Special guest speaker Joel Visutskie shared the story of overcoming his addiction at Calvin United Church on Thursday.

Pembroke – You could hear a pin drop in the room as two recovering addicts shared personal stories about their respective addictions, how these addictions had harmed not only themselves but many others, and how they were able to turn their lives around through the support of the community.

Joel Visutskie and Jason Severin were guest speakers at “This Is My Story”, A Life of Addiction and The Road To Recovery and Healing,” hosted by The Grind Pembroke at Calvin United Church last Thursday afternoon.

The event featured presentations by both men on how addictions had impacted their lives and the difficulties they encountered while attempting to break free of the grip the addiction had on them. The duo delivered powerful testimonies that captured the attention of the capacity audience who were caught up in the honest and often scary recollections these men shared about their lives.      

The Grind volunteer Rev. Dave Henderson, welcomed everyone with an important message.

“This afternoon is about nothing less than hope,” he began. “Whatever your situation, whatever your condition, whatever place you’re at, there is hope for you today, and there is help for you today.”

Event MC Dave Henderson was thrilled to bring the community together at Calvin United Church in Pembroke for This is My Story on Thursday.

He said there were different agencies on hand that could offer assistance to anyone dealing with addictions.

“We have life-changing stories that we are going to talk about and we’re going to hear stories about lives that have been changed. Finally, this afternoon, is about caring.

“Why do people want to help? Because we care,” he added. “Each and every one of you is a wonderful child of God and we love you, God loves you, and we want to help. That’s what this afternoon is all about.”

Rev. Adrian Chaput is chair of The Grind board. He delivered the opening prayer, thanking God for the volunteers and staff at The Grind, and thanking Him for His impact on Messrs. Severin and Visutskie turning their lives around.

Rev. Henderson noted there are many initiatives underway in the community to assist those struggling with addiction, one being the new mesa program, which was explained by two County of Renfrew paramedics, Stephanie Rose, Commander of the Community Paramedic program, and Basil Gardiner, a team member.

“The mesa team is a massive picture of complete community support to help this vulnerable population we have that is lacking support,” Ms. Rose said, adding the paramedic service has been fortunate to partner with The Grind, which has provided space for the team to start doing clinic work twice weekly.

“Really what we’re finding in the community is people have a lot of wounds, a lot of issues, a lot of first aid stuff that we’ve been kind of tackling” Ms. she stated.

She said the program has received support from Home and Community Care to help them guide the program.

“We realized we’re not stepping on toes, we’re not taking jobs from people, we just want to help in the spots that we can,” she explained. “There are a lot of gaps and a lot of holes, and if we bring everybody together, we can fill these spots.

“That’s kind of our main goal,” she added. “We’re trying to work with some public health agencies in how we can do more harm reduction and more harm prevention pieces.”

The program has also partnered with the Ontario Provincial Police and their team to do some outreach to get more bodies on the ground.  

Rev. Henderson acknowledged other agencies in attendance to offer assistance including The Grind personnel, Mental Heath and Addiction Services from Pemebroke Regional Hospital, Ontario Works, Ontario Addiction Treatment Services, Al-Anon, Addiction Treatment Services, and Renfrew County District Health Unit.

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.

The Long Way Home

Joel (a.k.a. Moose) Visutskie was the first of the two guests to speak and he wasted no time sharing his testimony with the audience.

“I’m a drug addict. I’ve been a drug addict for 15 years, since 2006,” he shared. “And I definitely took the long way home.     

“Currently, I’m clean 17 months,” he added to thunderous applause.

Joel explained the other speaker, Jason Severin, had asked him about a month ago to give his testimony at the event.

“I was thinking about it all month, how I actually got here,” he stated. “It’s because of community like you guys.

“So, thank you,” he added. “And the people that I put around myself every day. I’m really happy to be here.”

Joel shared how he had been injured in a workplace accident out west, admitting for many years he told people he was injured in a helicopter crash.

“There was no helicopter crash, absolutely not,” he said. “That was my way of justifying the drugs I was using.

”I did get hurt at work, and subsequently, was prescribed OxyContin,” he continued. “I should have known right away. The moment I took that little tiny pill that I spent the next 15 years chasing relentlessly, day, night, storms, I should have known.”

He recalled walking out of the doctor’s office when the effects of the pill started kicking in.

“I remember feeling ‘you’re my best friend now, where have you been all of my life?’,” he said of the rush it gave him. “I was prescribed it until 2013, but it definitely did not end there.

“My doctor cut me off because he found out I had three doctors,” he continued. “There was never enough and I’m not ‘gonna’ lie, I did some bad stuff.”

He publicly apologized to anyone he had crossed paths with in a negative way.

“I’m not proud of them days,” he remarked.

He said when he was using, he was “constantly in a fog”, noting people ask him now why he is always happy and smiling.

