I come from a long line of addiction and other mental health issues, and have suffered the same from a young age. I didn't know that it was anything out of the ordinary until my late twenties, though, because I was surrounded with other people who lived the same kinds of lives and had the same kinds of experiences. To me it was "normal." The fact that I nearly died at 15 from alcohol poisoning should've been enough of a warning sign.

At the age of 27, after one failed attempt at rehab and years of bouncing from city to city and job to job to try to fix my problems, I went into a recovery house. I've been sober ever since; it's been ten and a half years of sobriety as of writing this. Initially I sobered up because I thought my life would get better. I thought alcohol was my biggest problem in life and if I could get rid of it, all my other problems would go away. I was right and I was wrong. My sobriety has been plagued with challenges from the onset. A few years into sobriety, after struggles with unrecognized anxiety and depression, I had a major mental health episode that had me in psychosis, agoraphobia and a state of constant panic for years, one that I am still healing from seven and a half years later. I know that life is drastically different now because I am navigating it sober, and because of the way my body reacts to medications, they have not proven to be a source of healing for me. I have undergone every type of therapy - talk therapy, group and solitary counselling, CBT, DBT, 12- and 16-step recovery programs, an eating disorder program - and it's all been helpful, because I've always learned more about myself, but none of it has fixed me. In a lot of ways I feel it's left me with more questions than answers.

I'm 38 now. I'm married, no kids or pets. My wife and I are both in university, struggling through it with our various mental and physical health issues. Domestic stuff (keeping house, specifically) is the source of our disputes. We have poor time and money management skills. We struggle with energy and motivation on a good day. But in the time I've been sober, I've managed to get myself out of significant debt, repair existing relationships and build new ones, and support a family member in her recovery. She is now nearly 5 years sober. I am a proud aunt to two beautiful girls. I came out to friends and family as bisexual and I am out in my daily life. I am an environmental and social justice activist. I haven't been able to hold a job in years because of my mental health and the demands it puts on my energy and senses. This has been a big challenge because I feel I have so much to give but can't because I'm not reliable enough. I've had to rethink my whole sense of self worth because I was raised to believe that my work is my identity, and that I had to have a job and make money to be worth anything.

I'm in school now, studying visual arts. I've always been an artist so it feels good to honour that. It feels good to be sober, to be dealing with life as it happens without needing to get wasted. I still struggle with food and body image issues but I have a greater sense of awareness around it. I thank god I can stay sober in light of everything that's happened, especially in the wake of the death of one of my sisters, who passed away just over two years ago at the age of 29 from alcoholism. It's impacted my life in ways I still don't fully understand, but has strengthened my commitment not only to staying sober but also living life the way it is presented to me, and seeking to find deeper meaning in it all. The good and the bad, all of it together, has been a profound spiritual experience for me. I won't say I'm grateful to have the mental health issues I have, but I'm grateful for what has been revealed to me through having them, and how much I've been able to help other people because of what I've experienced firsthand. I use my experiences to speak out about injustice and advocate for myself and for others in my situation who are unable to do so. There is so much stigma about mental health issues, compounded by the fact that they are invisible disabilities. I've had to fight to get where I am, every step of the way, and I'll keep fighting.

Brianne (Victoria)