By the time Liam moved into the Covenant House Toronto youth shelter at age 17, he had been living in a stew of confusion, rage, and unmanageable emotions for several years. His parents divorced when he was 9 and he had a lot of unanswered questions. He felt like other kids knew more about his parental situation than he did; all he knew was that his dad was absent and in some kind of legal trouble.
Liam’s own legal trouble became a turning point when he stole a check from his mother and she decided to press charges. By then, his mom was connecting the dots of Liam hanging out with older kids and doing poorly in school, having discovered pot growing in the basement. Liam ended up spending the weekend in jail and moved into Covenant House.
Instead of the experience at the shelter hardening him further, Liam says it had a positive effect. There was a routine and structure. He attended harm reduction groups, got supportive counseling, and recommitted to high school education. Things were headed in a positive direction.
After he had lived in the shelter for a year, his dad reached out and Liam moved in with him. He also got a cleaning job where his dad worked. By this time, his dad had come out as a gay man and some questions were answered. Liam finished high school and graduated in 2000.
Unfortunately, circumstances then took a negative turn. Liam moved into a small apartment and became isolated. He managed to find a municipal labor job, but a lifestyle that included substance use progressed for the next 15 years. Liam says it got to the point where, “I didn’t feel normal unless I was high.” He saw his world crashing around him and says he knew he needed more help. “I was at the point of utter desperation. I felt like I had no options.”
Liam decided to use the last of a small inheritance to go to rehab. He wanted a program that was both a long way from Toronto and not 12-Step based. He managed to find one far away, but it did stress 12-Step principles. He went anyway and embraced recovery as it was presented, but there was a nagging question about the concept of “powerlessness.” It just didn’t make sense to him.
Liam stayed in recovery for three years and even got a 12-Step sponsor. But he didn't feel he was understanding the 12 step program in the same way as other people. He heard about SMART Recovery from a friend and decided to try it by attending a meeting. He says he was hooked immediately.
The practical tools and emphasis on self-reflection and introspection really appealed to Liam. At first, the SMART Recovery Handbook looked daunting, but Liam, a self-described stubborn and persistent person, made it through and got a huge boost in confidence. He singles out the “Three Questions” tool as making a difference in his life, along with the welcoming attitude of the people in the SMART community.
Today Liam says he is incredibly happy that he found SMART and gave it a chance. Now Liam looks for opportunities to share his experience with others. After years of doubting, Liam can honestly look at himself and think, “I’m a loveable and capable person.” Certainly a valuable message for all of us.