By MARILYN LINTON, TORONTO SUN
ACCESS TO EXCESS is how Toronto's Bob Ramsay describes becoming addicted to cocaine. Courage is how he beat it. "Like all good addicts, half of me was desperate to stop and half of me was desperate to continue using to keep the world away," says Ramsay. The successful public affairs executive and writer who runs Ramsay Writes is a former speechwriter for Premier William Davis. He is also co-founder (with his wife, Dr. Jean Marmoreo) of JeansMarines, the largest women's marathon training group in the world.
"My message is get help. Now." That's what he tells addicts who talk -- but only talk -- about wanting to stop using. "Clean" for more than 14 years, Ramsay, along with five others, will receive a Courage To Come Back Award from the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health Foundation (CAMH) in recognition of his triumph in overcoming substance abuse and depression. The awards show is this Wednesday, at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.
Ramsay, who has always been the life of the party, says there were times he realized he was about to lose a home or a business or friends: "On the one hand, you are aware of incurring these huge losses and it kills your self-esteem. I'd wake up and tell myself, 'Never again, no more.' Half an hour later, I would get more drugs." He says he was smiling on the outside, but deeply troubled inside. He was running faster and faster, and drugs were available and accessible. "The words that can never pass my mouth are 'I have recovered.' There's a myth about reasonable use, that you can handle it again."
His life began to turn around when two friends intervened: They not only came to his office to confront him about his problem but they had also vowed to accompany him to a treatment centre where a bed had been reserved in his name. "There's a myth about getting help that assumes that the addict has to pick up the phone himself," says Ramsay. "Forget it. I would have said, 'Absolutely ... I'll call.' But addicts lie, so it's a terrible thing. Hardly anybody ever calls to check themselves in."
Recovery is forever, he tells audiences when he speaks publicly or writes about addiction. Even though he has achieved and contributed much, he says that coming back has not been easy -- particularly those first few years after treatment. "Addiction carries a stigma, like all forms of mental illness, and people don't know how to get help or how to help someone. If you saw someone fall off a ladder and break their leg, you'd know what to do. When it comes to addiction, people dismiss it and say, 'Oh, he's been a drunk all his life.' It's not easy to regain the trust of your friends or loved ones. That only comes with time."
Paulette Walker would agree.
Jamaica-born and raised, her early life was marked by many successes including being the runner-up for Miss Montego Bay. She was a talented makeup artist with her own salon, plus she hosted a radio show. In Canada, where she came in 1972, she continued her makeup artistry. "Then I met a man who I thought was, 'Wow!' He seemed special. But he wasn't a wholesome person and, looking back, I knew nothing."
Over the next 20 years, she struggled with alcohol and crack cocaine, which eventually led to homelessness, violence, unemployment and hopelessness. She tried to stay clean on her own and sometimes made it up to six months, but she'd always go back. Eventually, she realized she was a wreck: "I was feeling sad and empty. I was depressed and contemplated suicide, thinking my last smoke of crack could be the last (breath I took).
"One night, I was picked up by the police and in my first week in jail I heard about the drug treatment court program run by CAMH. I gave it a chance, and I've never looked back." Two months ago, Walker was invited by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to share her story of recovery and success: "With the drugs, there were three ways to go: Die, quit or go to jail. I learned we are not hopeless, that you have to give yourself a chance. I don't miss it, not one bit." Walker appears in a poster for CAMH's recent awareness-raising campaign.
Other recipients include Justin Perkons, a 20-year-old living with schizophrenia who devoted his teens to educating others; Craig Hurst who developed a patient-directed education program for people with bipolar affective disorder and worked to develop employment opportunities for those recovering from mental illness; and Mary-Jane Dolbeck who struggled long and hard to overcome her depression and went on to receive a college diploma in Native Social Service Work.
This year's celebrity Courage award goes to comedian Mary Walsh. The creator of This Hour Has 22 Minutes (and the irrepressible Marg Delahunty) struggled with alcoholism from the age of 13. A member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of numerous Gemini awards, she also struggles with macular degeneration, the leading cause of adult vision loss.
Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005, Canoe Limited Partnership.