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‘I knew I was going to die,’ she says. Now Jaclyn Goman is a sober party girl — and a force for good

‘I knew I was going to die,’ she says. Now Jaclyn Goman is a sober party girl — and a force for good
Entertainment
Making my way through the post-spiritual cavities of the Berkeley Church, the historic events space in Toronto, on a Saturday eve in early April, I combed through a throng 300-people deep: past a cheeky, floppy-haired fella giving me a Notting Hill-era Hugh Grant vibe, and later up close with a squad of terrifically photographable cuties who looked like they had just escaped the set of Riverdale. Everybody (mostly) was in black tie; everyone gave off the healthy countenance of youth that is available to those not yet alive when Like a Virgin by Madonna was first released.

The Mask Off Gala, a charitable gambit started by Jaclyn Goman in support of Sunnybrook’s youth mental-health program, was held April 13 at Berkeley Church.  (Ryan Emberley)

Jaclyn Goman is the founder of the Mask Off Gala in support of youth mental health at Sunnybrook Hospital. Its first event was held April 13 at Berkeley Church in Toronto.  (Ryan Emberley / Ryan Emberley photo)

Looking up — here at the maiden Mask Off Gala, a charitable gambit single-handedly started by one Jaclyn Goman in support of the Sunnybrook Hospital youth mental-health program — I took in the giant pink-and-white balloons playing footsie as they dangled from the ceiling. Depending on who you might ask, they looked either like the upside-down remnants of a blush-coloured peach in Tahiti, or outsized, bi-coloured sperm.

“I wanted pink clouds everywhere!” Goman herself described it a few days, when meeting me for tea at Sorrel — that ladies-who-tea spot in Yorkville.

“I knew I was going to die. And I wanted to live,” the 25-year-old went on to say, the conversation taking a sharp turn not long later, as she began to tell her story of depression and addiction. S--t got real fast, as the saying goes.

I had asked Goman to meet me because I was struck by someone so young pulling off a charity gala as successfully glam as she just had — and, notably, by the fact that it was the outgrowth of a very personal journey. Being a student of the charity-scene landscape in this, and most big cities, it did not escape my attention that most gala queens have traditionally come to their roles as a result of their last names. Or because these functions sometimes serve to offer a halo of philanthropy untouched by their personal lives.

Not so far the young lady before me — her heart-shaped face framed by a prim cascade of buttery locks, a silver cross pendant resting prominently on her Elizabeth Holmes-ready black turtleneck. “Going to treatment saved me ... and I want to share my story of sobriety,” she continued, painting a picture. In Grade 10, while at Havergal College, she was diagnosed with manic depression. Bulimia and anxiety added to the toll; so did “cutting.” By 22, both alcohol and drugs (mostly cocaine) had her more firmly in the darkness’s grip.

Today a fitness guru in this town, as well as a newly minted ambassador for the Canadian Association for Mental Health — not to mention an Instagram fave , — she has much to say about the curving path to wellness. The getting-honest-with-yourself part. The seeking-help part (she eventually had her wake-up call at a rehab centre in Texas). The expulsion of bad influences and building a proper support network. The getting serious with “the steps.” The doing all that is possible to water one’s spirit with positivity.

“I always like to say: everyone has a God complex,” Goman told me. Meaning: so many of us think it cannot happen to us, or when it does strike either you or someone in your family, the compulsion is to hide it. (Something that is specifically so easy to do with alcohol, which is so socially accepted in party circles, and at university — she later went to Western! — both of us going on to reflect on the number of functioning alcoholics, essentially, that we see because it is such a crutch.)

Indeed, in her own recovery, she told tons of lies to herself. One of the biggest: Maybe she could continue to drink as long as she gave up drugs? As an addict, she learned, not so much: “I have a drink — and I instantly crave 20 more. That is how my brain works.”

The process also has involved a negotiation with herself in terms of the narrative she had knitted: “I saw myself as the Party Girl. I thought people only liked me because of that.” She went on to described the world she had created in terms of partying, all of it accelerated by her mood swings — doing the downtown scene at go-to clubs like Cube on Queen West, or Wildflower in The Thompson Hotel.

Asked about Havergal — a school that counts Old Girls such as Senator Linda Frum and design dynamo Sarah Richardson, and one also helped to inspire The Wives of Bath, a darkly humorous novel about a murder in a girls’ boarding school by Susan Swan, another notable alum — I wondered out loud if she think going to an all-girls school helped create, or even somehow propelled, her issues. Goman tsk-tsked that idea, making the point that the pressures she felt — and the disease itself, as she sees it — can really happen anywhere, and in any context. “If I had a daughter I would send her to Havergal — 100 per cent.”

Asked, furthermore, if she had a history of addiction (or of mental health challenges) in her family, as is so often the case, she says no. Her parents — who have been very supportive, and got her to seek treatment — were not big drinkers, and she cannot even remember them drinking a glass of wine with dinner at night.

Knowing she is one of the lucky ones — having had a privileged life by all metrics — she is all about helping others, especially young women. Also: challenging the image people may have of what addiction looks like. The short-term goals: to become a sobriety coach herself, and to make Mask Off an annual event.

The gala? It actually grew out of a sobriety anniversary party Goman threw for herself the last couple years. This year, the commemoration turned into a proper fundraiser, with Sunnybrook being the obvious beneficiary, since it had been of such help when she was first struggling as a teenager.

“I knew I could pull it off,” she said.

Strikingly, I told her, the long lace white number she wore at the event looked very much like a dress for a destination wedding! “No, no ...” Goman laughed, “just a new beginning. For me.”
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