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Recovering addict details road to sobriety

Posted on December 14, 2023 by admin

By Chris Hibbard
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

“When I was 14 I started sniffing glue,” Mike Sommers recalled.

“That was around the time when I saw my first hallucination too, I saw a giant snake coming out of the ground. By the time I was 18, I was using alcohol and drugs every day.”

Mike Sommers is now 63 years old. He believes he wouldn’t be here today were it not for the support of some family members and a team of health workers at the lodge he currently resides at in Raymond.

Sommers spent his younger years living in Red Deer. He left home at age 19 with dreams of becoming a cabinet maker, and got a job helping to build barns while he went to school apprenticing. After his father passed away when he was 26 years old, Sommers said, he was a “full-blown alcoholic.”

All the while, his hallucinations had continued.

“I used to see snakes, eyeballs and spiders. I’d hear voices in my head saying ‘go here, turn here’ and other times I’d hear the voices of children and people talking about me. I used to believe I was an End Time prophet.”

When Sommers was 30 years old, he was given a diagnosis of having drug-induced schizophrenia, he said.

It was suggested that he could live in a mental institution, but one brother and sister-in-law offered to look after him instead. He began getting funding from the AISH program, and these two family members took him into their house and offered him a calm and normal lifestyle.

“They must’ve seen something in me that no one else did.”

His other two brothers had basically written him off, Sommers said.

“I broke my mom’s heart so many times. She was so worried about me. My brother and sister-in-law would talk to her for hours about me on the phone. She was scared to talk to me directly. That bothers me to this day,” Sommers confesses.

Many times he would stay at their place for three months or so, getting healthy and taking his medications, until he would move out on to his own and fall back into the bad lifestyle again.

Sommers said he’s never had any proper friends, just fellow addicts and users who often took advantage of his generous nature. “I always wanted fellowship,” Sommers said.

“I wanted people to like me, but they’d just walk all over me.”

At age 32, Sommers was basically living on the streets of Calgary. He would stay at homeless shelters, utilize the drop-in centres and work day-labour jobs to make a few dollars. He was in and out of hospitals due to his mental health issues. He said his brother and sister-in-law would drive the streets at night looking for him. He said he totalled his car driving drunk one night and related a story about a man showing him all the best spots to sleep on the streets.

“One night I was living in the Booth House in Calgary,” Sommers recalls. “There was this old man in my room trying to talk me out of living on the streets. In the morning I woke up and asked about this old man in my room and they told me there was no such man.”

Eventually his family members moved to Claresholm. Sommers said he would follow them around when they moved, one time just showing up at their place with a suitcase. Sommers eventually moved to Claresholm as well, where he worked part-time at a grocery store and was living on his own.

“I was medicated the whole time, but I would continue the drugs and alcohol even on the meds. The more money I made, the more I would spend on my habits. I was flat broke all the time.” This tragic lifestyle literally continued for decades.

When he was about 55 years old, his brother and sister-in-law moved to Nobleford. Sommers followed them, and they helped him get a basement suite in Lethbridge, on the condition that Mike make his brother his public guardian and trustee so he could monitor Mike’s finances.

Shortly after this, Sommers says, he hurt his back really bad.

“The doctor told me that one of the discs in his spine was crushed. He told me that from all the drugs and smoking I was malnourished and my bones were brittle. He told me he didn’t expect that I would ever walk again.”

But he had surgery in Calgary then spent several years recovering in hospital here and at St. Michael’s Care Centre. Sommers said he had no drugs or alcohol while he was there, but he had to relearn how to walk again. His mother died from a heart attack and a stroke while he was recovering.

“I couldn’t go to her funeral,” Sommers said with deep regret. “I was in a wheelchair, with an IV in my arm giving me fluid bags three times a day. I never did get a chance to say to Mom that I’m sorry or anything, and that still really bothers me everyday.

After he had recuperated enough, his brother assisted him in getting a place to live at a lodge in Coaldale, where he sadly fell back into addictive cycles of alcohol and drug abuse, now even including methamphetamine.

“That would keep me up all night long, but also made my blood pressure skyrocket,” he recalled.

Eventually, Sommers asked the doctor how he could get his life in order. The doctor told him that there was a program in Raymond that had helped other seniors that had serious mental health issues. So with the help of his brother and sister-in-law, Sommers moved again – taking three marijuana joints with him when he moved in. Those joints were the last street drugs he ever took.

He said that at first, he was on some serious medications, taking about 20 pills a day.

“They were anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, pain meds, heart meds, you name it,” Sommers said.

“The biggest issues I had with withdrawals from drugs was from cigarettes – I tried to quit those so many times; that’s harder to quit than heroin I think.”

When he got to the Good Samaritan’s facility in Raymond in 2020, Sommers says a lot of inner healing began to happen. He says he cried a lot, ate healthier and participated in group programs and one-on-one sessions, talking about the reasons why he used drugs so much.

“There’s a fine line between a spiritual and chemical imbalance,” Sommers said, “but either way, that imbalance abuses your belief systems and messes with the person you really are. I was so bitter. Bitter at God and religion and my condition and my lack of strength.”

Three years later, and Sommers says that he is the healthiest he’s been since he was that 14-year-old teenager, and the happiest he’s been as far back as he can remember.

He likes to play guitar in his room, likes to ride a bike around the neighbourhood. He attends church on Sundays and volunteers a few hours a week at a local pharmacy. But most importantly, his relationship with all of his brothers has begun to heal.

“I still have an addictive personality and I’m still kind of addicted to food, I’ll admit,” Sommers said. He is on the waiting list to have both his knees replaced, but that can’t happen until he loses weight. So he hopes to lose weight, get his knees fixes, and move closer to his family members who now live in the country by Blackie, Alberta.

Since moving to Raymond, Sommers has been sober. He said that the daily challenge he faces now is trying to forgive myself for the hurt and harm he caused and dealing with that guilt and shame.

“But my mind is healthy. I’ve gotta pinch myself sometimes I get so emotional. Thinking about where I was all my life versus where I am now. I’m so grateful to my brother and his wife for sticking with me all these years – and I pray every day that I’ll never slide back that into that life again. I think it’s a miracle that I’m still alive at all.”

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