As a child, Amanda Staller saw and experienced horrific traumas she never should have, and she would continue to face unimaginable challenges in her later years. By age 17, she was a high school dropout, addicted to cocaine and hard drugs, working the sex trade, and living on the streets. In her adult years, Amanda had gone through being incarcerated, facing and eventually escaping an abusive partner, overdosing and near death experiences, and enduring a lifetime’s worth of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Today, in spite of it all, Amanda has been clean and sober for nine years. While escaping the cycle of addiction and abuse, she wanted to do more than to merely survive and find a way out -- she wanted to thrive and find a way up.
During her treatment and recovery, Amanda worked on improving herself and seeking opportunities to better her situation. She returned to school and, through her own determination, completed her certification in addictions counselling.
Currently, Amanda is employed as an Overdose Peer Coordinator and actively participates in workshops with Inside-Out, a think tank for incarcerated women, using her lived experiences to relate to them. She also sponsors several women in achieving sobriety through the recovery treatment program and volunteers her time at Emma Acre’s, a restorative justice community farm.
Amanda is devoted to a life in service by working to break down the barriers to treatment access.
“I'm at this place where I want to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfort. I'm fearless when I sit at tables with service providers and community initiatives, speaking about overdose and the sex trade. I get to share my lived experiences and talk about what needs to be addressed in order to help people in recovery get well.”
Those who have crossed paths with Amanda and have heard her story of persevering in the face of adversity express how they find strength and hope through her insight, humility, and incredible life wisdom For Amanda, her mission in life is to help others who are currently living the life that she once had.
"I felt called upon to share my story. As I started getting well and recovering I found myself in opportunities where I could disclose my experience. My purpose in life is to give hope and be the voice I always wanted to hear but never did.”
Amanda is an “outspoken truth teller” as those who know her call her. She tells her story in a way that illustrates how a painful past can become part of one's strength. Despite several incarcerations and years of abuse, Amanda has no room for victimhood or blaming others for what she’s gone through. Instead, she sees the act of passing on her experience as a crucial part of the healing process.
"By helping others, I started healing. I started unpacking and sharing my truth, and came closer to this place of acceptance. Seeing how other people were impacted by my story and them telling me about their stories, that’s where the connection started happening. The more that I was connecting and identifying with others, the more the shame inside me was dying so that the light could grow within. There was freedom that came with that.”
Amanda continues to speak publicly about her experiences in documentaries on the overdose crisis and women and incarceration, through interviews on radio programs, and as a speaker at recovery communities and conferences. She has also collaborated in several educational initiatives that focus on addiction and incarceration. Her story has been published in two books, Mothering and Sex Work and Releasing Hope, and she is currently writing a book about her experiences.
As Amanda’s award nominator says, “I have witnessed Amanda’s story inspire many people; her genuine humility and quiet strength continue to amaze me; she truly is a beacon of light and of hope.”
Amanda Staller. Photo: Avrinder Dhillon.
Outside of her work, Amanda runs in marathons like the Vancouver Sun Run to challenge herself physically. She began marathon running while she was detoxing after 30 years on the streets to clear her head and ended up finding a passion for her new hobby.
"I joined the Running Room and I was scared. Then I started finding myself in it. It quieted the noise in my mind. I started coming home to myself. I was showing up for myself and it was an amazing experience."
In her determination to cross the finish line, she found a real connection with her running community as well as within herself.
“One woman in my running group told me to ‘keep crying but don't stop running!" And when they ran with me, that was the first time I didn't feel like I was going to be left behind, which is how I always felt in society -- lost in the cracks and trying to fight my way in. I found my place with these women, and they were at the finish line for me when I ran my first half marathon.”
Whenever possible, Amanda uses running to help others, such as by raising money for the overdose crisis, substance use treatment, and battered and incarcerated women. Through fundraising, she continues in her journey of putting her work into healing and helping others and making every effort purposeful and meaningful.
During incarceration, Amanda knew all too well what it was like to feel isolated, which prepared her mentally for the collective challenges the community is facing with COVID-19.
"I've had things taken away from me, so I know what that feels like. I know how I had to adjust to work with that. Now, it's about learning how to be resourceful again and work around this pandemic. It's affected everybody in so many ways, socially and personally. Right now, it's about finding ways to show up for others and with the protocols to COVID.”
During the pandemic, Amanda has been working on the harm reduction frontlines with the Overdose Community Action Team, supporting those dealing with the overdose crisis and making sure that people are getting clean supplies and are staying safe while actively using.
Knowing there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain from vulnerability, Amanda faces life with courage, and feels her life today has a strong purpose.
“This has been the best comeback of my life. I now get to choose and make the best version of Amanda. Most of all, I see myself living a wonderful life on this high road of recovery. I’ve been given life because I’m strong enough to live it.”
The Courage To Come Back Awards celebrate British Columbians who have overcome significant adversity, injury or illness and who inspire and give back to others.
For the past 20 years, the Courage To Come Back Awards have raised more than $18.5 million for Coast Mental Health to support people recovering from mental illness in the Lower Mainland, through housing, support services and employment.
The awards celebration is a major fundraiser for Coast Mental Health, which believes that, through compassionate care and support, everyone can recover. This year, instead of the in-person gala, Coast Mental Health is celebrating Courage To Come Back Month in July.
Find more inspirational stories and to find out how you can support, visit: couragetocomeback.ca.