Welcome to The 2020 Spring Series – The More You Know. In the series you will read about people and situations which will broaden your horizons. We will enter into places and spaces which are not frequent paths. Certainly, what you will come to appreciate is the value in knowing more. This more might be the something which may change your life for the better. Enjoy the journey!
Part Five – If I Can Get Clean, So Can You
Have you ever gotten off the phone with a complete stranger and felt as though you have known them your whole life? The conversation was so smooth and effortless. The back and forth language was completely seamless. You share the same perspectives and understand the same problems. You really feel this is a person you’ve known from another time. You sort of know this person, but from where? Where or when have we met? Even though it is very clear, you’ve never met.
This is the exact feelings I had when speaking with Liane Berry. I was so comfortable talking to her. Listening to her story opened up my heart so wide, it will never be the same.
I asked Liane many questions about her life before, during and after addiction and prison time. Firstly, she told me “my life is an open book”. This is certainly true as I visited her incredibly beautiful website: www.lianeberry.ca and I learned about Liane and her mission to help support those who suffer from addiction. Liane has written a book titled, “Seven Times Rise – A Memoir”. In her book she discusses in detail how addiction became a way of living and how she recovered from it.
However, my interview with Liane is mostly about her person. She talked about her perspectives, joys and regrets, passions, and her beautiful project for the future. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Liane. I’m sure you will get that impression too.
Liane told me about her childhood. She states, “From 1-5 years old I felt love and my childhood was quite normal. But, by the time I was 7 or 8 the neglect started. My mother suffered from mental illness and addiction. It was a dysfunctional time. I wasn’t supervised so I spent a lot of time with friends, perhaps the wrong friends. At 12, I left home and started to hang out with older kids. I wanted to be accepted and cool. I also started to do drugs. By the time I was 16, I was pregnant and in high school. I was with a guy who was much older than me. Determined, I managed to finish high school. This was an important goal for me to achieve. As I figured it, I was having a kid, when will I ever be able to finish? Shoplifting was a way to survive during my high school years. I would steal so I wouldn’t go hungry or go without clothes and school supplies.
At 16, I was stealing a lot more, social aid was not enough money for me and my child. I was smoking weed and hanging out with a tough crowd. This was my family.
At 19, I was with a guy who did crack. So, I did crack. After a few months I didn’t care about anything else except for the drug. I chased it, night and day. I got jobs, lost jobs, did crime, got caught, kept going on crack.”
I asked Liane, what were the most difficult moments in your life? She said, “The absolute worst was when my son was assassinated in 2008. Devon, my second son. There’s nothing worse than losing a child. Nothing. He made some bad choices. There were indicators, I saw it coming. But what could I do? I couldn’t control myself; how could I expect to control my son? Being homeless and on drugs was also tough, I couldn’t stop using. It was more intense after Devon was killed; I was on a mission to numb my pain at all costs. I would work 23 hours a day to get high and spend about 1 hour actually getting high.”
Then I asked Liane, what were the best moments in your life? She gleefully shared, “My kids and being pregnant. I have 4 children and 2 grandchildren. When I was pregnant, I had something to live for and to look forward to. I loved being pregnant. I felt that my children would make me better and they would do better than me. Also, I lived in Jamaica for a decade and the first 7 years there were the happiest in all my life. That was a memorable time.”
To understand Liane’s thoughts and feelings, I asked her, what were you thinking during your moments of drug use and imprisonment?
Liane shared, “I often thought how I didn’t want to do this anymore. My thinking was so foggy and I wished for some clarity, but then I would do more drugs. I was obsessed with drugs and also obsessed with stopping when I couldn’t get any more. When I was in prison, I had an opportunity to stop using drugs. The fog cleared and I became a model prisoner. I took courses on relapse prevention and attended AA, CA, and NA (Alcoholic Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous). At one meeting I saw a girl I knew from the outside, she used to come to jail too. However, this time she was chairing the meeting. She was free and no longer using, on the outside carrying the message inside. I felt that if she can do this, so can I. I never forgot that, and it gave me courage. I worked on self-improvement; I had the energy to change. I had some hope and focus and the will to stop and get better. But as my release date approached, fear would set in and I would again focus on using drugs and doing crime. What else was there for me to do? Obsession to use started to take more space than the will to stay clean and sober”
Liane added, “I battled my pain. When I had clarity, I felt my pain. Sometimes, it was horrible to face. Then I would bargain with myself. I thought, since I’ve been so good not taking drugs, I can get a little high. Since I have more control, I can treat myself with a little high. That would start the ball rolling down the hill again. It starts once a day, twice a day, four times a day, and then I’m high all day. Day after day it’s the same.”
