Defining success differently

submitted by Susie, Vancouver BC

My name is Susie and I have struggled for years with alcohol addiction.  I have had long periods of abstinence and have had some success in Alcoholics Anonymous.

But I have repeatedly relapsed and when I tried to quit cold turkey again, I found the period of agitation, restlessness and sleeplessness afterward so difficult it would interfere with my work.  I also beat myself up a lot and so envied others in the group who could proudly share they’d been 10 or 20 years without a drink.  It seemed so unattainable to me, it just made me feel worse.  The cravings would return and feeling so worthless, I would drink again.

I read a lot about addiction and discovered there were medications that might help with my cravings, like Naltrexone.  But when I asked for it, I was turned down by multiple doctors in Vancouver.   Through a friend, I found out about the new Rapid Access Addiction Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital. I got in quite quickly, was assessed by a nurse and social worker, and saw an addictions doctor who was up to speed on all the latest evidence-based medications and treatments.

I was prescribed naltrexone. I also have never felt so respected, heard and helped as I have from this clinic.  They helped me access the right services, for addiction and mental health. I understood for the first time, my substance use was in part to deal with an underlying mental health issue.  I would continue to receive support in AA, but there was no one in my group with the expertise to recognize and treat my mental illness, or understand how it made dealing with my addiction so difficult.  I remain grateful to my support group. I just knew I needed more.  Now I’m receiving treatment for my mental health condition too.

It has really been the first step in a very positive direction.  The naltrexone works for me. It makes me feel a little queasy but my cravings are dramatically reduced. I know it doesn’t work for everyone.  But nothing works for everyone, right?   For a while I felt guilty about using the medication, because there’s an idea in lots of AA circles that you don’t use drugs to get off drugs. Yes. Alcohol is a drug.

But that guilt is overwhelmed by how well I feel. I have had the odd drink, but it never escalates like it used to. I no longer beat myself up for that drink, because overall I know I am so much better.  Those in AA would say I’m kidding myself.  But the proof is all around me.  I am functioning well on my job again. I’m not isolating. I spend time with my family and friends.  They tell me they notice a positive change in me. And that’s the key. I am positive about my own future.  I may end up abstinent again, but I’m not obsessing about getting there.  I no longer define my success in battling my disorder by AA’s standards.  I have an illness. I need a broad range of options for treatment. 

I wish everyone in BC could access the kind of support I received at the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic at St. Paul’s. This should be the standard.


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Defining success differently
Defining success differently
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