July 24, 2018
Story by Erika Dart
GRANDE PRAIRIE — Dennis Shinski always pictured an addict as someone in grubby clothes who lurks in a back alley with a needle hanging out of their arm.
“I told myself I was never going to be that person,” he says. “Well, I’m not that person and I was — am — an addict.”
He recalls growing up in a healthy home, not the sort of upbringing he once thought addicts come from. “There was lots of love in the house, my parents were always there for me,” he adds.
When he was 13, he and his friends began to experiment with drugs and alcohol on weekends. By the age of 16, his focus was shifting: “The partying was starting to become more important to me than my hobbies and family and friends.”
Ultimately, kicked out of school at 18, things took a turn for the worse. “I was let loose,” says Shinski. “I started partying all the time.”
A job in the oil patch provided the cash flow to fund an even more chaotic lifestyle. By the age of 21, he owned a house and a truck and could access any drug he wanted: “I had what I thought was this glorious lifestyle. I thought I had the world under my thumb.”
He got into trouble at work for showing up intoxicated. He failed a drug test and lost one job, then another.
“I went off the deep end,” he says of that dark time in his life. “I said, ‘screw everybody, screw this,’ and I shut off all connections with my family, with my friends, with everybody who mattered to me — and went out on the streets of Grande Prairie, basically, and started hanging out with drug dealers and people who were really high-risk, really dangerous.”
Thoughts of suicide plagued on his mind. “I was thinking about it more and more. The fear of life became greater than the fear of death.”
Shinski finally reached out to his brother and moved home with his mom and dad, kicking off a season of desperate attempts to get clean and sober.
“I tried moving away, I tried giving away my bank card, I tried different friends…. I tried everything in my power that I could possibly think of to get control of it — and every single time I ended up in the same spot. It was killing me.”
Shinski eventually pieced his life together enough to have another job and a girlfriend. Things went well for a time, but when he was 29, his life hit the rocks again. His girlfriend said she wasn’t going to take it anymore, and his family was fed up with him.
“So I tried the one thing I hadn’t tried before — I asked for help.”
Shinski went to Alberta Health Services’ Addiction & Mental Health Services at the Aberdeen Centre in Grande Prairie. There, he talked to Vi Meck, an Outpatient Addictions Counselor.
“I broke down that day, I started crying,” he says. “The good thing was that Vi said, ‘you know, you don’t ever have to use again after today.’”
He went to a group meeting at AHS’ Northern Addictions Centre that evening, and one the following night, too. “That night I thought, ‘yeah, I’m an addict but maybe I can be a recovering addict. Maybe I can be somebody who doesn’t use anymore.’”
Shinski faithfully attended counselling with Meck every 2 weeks — and went to as many other meetings as were available.
“I managed to make it three weeks without using and I hadn’t been clean and sober that long since I was 15,” he says. “It gave me this belief that, maybe, I could continue on.”
And he did.
Through perseverance, determination and a lot of healthy support, Shinski, now 36, has gone seven years with neither alcohol nor drugs.
As well, he works at the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre and is studying for his Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. He regularly volunteers in the community, happy to share his story and work with others in recovery from addiction.
“I feel very fortunate,” he says. “So many people helped me. I’m grateful I can help others.”