By Tammy Schneider
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The prospect of having one’s life examined under a microscope would be uncomfortable at best for most people, but that is what Patrick Lahey has done in his collection of poems entitled Feed the White Wolf.
For more than three decades, Lahey struggled to live his life while battling alcohol addiction and dealing with mental health issues. His book lays bare his struggles with maintaining his sobriety and dealing with the stigma that plaque those suffering with mental illness.
Born in Cambridge, Ontario, Lahey was just a young boy when his family moved to Newfoundland. Raised in a large, loving family, he had his first drink at 10, and was first intoxicated at 12. Often feeling alone, he saw himself as the lone wolf who didn’t run with the pack. He drank because everyone else did. “Everyone drinks and is happy – maybe that is the solution,” he thought.
It wasn’t the answer to his problems though. As his drinking increased, his emotional and mental health issues rose to the surface. By the time he reached his late 20s and early 30s, he knew in his heart he was an alcoholic.
By this time, Lahey was back living in Ontario, eventually making the move to Bruce County in 2006. He stopped drinking for about 18 months in his late 30s, and was faced with great depression and suicidal thoughts. The pressure to drink became more than he could bear, and he eventually fell off the wagon and returned to old bad habits.
He vividly remembers sitting alone in his car in the Kincardine hospital parking lot, terrified to go in and seek help, and equally terrified of what would happen if he didn’t reach out. In desperation, he called a crisis hotline, and spent hours on the phone with a crisis worker who eventually convinced him to go inside the hospital and ask for help. He recalls a staff person, Marie, who held his hand and said “Pat, it’s going to be okay.”
That visit to hospital was a first step that saw him finally under the care of compassionate health professionals, who diagnosed his mental health issues and put him on a path of treatment. Four years later, he continues to fight to maintain his sobriety and mental health. A 12-step recovery program and regular counselling session offer support and relief.
“It’s going to be a battle for as long as I live,” said Lahey.
Lahey recalls how much he enjoyed writing as a child, but acknowledges it “fell to the wayside” as the drinking took over. In April 2014, he began writing to articulate and “get out” his feelings, describing how mental illness and alcohol had affected his life. The poems include stories of his youth, his parents (Lahey speculates his mother struggled with mental health issues), lost relationships, fear, despair and an overwhelming lack of hope.
By spring of 2020, Lahey felt he had written enough material to put together a collection, and sent his work out to publishers. His book was published in Sept. 2020.
He hopes the book will “raise awareness around the issues of alcohol and mental illness” and “show people there is hope, no matter how alone they feel. It’s the illness that makes you feel empty and broken, not you,” said Lahey.
“The illness doesn’t define me,” Lahey went on to say. “It’s figuring out a way to live with it and be as content as possible. It’s what we deserve. We are meant to be happy, not in emotional turmoil all the time.”
Lahey says sharing his story has helped him heal, and hopes it will offer someone else some relief from their struggle. He has already received positive feedback from people who have read the book while on their own journey to recovery.
He is proud of his collection and said “it is me – no filler, no fluff, raw and honest as I could have been.”
The title for the book comes from an old parable that talks about the battle between the two wolves in all of us. The black wolf embodies all of a person’s evil and negative characteristics, while the white wolf is pure and has only good characteristics. The wolf you feed wins and he has finally chosen to nourish his own white wolf. While the struggle will always be there, he knows the white wolf is inside him, fighting its way out.
Lahey’s book is available through his publisher, www.iuniverse.com, as well as on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Locally, it can be purchased at Fincher’s. He plans to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Canadian Mental Health Association, to help others in crisis. He is also embarking on a public speaking initiative, “Work Hard, Dream Big” once COVID is over, a one-hour presentation for youth aged 10 and up, to raise awareness about addiction and mental health.