In 2015, Josh Gove decided he was going to kill himself. Homeless and living in a tent in Lethbridge, Gove took his bike and went to his dad’s house. He stole his dad’s car and bank card. He then bought 28 fentanyl pills. He also made a point to shave his face because his mom would want him clean-shaven for the funeral.
He decided to go out to an old irrigation canal on a farmer’s property outside of Lethbridge, a place he had frequented often with friends during high school.
‘If I’m going to do this,’ he thought, ‘I’m going to do this while doing something fun.’
Gove began jumping in the water while taking the fentanyl. Despite being about 16 pills deep, an amount that should have been more than enough to kill him, he wasn’t dead.
And then, he got a feeling.
“I felt scared. Fear was the first emotion I felt in five years and I felt scared, so scared that I was actually going to die.”
Years of addiction
For Gove, getting past the hurdles and reaching the point of sobriety was no easy feat.
Gove was an alcoholic before he was a drug addict, drinking throughout junior high and high school. When he turned 18, he was drinking every night and was kicked out of the University of Lethbridge for poor academics because he stopped going to class, he would only go to the pub to drink.
In the winter of 2009, at 19 years old, Gove met a girl named Julie who was attending the University of Lethbridge for an addictions counselling program.
“She was the one who actually introduced me to drugs,” said Gove.
“At that point I hated drugs and I really hated what they did to people and I was like ‘I’m never going to use them.”
One night after a friend’s wedding, Julie asked Gove if she could do some cocaine before going to bed. Gove said he started to freak out, he didn’t want drugs in his house.
“She’s like, ‘Well you can’t knock it until you try it.’ So I was like okay fine, and I did some cocaine. That was the first time I ever did a drug. I was 19, drunk and I did it to prove a point that drugs aren’t good.”
Following that night, Gove said every payday he would spend his money on cocaine. About two months after he first tried it, he talked to a friend of his about how horrible it was after a night of doing cocaine and then not being able to sleep.
“He was like ‘Try some of this, it’s OxyContin and it’ll help you go to bed.’ So I tried that and I was like ‘Holy cow, this is amazing.’ So from that point on, I didn’t even want to do cocaine I just wanted to do ‘oxys,’” said Gove.
He remembers thinking to himself how amazing it was – it was the best feeling in his life. But he shouldn’t do it again or he would become a drug addict.
“Which is kind of weird, because I look back and think of that and like, who thinks that way?”
He says after that he didn’t shoot up again for a couple of years. He focused on taking OxyContin and when that wasn’t available he did heroin.
“I started stealing money from my parents and they found out. I came clean to my mom one morning over breakfast and I said to her ‘Mom, I’m addicted to heroin.’”
His mom then helped him get into his first rehab centre at 21.
Gove said he detoxed in the basement in his mom’s house and said he probably didn’t sleep properly for about 27 days. He would just pass out randomly.
“Withdrawals from opiates are ridiculous,” said Gove.
“Your body hurts, your bones ache, your muscles ache but you have these explosive vomiting and diarrhea so walking to the bathroom it hurts so much that you want to cry and you don’t want to move but you have to go to the bathroom or else you’re going to make a mess of everything. It was a really hard time for me.”
However, he got through it and attended Lander Treatment Centre, a government facility in Claresholm, Alta. for 18 days of treatment.
Gove said he probably made it about 13 days sober after treatment before he got ahold of OxyContin again. He did oxy and heroin until about 2012, which is around two years after the makeup of OxyContin changed to make it harder to abuse.
An abuse-deterrent formulation was introduced, making the pills no longer able to be crushed into a powder to snort or inject. This caused reduction in use of OxyContin. However, this created an unforeseen side effect which had users turning to harder drugs such as heroin.
One day, Gove went with some friends to go get oxys, which he quickly found out were fentanyl pills.
“I looked at it and was like, ‘This isn’t oxy, what are you guys talking about?’ And they were like ‘Just sniff it, it’s Chinese oxy, it’s good,’” said Gove.
“So I did it and I know it only took one pill and I was high. That was crazy for me because I was doing, for oxys I would be doing  to 300 milligrams to get high. When one of these green pills got me high.”
Gove started using heroin and fentanyl and when he couldnít get that he would buy forms of morphine such as Dilaudids and M-Eslons. He says the best way to take those are to shoot up, which he began doing again.
