‘Anything But Brave’: Stepping back from the brink

Lesandra Simpson tells her harrowing story of drug addiction and recovery

Lesandra Simpson (centre) helps at the Art Club Dinners at Surrey’s Nightshift centre for the homeless and disadvantaged. Maggie, left, is the art class facilitator and a volunteer at Nightshift, along with Dave.

Lesandra Simpson (centre) helps at the Art Club Dinners at Surrey’s Nightshift centre for the homeless and disadvantaged. Maggie, left, is the art class facilitator and a volunteer at Nightshift, along with Dave.

It’s a brutally frank story of more than 12 wasted years of being wasted.

Lesandra Simpson has written her first book and it’s not for the faint of heart. A memoir, in diary style, it chronicles her descent as a young innocent teen into the filth and depravity that accompanies a life addicted to crystal meth. It is frequently profane, yet she also expresses hope and and a longing for beauty and love that she finally realizes when she confronts her personal demons and exorcizes them.

Titled “Anything But Brave: A Diary Into Addiction,” the book is self-published on Amazon.

Lesandra was a typical kid growing up in Aldergrove, attending school here and hoping to be a writer when she grew up.

“I started writing it when I was 18. I always wanted it to become a book but I thought that was just a pipe dream,” she told The Aldergrove Star.

“I would just think to myself that I had already written a book, I just needed to compile the pages and get it formatted correctly. Through this amazing website called createspace I set forth on starting my own project.

“My mom was always telling me that I should write a book. Funny thing is when I walked across the stage at grad the thing I had them read about my goal was to have my first book published by the time I was 35. I was one year late.”

The first part of the book is diary entries, dating from 1999 to June 22, 2005. It chronicles losses and harrowing brushes with death, including the loss of her own daughter, taken from her at 11 months old, and the death of her beloved older brother Jason. It tells of her own near-death experiences, living rough on the streets, the lies she told to her family and others who loved her, and the loss of her innocence.

Through it all there is no naiveté — deep down inside, Lesandra knows she isn’t fooling herself.

As she says on the opening page: “Why am I doing this? “Who cares?!” a girl says to me from across the table. Right. Who cares? Who ******* cares? Another girl offers me nearly a half point rail as a peace offering because she tried to power trip me in my own home. I hate the way they all sit there and jib talk. Making big plans for themselves. Empty promises. I lock myself in my head and just ignore them. Pathetic behaviour. Everything is a project. A ******* game to them. If only they knew how to play the game right… I’m not well.”

The final 34 pages are an “epilogue” that brings her story up to the present, in which she is now a 36 year old woman, clean of any drugs or alcohol for the past 32 months.

The epilogue begins with: “There was never a doubt in my mind about the fact that I was an addict. I honestly felt as though being addicted to meth was the least of my problems in life. Lack of employment and housing was the reasons I thought I didn’t have custody of my daughter. I really did believe that my situation was just temporary. Everything I was experiencing would eventually pass; it was only a matter of time. I was just waiting to find a stable home and get through the grief that had me caught in an undertow. Every so often it would occur to me that I had, in fact, lost my daughter as a result of my actions. I was homeless and jobless also because of those same actions. I would spend days doubled over in agony over losing my child. Then when there were no tears left in me, I would go back to ignoring the reality of things. I would continue self-medicating because that was all I knew. It was like I was stuck in a constant loop. I would enjoy my newfound freedom from all responsibilities of life because I felt like the end was just around the corner. The accumulation of loss was too much to bear. I thought that somehow I might be able to justify the way things had happened. I kept trying to tell myself that I had absolutely no control over any of it. I just figured I happened to be one of those people that were dealt a ****** hand. The plain and simple fact was that I was a drug addict. My life was completely unmanageable whether drugs were involved or not. So when life and tragedy collided, my entire world broke into a thousand little pieces.”

It culminates with Lesandra calling 911 on herself, and getting the professional help she needed.

