David Wilks began his drinking career, as he calls it, at age 14, and the drinking got progressively worse as he got older.
“It started to run how I did my day-to-day activities,” the Conservative MP for Kootenay-Columbia told Yahoo Canada News. “Everything revolved around alcohol, and if I couldn’t revolve it around alcohol I wouldn’t do that, whatever it would be.”
He would spend more time with other drinkers, who drank like he did or more than he did, to justify it in his own mind, but eventually Wilks hit rock bottom.
Few who watch politics in Ottawa regularly, or who follow what goes on in the House of Commons, would know this. But on March 13, Wilks — a big man, an intimidating-looking figure who isn’t really intimidating at all — stood up in the chamber of the House and said a few words.
“Mr. Speaker, on January 27th and 28th of this year, individuals from across Canada came together in Ottawa to create a united vision for what addiction recovery means in Canada. Hosted by the [Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse], one of their declared visions was that recovery is real, available, attainable and sustainable,” he said.
“I bring this to your attention because just over 26 years ago, I took my last drink. My life had spiralled out of control. But, by the grace of God, I stand before you and all Canadians to give hope to all those who still suffer with addiction, that they can find a path which will provide them with a daily reprieve from their addiction.”
Wilks’ rare members’ statement — the one-minute individual MPs get before daily question period to stand up and speak on almost any subject of their choosing — prompted a few other MPs from his own as well as other parties to come by his seat and thank him or praise his candid words.
“I didn’t do it for that [attention],” he said in a phone interview the next day. “I did it for every person in recovery, every person that’s still suffering, to give those people hope that you can do this.”
Wilks, 55, is a former RCMP officer from Lethbridge who served in municipal politics before winning the Kootenay-Columbia seat in B.C. for the Conservatives in 2011.
He said that in 1989 he fell as low as he could fall. He had a wife and a good job as a policeman. After spending one January night sitting with the town drunk, he had what he calls a spiritual awakening. He can’t seem to describe it as anything but that.
“I had a revelation,” Wilks said. “The next morning I had had enough.” He went through the often tough, complicated experience of treatment, and has been sober ever since.
“It’s really hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it, where you’re utterly powerless, it controls, consumes every moment … of your entire day.”
Those who watch the House of Commons and pay attention to Ottawa frequently wouldn’t call Wilks highly partisan, like many of his colleagues, and he’ll readily admit to that. But for Wilks, partisanship — the negative, darker kind — is not a healthy thing.
“It’s not healthy for me to hold a grudge or think poorly of someone. I can’t do that because if I do that, I start thinking the way I used to think when I drank, and that’s not healthy for me at all,” he noted.
“We have government bills that go through, private members’ bills that go through, and I look at them with an open mind as all my colleagues do, but I don’t get consumed by them.”
And the stigma attached to alcoholism and addictions is huge — especially for someone like Wilks, who’s in a position of trust as an MP — but, he said, alcohol has no favourites. Addictions have no favourites.
“I think what we have to get over as a society, is we can’t just look at those that have had a really tough time of it and end up, whether it’s the streets of East Vancouver, or any other homeless person, they all want to get better,” he said.
The stigma is something Wilks wants to challenge, and his member’s statement is one step in that process. He believes he’s been given a second chance and because of this, he tries to give back as much as he can in his job as a member of Parliament.
“Have I had crappy days? I sure have. But nothing compared to when I was drinking,” Wilks said.
“There isn’t a person out there that doesn’t want to get better. But you have to hit your bottom. You’re the only one that knows when you hit your bottom.”