Lacombe resident Garnet Carmichael recently marked two years of sobriety and has a whole new appreciation for life’s blessings.
Just last month, he took part in his first MMA fight sober - and he won.
It was a personal victory on a few levels, and he also shared some of his experiences of overcoming addiction with the audience following the event.
The husband and father of five wants to share his story to show others that freedom from the grip of addiction can indeed be attained.
Carmichael recalls being a troubled teen and often getting into fights. It was also during those years that he didn’t really learn how to communicate what he was feeling. Anger became a ‘go-to’ emotion which only led to more relational struggles.
He married young and started a family - but the lure to alcohol and drugs was already an entrenched part of his life, he said.
Over the years, it all became a stressful balancing act - working and raising a family, all while being trapped in addiction.
Things started coming to a head a few years back, including when he started training for a fight in 2019. He ended up winning but didn’t feel overly celebratory about it.
“But this fight that I had just a few weeks ago was huge for me because I’ve always wanted to do it properly, and I didn’t give myself the chance last time - I had been in it for the wrong reasons.”
The recent event, Havoc Fighting Championships, was held Dec. 2 at Red Deer’s Westerner Park, and Carmichael had plenty of support on hand including family, friends, and colleagues from his work at Dow Chemical.
But what also added to the experience, as already mentioned, was that he had the chance to speak afterward.
“I said something along the lines of how the reason I was able to step into the cage again and do something that I love was that I had gone to a treatment center a couple of years ago,” he said.
“I had made the decision to do that, and it was a long time coming. I believe things happen when they are supposed to happen.
“All the hard work that I put in, and the humility that had grown in me from asking for help and going to a treatment center - it all just helped me to get back and do something that I love.
“So it was a big night for me. I was happy to enjoy it.
“Last time, I wasn’t able to do that. It came and went so quickly, and right after the fight I was back doing things I shouldn’t have been doing,” he said. “This time, I could walk around afterward, talking to people and enjoying it all with a clear head.”
Carmichael’s addictions started in his teens and he described his increasing reliance on alcohol and drugs as something that seemed to come in waves.
“My routine would be to get off work, and immediately look for (drugs) and hit the liquor store - every single day,” he said. “Every day was the same and I hated it. But I just couldn’t stop it.
“There was this anger all of the time,” he said. “If I didn’t know what to do I would just get mad - that was my ‘go-to’ thing all of the time.”
The thought of getting help also brought up insecurities about what the future might look like.
But things had to change, and the journey to freedom began in October of 2020.
“I was in the backseat of my truck laying there and thinking, what am I doing here? I just started crying. It was 3 a.m. and I had to work at 6 a.m. I had done this a lot, but I was just so tired of it. I just wanted out.
“I called my boss and spilled the beans and wow - that was such a great feeling.”
In a matter of weeks, plans were in place for Carmichael to head to The Last Door in New Westminster for 45 days of intensive treatment.
“I was in a safe spot. I also didn’t know what to expect.”
Treatment included going through the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous with a sponsor to be accountable to as well.
Those initial steps help to ‘re-frame’ the issue - particularly the acknowledgment that one’s life has become unmanageable because of addiction.
Ultimately, it’s about taking responsibility on many levels - for one’s words, for one’s behavior, and for the mishandling of emotions, he said.
It’s also about dealing with ‘triggers’ - those things that happen that lead to destructive behaviours.
Over time, Carmichael came to terms with his choices.
He endured the physical effects of emerging from addiction and tackled the mental and emotional issues that had kept him locked in a dark place.
“It’s super humbling,” he said. “We are all going through similar stuff, and someone on your own team is (always) calling you out on things,” he said.
“It keeps you honest - if you say something, you had better be living it, too.
“I also learned that anger is a secondary emotion - it’s often something you feel when you are actually scared or embarrassed. But instead of just feeling those feelings, you get angry. It’s a familiar feeling.”
He also learned to record his experiences.
“You write it all down as though no one will see it - as honestly as you can - and then you share what you wrote with your sponsor,” he said.
“I wrote a tonne of stuff that I hadn’t told anybody. About my whole life - things I’ve done, things that have happened to me,” he said, adding he also wrote letters to make amends to family and friends who he had hurt over the years.
It all helped to turn things around.
He even wrote a letter to himself - Garnet ‘the addict’ to Garnet ‘the individual’.
“It said, this is what I’ve done to you - I acknowledge those situations. I’ve embarrassed you, I’ve hurt you and made you hurt yourself - but I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to live based on recovery, on things I’ve learned in recovery. I’m going to listen to people, and take suggestions from those who want to tell it to me straight.
“Really, that’s the way you get out of active addiction. Be grateful for what you have and stick to your commitments. It’s about gratitude and responsibility.
“With addicts, we all think that no one understands us. No one gets it. But there is a whole world of people who get it. People have been there,” he said.
“Once you’ve realized it’s possible, you have to be humble.”
Today, he lives with new energy, clarity, joy, and freedom.
“I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones.”
The lines of communication are refreshingly open and home is a happier and more peaceful place.
Now, he’s eager to reach out to others and help them get on that track to sobriety and healing.
“I felt like a guy who was carrying around a lot of weight and now I feel like I’m walking on the moon,” he said. “And people just didn’t give up on me.”