting over somewhere else was my best option.


My father and I arrived in Québec on June 24, 2017. Soon after, overwhelmed by stress, a feeling of having been abandoned by my family and the demands of daily life, I went back to making the same types of decisions I had made before moving here. That’s when my drug use began to increase significantly. At the time, it just seemed like the ideal solution to my problems. But without warning, it began to permeate my everyday life.


The line between recreational use and dependency, which had initially seemed blurry, started to fade away completely. Every day, I felt the irresistible urge to use drugs. My tolerance increased. I was taking opioids, cocaine, medication and several other substances. It wasn’t long before the consequences of my substance use caught up with me. My relationship with my father deteriorated to the point where I ran away from home several times to escape our constant arguing.


With my mental health declining, I wound up in the hospital several times. I barely went to school anymore and I flunked my exams. Shame and guilt overcame me and I withdrew into myself, preferring the company of substances to that of my loved ones. I couldn’t stop myself anymore. I was only 15 and I wanted to die.


That’s when I finally realized that my life was out of control and it was time for me to change. So, I started looking for help and decided to go to Portage.


My first days at Portage were difficult. I had to learn to live without the substances that had long been a source of solace for me. Talking about my feelings, allowing myself to be vulnerable and being true to my values were probably the most complicated things I had to do at the beginning of my program. Portage also taught me to maintain healthy relationships.


The friends who steered me towards substance use were now replaced by persons who supported me during my recovery. My program also helped me discover who I was and I regained my self-confidence at school. Thanks to the Portage music program, I found the perfect way to channel and share my emotions, and I even bought a guitar. The Harry Potter novels from the Portage library were an ideal way to escape a while before going to bed.


Throughout my journey, I worked on my relationship with my father. We attended the parent-adolescent group and several conference cases together. Through perseverance and a determination, I was able to finish my residential program.


During my social reintegration phase, I went through some good times and some bad, but I kept going to school. My motivation for staying in school at the time was to become a Portage counsellor so that I could help other people who had the same type of problems I had. The Desjardins foundation generously offered me a scholarship so that I could continue to work towards my academic goals.


I’ve now been sober for two years and ten months, something I would never have thought possible when I was at my lowest point during my years of dependency. Sobriety not only means that I no longer take drugs, it has transformed my life. I’ve rebuilt my relationships with my family and friends, which was a slow, but rewarding process. Sobriety has given me the mental clarity I need to reach for my dreams and objectives. I’ve discovered a new passion to help others and I’m studying specialized education at the Saint-Jérome Cegep. I am proud to say that I am now a counsellor with Portage’s program for adolescents. And I have been with my girlfriend for two years, a relationship that brings me much joy.


My journey from substance use to sobriety was by no means easy. But it taught me about strength, resilience, determination and the importance of striving for something. If you know someone who is struggling with substance use, remember: help is available and there is always a way out.


Thank you to my father.

Thank you Portage.


Hugo, Centre for Francophone Adolescents, Lac Écho, 2019

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