Sean Winger played an important role when he helped unveil the official sign for the second phase of CAMH’s redevelopment project in June 2009.
Sean was invited to speak to the assembled crowd to share his story, which follows:
"So I'm lying o
n the floor of my 12th storey apartment with my eyes closed, trying to decide if I have enough cocain and OxyContin® left to end my life, or if I should jump off the balcony just in case. I'm twenty-one years old and I've been using drugs since I was sixteen, but for the last six months I've been injecting two to three hundred dollars worth of OxyContin® and cocaine, every single day. I barely feel high, and to say this physical, social and financial burden is getting the better of me would be a gross understatement.
I have a part-time job that pays less than minimum wage. I have a very understanding professor at the UofT Bridging Program doing everything in his power to help me pass, including making ridiculous exceptions and allowances. I have a loving and caring family who will do anything to support me if I don't keep them at a distance in order to hide my shame and my secret. And I have a group of friends who really care and try to help and understand and accept me, but who have finally had enough. The daily injection of hard drugs has no place in their world, and who could blame them?
I have six feet two inches and a hundred and thirty-five pounds of skin and bones. I have a collapsed vein in one arm and undiagnosed ADHD that will continue to go untreated for some time to come. I have a marijuana grow-op with hundreds of plants and the all-too-real possibility of jail time waiting at home. And I have a ten thousand dollar debt with the kind of people who are not as forgiving as my professor.
There was one other thing that I had back then: a CAMH pamphlet about opioids with a phone number on the back. At the time, it was just a piece of paper, but in retrospect it was my lifeline and my link to the help that I needed.
The woman that I spoke to told me that if I could hang on for one more day, there would be help for me, and she got me connected with a local methadone treatment program. I did hang on, and within days I had started treatment. Within weeks, I had stopped all my illicit drug use, and free of the financial burden of preventing withdrawal, I was able to stop all my illegal activities as well.
One of the things that make CAMH so unique, and establish it as a leader in the field to be emulated and respected, is that they are willing to help people and work with them towards their recovery, as they are. They have tirelessly promoted a paradigm where those who struggle with these issues are recognized and regarded as members of the community. Addiction and mental health disorders are not issues that affect, other people. They affect us all, our families, our friends and our colleagues.
CAMH made accessible the treatment programs and the help that I needed when I needed them most. They have been, and continue to be, a lifeline for people of all ages and walks of life. So it's no exaggeration for me to say that I'm thrilled to see the ministry's dedication and commitment to support an initiative like this one, the first of its kind in Toronto, and hopefully not the last. To the people at CAMH who work to reduce stigma, provide that lifeline and help us reintegrate with the community -- thanks."
Since getting help, Sean has stopped using illicit drugs. Today, he is pursuing addiction studies at McMaster University and sits on the Halton Methadone Planning Committee and is a spokesperson for the CAMH-led Methadone Saves Lives awareness project.
“What makes CAMH so unique is the willingness to work with people and accept them for who they are,” says Sean. “They give a lifeline to people of all ages and all walks of life.”