Angela Singer’s struggles with addiction and self harm became a journey of redemption and hope
Amid scars lining Angela Singer’s left arm are the tattooed words “Without struggle there is no progress.” Inked on her right wrist is “fearless” — reminders of a painful journey that nearly ended in her death, but has evolved into inner peace.
For years, Singer harboured anger and bitterness after she was sexually abused at age five. She started cutting herself at 10, began a cycle of starving, binging and purging at 12 and moved on to drinking and drugs.
After one of many suicide attempts, Singer ended up at the Regina General Hospital’s psychiatric ward 18 months ago and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
It’s taken time, but Singer no longer finds what she calls “fake happiness in a bottle” because she can forgive — her abuser, the woman who saw the assault but didn’t report it, and herself.
She recalls vividly being scolded for wearing a shirt with holes by the woman who witnessed the sexual assault.
“She explained that what happened wasn’t right, but told me I shouldn’t wear clothes like that because it invites people to do that to you,” Singer said. “I didn’t understand at the time what I had done, but I just felt that I did something wrong. When you’re a kid and you get in trouble with someone else’s parents, you get that shameful kind of feeling.”
She never talked about the sexual assault — except when drunk.
“That is what really triggered a lot of the things that happened leading up until this point in my life,” Singer said.
Growing up on a farm outside Regina, the little girl spent a lot of time alone walking her dog or sitting in the barn with her cat. At 10, she started cutting herself.
“I can understand now that what I had was anxiety, but I didn’t know what that meant at the time,” Singer said. “I just knew that I was very angry and bitter and had a lot of pain. I started cutting myself and I found relief in that.”
Two years later, the binging and purging began and Singer “felt like I had control over something.”
The self-harm continued and she started drinking at 13 — sometimes to the point of blacking out. When her parents separated and a close childhood friend hanged herself a month later, Singer felt blindsided and blamed herself for not preventing the tragedy.
Her drinking escalated.
“It made me feel good,” Singer said. “When I was drunk I didn’t have to think about all of those painful things in my life … I felt confident.”
Fear in many forms controlled her life — fear of abandonment, the unknown, not being accepted and not measuring up.
In Grade 10, she began smoking, marijuana and ecstacy.
“That was even better than being drunk … it was a whole level of freedom,” Singer said.
After graduating from high school, she got a full-time and part-time jobs — another way to run from her problems.
When a relationship ended, the 21-year-old tried to take her life. After spending a month on the psychiatric unit, she moved back to the farm where she drank alone every day and resumed cutting.
She credits her father for saving her life numerous times.
“Having an addiction is like you’re possessed,” Singer said.
She tried sobering up after she assaulted family members and was taken to the police station, where she spent the night. Sobriety lasted about six weeks.
Because she’d quit taking her medication, the matter was referred to mental health court and charges were dropped. Relieved, Singer went straight to the liquor store.
Singer turned to booze to help her deal with the pain of losing a close friend to an overdose and her aunt to a brain aneurysm. But she got to a point when she realized: “No amount of alcohol was bringing back my friend. No amount of alcohol was bringing back my auntie.”
She turned to a weekly recovery program and was astounded by how many people reached out to her.
“For the first time in my life, I did not feel so alone,” Singer said.
Singer has been clean from hard drugs for a year, sober from alcohol for eight months and pharmaceuticals for five months.
She believes there’s a desperate need for more mental health and eating disorder resources so just recently, she started sharing her story with high school students.
“I’ve learned how to be happy without the use of drugs, alcohol and self-harm,” Singer said. “I’ve learned how to love myself, regardless of what I eat and what the scale says … There is hope for everybody.”