Triumph from Tragedy

By Chris Cull

Nobody grows up thinking they’re going to have a substance use disorder, but its not about the cards you’re dealt; it’s how you play them.

When I started using opioids, I was 22 years old and I had just lost my father to suicide after a battle with Huntington’s Disease.

My father, a paramedic of 27 years, was my hero. He raised me the best he could and always taught me right from wrong, including when it came to substance abuse. With his loss, however, it was almost as if everything he taught me didn’t matter any longer, as I was so lost in my grief. To cope with his loss, I started using Percocet to help numb me out just enough to get through my days without breaking down. As my tolerance for opioids escalated, so did my use. The two years after his passing were spent using up to five 80mg Oxcontins a day, to which I lost everything that meant anything to me.

It started with my girlfriend of 3.5 years who broke up with me after noticing the changes in my behaviour. My friends and family followed suit and then I lost my fathers house, which he had left to me. After the shock of the position I was in was abated, I began reflecting on my actions and realized I had to do something to turn things around.

After failing twice at trying to go “cold turkey”, I decided to go on Methadone maintenance therapy, which controlled my withdrawal symptoms and I was able to function somewhat normally. I also got a job at the local Walmart to start building back up. As I was soon to discover, though, rock bottom has a basement.

I was feeling low. I had spent all of my savings on drugs. I was unable to keep up with the utility bills and had to sacrifice eating at times to keep the lights on. After going two years without hydro and going up to five days without eating (on well over a dozen separate occasions), it would be an unexpected incident that would change everything.

One day, while working at my job as a cashier at Walmart, a customer came through and became so irate that he threw a sign in my face. I became sharply aware that I was better than this and quit my job that day . I started tapering off Methadone, which was a long battle. I started working toward my future, which has also been a long battle; five years later, I have ridden a bicycle across Canada twice, produced and directed a documentary film on my travels (documenting the Opioid Crisis), participated as a voting panel member on the 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, and consulted for our last two Federal Health Ministers on matters related to the opioid crisis.

The point of the story is this:  you don’t have to become a victim of your circumstances.

Chris Cull is a keynote speaker and internationally recognized public speaker, as well as a filmmaker and the founder of Inspire by Example.  He has advised numerous institutions and organizations on issues around the prevention and treatment of drug abuse, including the Canadian Minister of Health, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and the National Advisory Council on Prescription Drugs.