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Former drug addict to talk at upcoming conference about how he turned his life around

For a couple of decades, Anton (Tony) Kokol struggled to get clean.

He had a wife and career in the oilfield, but due to his drug use — his drug of choice was cocaine — he lost everything and ended up homeless, living in crack houses and trying to sustain his addiction.

In his mid-40s, he ended up at the Bowden penitentiary in 2006, serving two years on charges of extortion and forcible confinement.
Prison turned out to be his salvation, said Kokol, now 61 years old.

“Every day in prison I stayed clean and was very adamant about changing my life, so when I got out I went to a (Calgary) treatment centre,” said Kokol, who grew up in Red Deer and is now living in Calgary.

But even though he was driven to change his life, he relapsed, twice breaking his parole conditions.

“But that’s the nature of the disease. It’s prone to relapse and resistant to treatment, and I certainly experienced that.”

Once released from prison, things changed when he went back to the Calgary treatment centre.

“I decided to make all the changes that needed to be changed, which was basically leaving that old world behind and not returning to old friends and to the old environment and dig into recovery.”

Since then, Kokol has worked for long-term residential treatment centres, including most recently as operations manager at a Lethbridge facility.

Now working privately as a sober companion and coach, Kokol has been invited to speak at the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association’s on May 6-8 in Calgary.

Owning what he did was key to recovery, he says.

“Even though it is a disease, you can’t play victim to it and I can’t use it as an excuse. I did a lot of harm, and the onus lies on me to fix that harm, and to make myself right with my family, my friends and the world around me.”

But he couldn’t have done it alone.

“It’s not easy, but the good thing about recovery is you’ve got people around you who’ve done it before and they can show you the way, and you’re around a positive environment and positive people that are on the same journey.”

People, Kokol found, are surprisingly forgiving and supportive, if they see a person making an effort.

“Even when it came to the banks, or businesspeople or employers, when I was honest with them then they were willing to give me a shot, especially if they see that you’re trying and you’ve got a little bit of clean time. They’re willing to work with you and take you at face value.”

Counsellors, managers, a parole officer and people alongside him in recovery all played important parts in his recovery.

“My parents were key, too, and it took a while for them to come back around after decades of letting them down and failed attempts. But after staying clean for a while they come around, they see that you’re trying and they get back on board.”

By the time he was in prison, Kokol says he felt truly defeated and needed a hand. And a treatment centre offered that, providing him with a place to live as well as clothing and food.

“I needed a pat on the back,” said Kokol. “I needed somebody to give me a hug and tell me it was OK.”

The philosophy behind treatment has changed over the years and is currently focused on evidence-based, peer-supported ways of offering help to individuals in recovery, said Kokol. Patience, he added, is key.

“They’ve come to realize there isn’t a 30-day cure,” he says. “That went on for a long time, there’d be like a wash-rinse cycle with people in addictions doing these short-term treatments, and it doesn’t work. It takes a while.”

There are now second-stage housing and supports in place to help those in recovery for years after they enter treatment, Kokol noted.

“Recovery is recovery in all areas of life, and that’s what they’re trying to tackle now.”

Despite hundreds of attempts at recovery, the system never gave up on him, and that’s something Kokol is grateful for. He’s keen to deliver that message at the

“I’ve been able to really do a 180 and turn my life around and become productive, and therefore be able to assist people on that same journey,” he says.

“I get to give them insight, my perspective of my journey,” said Kokol, who will give a presentation called 180 Degrees. “I did walk on that other side, and there is an avenue out.”