From Heroin to Hero to Heart Award Nominee

If you’re reading this… thanks already.

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In fact, if you’re reading this, please be prepared to open your mind and dive deep with me today as we explore a new type of content on this blog. Please be prepared to push aside any pre-conceived judgements or reservations you might have in re: to addiction, drugs and recovery, and open your mind to the possibility of transformation, to overcoming odds, and to impeccable perseverance paying off.

For once, I am not here to proclaim my own thoughts and ambitions, this isn’t about me or my opinion. The story I am about to share does not belong to me. It is not mine.

As a health and fitness coach I have had the absolute privilege of instrumenting many transformations over the years at Perfectfit4u: all of which are rewarding and inspiring in some way. I’ve had clients’ weight loss stories published in magazines, interviewed by news reporters, and recognized with awards and trophies. Sometimes, it’s hundreds of pounds, impeccable progress photos and mounds of inches that are lost throughout a transformation. Impressive? You bet it is!

Although physical transformations are always exciting to view and cheer for- The story I am sharing with you today is NOT one of these. This transformation stems much deeper than a great Instagram add or a number on a scale that we applaud.

Today, I am sharing with you, a rollercoaster of a transformative journey that I have had the privilege of witnessing over the last year- a journey that belongs to a beautiful, hardworking, 25-year-old woman who has given me permission to verbalize her most vulnerable moments and share those with you, the online world. This journey, full of setbacks, comebacks, wins and losses, has inspired me, enough so, that I am devoting Blog #9 to retelling it- in all of its glory, in hopes of it resonating with someone out there who believes their future is currently destined for them.

Taking your most precious, darkest, deepest times and allowing another human to share those requires extreme courage and confidence for anyone. So, I commend her for owning her story, owning her recovery, and owning who she is, where she is headed and what she stands for as a woman. I commend her for opening up and sharing this with me, so that I can be the messenger. An inspired, captivated, devoted-coach of a messenger.

So, while you’re reading this, please do so with love, compassion, understanding and hope for those who may be struggling with addiction. This story is a shining example of transformation, heart and recovery: providing a silver-lining of possibility for our community as we push through the current opioid crisis present in our city, province and nation. There is hope. Recovery is real. It CAN happen.

This story is full of sadness, full of despair, full of love, tragedy, perseverance and hope for the future. This story is hers- not mine, not yours, not anyone else’s’- So buckle up, be respectful, be open-minded, and enjoy this blog: one that spotlights the journey of a woman, who, at the age of 25 has experienced more life trauma and resilience than anyone I’ve yet to know. A woman who has now utilized personal development, health, fitness and self-love to overcome and move mountains.

So, in raw, real, Raeanna form- I introduce to you, my interview with my very deserving candidate for this year’s 2018 NPAA Heart Award

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“I did my first line of cocaine at 13”- the calm and collected Raeanna told me when I first inquired about her past drug addiction. “I just wanted to know what all the hype was about for my parents”– she nonchalantly explained as she pushed herself back in her chair and swiped her hair behind her ear. “I mean, I was smoking cigarettes in elementary school, Ashlyn” she snickered, then lost eye contact with me to gaze at herself in my large selfie mirror- a mirror she has become quite accustomed to looking into after hours upon hours of coaching chit-chats in my office.

Raeanna continued to talk about her upbringing so casually: from receiving brain damage in a tragic car accident at the age of 4, to becoming separated from her mom and sister in a home strained with domestic violence to break free to live with her grandma at age 5, to smoking marijuana at the age of 13, it was all so normal to her. She sat 3 feet in front of me and spoke so calmly about it all, as if these statistics were going to be expected from me during our interview. I was floored. This chick is tough.

After further speculation and questioning about her youth, I came to quickly realize that Raeanna’s limiting beliefs in regard to her self-love and self-respect were completely predictable, given the environment in which she was raised.

Due to the temporal lobe brain damage she occurred as a child, Raeanna was given a helper throughout her school years and was told repeatedly that she had a brain disability which would decrease her learning abilities and memory retention. Being told you are not able to learn and comprehend properly is certainly not a motivating factor to WANT to read, write, listen and show up to class. When you’re 10 years old and told you are going to suck at school- you tend to begin to, suck at school. It makes sense that education wasn’t too thrilling for her.

