At just 13-years-old Saunders tried cocaine for the first time. From there — through partying and drinking — a whirlwind addiction took over his young life.
“I was always one for partying and drinking and that, so I guess I just started doing it and it got really bad,” Saunders told The Advertiser.
It was 10 years ago when Saunders was living in Fort McMurray and he started losing jobs and not caring about work that he realized his recreational drug use had turned into an addiction.
Living in Fort McMurray, days would pass when Saunders would not answer calls from family and friends back home in Newfoundland. The people closest to him were left not knowing if he was dead or alive.
After coming down from a high, the feelings of guilt would creep in for Saunders. He would get high again to make those feelings go away.
“I’d just keep covering up all the hurt,” he said.
Saunders tried hundreds of times to quit using drugs on his own using sheer willpower, but it never worked for him. He enjoyed the lifestyle too much and the feeling he got when high on cocaine.
It was eight years after realizing he had an addiction that he finally broke down and reached out for help.
“I was up for three days sniffing coke and smoking crack . . . down in the parking lot of (an) apartment building I just broke down and called (dad) and told him I need help,” Saunders said.
Before he made the phone call his father had no idea how far his son had fallen into the depths of addiction.
After the initial phone call to reach out for help, Saunders attended rehab twice in Fort McMurray and once in Newfoundland. It wasn’t until his fourth attempt at rehab in Halifax at Searidge Rehab Center — where he spent two months — that he became successfully sober.
“I left Jan. 10 (2015) to go up there for Jan. 11. I wanted to quit but I loved it too much, I loved doing it and (at the same time) I didn’t want to (quit), I went up there to shut my parents up, but when I got up there I changed it and did it for me,” said Saunders.
As of Aug. 11, 2017 Saunders has been sober for 31 months, but he said every day is hard. He still struggles and it takes a lot of willpower not to fall back into that life of addiction. Every morning when he wakes up he makes the conscious decision to stay sober.
Sobriety has enabled Saunders to see straight and to enjoy life and his new daughter, he said.
Sometimes Saunders will share photographs of himself during his addiction on social media, “and people will say, ‘Why do you share this — you look sick in this picture’ and I say, ‘Yea, but it motivates me to not want to go back there,’” he explained.
During the Advertiser interview with Saunders his eight-month-old daughter was cooing and laughing in the background. The photos of smiling faces of Saunders, his daughter and her mother covered the walls.
On the day his daughter was born Saunders was 23 months sober; she became his main reason and motivation to stay sober.
Ten years ago Saunders would never have imagined he would be a family man with an eight-month-old daughter, although it was something he always wanted in the midst of addiction.
“I would have had to give up a buzz and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I know if I goes back it’s just going to be straight giving her and I’m not going to be there for (my daughter) and life is too good,” he said.
Saunders has built a new life for himself but said he still has friends who are addicted to drugs.
“I can’t worry about other people (though), I got to worry about myself and me staying sober,” Saunders said, “I’m here if they wanted help though. I can’t help everybody but if I can help some body somewhere, (that’s great).”
His final words of advice to anyone who may be in the midst of an addiction now and are trying to quit is, “Don’t give up, do it for yourself.”