'I’m trying to give back'
B.J. Holland moved back to Cape Breton a changed man with the desire to inspire others to live on the sober side of life.
The 40-year-old North Sydney native, who celebrated one year of recovery from opioid and cocaine addiction in December, has started the SoberLife LiveLife online community. He hopes by sharing his personal story of addiction and recovery, he’ll help others on their own journey.
“I’m trying to give back,” he said. “People that knew me before, know how bad I was and now they see how clean I am … I’m here to fight for everyone and hopefully show them they can do it to. If I can do it, anybody can.”
Holland was 14 when he tried cocaine for the first time. By 16, he was selling narcotics to fund his drug consumption.
“I was up to 10 (OxyContin) 80s every day. If I couldn’t find them, I’d use 40-50 (Percocet) a day,” said Holland, who estimates he spent $2,500 daily on narcotics.
“It was insane. Normally, I’m around 220 but then I only weighed 150 or 160 pounds. I’d be up for days. I could barely talk sometimes. I would slip into weeks of constant drug use.”
December 2018 was when things hit rock bottom for Holland who had been living in Brampton, Ont. for 15 years.
Selling as much as 30 ounces of cocaine a week plus other substances, Holland said his partners were pressuring him to start cutting the drugs with fentanyl because “everyone was doing it” to increase profits. He wanted no part of that.
“I have seen so many people die (from drug overdose),” he said. “People were dropping like flies around me. I didn’t want to have anyone’s death on my hands.”
B.J. Holland opens up during a bad day in October in this YouTube video. Warning: contains strong language:
Around the same time, Holland’s family cut him off completely.
“My family said 'that’s it, we’re done with you.' They cut me right off,” he said. “I’m a momma’s boy and she didn’t talk to me for six or seven months. That was hard. Really hard.”
He told his partners he wanted to get clean and stop selling drugs.
Then he tackled withdrawal. It took three attempts before he succeeded.
At first, he tried doing it alone at home.
“I was detoxing from opioids and coke at the same time … I was throwing up blood. If I took a drink of water I’d puke,” he recalled.
His last attempt was a five-day withdrawal maintenance program at a Brampton hospital, supervised by medical professionals.
“My blood, the toxicity level (because of drug use) was off the charts,” he said.
After leaving hospital, Holland spent eight months in two different rehabilitation centres in Ontario. As he healed, he realized how much he wasn’t living life and how he wanted to help support others in their recovery.
After re-establishing his relationship with his mother, Holland moved back to North Sydney in October as a way to stay focused on his recovery.
After moving home, he started the SoberLife LiveLife social media initiative — an online peer support system for people in recovery, people actively using drugs who want to stop and family members of those struggling with or in recovery from addictions.
There is a SoberLife Facebook group and YouTube channel. In his YouTube videos, which have been viewed more than 30,000 times, Holland shares his history of drug abuse and withdrawal, his struggles in recovery and his daily successes as he continues to do things he couldn’t do while using.
The Facebook group has more than 1,300 members. It is kept private to try and monitor who is joining the site and ensure it remains a positive place for people in recovery.
Some like Holland share their personal stories of addiction and their successes in recovery. Others, like site moderator Sharon Lewis (a mental health and addictions counsellor), share inspirational quotes and support when someone posts they are worried their “bad day” might lead to drug use.
B.J. Holland talks about his first Christmas sober in almost 30 years in this YouTube video:
Lewis knew Holland when they were teenagers, but the Cape Breton native who now lives in Halifax, lost touch with him as his life turned to drugs. Thanks to Facebook, Lewis reconnected with Holland after seeing his posts about his new sober life.
“To watch a person who’s gone so far pull himself back, it’s inspiring,” she said. “For me to watch him grow into this (SoberLife initiative) and start supporting others in their own recovery ... it’s inspiring. It’s a great thing he’s doing for the community.”
Lewis is passionate about helping people with addictions find their way to recovery and she thinks the SoberLife social media initiative can help.
“It can be really hard to find these support systems when you are dealing with an addiction,” she said.
“I guess my motto would be the more supports you have the better … If you have supports in place, you have a higher success rate in recovery. This group is a solid foundation of a support group that is continuous every day and accepting of everyone.”
CAN THIS HELP?
There are many social media channels and groups dedicated to recovery, like Holland’s SoberLife LiveLife, and experts say they can be beneficial.
“From a community support and strengths-based perspective, there is some evidence that online groups can support positive engagement with recovery behaviours. They give people hope and shared motivation,” said Nova Scotia Health Authority mental health and addictions spokesperson Maureen Wheller, speaking generally and not specifically about Holland’s SoberLife.
Christine Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre of Cape Breton, also sees the benefits these channels can have by helping people connect.
“Connection is the key to a successful recovery and unfortunately some people don’t have a connection to supportive family or friends,” said Porter.
“People with lived experience are best equipped to support others going through this. They are considered safe and non-judgmental. Recovery is not easy. But now, thanks to this group, when people find themselves wavering, they have a whole group of people who they can reach out to for suggestions on coping or even getting back on the wagon.”
Porter thinks there could be one downside to social media channels like Holland's — internet trolls and uneducated people with negative views on substance use disorder/recovery.
“I think the only problem with this could be the monitoring of new members and the site itself. How can you be certain if this person wanting to join is indeed 'safe and non-judgmental?'” she said.
Staff at the health authority warn of another potential downfall — inaccurate information.
“Social media can also be an unhealthy place for some people; advice may not be based on science and evidence,” Wheller said. “We recommend people discuss any support, strategy or advice given in those forums with their health-care provider.”
Holland hopes SoberLife LiveLife is the beginning of his journey helping people find their way to recovery and stay in it. Along with others trying to beat substance use disorder, Holland said he’s had family members reach out asking for advice on how to help their loved one stop using.
Holland hopes to eventually bring SoberLife into the real world with a physical space — a drop-in centre for people to go to for a hot meal, a shower or a chat when they fear they’re close to falling off the wagon.
“I just want to help my community,” Holland said. “I want to help as much as I can. I want people to believe in me. I know I can make a difference.”