“I was never good at anything” she justified, “I just never fit in- I mean, I had friends, but I was always out of the loop”.

Feeling distant and unsupported is another contributing factor to developing depression and anxiety as we age- we all need people to lean on. Despite receiving love throughout her upbringing from her grandparents, Raeanna never felt like she had her full family support behind her, given the distance from both of her parents.  Without community and love to pour our energy into, we can often get trapped investing our liveliness into other things: alcohol, sex, gambling, toxic relationships, thrilling moments, drugs, you name it- those things will be there, they will comfort you. Someone or something must receive the energy you are outpouring to the world, otherwise, you will seek that acknowledgement in some form.

At age 5 Raeanna was gifted to her Grandmother from her young mom who, according to Raeanna, “just couldn’t take [her] behaviour anymore”- Raeanna and her mother have not had much communication since- a very distant, unknowing relationship still stands. Raeanna’s dad has been in jail for as long as she can remember, and currently still is- he is not present in her life- especially as a disciplinary figure or to serve as a role model- So, both parents, to this day, still have minimal communication and a damaged relationship with their daughter. Talk about a tough start. Talk about a lack of provision.

As a teenage girl with limited parental guidance and no desire to become invested in school work or co-curricular sports, Raeanna turned to toxic intimate relationships and the over-use of recreational drugs as her source of comfort and entertainment during her high-school years.

 “I used alcohol and coke all the time throughout high-school” she noted “I mean, I used to think gang sh*t and gangster stuff was cool” she went on, “which is why I found myself a gangster-type boyfriend- it’s like I knew I was doing something wrong, but it never really hit me”.

By the time Raeanna was 17 she was heavily involved in the drug-scene, “I think it was all just comfort” she said with a wince and a sigh, “I was attracted to the big, bad boyfriends for some reason- it’s like I was constantly looking to find someone or something to love me”.

So, without direction or purpose in her life at a young age, Raeanna increased her drug consumption to cope with life stressors, and she joined forces with her boyfriend to sell drugs to support this escalating habit.

“This went on for years she noted, “it gave me something to do, and I was so young and naive that I didn’t recognize the type of relationship I was in- both with myself and with my boyfriend”.

Although not the greatest of relations, Raeanna found young-love with her partner at 17-years of age and drowned herself emotionally into investing every waking minute into this relationship. This was the first person she loved and the first person she felt true love in return, her love-life became an addiction of its own.

“It seemed like a perfect love for me, honestly, I loved him so much…” she took a big breath and then continued,

 “but, he ended up becoming involved in a drug-related shooting that year” she said with wide-eyes,

“we were madly in love, so I just turned a blind eye and loved him anyways”

As her boyfriend ventured away to serve his 4-year sentence in jail, Raeanna ventured to Calgary, to live with her boyfriend’s mother in the big city.

“I took out a student-loan and enrolled in hair school” she explained. “It gave me a purpose to be in Calgary, and it was enjoyable living with his mother- she was the person I began to spend most of my days with- I actually hung out with her all the time”.

After living with her boyfriend’s mom for quite some time and finally establishing herself in Calgary, it became known that her boyfriend’s mom (her new roommate and friend) had developed a fatal cancer, which lead to her death that same year. Raeanna had finally been able to develop a very intimate and caring relationship with this woman, and it was torn away from her once again.

Now, in a new city, without her grandparents nearby for support and without a roommate or a parental figure in her life, her boyfriend locked away with limited communication, and loads of student loan debt riding on her, Raeanna created a new friendship with an acquaintance from hair school, in hopes of finding some form of connection and purpose once again.

“This person I was friends with from hair school started bringing a ton of booze and weed around me” she started, “and then one day, he came to me explaining that he had purchased a drug that he didn’t think he could get anymore, and he was so excited about it. It was only after some experimenting, I found out that it was Fentanyl

What Raeanna also found out, was that developing an addiction to Fentanyl after repetitive use was a recipe for disaster and lead to a path she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. Things escalated, and spiralled fast.

