By Alex Lambert

Pembroke — Jason Severin was raised in a dysfunctional family, constantly surrounded by addiction and violence.

From the moment he started selling drugs to his first night in a jail cell, Jason’s trip to recovery has been a bumpy road. Now, his story serves as a reminder that you can always be down in life, but you are never out.

Every school Jason attended as a kid had him expelled, including the behavioural class.

“In grade school, I was an altar boy. And then I got caught stealing the bread,” he said.

When he got a bit older and fell into the wrong crowd, he gained a reputation and started selling drugs to make ends meet. He discussed the seven years he spent dealing on Thursday.

He was the undisputed ruler of the Pembroke drug scene. He didn’t just deal, he was the guy.

“I was going to get to the top of the ladder. I was going to take over this town, and that’s what I did,” he said.

Eventually he reached his goal and met unforeseen circumstances.

“I had to collect money. It was either my legs or somebody else’s. This is part of my story. I’ve broken a few sets of legs. I’ve been stabbed,” he shared.

Jason recalls a time when he was being watched by a police officer when he decided to turn the tables and start following the officer instead.

“I’m not proud of this behaviour, but it reflects the mindset I had when I was struggling with addiction,” he said.

Foster homes and children’s aid were a part of Jason’s life growing up. He admitted to a history of generational family trauma, including physical abuse and neglect he and his mother suffered, which caused him to retaliate against his father when he was 14.

“I’ve seen a lot of violence. There was lots of violence every day. Every day. It was a horrible place to be,” he said. “I remember what the booze did. I felt like a million bucks because all that pain went away.”

Jason struggled with addiction for years despite countless attempts to recover.

“I was in and out of treatment. I’ve been to nine treatment centres, not one of them worked. I wasn’t ready. I was doing it for Tess, my kids, my mom. It didn’t work.”

He soon realized he needed to be sober not only for his family but for himself, saying, “All I ever wanted was to be sober-minded. I have a lot of friends out here who are in the program, and they’re living sober. Completely sober. I never once went to the meetings and picked up a key tag celebrating a year because I was never totally clean.”

One of his biggest regrets is the struggles he put his family through, including needing to take out a second mortgage on his girlfriend’s house to pay back his debts.

“I used to hide money around the house and forget where I put it. One day I looked in the plant and there was $3,500 there,” he said.

Jason had a sudden realization that was not only eye-opening but also felt like a slap in the face. “Not once did I ever think I had a problem. Not once. It wasn’t until my sister hung herself in a hospital that I opened my eyes. That’s when my journey began. I got on my knees and said, ‘I’m going to change my life’.”

An internal switch flipped, and he realized how he was living a self-centred life.

“I remember having $30-40,000 cash and putting it on my living room floor and getting my kids to put their heads the same way so I could bring it to my drug dealers. That’s how sick I was.”

Jason was able to curb the brutal withdrawal symptoms of opioids by using marijuana maintenance. He describes this as one of many moments God intervened in his life.

Jason was thrilled to announce he had reached his goal of achieving total sobriety, having been off opioids for three and a half years and marijuana for seven days.

“I don’t know if anybody knows about coming off opioids, but it’s brutal. It’s brutal. I know that’s when God came into my life. It was all God that got me through that.”

Jason’s faith changed drastically when his friend asked him about how he prayed. He explained he reaches out to God to ask for strength and courage and his friend suggested he take a different approach.

“Why don’t you try and say, ‘dear God, give me the opportunity to use your hands and to use your feet’. She said, ‘he will put you to work.’ This is what I started praying and this is how this all started with Jerry. Next thing you know, I’m volunteering at The Grind and I’m like, ‘what’s happening?’.”

He was in withdrawal management in Ottawa when a friend offered him a room at Elliot Lake Rehabilitation Centre. Jason’s life was further improved when he found God and took control of his surroundings. He describes meeting The Grind’s Executive Director Jerry Novack as God’s will.

“The energy that I got off of doing that, helping another alcoholic and helping another addict, I can’t explain how I felt and what it was doing. This is the answer. This is what it is. I gotta help people.

“A lot of people have seen what I’ve looked like and where I’ve come today, and again, that’s not me. This is all God’s work,” he said.

He thanked his friends and family, including his three kids, who were present at the event, for their support.

“Today I don’t have to say, ‘I’m going to make amends one day.’ My biggest of amends is standing here today and sharing my story,” he said.

Jason discovered a newfound love of helping others when he started volunteering at The Grind, saying, “I’m going to continue down this path. I’m going to continue to volunteer and get help. I found my passion.

“I haven’t even had a thought of weed because I’m so motivated by what I’m trying to do with Jerry and others…We have some good things coming and we’re planning on doing some things around the community to help out. That alone is a high. That’s the high I’ve always wanted.”

From left, Joel Visutskie, The Grind Executive Director Jerry Novack, and Jason Severin spearheaded This is My Story at Calvin United Church in Pembroke on Thursday.