Witnessing a suicide as a toddler sparked mental health issues for Corey Reid – issues that ultimately led him down a dangerous path of drug use. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and joined a gang as his addiction took over. But after becoming a father at age 17, Corey was determined to set an example for his son.
Corey’s been clean and sober for over 10 years and is now one of the most prominent advocates for mental health reform in British Columbia.
In his exclusive interview with Recovery.org, Corey Reid talks about how mental health and drug addiction are related to each other, the advocacy work he’s taken on and reflects on how drastically his life has changed over the past decade.
When did your drug use first begin?
Corey: I started smoking pot when I was 11 and had tried cocaine and MDMA by the time I was 12. Before my 13th birthday, I tried crystal meth and then used it until my 18th birthday.
I was really a good student and spoke French fluently, but that went out the window and I dropped out a week into eighth grade. My mom kicked me out three months after I started using crystal meth, so before my 13th birthday. I joined a gang in British Columbia at 13 and stayed with them until my 18th birthday. It pretty much affected every area of my life.
Even though drugs affected your life so profoundly, it didn’t stop you from using all those years. What was the catalyst for you to change?
Corey: I had gone into detox a lot and visited all the recovery houses out here in British Columbia. I never managed to clean up and didn’t really want to. As bad as it sounds, I just wanted a break.
When I was 17, I met a woman in her early 20s and knocked her up [laughs]. I was a speed head, wannabe gang-banger. I went to see her (she’s now my ex) a couple of weeks before she was about to give birth to our daughter, looked at her big stomach and just freaked out. I went out and got loaded again for another couple of weeks.
But on May 9, 2006, I told myself that I couldn’t let my first-born child have a speed freak as a dad. I hadn’t slept in about four or five days. I called an outreach worker who I had grown attached to and he said if I was truly done, he’d come and pick me up. That was the last time I ever used drugs.
Having become a mental health advocate now, how do you think mental health and drug addiction go hand-in-hand?
Corey: Personally, I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because when I was two years old, a guy jumped off the 16th story of an apartment building and landed right beside me. I was covered in blood and brain matter. It was a pretty brutal scene. I started using drugs to escape night terrors and using crystal meth as a way to avoid sleeping for as long as I could.
I’ve met a lot of addicts and recovering addicts and I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t have a history of mental health issues. There are so many things that can lead to substance abuse and for me, it was just looking for a way to self-medicate.
Talk about the work you’ve been doing with the Child and Youth Mental Health And Substance Use Collaborative.
Corey: After I cleaned up in 2006, I became a hermit for nine years. I was on long-term disability and pretty much just a stay-at-home dad. I was almost scared to leave the house because I didn’t want to run into an old acquaintance or a drug dealer.
But last April, I was asked by a local action group in Langley to take part in this collaborative. I was skeptical because I’ve seen a lot of these think tanks get organized and then fall apart pretty quickly. I went and pretty much tore into all of these professionals and told them that they’re idiots, but said at the end of the meeting that I hoped to come back in a year and see that they’ve made progress. A few people piped up and asked if I wanted to keep coming back. [Laughs]. I sit on some provincial think tanks related to the collaborative as well.
What are some of the things that the group has accomplished?
Corey: There are 64 local action teams throughout the province of British Columbia. I’ve been going to a lot of these meetings and we’ve done a lot of work in our community. We created emergency wallet cards that all the students in the district have. The cards include a bunch of phone numbers for things like if they’re hungry, in danger or need a place to sleep that night. We’ve done events like yoga in the park. We also just did a poster contest with four categories (stress, self-harm, worry and sadness) and those are rolling out in September.
All the local action teams get together for learning centers twice each year and I shared my story with 600 other people. It was pretty intimidating because I hadn’t shared my story with someone who wasn’t a counselor or psychiatrist, but got such a crazy round of applause at the end and hugs from probably 100 people.
I own my story and I’m not proud of all of it, but there also aren’t a lot of people who do crystal meth for six years and aren’t dead or serving long prison sentences or suffering from psychosis. I did die once, but I’m still here.
After being in a position where people looked down on you as an addict, how does it feel to now have people coming to you for input and advice?
Corey: I’ve probably done more reflecting on that than anything in the past six months. I went to an alcohol and drug counselor when I was 15 and had been using intravenously for two years. I remember his chair was so high and it felt like he was looking down on me like I was such a drain on society. To be sitting with policy makers and executive directors to make a difference is pretty amazing. I’ve done more healing in the last year than I did the previous nine years of being clean and sober.
Image Courtesy of Corey Reid