It can be difficult to talk about addiction.
For all the work that has been done to try to reduce the stigma around addiction, it remains something of a taboo subject.
For both people with a substance-use disorder and those in recovery, outing themselves can be terrifying.
But they’re not just statistics, they’re people. They’re mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives. And they have stories to tell — stories of failure, stories of success and stories of inspiration.
Amanda Staller has one of those stories.
Staller, who called Kamloops home 25 years ago, is the 2020 Courage To Come Back Award recipient in the Addiction category.
Hers is a story of pain, abuse and trauma. It is also the story of recovery, hope and friendship.
After suffering abuse at the hands of her stepfather in her childhood, Staller was living on the street, addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute by the time she was 19. Though the birth of her first child inspired her to seek recovery, it wasn’t until after a second child was born that she came to Kamloops and entered a detox centre.
And though the sobriety didn’t last at that time, it led to two friendships that did.
Helena Paivinen and Dr. Rob Baker, who are now married, both got to know Staller while she was in Kamloops.
“Rob was my doctor and Helena was a really close friend of mine, and she was dating Rob,” Staller explained.
Paivinen, who nominated Staller for the award, recently opened up about her own path to recovery.
“I was a professor of nursing at TRU and I never disclosed my history because I was so ashamed of it,” Paivinen said.
“I met Amanda when she took her five-year cake [signifying five years of sobriety], I think, and I couldn’t believe the power of her story, and she was so humble and she just inspired me.”
As her physician, Baker had the opportunity to see Staller’s progressions and regressions firsthand.
“Amanda was up and down like a yo-yo,” he said. “There were times that she would do really well and there were times that she would bottom out pretty well.”
Baker has long been open about his own struggles with addiction.
“I think one of the keys to dealing with addicted people is to try not to be judgmental, no matter how squirrelly they get, and to understand that inside there is a person,” he said.
Though the kind of long-term friendship she’s built with Paivinen and Baker may not be the norm in the recovery community, it’s been a vital part of Staller’s journey.
“They’re really important to me in my life,” she said.
Staller is now a certified counsellor, with a diploma in addiction. She is also a frequent speaker on the subject of addiction. In recent years, she’s been able to reconnect with her children.
And, while it’s been a struggle to get to where she is today, she acknowledged the work that brought her here.
“I’m proud to be a recovering addict,” Staller said.