At 18-years old, Raeanna was knee deep in debt, living in Calgary alone, and highly addicted to opioid drugs.

I asked Raeanna when the first time she realized she had a problem was, she explained in detail

Well, I spent my birthday that year alone, dope-sick and dying” she went on, “I had no money, no friends, and no drugs left- so I called my grandma crying and told her I knew I was an addict”

Could you imagine? A young teenager and at the lowest point in her existence? Most teenagers are enjoying their birthday night out at the bar with friends, or going headfirst into a muff-dive the size of their head, they’re picking out their grad dress and planning for their future- not defeated, alone, sick and broke.

After finally accepting the fact that she was headed on a path of adversity, Raeanna attempted to get clean on her own.

“There were a few times I came back to Lethbridge in those years to be around my Grandma- I would stay clean for a few weeks at a time, then I’d fall back into old habits and head back to Calgary to be closer to my boyfriend, and closer to my drugs”.

Raeanna’s attempt at recovery was a revolving door at this point- a cycle that she just could not seem to break free of. Continual trial and error, trial and error, trial and error.

Once her boyfriend got out of jail after 4 years away, Raeanna moved back in with him while still attempting to clean up her drug habit in sporadic stints.

“He thought I had a drug habit, but he didn’t know I had a drug addiction” she explained to me… those words gripped to me with impact.

“I was doing drugs all the time and hiding it from him- it wasn’t just for fun anymore”.

When I inquired about how the heck her partner of so many years did not take notice to her apparent addiction, Raeanna went on to tell me a brief story, which really put into perspective the control these drugs were having on her life:

 “One day” she said, “he was at work for the day, so I thought I had time at the house by myself. I went into the bathroom to do my drugs, and he happened to come home right then, walk into the bathroom, and catch me in the act, on a random weekday afternoon, by myself, in my bathroom, doing drugs”.

Even then, I still lied about it” she went on, “even though I was doing it all the time, I told him that a friend of mine had left the drugs at our house and I was trying them out of curiosity”.

After a few arguments over the situation, Raeanna explain that her boyfriend let it slide, but he started paying more attention and becoming hyperaware to her drug consumption.

“He was on high alert and it was getting tougher to hide my habit” she explained, “at first, he thought he could help me get clean. Instead of leaving me right away, he tried and tried again, but one day he just threw in the towel and told me if I didn’t get clean, he would leave me”.

Weeks had come and gone without change- trial and error, trial and error, trial and error– until one day, he was gone. He left her. She wasn’t clean, and he wasn’t there. Reality had set in once again, and she was sick and alone.

“It actually killed me inside” she explained, “I wanted to kill myself. I had waited all this time for him while he was in jail, I moved in with his mom, I visited him in prison, we planned on getting married one day, and we overcame so much, and then, because of drugs, he left me”. She continued,

 “I went from being a functional addict to being JUST an addict- I had nothing to live for, nothing to work towards, and no one to share life with. I didn’t care what I was doing, I just didn’t want to feel anything anymore, so I turned to more drugs, the only thing I knew”

The next part of Raeanna’s life and story is a blur. She was unknown to her own self and summed up years of her life in minimal words. She looked at me almost puzzled when chatting about these years- as if she was reaching back into her subconscious to understand where she had been but wasn’t quite generating any answers. It was like recalling a dream once you’ve finally woken up. She explained to me that YEARS of her life went by and she hardly remembers them.

 “I only remember small glimpses of my life between the ages of 20-23, very small glimpses” she said with a big breath and long sigh to follow.

Raeanna explained- “After my ex left me, I tried to just force myself into another relationship because I needed distraction, I needed some form of connection and love, and I needed a partner that wouldn’t judge me” and, she met her match: her next partner supported her addiction, didn’t judge her for her actions and became her partner in crime… literally. With no objection to her behaviours and severe drug addictions of his own, the two of them went to the streets of Calgary to feed their addictions together.

 “Fentanyl, Oxy’s and Heroine became my entire life at 20 years old” she explained- “I spent 2 years panhandling, stealing, and sleeping on the streets or in crack-houses with other drug addicts- my grandma cut me off, my family was non-existent, and there was no way I could get a job”.

