Charlene Freedom is author to the kind of success story that deserves a memoir. After overcoming a difficult journey through illness, chronic pain, opiate addiction, and finally, recovery, Charlene turned her own life lessons into an innovative career aimed at helping others heal. Today, Charlene is a Certified Natural Health Practitioner, consultant to cannabis patients, workshop instructor, and community-builder.
In my early 20s I was diagnosed with a gynecological condition involving large ovarian cysts that would rupture and cause internal bleeding. I had multiple abdominal surgeries before I turned 27 to remove the cysts, and in those years, I also gave birth to my daughters. For a long time it felt like I was constantly preparing for surgery or recovering from one, and by the end of that period I was hopelessly addicted to prescription pills. My doctors had me on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals including heavy duty opiates to manage my pain, and antidepressants to help manage my moods, since my condition affected my hormones quite significantly and resulted in anxiety, depression, and mood swings. By the time I was 28, the surgeries had worked and my pain was reduced, but my opiates addiction was out of control. I ended up in the hospital with an inflamed liver and my GI doctor told me that if I wanted to live, I had to quit taking pills, and take back my body.
The next chapter of my story involved the long, slow, and really terrible process of weaning myself off all of the medications I was on — 18 months from start to finish. It was a period of full-blown withdrawal; I was sick everyday with shakes, sweats, tremors, and I was an emotional basket case. All the while I was trying to take care to two little girls.
While I was going through the early stages of withdrawal, a friend of mine gave me a joint. I remember it vividly because it was New Year’s Eve, a new beginning. It was surreal how quickly all of my symptoms subsided. Within 10 minutes I felt almost normal again. When I told my doctors that cannabis was working to curb my withdrawal symptoms, they dismissed it as, “Oh you’re a junkie. You’re substituting one drug for another.” But it was working, and I wasn’t relapsing. I decided to listen to my gut and I’m glad I did, because as far as I am concerned cannabis completely saved my life. If it wasn’t for cannabis, I don’t know that I’d still be here.
Everyone has a story, and mine has had more than a few twists and turns but I am so proud of where I stand now. I built my business from a place of recovery, from the view of someone who knows about drug addiction. ”
Once I got clean I was motivated to get my life together. Going back to college was so important to my recovery for the long-term. Holistic medicine appealed to me for obvious reasons, and in college I was introduced to different ways I could manage my own health. I fell especially in love with massage, reflexology and aromatherapy as the pillars of my new career and life.
For a while I was happy, and I was good at my job as a massage therapist and reflexologist, which is why next chapter in my story was a huge curveball. About seven years ago I was hit by a car while crossing the street and ended up with severe injuries, the worst of which was a metal bar surgically inserted into my shoulder. When I tried to go back to doing massage and reflexology full-time I found it was too physically taxing. After everything I had already been through, it was hard for me to accept that I was being thrown back into this nightmarish pain-and-recovery cycle. After processing these new steps of grieving, I finally came to a moment of clarity and an important decision: What was I going to do now?
Yet again, cannabis became the answer I was looking for. While in recovery I turned to cannabis topicals to treat my own pain and was amazed at how effective it was for me! I started researching and experimenting with different recipes, coming up with ideas for topicals and tinctures, all with the intention of being able to learn enough to help other patients in need make their own. I didn’t have to completely change what I was doing or the types of clients I was serving – it felt like a door was opening and I was finding my footing again.
Everyone has a story, and mine has had more than a few twists and turns but I am so proud of where I stand now. I built my business from a place of recovery, from the view of someone who knows about drug addiction. I really wanted to know why cannabis worked, how it worked, what I could use it for, and how it could help other people, too. In many ways I am grateful for my unique perspective. People who have been addicts suffer a major loss of self-esteem, and self-pride. You feel like a failure, like you’re not in control of your own life. All these years later, having a career that means something to me, that is focused on uplifting others, that is what gives me strength again. It’s a good place to be.
Photography by Angela Lewis
I host an annual women’s cannabis retreat called ‘Ladies Love Mary Jane.’ It’s like a sleep-away camp for grown-ups, about an hour northwest of Toronto. I wanted to create a welcoming community to give women space and permission to come out of the cannabis closet. To share this part of themselves without fear of judgement. The retreats have ended up being such a wonderful celebration – we all have so much fun and there are some really deep and meaningful connections made, too. There are a lot of great ‘industry’ events for women in cannabis in Toronto, but this setting is different because it’s not about business. Many of the women who come aren’t part of the industry at all, they just have personal cannabis stories. We’re hosting another retreat in May of this year, and I’m already so excited. We’re going to have a comedy show, and some workshops. Being with this group of women is something I really look forward to.
Find out more info on Ladies Love Mary Jane here.
My favourite way to treat my chronic daily pain is by getting into a hot bath with some epsom salts, cannabis oil, and essential oils. The combination of warm water, salts, and the absorption of the oils, helps to reduce pain, inflammation and aids with sleep. Try adding 4 tablespoons of salts, with a teaspoon of cannabis infused coconut oil and 10-20 drops of essential oil into the bath.
Lavender oil is your friend! Lavender oil can assist with anxiety, depression, insomnia, inflammation and so much more. One of the most effective ways to utilize lavender oil is to put 3 drops of it onto the center of your palm and breathe deeply.
My favourite topical is cannabis cream. Cannabis infused into topical cream can be used for everything from arthritis and fibromyalgia pain, to acne and eczema, to poison ivy and mosquito bites. Try adding a teaspoon of cannabis infused coconut oil into 100mls of base cream, and add 10-20 drops of essential oil to create your own cannabis cream.