Repairing the Damage
In the drive to make more money, advance his career, and avoid his emotions, Nick ignored the growing cracks in his marriage and mental health—until it all came crashing down
Welder, welding inspector, assistant superintendent—Nick is one very accomplished Local 63 member. He’s also a great golfer, a former bodybuilder, and owner of a motorcycle shop.
But behind his impressive resume is a story of a compulsion to work, to succeed, to make more money, to be the best. A compulsion that cost him his mental health, his marriage, and his relationship with his kids.
Like many who work in the industrial construction sector, Nick travelled far and frequently to wherever the work was, to jobs all over Alberta and northern Canada—far away from family, friends, and home life. And like so many of them, he paid a heavy price personally.
In his single-minded pursuit of providing for his family, Nick thought he was chasing the dream. In reality, he was chasing a nightmare. Despite his impressive physical strength, it took a far greater inner strength for Nick to deal with his demons and finally break free from his self-destructive lifestyle.
Nick’s story starts in southern Alberta in 1998 when he became an apprentice welder. He enjoyed the trade and life was good. In 2003, he married his wife, and in 2005 they welcomed their first child.
He worked locally, with the occasional stint out of town, but with the arrival of a new baby, Nick wanted to make more money and advance his career. So in 2006, he rigged up his own truck and became a rig welder. While the money was better, he felt the pressures of being self-employed and having to chase work. He went farther and farther afield for longer periods of time.
“At first, I didn’t really notice a change,” says Nick. “It was hard being away, but I didn’t say anything. My wife was super strong, and our thing was always that she was with the kids and I went to work and we didn’t discuss it.”
After being out of town for weeks on end, Nick would come home. But instead of spending time with his family, he was constantly on the phone chasing down job leads trying to provide for his family while blocking out the stress he was feeling.
Things got bad in 2009 when Nick went without work for five months after being on the road for four.
“In the middle of April, the work ended, which was normal because it was spring breakup. But then it was July, then August, then September, and the phone wasn’t ringing. Everyone I was talking to was in the same situation. It was super stressful, but I didn’t really say anything to my wife. We didn’t really talk about finances. It was my job to make the money.
“I was dealing with the stress in negative ways. I was drinking and always in the shop building my motorbike. I would justify it by saying I’m just working in the shop and having a few beers.”
The next few years were a struggle to find enough work. Nick continued to drink too much while avoiding honest conversations with his family.
In 2012, he decided to become a welding inspector, and the first job he landed was in the Northwest Territories. It was a wild ride—both exciting and extremely stressful. Not only did he face a steep learning curve, but the project he was on didn’t always run smoothly.
“I had almost no communication with the outside world. I couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk to the kids. I had to wait until I got back to camp to use a satellite phone.
“I told myself I was doing the right thing, and that it was enough for me to be home for months at a time between jobs. When I was on the road, I coped by drinking. When I was at home, I struggled. I wasn’t really there. I was thinking about how I was going to get the next job, how much money we had.
“Plus, my family had their own life. They had their own schedule. I was just trying to fit into it and into the world they had created for themselves. I’d go to one of my kids’ soccer games, but I’d be on my phone texting the whole time, trying to line up more work, rather than focussing on family time. Then I’d go golfing or go ride my motorbike, and I’d justify it by telling myself that I needed to blow off steam.
“I should have been looking for more fulfillment at home. Sure, we all need some me time, but I had zero balance in my life. I made fun of the idea of balance on a daily basis. ‘Balance is BS’ is something I’d say many times.
“Looking back, that was maybe my cry for help. I would tell people I didn’t know how to fit in outside of work, and just laugh it off. But it wasn’t funny.”
“When I was on the road, I coped by drinking. When I was at home, I struggled. I wasn’t really there. I was thinking about how I was going to get the next job, how much money we had.”
Nick ignored the warning signs—the drinking, the avoidance, the fraying relationships—and kept chasing a bigger paycheque and career advancement.
In 2014, he became a construction manager and loved it but it was extremely stressful.
“I was the youngest one in the organization, so I wanted to prove myself. I would work on my days off, signing tickets. It was a 17-day-on, 4-day-off shift—not bad in the construction world. I would get physically sick driving home. I should have been happy, but I didn’t know how to deal with real life. I’d go home and all I would think about was work, rather than sitting down as a family and talking about and addressing our struggles.”
