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Love of Learning

Turning My Life Around

By MINA WONG - June 20 2019

Mina Wong in conversation with Tim Ross

I often chatted with Tim when he worked at a store near Toronto’s Main and Gerrard Streets.

One day he was gone. His boss simply told those who knew him, “Tim’s moved out west.“

But where did he go? Did he get a new job? How could we get in touch with him?

No one knew.

Last month, I unexpectedly ran into Tim near Toronto’s City Hall. 

Tim introduced two companions as his wife, Connie, and her brother, Andy who were visiting from British Columbia.

Tim also said, “I have really changed.” 

“If you have time for coffee…,” I ventured, wanting to know about his life.

When we met the next day, Tim blurted out, “Listen, you won’t believe it, but I finished high school, and I work at a school in Campbell River.”

What he said was so inspiring that I interviewed him for a story about him.

MW: How did you decide to leave Toronto for Campbell River?

TR: You won’t believe it, but I hit rock bottom six years ago. I had started AA so many times I lost count. I came close to killing myself. I was a total disaster.

But I remembered a magazine story about rehab in West Kelowna. I had to try it. 

At first I was a mess. They also told me the place was full, but if I seriously wanted rehab, they would take me to their Campbell River branch. They said I could work hard and take it from there.

The place turned out to be a school run by retired teachers with really big hearts. 

For weeks, I just cried my eyes out, threw up, and had headaches so bad I just wanted to die. A teacher called Nate took care of me. He made me eat proper food, chop wood, study Math, and turn in at lights out. He taught me to make myself useful in simple ways.

MW: That’s fascinating! How did you do at the school?

TR: Instead of booze, I learned to focus on school and what I could do with an education. The teachers figured I had one year left before finishing high school. It took me actually two years.

All this time, I chopped wood and cleaned the school. I learned to grow food, fish, cook, build sheds, and thought about what my life was all about. I really wanted to turn myself around.

More and more, I hated the life that reached for booze first thing in the morning, and more and more, I wanted a normal life, a job, and maybe meet a nice girl who could understand what I had gone through.

Things were certainly improving! 

MW: What happened when you finally finished high school?

TR: It was actually four years ago at Christmas. All our teachers and students from Campbell River and West Kelowna got together, and some of us were getting our Grade 12 diplomas. There was this cute girl with the kindest eyes who kept looking at me.

That was Connie and she had worked at the West Kelowna branch for a year. Her folks lived near Elk Valley. During rehab, it took her a long time to make things right with them, but they were okay with her now, as long as she was straightening out her own life.

I would have been stupid not to be Connie’s friend. We started talking about our lives, the future with jobs, a home, and maybe children. We got married two years ago, and we are teaching assistants at our Campbell River school.

MW: What an amazing story. What was the turning point in this whole experience?

TR: I think I was sober enough to want something normal. Getting away from drinking buddies in Toronto was the first step.

I got nowhere with AA as long as I didn’t take responsibility for drinking. After quitting school, I stayed so mad at my parents and their problems I blamed them for everything. But Nate and other teachers helped me take responsibility for my own behavior as part of starting a new life.

You really have changed. 

MW: What’s next in your future?

TR: Rehab saved my life. I think honesty, sobriety, a job, marriage – that’s everything to me now.

Connie and the school have meant everything to me. They gave me an education, a job, a second chance. With people to support us, we will work hard and help others with the same struggles. We’ve been there. We can help them now.

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