This is an opinion column by Niagara Health Communications Specialist Michelle Pressé, published in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.
When Christopher Cage had his first sip of alcohol at 16, he immediately liked the way it helped him fit in and cope with anxiety.
The Stevensville resident, who grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, says the way alcohol brought him out of his shell led to him trying cocaine. Both became a weekly habit for Cage, who started missing work and other commitments as addiction slowly but firmly took control of his life.
In his early 20s, he decided to get help by going to Niagara Health Withdrawal Management Services (detox) in St. Catharines. The service offers individuals a safe place to stop using substances and puts in place referrals and treatment plans after detox.
For Cage, the cycle continued for years, which he says included getting arrested for impaired driving. In his attempt to evade police, he says he crashed into a brick home. The experience made Cage want to change his life; however, he says he convinced himself he could control it on his own.
Cage recalls spending Christmas Eve in 2018 with his children, his wife and her parents, which was going well until liquor started flowing.
“As usual, I had blinders on,” he says. “I picked up my first drink and it was game over at that point. Once I put alcohol into my body, I cannot shut it off.”
That same evening, he left to get drugs and wound up getting into a bar fight.
“I went to my buddy’s house and slept on his couch because by that point, it was 7 a.m. and I was too embarrassed to go home, where my kids were waiting for me to open up gifts,” he says.
On the surface, Cage had his life together: he owned a house and truck, had a stable, well-paying job and was living with his wife and their young sons. Beneath that, addiction was unravelling his life, and in April 2022, Cage’s wife kicked him out of the house. He had about $7,000 to live on his own.
“Instead of being frugal, I was living like I was 50 Cent,” he says of the famous rap artist. “Addiction makes you think that no one but you and whatever you’re addicted to matters.”
A few weeks after being kicked out, Cage had spent nearly all his money on hotels, alcohol and drugs, and had gone days without sleeping. He made an unsuccessful attempt to return home.
“In the months following, my wife told me she was so close to letting me back in because she loved me and was afraid I was going to die,” he says. “The reality is, if she let me back in, I might be dead now.”
Cage made the decision to go to detox and seek further treatment at Niagara Health’s New Port Centre. He says it was a decision between either “getting help or dying.”
The New Port Centre offers individuals life skills, coping skills and the opportunity to process some of the challenges that drive their substance use, while residing in a safe and sober environment throughout the 21-day program.
“When I arrived at New Port, I was met outside by Ryan (Blodgett), who remembered me from when I was at detox years earlier,” says Cage. “I knew I wasn’t just a number and never felt judged. I felt safe right away, and I hadn’t felt that way for a long time.
“New Port is structured in a way where if you want the resources, they’re right there, but they’re not pushy or regimented. I was allowed to push as much as I wanted or could take a step back.”
Cage eventually reconciled with his wife and says he’s still working through the disappointment he has in himself, but is focusing on the lessons he’s learned.
“Addicts aren’t terrible people,” says Cage. “We’re just missing a piece, somewhere.”
Blodgett, clinical supervisor, addiction recovery services at Niagara Health, says destigmitizing the morality associated with drugs is crucial.
“You hear a lot of ‘If you use drugs you’re bad’ or ‘Watch out for these kids,’” he says. “We don’t all come from the same walk of life and we all have different coping mechanisms to deal with challenges.”
Niagara Health works with many mental health and addictions community partners, such as Community Addiction Services of Niagara (CASON), to offer help for every stage of recovery, all the way from withdrawal management to after-care services.
“There’s way more support available than people think,” says Blodgett. “So many people struggle with addiction and it isn’t socio-economically dependent. You can be very successful, have a job, a car and a house and still struggle with addiction. Addiction knows no boundaries.”
Cage says he spent years thinking he was a failure.
“In reality, I just needed help,” he says. “If you need it, seek out help.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, recovery services are offered across Niagara. Learn more at niagarahealth.on.ca/site/addictionrecoveryservices