Poirier Soldiers On

Poirier Soldiers On

“Get curious about something other than yourself!” advises retired Corporal Hans Poirier who has found his way out of a dark, destructive spiral. This is his story.

Soldier On member Hans Poirier joined the military at the age of 16 and was off to a great start.  

“I was a good soldier,” he recalls. “I participated on the Ironman team with 3 RCR and spent several years on the rifle team, including the commonwealth rifle competitions in Arkansas. I won numerous medals. I loved everything about the military.”   

Poirier served at home as well as overseas. In the late 1990s he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the Canadian peacekeeping effort. A few years later, in 2003, he was part of the first Canadian installment to Afghanistan, Roto 0 in Kabul, an experience that proved more distressing than he had anticipated.  

“Growing up I had led a sheltered life in a church. My dad was a minister. Nothing bad ever happened. This was a completely new reality for me,” Poirier remembers.  

He participated in many patrols, both on foot and in vehicles, day and night. With each close call, and each casualty the mission suffered, his anxiety levels rose to unprecedented levels.  

“Never knowing when I was going to die had me on constant high alert,” he recalls. “I became addicted to the adrenaline and when I returned home, I couldn’t come down.” 

A broken ankle caused Poirier to be repatriated a couple of weeks earlier than planned. He arrived home to his wife in Petawawa and was shocked to find that a new man had taken his place. Poirier was homeless, lost, and angry. To make matters worse, the pace of civilian life seemed painfully slow. He turned to alcohol, drugs, and violence to fill the void.  

“Back then there wasn’t a lot of help for soldiers,” he recalls. “No therapy or treatment really.”  

Released from the military in 2005, Poirier started selling drugs to finance his own substance abuse and then spent the following decade in prison or on the street. He tried numerous times to get clean, but each time he fell back into darkness. In 2015, he attempted suicide, but was resuscitated. Convalescing in hospital, with his 40th birthday approaching, Poirier decided he had enough. 

“I had just gone through two weeks of heroin withdrawal and was sick and tired of feeling hopeless all the time,” he says. 

In 2016, Poirier reached out to VETS Canada, who found him a place in a rehabilitation home in Nanaimo, and Soldier On, who helped him rekindle his love of sports. He took up downhill skiing and developed a passion for biking.    

“I started biking everywhere. Then I discovered yoga. Being active felt so unbelievably good,” he says.  

Poirier fell in love with his yoga instructor. They recently married and bought their first home together. He’s stronger than ever. 

“When I’m awake I no longer think of the war,” he says. But at night, it still haunts him.  

“A couple of nights a week I wake up screaming, but I no longer reach for drugs or alcohol.”  

Developing and sticking to routines involving exercise, healthy foods and mindfulness, has been key to his recovery. 

“Be active even if you don’t feel like it,” he advises anyone struggling with mental illness. “Stay off substances and stay connected. Isolation is toxic for anyone suffering from PTSD. I’ve chosen life, not death, and I’ve stopped stunting my growth. Now I have a life I never thought possible and I’m so grateful to Soldier On for the role they’ve played in it.”

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