His world careening wildly out of control, harness driver Brandon Campbell wanted to end it all as he drove back home to Alberta this past March after another failed drug test at Fraser Downs in British Columbia. Every time he drove under an underpass he thought of cranking the steering wheel hard and veering his car into one of the concrete walls and killing himself.
“I was mad at myself. Mad at everyone. Mad at the world,” said Campbell. “I was an alcoholic and a drug addict and I was past the point of caring. I was severely depressed. After 20 years of abusing myself pretty badly — I was a runaway. I was about to lose my horses, my business, my family… everything. I figured I had nothing left so what was the point of going on. I thought my life was over - torn down brick by brick. I didn’t think I could make it. I had reached rock bottom.”
But then, suddenly and almost out of nowhere on that cold March 18 afternoon Campbell, alone in the mountains, had an epiphany he calls a 'spiritual awakening'. “Somebody switched the light on. My head came off the dash board and I saw myself in the third person. I could see myself ending up on the street shooting crystal meth into my veins.”
More than anything Campbell, 35, kept thinking about his four-year-old daughter, Presley. “I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t leave her without a father.” Instead of slamming his car into one of the underpasses, Campbell pulled over to the side of the road and got out his phone.
Hands shaking, he phoned Jodi Loftus, his partner and Presley’s mother whom he had split up with, he phoned his mother, he phoned his dad, he phoned some of his friends - finally acknowledging to everyone that he needed help.
“Until that moment I had always faked it. I lied to everyone. I lied to myself. I kept telling everyone that I would get it worked out. That’s what every alcoholic and drug addict does. They lie. I lied like crazy. It was to the point where I don’t know what the truth was. The toughest problem for an addict or an alcoholic is admitting they need help. Until that day in March I had never done that.”
Campbell didn’t know what the reaction of his family and friends would be. Would they just shrug their shoulders? Would they turn their backs on him the way he turned his back on every one else? Had too many years of lying passed?
What? “Everyone I called breathed a sigh of relief. Everybody knew I was having a problem. Everyone except me.” Four days later Campbell checked himself into an iRecover rehabilitation, addiction treatment and medical detox facility in Tees, Alberta near Lacombe, for 40 days.
“It saved my life. It made a miracle out of me. I’m excited about life for the first time since I was a kid. I’m a better father, a better person, a better son. I went in there for myself to make myself a better person,” said Campbell, who is back with Jodi who is expecting another child. She’s an amazing person and I was pushing her away and blaming her because she was trying to help me. All she has ever done was help me.”
At iRecover, Campbell also found religion. “God is a big thing for me. I’m not a bible thumper or anything like that. But I found that help is there if you believe. It doesn’t have to be God but you have to believe in something. Whether it’s God, a higher power, Mother Nature - something or Someone that made the earth, the trees, the birds…
“I find myself talking to God every night. Nothing crazy but I sit down and believe in something greater than myself and something. Someone or something that is there when you are struggling. If iRecover can help me it can help anyone. I’m a better person and I like myself again.”
That wasn’t easy. “I had a massive chip on my shoulder. I was annoyed with everybody and everything. I didn't like myself. I treated other people like crap. I looked down at people all the time; I wasn’t a good person. I was angry all of the time,” said Campbell, who has won seven driving titles in Alberta and B.C. - more than proving to everyone how much talent he had.
But what had winning races got him? “Nothing,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’d win five or six races on a card and it was never enough. I wanted more and more. I was never satisfied.”
Even when he won the 2016 Canadian Driving Championship in London, Ontario - the first Western Canadian driver to do so - he wasn’t satiated. Instead, he was already planning how he would win last year’s World Driving Championship which were being held on Canadian soil beginning at Balzac’s Century Downs where he knew every inch of the track.
But then he watched those dreams crumble and fall apart like shards of broken glass. Less than two weeks before the World Driving Championship one of Campbell’s horses, Ima Dude, tested positive for an antihistamine, pyrilaimine which is a common ingredient in cold remedies for humans, and ephedrine, a decongestant.
Suspended for six months, Campbell was unable to compete in the Worlds. He has appealed this ruling. As if just to rub it in, Campbell was replaced by Ontario’s James MacDonald who wound up winning the Championship.
“I let it eat the (hell) out of me. I lost it. I got really mad and went back to B.C. where I knew a lot of drug dealers and basically locked myself in a hotel for four months. “I pushed my family away, I pushed my girl friend away, I pushed away everyone. I used massive amounts of cocaine and OxyContin. I went nuts. I was on a mission. I probably went through $50,000 in two months. I wasted every cent I had.”
Then Campbell took that fateful drive back to Alberta, stopping on the roadside and making the phone calls that would finally turn his life around. “I’m in a place I never thought I’d see,” said Campbell, who said he has been drinking since he was 12 and using opiates for five years.
Campbell’s dad, Sanford, said the change in his son is amazing. “He’s remarkable right now. He sure isn’t the same person he was last fall,” said Sanford, who came out of semi-retirement to help out his son. This summer at Century Downs, Sanford was the meet’s leading trainer while Brandon was the leading driver.
“He went through hell; we all went through hell. I didn’t know what the next phone call would bring,” said Sanford, who back in the 1980s trained a top stable of horses that include the likes of Spark And Ride, who was named champion three-year-old filly of the year; Triple Action, who won every stakes final he was in and who Sanford said “Built me my first house,” and Cruel Delight, who set two-year-old track records in both Calgary and Edmonton, and Kamikaze, whose only defeat as a two-year-old was at the hands of On The Road Again, a horse that inarguably was the best harness horse to come out of Alberta winning 44 of 61 starts and $2.8 million. “Brandon goes to meetings two or three times a week. He has a brand new outlook on life.”
“I still struggle,” said Brandon, who hopes his story will help others in similar situations. “I still have bad days. I’m an alcoholic. I’m an addict. And I always will be. The disease isn’t going to go away. But as long as I keep going to meetings and be mindful and honest with myself I’ll be able to lead a good life. For once I feel good about myself.”
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