 “There was 1 month where I had overdosed on Heroine 5x” she explained while gently folding her hands and looking at the floor beneath her, “and each time I told myself I was going to make it better, but it just kept happening, I lost complete control over myself and my life”.

Raeanna mentioned something to me during this part of our interview that really put things into perspective, she said,

“I did not do drugs because I wanted to be high, I did drugs because I needed them to function. It wasn’t for fun or for party, it was for physical functioning”.

Let that just sink in for a minute. She didn’t like who she had become, she didn’t want to be who she was being. She was trapped.

So, this led me to finally ask the big question we’ve all been wondering- How did she do it? How did she get out of that death trap? How was she sitting in front of me, sober, happy and in the best shape of her life?

Raeanna then told me about the day she decided to take control over her future, and this shit is impactful. In her own words, I share with you, the day she decided to look forward to a future of fulfillment:

I woke up one day in the hospital, after being narcanned in a Burger King bathroom” she describes. “They found me overdosed in the public bathroom. I was alone, and I was dying alone that day”.

At 23 years old Raeanna woke up after a near-death experience and did not have anyone there for her. No one.

 “I knew at that point, I was going to die alone, and I was going to die from a drug overdose. It was clear. I just kept coming too close. I sat there in the hospital that day and thought about my family, what the hell would they think of me if they found out I was dead? – All I could think of was that I was going to die, and no one would be there with me. I just couldn’t let that thought settle”.

“That day, I went and sought treatment by myself. I stayed on a treatment plan for a few months before I told anyone about my attempt at recovery, as I had tried my shot at recovery before, but this time was different. After a few months clean, my sister came around and let me live with her at her place in Calgary. I attempted to get a job to support and feed myself, but I wasn’t quite prepared for a full adult-life yet, I had never lived like that before and making a transition to a full-time job after being a homeless drug-addict only 2 months prior was taxing on my mental health, recovery was not easy and jumping into being a working adult was a huge transition”

Raeanna appreciated her sisters support but after a few arguments and stressful times, she realized she had to leave that environment before their relationship was sabotaged and she was left again to fend for herself. Raeanna reached out to her Grandma who agreed to bring her back to Lethbridge so she could focus on her recovery and live in-house with her grandparents once again, while she weened her way into society.

“I remember when I first got clean I would go on walks. All. The. Time. I was realizing that movement and sweating was making me happy and relaxed”

With this, came the purchase of her first gym pass and her desire to outsource a coach and program to guide her.

“The FIRST week I was back in Lethbridge, I came into Perfectfit4u for a consult and signed up for a 12-week Lifestyle program”.

After realizing the funds necessary to aid in her new love for fitness, Raeanna found a waitressing job in the city and continued her fitness goals alongside the #Perfectfit4u coaching staff. The money Raeanna made through her waitressing position was poured into rebuilding her life from scratch- she invested in personal training sessions, new workout wear, proper nutritious food, gym passes, and paying off the debt she created for herself over the last 5 years, while continually fending off the naysayers who were once her friends years ago.  She was not only rehabbing from drug addiction- she was rehabbing her body, her mind and her entire life as she knew it.

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After gaining more confidence through her biweekly personal training sessions and continuing to daydream about her next big goal, Raeanna approached our team with huge ambition- she let us know that she would be stepping on stage at the NPAA event in November of 2018, and she wanted our support with this endeavour.

As a woman who had not been taking care of her body or mental health for the later part of her lifetime, it was necessary to ensure Raeanna’s mental and physical health could handle the brute of competition prep which was to ensue. We developed Raeanna a building/offseason program to implement throughout Spring of 2018 and she tackled the challenge of lifting heavy, putting on adequate weight, and eating in volume to better prepare her for her 16-week journey to the stage, which began in late-summer of this year.

In addition to working her body, Raeanna heavily engrossed herself in her own personal development journey- and I mean HEAVILY engrossed.

Prior to beginning competition prep, Raeanna reached out to me feeling slightly discouraged and disconnected from her journey. Her recovery was moving forward in such a positive fashion, but she could feel the motivation and inspiration dwindling. She had used drugs as a coping mechanism for stressful life events for 15+ years, and now had to learn to rely only on her mindset and her belief in herself to get through tough times. It required a shift. It required a lot of positive self-talk. It required a belief in herself that she never had before.