Her story ends with this observation: “I don’t think like that anymore. That was clearly the sickness still taking up space inside of my mind and body. I know with every muscle, and fibre in my body that I want to spend every moment of the rest of my life free from the chains of drugs and alcohol. I know that my suffering was not for nothing. That the universe allowed me to suffer for so long because it knew that I would be strong enough to survive it. I would survive and live to share my story. I have grown to become the woman that I only ever dreamed of, and through it all, my family has been right by my side.

“I am now becoming brave.”

Lesandra has had a stable home since November of 2010 and a relationship with her boyfriend Brian since February 2014, which together with the unfaltering love and support of her parents, especially her mother Annette who has been physically and spiritually at her side through it all, has helped her to finally kick off the chains of addictions. She no longer has any cravings for any substances, and only uses prescribed medication for a diagnosed bipolar condition that probably lay behind her need for self-medication with meth and alcohol.

She told The Star about her complete lack of desire for drugs: “None at all. I am actually disgusted by the thought of substances in my body. Like nauseous about the thought.

“The final straw from all substances and alcohol was not that I wanted to quit, it’s that I wanted to die because I didn’t think I could survive without something to make me feel better than I was. (Before that) I think I was trying to quit to appease other people, or because I wanted my daughter back. It wasn’t ever because I thought that I deserved a better life.

“Until my probation worker planted the seed, and walked alongside me while I tried to find it. I really should have thanked her in the front of the book because she did more for me than she will ever know.

“But even after I quit meth, which was May 24, 2013, I struggled. So much, because I didn’t know how to live a life free from substances. It was scary trying to find my footing, I was lonely.

“My family has always been there to support me, even though I didn’t realize it until I had decided to get clean. Yes, my boyfriend quit drinking and drugging with me as well. He doesn’t have a problem with drugs or alcohol, but he abstains for me – as support.”

Lesandra works part-time and this past month completed her first semester at UFV’s Abbotsford campus with a 4.0 GPA grade, of which she is justifiably proud. It’s a four-year program for her Bachelor of Social Work degree.

The Star asked her, “You must see a lot of people in passing who are in the situation you were once in. What’s your reaction, do you try to talk to them or help them?”

“The only thing I can do is lead by example. When they have questions for me, when they are ready – they will approach me,” she replied. “When I try to say anything to them about it I come across as preaching. Sometimes I don’t care about that because people’s lives are at stake, but I also don’t want to scare them away.”

She has also been volunteering at Surrey’s Nightshift outreach centre for the homeless and the less fortunate. It is an evangelical Christian organization, and while Lesandra thinks of the “Universe” as a power rather than a God, she says volunteering there has been a healing experience for her.

“I did the orientation and started volunteering for them in September of 2016. They help homeless and less fortunate people. Not everyone that goes there is homeless. Many do suffer from addictions and mental health problems,” said Lesandra.

“They do the woman’s shelter in cold weather conditions, which is just mats on the floor for the night. But it’s very supportive and clean. There is food service every night in the parking lot, rain, shine or snow.”

“Tuesday nights we do art class before the food service, it’s just a nice warm social environment to hang out with our friends — Nightshift calls the street people their friends.

Lesandra also chronicles her recovery on a blog called “Becoming Brave” and has been actively responding to readers on a Reddit page .

It’s all part of her own healing process, a way of reaching out to others, to say that no matter how bad things get there is a chance of healing people… never give up on people.

“Well, the first part of the book is to make people aware of the road to addiction. I was so naive. I was desperate for love and attention and I found it in drugs. I didn’t want to become addicted. But I did and it broke me.

“But there is always hope. There are so many forks in the road and it is never too late to change.

“I want my book and my story to be out there because I think talking about it is part of the healing, not just for me but for a lot of other people as well. Being open about addiction and mental health issues helps to break the stigma about these things. Because I am a real person, with a real story.

“And my story just happened to be written in real time, as it was happening.

“Sometimes I feel like a walking miracle, but mostly I feel like my willingness brought me where I am today. A seed of hope was planted and now here I am feeling like I have become the person I only ever dreamed of.”

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‘Anything But Brave’: Stepping back from the brink

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