“Well, ya, I spent the last decade and a half in a shroud. Of course I’m happy,” he said to a round of laughter. “It feels good not to be crushed by this little tiny pill I was chasing.”

Joel distanced himself from family, from a group of really good friends from high school who he has reconnected with now.

“I avoided them at all costs. I was in the grocery store one day in 2015 or 2016 and I saw a friend from high school, and there I am trying to maneouver out of the store like a ninja so my friend doesn’t see me.

“I’m so lucky that a lot of these friends are there for me now,” he added.   

 He shared how he goes for a run with one of his friends on Sunday mornings.

“And he’s got his kids calling, me Uncle Moose. He may not realize it, but inside I’m just ‘Yeah! It feels good’.”

He said he hurt his knee out west and allowed the doctors to do the surgery that really didn’t need to be done just to get more OxyContin.

“That’s crazy,” he admitted. “That’s how strong that was. I’m so thankful to be here.”

His addiction started to control pain and has led to him not trusting his own body regarding his response to pain.

“That’s how much this has affected my brain,” he admitted. “If something hurts, I’m not even sure if it’s real, still to this day.”

He said things started to turn around in 2020, admitting he robbed two pharmacies to fuel his addictions. He said a couple of months ago he went into one of the pharmacies despite having restrictions to not enter, but determined to apologize.

He told the owner he was not technically allowed to be there, but he wanted to apologize, which the owner accepted.

“That made me feel good,” he said.

He explained it was the Beachburg pharmacy that he robbed.

“It was my home pharmacy. I could have gotten a little more creative,” he said. “And where did I flee to? Westmeath!

“But part of me wanted to get caught though,” he added. “I’ve been in rehab, I jumped over the fence in detox. For me, it had to go down that way.”

He felt once incarcerated he would be able to get cleaned up, admitting that thought was quickly erased.

“I did 25 months straight in federal in Collin’s Bay, during which time I was in a coma for four days, had five ribs broke, both hands. There was nonsense all the time, day in, day out. People getting stabbed for nonsense.

“This wasn’t me; it’s really not anybody,” he added.

He recalled playing bridge with one of the inmates and later that day he witnessed them carrying his body out after overdosing on fentanyl.

“At one point, there was six guys from my range in a two-week period,” he noted. “It was crazy and it affected me.”

Despite access to drugs, he decided to go clean, saying there was a void to be filled, so he started working out and playing the guitar.

“I got back to the stuff that made me happy as a young lad before substance and drugs.”    


He was clean for two years before relapsing, and now has been clean again for 17 months.

In March 2020 he was sure he had it beat and within seven days, he relapsed.

“So, I’m missing something, still running my will at this point.”

He had his parole revoked and went back to jail and he has been clean ever since.

Joel’s decision to change his life was solidified in November 2022 when he was back in Collin’s Bay and had an altercation with another inmate.

“I didn’t notice it at the time but I went back to my cell and my buddy came in and he says, ‘Moose, you’re leaking”. I got stab wounds up my side and back.

“He drops like a ceramic blade in my hand and said ‘you want to deal with this now’, and at that exact point, I made the decision, never again.”

“So jail saved my life. And how is it, that jail is where I became free? Crazy eh, but it did.”

He was released from Collin’s Bay the following January and went to Ottawa and became involved with a Christian group where he attends weekly meetings. He does yoga twice a week, he meditates, and has moved in with a best friend in the Petawawa area. He also started running again, noting on one occasion he encountered a police officer who had dealt with him and wanted to know how he was doing.

“I told him I had started running again and he said I was always good at that,” he joked.

 He said every day he wakes up, he thanks God for the day and that he is still here.

“I’m so lucky. And it’s not like you just reach the destination of being clean. I’ve learned to enjoy the journey and the strength that it requires,

“And I’m diligent,” he added. “I surround myself with good people who aren’t currently using. I attend AA and my nieces and nephews are all super happy to see me. Things were super dark for a long time but I feel like I’m on an upward trajectory again, thanks to the community around me.” 

He thanked everyone for attending, offering to chat with anyone interested.

When asked later how The Grind had impacted his journey, he readily admitted that was his source of food for two years.

Executive Director Jerry Novack said it’s always good to hear testimonies from the individuals themselves.

“The struggles they’ve had with addiction, the recovery process, and now the healing and how the community is coming around to be able to support them. Also, the agencies in our community that are sometimes not seen, this is an opportunity to see them.

“And they’re really trying to make a difference,” he said.

 He said they see the issues firsthand at The Grind because they’re in the trenches. “And we want to help and when we can do something like this to bring the community together, we’ll make a difference and we’ll see some change.”            

Calvin United Church in Pembroke surpassed its maximum capacity of 150 people for This is My Story on Thursday.
The Grind Executive Director Jerry Novack and special guest speaker Jason Severin.

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.”