This is the story of Catherine Fraser, a former CAMH client who wanted to tell her story of recovery to bring hope to others.
Catherine Fraser began using drugs as a teenager to escape the life she was living. “I grew up in a household where my father’s alcoholism and rage dominated my upbringing. My feelings of shame, inadequacy, and hopelessness grew into having severe bouts of depression and anxiety. I could not cope. I tried everything, anything, just to numb the pain and hide away from the sad world I knew,” she says.
When Catherine reached adulthood, she found work and functioned as “normal.” Secretly though, she had developed an addiction to barbiturates, which over the years became increasingly difficult to hide from friends and family. She became depressed and fearful for her future.
Her physician told her about various treatment centres and CAMH’s residential addiction program seemed to be the best choice for her. Still, Catherine says, “I was fearful, terrified actually. I had a million excuses why I couldn’t go into treatment. My doctor, who was so helpful and concerned for me said, ‘If you can’t do this for you, then do it for your son.’ Those were the most shattering words I could ever hear. What sort of life was I giving my child--a handed down family history of addiction and sorrow? It had to stop. I had to take a risk. There was a chance, a slim chance that things might just get better, that things might change.”
Upon arriving at the program, she was surprised to meet so many people who were just like her.
“I thought I was the only one with this terrible addiction and problems, and that no one else could possibly understand how horrible my life had become. I was so wrong. I met people with similar stories and backgrounds and we were all in treatment for one reason—to help ourselves find a better life,” she says.
The nurses were helpful as Catherine went through withdrawal. Then she participated in the wellness groups and learned coping skills from the therapists. She connected with others and thrived on the camaraderie.
“The joy I felt in finding myself amongst peers was inspiring. I knew that I had turned a corner. There was no more being ‘stuck’ in my life. I wanted to let go of the past and move on, move forward, free of addictions, and free of the fear, anxiety and depression that had controlled my life,” she says.
Today Catherine’s life is very different. She takes care of herself physically by working out at the YMCA and eating well. She has a very supportive husband and an “awesome son.” She still has “ups and downs” with her mental health, but realizes so does everyone. “I feel so much pride in my wellness. I've accepted myself for who I am, and that makes me happy,” she says.
Working at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph as a Peer Specialist, she facilitates inpatient and outpatient groups, helps to run a recreation and leisure group called “Social Connections” and does outreach work as part of the Community Division team.
Sarah Greer, who was Catherine’s addictions counsellor while she was in treatment, recalls Catherine as “a lovely person, very friendly, kind, but quite quiet and shy.” She recalls that Catherine was working on being more assertive socially. “Trying to get her to come out of her shell in the group was difficult, so the fact that she’s now facilitating groups and not only doing well but wanting to share it with everybody is fantastic,” she says.
Catherine believes peer support helped her and is pleased to now be able to help others. “The power of connecting with others and being in a position to inspire others on their road to recovery is so rewarding. Things were so dark and uncertain for a time in my life. I received help at CAMH and make it my mission now to help others. It’s as simple as that,” she says.
On Catherine’s computer screensaver at work is an expression she heard once that resonated with her, and keeps her motivated. It reads, “There is so much good left to do.”