Kevin O. grew up in Gull Lake, Saskatchewan. As a teenager, he received a six string guitar from his parents for Christmas and immediately fell in love with music. He taught himself to play and eventually switched to the bass when he started his first band called The Grog’s On.
Playing high school dances and selling out shows at the Elk’s Hall eventually led Kevin to become a professional musician. “I’ve toured around from Thunder Bay to Victoria and all points in between,” says Kevin, whose last gig was with Regina-born country singer Sheila Deck.
Unfortunately, life on the road brought out the worst of Kevin’s mental health issues and addiction. “I’ve been drinking since I was 13 and from that point on until recently I was dependent on it just to do anything, I just felt more comfortable if I had a few drinks in me,” says Kevin, “And of course after traveling on the road with a band I mean you live in clubs and bars. I was an alcoholic right from the get-go.”
Kevin struggles with drug and alcohol addictions as well as depression, anxiety and overthinking. “I lay awake at night. I take meds for it, which does help. I’m going to investigate more into that with my psychiatrist,” he says. Hoping that his mental state would improve, Kevin gave up touring over fifteen years ago. But when his anxiety and depression didn’t subside, he had to quit music all together.
For the past year and a half Kevin has been living at The Lighthouse and actively seeking help with his recovery. He started in the men’s shelter, but eventually moved to the Affordable Housing tower. He receives funding from the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability program (SAID) which helps pay for his rent. “The suites are quite nice, plenty of room and mine stays relatively cool which I appreciate very much. I’m quite comfortable here,” says Kevin.
He knows that recovery is now his full time job, and his mental health is something he’ll have to deal with for the rest of his life. Kevin attends AA Meetings and a Recovery Group at The Lighthouse, as well as takes part in programs offered by Social Services in the Sturdy Stone Centre downtown.
“It’s just nice to get out every now and again. I have a counselor at Sturdy Stone as well, and there’s counselling here,” he explains. One of the classes focuses on how to deal with concurrent disorders, “That’s been part of my addictions process, you know what came first the chicken or the egg, the disorder or the addictions? It doesn’t matter, the one always leads back to the other.”
The counselling and education Kevin receives helps him to recognize and manage his behaviour before it can affect him negatively. “I recognize now when I start to isolate myself or start to get angry at myself really quickly or I’m not eating properly,” he says. Getting out and socializing helps combat those behaviours, so Kevin keeps his medication at the front desk, giving him a reason to come downstairs every morning.
Another benefit to living at The Lighthouse is the medical care Kevin has access to. “When I first came here I was pretty close to cirrhosis and I’ve been able to get the medical attention here through Social Services and staying at The Lighthouse,” he says, “I’ve got a lot of stuff done that normally I wouldn’t have bothered with like psychiatric help, a liver specialist, and the physio therapist.”
Now that he has a support system in place, Kevin wants to get back to playing music again. He hasn’t picked up a guitar in a long time because it often triggers his impulse to drink. “When I pick up my guitar or listen to some of my old favourites it’s a big urge to drink again. But I’m working on it and I’m looking to get myself a bass guitar again. There’s a couple musicians here that work at the Lighthouse so it would be fun to jam sometime.”
Kevin feels proud that he’s come so far in only eighteen months. He knows that the road to recovery is a slippery slope and there may be setbacks along the way, but at The Lighthouse he is held accountable for his actions and that helps him to accept responsibility.
“For me it’s been a good place. I’m happy to be here, and I was happy to be in the shelter,” says Kevin, “Things have been going my way, slips and setbacks do happen but they’ve always helped me through it so I’m quite grateful to the staff. A lot of them I consider friends now, both clientele and staff for sure, which is kind of a good feeling. It’s almost like a family now, the whole lot of us.”