I asked Liane, what or who was in control? She said, “The pain controlled me. Once I was clean and clear, what do I do with the pain? Once I am out of prison or rehab, where do I go? There is no social support once you are released. This is where my next project starts. I want to open LI-BERT-T HOUSE. This is a home solely for women who have left rehab or prison. For those who need that bridge between release and social reinsertion, which I didn’t have. Women who need guidance and the confidence to stay clean and off the streets, in a safe home where empowerment is the path for self-recovery. This step of recovery from addiction and criminal rehabilitation is desperately needed. There are many places for men to go to continue their recovery after rehab and prison. Nowhere for women.”
I wondered, when I asked Liane, what was the last straw which made you turn your life towards recovery? With hope in her voice, Liane said, “I was in rehab for 6 months. I was clean. As soon as I got out, I was back at it and I was arrested again in April 2014. Then on the morning of May 1st, 2014 I woke up in jail – happy! Something had changed in my life. I felt a happiness I had never felt before. It was an epiphany of something all coming together. I felt peace in my body. I felt a purpose. I was also a grandmother at this point and I wanted to be with my children. Perhaps, I just had enough of all the problems.”
I asked, “Liane on this day, June 9th 2020, tell me how do you truly feel?” Liane was so happy to share with me her trueness. With joy she said, “I feel excited and successful and proud of my achievements. Never would I have thought that I would be in this happy place in my life. My grandkids give me so much pleasure. In the last few years my life is so simple and easy. I am no longer fighting to live. I have peace.”
We talked about AA, CA, and NA. Her perspective of these meetings and theory about them was quite enlightening for me. She shared, “My first impression of the 12 step fellowships was that they’re bizarre. How can a simple 12 step program help a hard-core addict like me? It was so simple and easy to follow. This would never work for me! There had to be a more sophisticated remedy to help me. But the truth is, it is easy to follow, and simple, and it does works. But, not by itself. It’s not magic. I had to put the time in. I need to go to the meetings and say what’s on my mind. I have to be consistent and realize that treating myself to a drink or getting high is not a treat; it’s the beginning of the end again. There is no bargaining which will work for an addict. Everyone would benefit from the 12 step program. It is based on honesty and principles for a simple and better life.”
What I learned about Liane is that she has always been a very strong person. She is a survivor. Perhaps as she stated, “I was always so strong and capable, I just used my strengths in a negative way.”
I asked Liane, what have you learned about yourself through your journey of sobriety? She chuckled when she said, “How teachable I have become. I thought I knew everything, I was so smart and I knew what was best for me. Not so. I learned empathy and honesty. I learned that I can receive help and learn from it. That everyone has a story and not to minimize other people’s pain. I realized that other people’s pain was just as important as my own and mine wasn’t greater or less than theirs“
I must admit personally, I didn’t want our interview to end. I could have spoken to Liane for many more hours. I’m sure in the future we will share a coffee or tea together and continue this amazing conversation.
In closing, I asked Liane if there is something she would like to share.
Liane mentioned, “My dream is to open LI-BER-T HOUSE. While I continue to help women who have left rehab and/or prison, some of them need a place to stay, where they can feel safe. Where they can develop their self-esteem, rebuild their self-sufficiency and be empowered to reintegrate. The key word is REINTERGRATE. If I had a place to go to after leaving prison or rehab, I might have had a chance at being successful earlier. I want to offer these women real sustainability. I’m looking forward to creating this place of hope for others.”
My hope is that Liane will create her place of empowerment, sustainability and hope for women who have suffered as she has. Her beautiful inner strength and determination will certainly be a guide for many.
If you want to contact Liane Berry please visit her wonderful website at: www.lianeberry.ca or call: 514-662-2047.
I can assure you, once in contact with Liane, you will feel her joy which will give you joy too!
With this empowerment article, I finish my 2020 Spring Series – The More You Know. I hope you have enjoyed reading about people and places you might not have known about. I hope you felt joy, dreamed of hope and found safety. I also hope that if you needed this information, you have found your guide to success.
It was a privilege to write this series for you.
And…Now, on to the summer of happiness, fun and peace.
— Suzanne Reisler Litwin