I wish I were a better writer so I could truly express how much I genuinely enjoyed meeting and talking with Todd Chrismas, a born-and-raised Revelstokian who has lived a life like none other.
“My name is Todd Chrismas. I am still alive only because of a series of many miracles. I should have died a dozen times, yet here I am. Sometimes I wonder why – the only reason I can come up with is that maybe I’m supposed to be a source of encouragement that there is life after being lost in addiction and suffering from depression like I was.”
Sitting down to talk with Todd, I soon realize that I could write an entire year’s worth of articles on his life alone. From his time in foster care, to being incarcerated and institutionalized, to the many treatment centres he went through for “trouble youths”, up to his time in adult addiction centres and attempts to get off the streets – there is no shortage of tales to tell.
“By my second year of high school in Revelstoke I was already deep into alcohol and drugs. I overdosed on pills and ended up in the hospital. They said I was ‘attention-seeking’, but really, I was just using the only language I knew how to speak. I couldn’t hold a job so I resorted to [break and enters] to feed my addiction. I never thought it would get that bad. My humanity was deeply scarred by the choices I was making as well as what others had done to me. I ended up in my first correctional institution before I turned sixteen; before I even got my learner’s license.”
When Todd looks back on his life, he says he can’t pinpoint a time when things could have turned around for him. He sees it as a path he needed to walk down to hopefully prevent others from following in his footsteps.
“No matter how I tried, my addictive mind could not comprehend a life without substances. The multiple near-death experiences that I had only made the fear of death loose it’s power. I no longer feared death.”
At one point during our conversation, Todd calls himself a “stupid monkey” and when I ask him why he says that, he shared this story:
“I heard once that there are these monkeys who want this particular fruit so badly that they’ll put their arm into a hole just big enough for their arm, but too small for their fist. So, once they grab the fruit and make a fist they can’t get their hands out again. They’ll stay there just gripping that fruit and will be so oblivious to the things happening around them that you can go up and club that stupid monkey on the head. I was that monkey. I didn’t notice the danger I was in. I’m such a stupid monkey…” he chuckles.
“When I moved into a place with bed bugs, that’s when I had hit the bottom.
Eventually a combination of many miracles, unconditional help from others, my concept of spirituality, but mostly focusing on a talent that I had (wood carving) saved my life. When I focused on my talent, I felt a sense of self-worth that I had never felt before and knew I had a gift to share with others.”
When I ask Todd how things are going for him now that he’s back in his home town of Revelstoke he says, “things are pretty good. I just got my first Visa, which I’m really excited about. Thinking about building credit and paying into my RRSPs makes me laugh. I never thought I’d live this long to have to make a plan for retirement.”
Todd wants me to share his name because he feels if he could prevent just one person from going down the road he went down, it would make some of his struggles worth it. He wishes he could do more public speaking, but is self-conscious about his teeth (especially when I pull out the camera). I feel privileged to have met Todd and to share his powerful story of courage, strength, hope and self-love. I think this story, even in print, has the potential to move anyone.
Nov. 26 – Dec. 2 is Addiction Awareness Week. Find more information and what’s happening in Revelstoke at www.revelstokecymhsu.ca
Stacie Byrne is the Project Lead for the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use (CYMHSU) Local Action Team, which is a part of a larger Provincial Collaborative working together to support people between the ages of 6-24 years old and their families with mental health and substance use challenges. The Collaborative works with Service Providers and the community to share how all of the pieces of the recovery puzzle fit together and what is available within and outside of Revelstoke.