Nick cut back on drinking and started going to the gym. It seemed like a good idea.
But he was soon trading one form of self- medicating for another. Working out became his obsession. He hired a personal trainer—the best he could find—and spent hours at the gym. After a bodybuilding competition, he started using steroids because he didn’t feel that he was progressing enough.
When things turned down in 2016, Nick couldn’t find work as a construction manager. He went back to welding inspecting.
“It was super hard mentally to go backward in my career and earnings. I was frustrated and angry that the work dried up, but I never told my wife how I felt.”
He found jobs wherever he could—near home, out of town. But no matter where he was, Nick worked out obsessively at the gym.
“In 2017, my wife’s dad was very sick, and I was coming to the end of a four-month stint out of town. He was scheduled to have surgery, but instead of going with my wife to be with her dad, I stayed home because I had entered a bodybuilding competition, and I was in prep mode. I was an addict, but I didn’t see it.”
And that’s when full-blown animosity sprung through the cracks in their marriage.
“She wanted me to quit bodybuilding, and that made me angry. I told her that what I was doing was healthy. I refused to quit. I couldn’t tell her that I needed to do it because I didn’t want to drink anymore, that this was my way of coping.”
Nick eventually took another job out of town as an assistant superintendent working on the planning stage of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. In the meantime, he and his wife prepared to move closer to her parents so that they could start taking over the family business—a small golf course.
“I had weekends off and I was supposed to be home packing while my wife was preparing our new place a few hours away. But I wasn’t. I freaked out.
“I would come and then leave the house a disaster. I’d leave food out while I was away. Everything was a mess. That was me acting out over everything—stress over the move, stress over a new lifestyle, stress over the thought that after being out of town for years and building my career I was going to have to give it up and be home all the time.
“I didn’t even know how to act around my family for four days off, let alone a couple of months, let alone full time. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t really know why I felt the way I did.”
Nick’s wife was not impressed. Then right before Christmas in 2017, work on Trans Mountain was shut down, and Nick was laid off.
“My head exploded. We needed that money for the move and the new job. At the same time, my wife was upset with me because I was constantly training. I was eating seven meals a day as part of my training. I was on steroids, which didn’t make me feel good. I was so stressed. We couldn’t even have a conversation at that point.”
Rather than try to work on their fractured relationship or help his wife at the new house, Nick stayed at his parent’s home and at the motorbike shop. Then he took a series of short jobs out of town. By July, his wife had had enough and they separated.
Instead of taking time to deal with the pain of losing his marriage, Nick found a girlfriend. But he didn’t stick around. He took a job out of town for eight months. When he came back, his new relationship soon ended.
That relationship was doomed from the get-go. Nick hadn’t dealt with the underlying stresses and addictions that were ruining his life.
“At that point, I realized I had messed up big time. I called my wife and I asked her to do couples counselling. She didn’t want to go. I told her I would book a session anyway, and if you’re there, you’re there.
“Not surprisingly, she didn’t show up. I started talking to the therapist about us. After a couple of sessions, the therapist said, ‘Let’s talk about you—why do you feel the need to do these things?’
“And that’s when it clicked—I never process feelings or tell anybody how I feel. I cover them up. Why? Why do I feel the need to be compulsive about everything, to be the best? Why do I succumb to all these behaviours?
“Suddenly, I realized that I was an addict and never knew it, that it was me who had screwed everything up with my wife and kids.
“I didn’t know how to process all the guilt. I’d opened up for the first time, which is a scary thing, and I couldn’t handle it. Going to a therapist twice a week wasn’t enough to see me through. I threatened to end it all. I don’t think I ever would have done it, but it was a cry for help, because I realized that I had been lost for all these years.
“I had all this guilt and shame, and I wanted to tell my wife, but she didn’t want to hear it—I’d pushed her too far. I realized that I needed to go to treatment to deal with my addictive behaviours.”
Nick’s therapist recommended a centre in Thailand that focusses on mindfulness and positive behaviour. The distance coupled with the complete break from everything and every pattern that he knew were key factors in his decision to go. He went in April 2019.
