The combination of severe anxiety and heavy drinking had pushed Cassy to a tipping point earlier this year. She needed a drink just to get out of the house some days. As her drinking undermined her work and friendships, she felt hopeless.
In early 2015, Cassy’s recovery journey began when she visited her family doctor. He referred the 21-year-old Toronto resident to CAMH.
A safe place: Cassy at CAMH: “Mental health and addictions is about a struggle. It’s important for people to seek the help that they deserve. You should not feel guilty or ashamed for something you don’t have control over.”
As an outpatient in the Centre’s Youth Addiction and Concurrent Disorders Service, Cassy now has started to understand how addiction and mental health problems can go hand in hand. She receives therapy for her anxiety and has created a new circle of non-drinking friends, both at CAMH and through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
More importantly, she’s started to feel, for the first time, that she deserved to get better.
Cassy agreed to share her story in the hope that it will help others.
You said your drinking and anxiety went hand in hand. Can you describe that?
Looking back, I was definitely self-medicating my anxiety with alcohol and other substances. I had started to experience anxiety and panic attacks when I was 10 years old but didn’t know where to go for help.
As I got older, alcohol and drugs became a crutch. I could not get out of bed sometimes without a drink in my hand. My anxiety was so bad I could not get out of the house. I was sleeping 20 hours a day. It was more and more difficult to live my life. A friend had told me about CAMH and so I asked my doctor how I could get help there.
How has CAMH helped you? What other support do you get for your recovery?
CAMH has been a really supportive foundation for me. It’s a safe place to go to. They’ve been there for me, to give me what I needed to feel emotionally and mentally well. Therapy and medications helped with my anxiety. As I got help for my mental health, I got sober.
I come to CAMH every week to see my Social Worker now. I also just started attending a group therapy session with a focus on mindfulness, to be aware of how we are feeling and how that affects what we do.
I’m also a member of AA, which has been a big part of my recovery. I go four times a week. It’s a community of people who want to help each other. I’ve met a lot of new friends there, and made some decisions to cut back my previous social circle so I can focus on my recovery. I have a small group of long-time friends who have been incredibly supportive of my recovery.
Why are you comfortable talking about your recovery?
Before, it was really stressful and uncomfortable for me to be open, to express what I was feeling, so I tended to hide it. I grew up in a family that didn’t talk about their problems. There’s a lot of stigma around mental illness and addiction. It makes people afraid to talk about what they going through.
Mental health and addictions is about a struggle. It’s important for people to seek the help that they deserve. You should not feel guilty or ashamed for something you don’t have control over.
Now that I am open about my recovery, people do talk to me about what they are going through. I tell people where I’m at, expressing what I’m feeling and what I’m going through. It keeps me sane and sober.
What’s ahead for you?
I’m working full-time in a café now, enjoying the work and the people, feeling more stable with my life. I’m also moving into a new place that will support my recovery, with some room-mates who are in recovery, and staff who are trained in mental health and addiction.
I’d like to get into film, to go back to school eventually -- that was something I gave up on before. I’d like to become a productive member of society, to actually be present in the lives of my friends and family.
I try to be very empathetic and supportive of other people now. I’ve seen more people on social media talking about mental health awareness, and that definitely helps.
I feel that people deserve to be helped -- to feel good in their bodies and their minds.