“The drug world is a dark, dark place.”
That from the Sault’s Shelby Speck, 20, a recovering drug addict who has been sober for the past three years, set to graduate from Sault College’s Social Service Worker program, speaking to St. Mary’s College students Monday June 3.
Though she has shared her story before, the occasion marked Shelby’s first time speaking to a high school audience about her harrowing struggles with drug addiction, mental health issues and recovery from drugs.
“My drug addiction made me lose everything. My friends, my job, my education, my health, it turned me into a completely different person,” Shelby told students gathered in the school’s auditorium.
“For me, my drug addiction all started with smoking weed. I started in Grade 8 and continued smoking it in Grade 9,” said Shelby, adding she believes marijuana, in her own case, was a gateway to stronger drugs.
“By Grade 10 the weed high wasn’t good enough so I tried Molly (Ecstacy). I knew older people who introduced me to cocaine, and by Grade 11 I was hooked on crystal meth. I have tried every drug you can imagine but meth took over my life,” said Shelby, who began high school at Korah Collegiate as an honours student.
Shelby said her life spiralled out of control, stating she stole money, even from loved ones, to feed her addiction, though she added “my family never gave up on me.”
“I weighed maybe 80 pounds (down from 150 pounds), started to develop symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide which had me in the hospital’s mental health unit almost every month.”
Deciding to leave home and parental control, Shelby said “when they were trying to hold me back, my sister grabbed me and I ended up biting her, literally leaving a scar on my sister who I loved more than anything.”
Despite the rebuke of a longtime drug user while in hospital, Shelby continued her dark journey.
“The things I have seen and the things I have done so I could get drugs still haunt me to this day..the sexual favours I did for drugs, it makes me sick to my stomach. If you think you’re not going to do it, once you get hooked on drugs, you will.”
Then, one night, things began to change for the better.
A friend, shocked by Shelby’s drug-ravaged appearance and erratic behaviour, called the police.
She fled from her friend’s home to a drug dealer’s residence, but then answered a phone call from Sault Police Constable Emily Coccimiglio.
The two spoke for an hour, Coccimiglio persuading Shelby to get help.
Taken to the hospital’s mental health and addictions unit, Shelby began what she described as an “awful” 15-day drug withdrawal process.
Shelby went to Ottawa’s Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, describing it “as the best decision I have ever made.”
“Being sober is the most beautiful thing. In rehab I finished eight credits to graduate from high school," Shelby having received scholarship money for college after successfully coming through rehab and grateful for her family’s support through the long ordeal and recovery process.
Shelby took questions from several students Monday, describing the harmful effect of drugs and the difficult rehab process, stating she still suffers from nightmares, depression and anxiety, which, she has been told, may last for life.
“I believe I was given a second chance at life to help other people. I understand and I’m non-judgemental,” Shelby told SooToday, adding curiosity, an “addictive personality” and hanging out with the wrong crowd were factors which tempted her to try drugs.
“The drugs in this city are laced, and it’s scary how many young people are losing their lives to drugs. All of them have so much potential and I want to see them reach that potential.”
“Drugs aren’t worth it. Their lives aren’t worth it,” said Shelby, who told us she has departed from the drug crowd to associate with “positive friends, my family, walk my dog. I’m very cautious of who I hang out with, and that keeps me sober. After what I put my family through, I don’t think I could ever do that again, I love them and I think that’s the biggest motivator to stay sober.”
“If you’re struggling to get help, even if you don’t want it, it’s the best thing for you. I know Shelby. It’s amazing she’s still here and she’s here for a purpose, so get the help you need...I do know there are a lot of kids in every school who are smoking weed every day and it’s not a good habit to have. Don’t go down that road,” said St. Mary’s College Grade 11 student Lauren Luzzi, one of many students who listened attentively to Shelby’s story.
“Most of the drug addicts I’ve dealt with want to quit...there’s always the law enforcement aspect (with drug dealers)...but for me, it’s the user’s need for help and we have the services and the supports to do so now,” said Constable Coccimiglio.
“I’m very proud of Shelby. I think she’s going to be a big help in this community.”