I referenced her some YouTube clips, podcasts and books and asked Raeanna to indulge herself in personal development material.  After-all, personal growth and development have been my saving grace in tough times. Like with everything else, she took my advice and completed every task I sent her way. Every book, podcast and motivational clip- she soaked it in like a sponge and then outsourced more. She’s now up at 5am, writing affirmations, journaling, expressing gratitude and reading books. Consistently. She has a morning AND a night routine established and about 20 different podcasts she follows religiously. If you don’t believe me, go add her on Instagram.

Remember that girl with a learning disability and no desire to learn? Well, she’s kicking my ass at the personal growth game.

When Raeanna shows up to personal training, she pushes herself to the breaking point, repeatedly. I often find it takes years of exercise before you enjoy the agony and pain that comes with the non-comfort-zone type of training- but this girl was gritty from the hop. Just based on her work ethic in a gym environment you can tell she’s gone through hell and back. For a year now, 2x per week, I’ve watched this girl walk through the door of our gym with a smile and a new workout outfit and leave an hour later with 5 selfies and drenched-with-sweat hair. I applaud her. This girl is strong. She’s consistent. She’s impressive. She’s overcome more obstacles in her 25-years on this Earth then most of us will in a lifetime, and she’s still going.

When Raeanna goes in on something- whether it be love, drugs, personal development or fitness- she goes in 100%- which in the past has led to her demise, but is now, leading to her success. She’s black or white, tell-it-how-it-is, and will work her ass off for anyone who’s willing to push her.

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For the last year, I have had the privilege of watching a lost girl transform into a strong woman by using health, fitness and personal development. Raeanna continues to show this community and this city that recovery IS possible, and you CAN change your future. Your childhood is not a life-sentence and you can overcome the odds even when they’re stacked high against you.

This is not the end of the journey either. In 3 weeks, Raeanna will step on stage at the NPAA Competition in Calgary and showcase all of her hard work from this last year.  You can imagine, this day will represent so much more than a beautiful physique in a bikini.

Not only has Raeanna worked relentlessly to bring her best body to stage, but she has tirelessly put in the hours to bring about her best soul and her best self along the way.

On November 3rd, the NPAA will recognize one athlete who will be granted the 2018 Heart Award” and I cannot explain how deserving Raeanna is. It would be so impactful to have Raeanna recognized for a transformation that has been so much more than abs and bikinis, she should be recognized for a story of heart, perseverance, passion and overcoming of obstacles. The world needs to hear this story. Raeanna needs to win this award.

So, with that, I am calling upon you… yes YOU… reading this right now- if you have made it this far in the blog- I am begging you to PLEASE share this story with your online audience and let the NPAA know you believe Raeanna to be a deserving candidate. (#NPAA, @Natural Physiques & Athletics Association on Facebook)

If you have had a personal interaction with Raeanna and would like to send in a private nomination on her behalf as candidate for the Heart Award, please email: info@npaa.ca with your submission OR click HERE to nominate Raeanna using their online form! (Please scroll to the bottom of the page to view the information needed for this form)

It is apparent that we can share thousands of photos on Facebook of the trash, damage and hurt that the opioid epidemic has caused our city and province- But can we sprinkle a dust of faith amongst the harm today? I would LOVE to have our Lethbridge and Calgary communities support in sharing such a positive story.

The world needs more hope for recovery, now more than ever.

If you wish to follow Raeanna along her journey- you can do so by clicking here:  @raeannamarie.fit

Thank you for making it this far, if you wish to subscribe to my blog for notifications on future posts, please leave me your email below!

And, if you wish to follow me or @Perfectfit4u on Instagram for competition and updates on this award- please click on the links provided: @ashlyn_merriman  

If nominating Raeanna using the online form, the information needed is provided below:

  • Facebook: Raeanna Mariie 
  • Instagram: @raeannamarie.fit
  • Twitter: n/a
  • website: n/a
  • Email: raeannamariie92@gmail.com
  • Ph: 403-630-2919

 

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