MENTAL health and addiction issues can happen to anyone. After leaving home, I attended college and worked briefly for the Ontario Provincial Police (search and rescue). My future looked bright and things were going the way I had planned.

In the summer of 2008, that all changed after being sexually assaulted and testing positive for HIV. I turned to a life of sex work and drugs on the streets of Toronto. I was sexually assaulted on five other occasions (the most recent being in March of this year). I’ve tried to stay sober cold turkey, but the flashbacks of my trauma would cause serious suicidal thoughts, which I suppressed with substance use.

I finally decided to get some help after being found completely naked in downtown Sudbury on Sept. 15. A police officer arrived on the scene who knew me well and told me “Eric, this isn’t you, it’s time to get help.” She had another officer drive me to the shelter, where I left and went home, only to drown in the depression and shame of what I had done.

On Sept. 20, I was found unconscious on my apartment floor after taking all of my HIV medication at once (two bottles of very powerful medications). I was hospitalized at Health Sciences North in Sudbury in the psychiatric unit for three weeks where I began applying to several treatment programs across the province.

After attending a residential treatment and being discharged, I was completely apprehensive about trying again. My community came to my aid in droves and told me that I can’t give up.

I applied to a few places and got into Dilico here in Thunder Bay. After my flight to this city from Sudbury, I was welcomed by the residential addictions worker Marilyn.

When I entered the program, the staff — all of the staff — greeted us with warm friendly smiles. We were given a rundown of the program and taught about the importance of culture in healing. We got to know each other as a group and eventually, we formed tight bonds of trust with one another.

The same guys that I was afraid of became my close friends and people I respected and cared for. When we had our differences, we always found ways to work them out. The staff showed us kindness, respect, understanding and most of all, gave us a soft place to land when we were struggling.

I will never forget the tools I’ve learned from the staff and students and Dilico. If you’re someone who is struggling with your own addictions issues, look into the program they offer.

From one person who struggles to another, help is available, you just need to seek it out. I’m excited for the rest of my journey of recovery, and thank Dilico for giving me new hope and a new chance at life.

Eric Cashmore

Sudbury, Ont.

(Originally published April 8, 2019)

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