At her lowest point, Katie McLelland was essentially homeless, squatting in an empty apartment with no furniture and sleeping on the floor.
“I had estranged myself from my family, most of my teeth had decayed,” the owner of De La Sol Yoga recalled. “I easily could have died. I wanted to die.
“I was too scared to commit suicide, but I really hoped that I was going to OD, because it was living hell.”
Although you wouldn’t know it to look at her, the 39-year-old who owns two yoga studios was addicted to crystal meth for eight years.
McLelland, who was born in Australia and grew up in Burlington, has been clean for 13 years. As a teenager she dealt with a lot of anxiety, self-doubt and depression.
“I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin and I didn’t like life very much,” she recalled. “I was kind of on a search for something to fulfil me or make me feel better.”
So she started to explore yoga and spirituality around the same time she began experimenting with drugs.
“I guess, on some level, I recognized that (drugs and yoga) are paradoxical or that they don’t line up,” she admitted. “But for me, from the standpoint of wanting to self-medicate, it was like: ‘If I take this substance and I feel confident, I’m going to keep taking it.’
“And: ‘If I do this yoga practice and it makes me feel a little more relaxed in my body, I’ll keep doing that, too.’”
McLelland noted the descent into addiction followed a textbook path: marijuana, hash and mushrooms led to acid, rave drugs and cocaine.
At the same time, McLelland was working as a yoga teacher. But on some level, McLelland said she knew she had an addictive personality and would be hooked on harder drugs, so she stayed away from them.
“I was always really scared of the hard drugs,” she said. “I didn’t try the hard drugs until I was 18 or 19.”
When she was 19, she found her so-called drug of choice, crystal meth.
“As soon as I took it I basically felt the hugest sense of relief that I’ve ever felt in my life,” she said. “I felt like it was the missing piece of my soul that I was looking for. Which is really scary.”
McLelland noted the drug made her feel calm, happy, joyful and confident — excited about life. She started using on a daily basis.
“It was funny,” she said of the drug use, “because everyone in my life, they were commenting on the positive change in me at that time.
“‘Oh, it seems like all your depression is gone, you’ve lost weight, you look amazing,’” she recalls hearing. “I thought: ‘Well, this is my little secret, I’m totally controlling it, I’m holding down jobs and stuff like that.’”
But things quickly got out of control.
Her habit grew into spending $50 to $100 per day on crystal meth.
For perspective, McLelland said, if someone who doesn’t do crystal meth did even a $5 amount, they would be up all night.
“That went on for five years and it was a living hell.”
Throughout this time, McLelland was teaching yoga.
“It was crazy — I was teaching like 30 classes a week with no sleep,” she said. “I was just filled with self-hatred because of the hypocrite that I was.
“I would go and bring this message of health and wholeness and self-love to my students and then go home and be literally smoking meth.”
Then, a friend helped her with what she calls a “paradigm shift.”
“I opened up to her and confessed that I was an addict,” she said. “I was a hugely secretive addict — nobody actually knew. They knew something was seriously wrong, but nobody could quite put their finger on it.”
McLelland said she told her friend she felt like a fraud for bringing healthy messages to her students and engaging in hardcore drug use behind their back.
“She said: ‘No, Katie, the fraudulent part of you is the addict, the real you is the one showing up in front of the students.’”
Following that conversation, for the first time McLelland was able to see the addict as not her true self.
When she was 26, her family staged an intervention and flew her home to go to rehab.
“It hasn’t been all smooth sailing,” she said. “I relapsed a year after rehab, I went back on it for about eight months. It’s been a struggle, but I haven’t touched crystal meth now for 13 years.”
After kicking her habit, McLelland lived at her parents’ house for five years, teaching yoga and building up a student base. Nine years ago, she launched her own studio.
Now, she’s opened two studios, including De La Sol Yoga in Waterdown and on York Boulevard in Hamilton. McLelland and her fiancé, Andre Grandbois, have a young son, Evander. McLelland says that, as she grew up in an upper-middle class family in Burlington, some students have said she couldn’t relate to their issues.
So McLelland started sharing her story with her trainees.
“I had a sort of epiphany when I realized that in order for me to continue on the road to recovery … (the next step) is actually getting rid of the shame around those years, because what often leads you back down the road to addiction is feelings of shame and embarrassment about yourself,” she explained. “A big message we teach in yoga is self-acceptance and self-love, so I sort of had this shadow side to myself and I still had a lot of shame.”