“I remember my mom searched my room one day and she found my spoons and my needles and I remember her and my dad sat me down and the first thing out of my mom’s mouth was ‘when did you become diabetic?’ because of all the needles she found. My mom is a blunt person and so I was like okay, that’s intense.”
It was not long after that he was kicked out of his mom’s house and went to live with his dad, who was a heavy alcoholic.
He decided he wanted to go to treatment again and managed to stop doing drugs but turned to drinking everyday.
He was able to get into South Country Treatment Centre in Lethbridge, yet after another attempt at sobriety he once again relapsed.
The day came where he said ‘screw it’ and started doing fentanyl again.
Gove spent all his paychecks on morphine and fentanyl. He was fired from work, evicted from his house and ended up living homeless in a tent.
He called up Sam’s Treatment Centre to get sober, but he says they wouldn’t take him back because he had “no humility.”
He thought, ‘That sucks, nobody wants me. I’m just going to kill myself then.’
After his suicide attempt, Gove then went with a friend to Renfrew Recovery Centre in Calgary to detox. He was able to get in the next day.
While at Renfrew, Gove had a meeting with the doctor who asked him what brought him there. Gove told her the story of taking the fentanyl pills and jumping into the water.
She said, “You shouldn’t be alive. I don’t know why you went to go jump in the water but the only reason you’re alive is because you jumped in the water. The cold water shocked your respiratory system and that’s what stopped it from shutting down.”
Gove had a meeting with a counsellor as well, who told him because he was 25, he was just young enough to go into the youth program at the Calgary Dream Centre.
The counsellor told him that the program at the Dream Centre teaches them how to have fun in life while sober.
“At that point we sat and talked a bit and she was like ‘when was the last time you had fun sober?’ And I couldn’t remember because even when I was in high school and junior high I always got drunk no matter what we did. I was always having fun but I was always intoxicated.”
About two weeks into the program, Gove and the youth group went on a trip to B.C. where they stayed on property offered up by someone where they were able to be out in the wilderness and work on themselves. Gove said he thought it was “crazy” that a stranger would care enough about them to let them use his property.
“That was one of the big turning points for me – maybe some people actually really do care about me,” said Gove.
“I really started opening up about what I was feeling and everything I’ve been through in my life, even though none of it was really tragic, it was just a bunch of stuff. It was nice to be able to just talk, which I’ve never been able to do.”
"Maybe some people actually really do care about me"-Josh Gove
When he was three weeks sober, a woman, Zoie, walked into the Dream Centre to visit her friend that was there.
“I knew from the moment I’d seen her... this is the girl I’m going to marry,” said Gove.
“She probably knew from the moment she saw me, this guy is awful skinny and really needs to eat some food because she definitely did not feel the same way.”
However, she started visiting Gove every day.
“That was special because it made me feel, even though I knew she wasn’t romantically liking me, she liked me enough to try to want to be my friend,” said Gove.
“That was big. Someone who doesn’t do drugs, who doesn’t drink, someone who can’t gain anything from me because I only got 71 cents to my name and just wants to hang out with me and that was huge.”
After 49 days of treatment, Gove graduated on a Friday. The following Monday, he was in the basement of the Dream Centre when he received a phone call at lunch.
“I found out that my father had passed away,” said Gove.
“I got the news and I just started crying.”
Three days later, Gove received a phone call from health services that told him he tested positive for Hepatitis C.
Two months later, he lost his grandpa and a month after that, his grandma.
“Then in December, I lost - I call him my little brother. He was my little brother’s best friend, he lived with us,” said Gove.
“His name’s Mark and he overdosed on fentanyl as well. So within the first seven months of me being sober I lost four of the people I was really close to.”
It gets better
Gove said it was probably the hardest year of his life and if he wasn’t sober he wouldn’t have made it through.
During that first year, he thought about getting high but ultimately pushed through.
“I knew if I got high because my dad died, then it wouldn’t help anybody. It would just hurt more people.”
Gove said he thinks himself as a boy before he was able to get sober.
“Being sober is what made me a man because you can’t run from the pain, you can’t run from situations, you have to sit there and you have to feel it and you have to work through it and talk about it.”
During that year, Gove found love with Zoie, who went from girlfriend to fiance and was “a shining light” for him.
“Now, here I am sitting in my bedroom with my wife and my four-month-old baby in my three bedroom house. I have a roof over my head,” said Gove.
“Within two years and four months, I’ve gone from being a homeless junkie to having a house and a family and people who care about me.”
“I never thought it would be me.”
- By Anna Junker