“It was the best decision I could have made.”
It wasn’t a smooth ride. Even while there, Nick had trouble shaking his compulsive behaviours and his need to keep looking for work. But after two months spent rewiring his brain, he felt more at peace and more equipped to channel his energy in a positive direction.
“It’s all about balance. You can be driven, but you need to find balance.”
Nick returned in June with a renewed sense of purpose, but also with a knowledge that he needs to monitor his actions and thoughts to ensure he doesn’t slip back into his old patterns of addiction.
“I started talking to a guy I used to know who went through a similar experience and is now a life coach. I’m now part of a coaching group that he runs. It’s mostly professional men—doctors, chiropractors, and such—but they all have the same story.”
“There are so many people in the construction industry who are gone for months at a time, who aren’t dealing with their demons. I want to put a message out there that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Nick is now working on repairing the damage he’s caused to his relationship with his children. He knows it’s going to be a long, slow process.
“In their minds, daddy bailed. Daddy left. Even when I was there, I was never really there. And then I just up and left for real. Me being around 100 percent of the time and taking the kids half the time is not the way to go right now. I’ve done too much damage to my relationship with them.
“Now that the Trans Mountain project is hopefully back on, I’m going back there. I’m taking a lesser position because I am still getting my head together, and this position has a steady schedule. I should be home nearly six days every fifteen, so
I can see my kids and work on our relationship.”
Nick is taking things one step at a time with his job and his family. He’s also committed to helping others in the construction industry avoid his fate by sharing his story on his life coach podcast, social media, and now with CLAC members.
“I got a bunch of messages on my Facebook page from guys who were struggling. One of them is now in rehab because of my story.
“There are so many people in the construction industry who are gone for months at a time, who aren’t dealing with their demons. I’ve seen a bunch of news articles in the last year about how suicide and divorce rates are higher due to the downturn.
“I want to put a message out there that it doesn’t have to be that way, that if you talk about your issues, you can come up with solutions. If you focus only on work and let the other areas of your life fall apart, then you will end up like me —telling a story about addiction and depression. I don’t want other people to go through what I went through.”
Working Man Struggles
While many studies have been conducted about women in the workplace, far fewer have focussed on the struggles that men face. A recent study, The Design of Everyday Men, reveals that many men are struggling to find balance.
The study says that, in general, men are biologically and culturally more inclined than women to attain status. This shows up in the workplace, where men feel the need to prove themselves and advance.
Men place intense pressure on themselves to provide and be strong, fearing failure and avoiding revealing their struggles to even those close to them. The stress, coupled with a refusal to seek help, has led to high rates of depression, addiction, and suicide in men—regardless of what industry they are in.
Sources: Globe and Mail, Men’s Health
How to Get Help
If you are a CLAC member who is struggling with substance abuse, please talk to your representative or contact a CLAC substance abuse case manager at 877-863-5154 or SACM@clac.ca.
If you are struggling to find balance in your life, and are covered by a CLAC Health & Welfare Trust benefits plan, you have access to the Morneau Shepell Employee and Family Assistance Program, which offers help and advice on everything from relationships to finance. Visit workhealthlife.com.
You can also talk to your family doctor about publicly funded counselling options, or look into private counselling options. Whichever route you choose, please don’t wait until you hit rock bottom.
The First Bodybuilder
While bodybuilding has been around through the ages in various forms, Eugen Sandow (born Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, April 2, 1867– October 14, 1925) is considered the first modern bodybuilder. His parents planned for him to become a Lutheran pastor, but instead, he left his native Prussia in 1885 and became a circus athlete.
In 1889, Sandow won a strongman competition in London and became a star. He performed feats of strength to audiences who were wowed not only by his strength, but by his sculpted muscles.
Prior to Sandow, many strongmen did not have sculpted muscles. They drew crowds based on their feats of strength alone. Once Sandow burst onto the scene, people would show up simply to watch him flex his muscles in muscle- display performances.
In 1901, Sandow organized the first major bodybuilding competition, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Sandow, Sir Charles Lawes (a famous sculptor), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) were the judges.
Today, bodybuilding competitions are held around the world, and the activity has been adopted by men and women.
Source: smithsonian.com, bodybuilding.com