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Dr. Speranza Dolgetta’s move to new role as Bellwood’s Medical Director inspired by the loss of a friend

Toronto, ON – “What would Shamek do?” Dr. Speranza Dolgetta had to ask herself, when she was offered the position of Medical Director at Bellwood Health Services.

Dr. Speranza Dolgetta, Medical Director at Bellwood Health Services

As the Director of Medical Care at EHN Canada’s Sandstone facility in Calgary at the time, she had been instrumental in its opening, development, and day-to-day operations.

Of her tenure there, Dr. Dolgetta says, “I had been at Sandstone since we opened. I have such a profound attachment to Sandstone. It’s the little rehab centre that could. We faced challenge after challenge. We built this amazing thing in Calgary. I really love building and fixing. I am an Italian peasant girl at heart. My dad was a contractor. That’s what we did: we built and we fixed.”

Prior to Sandstone, she worked in her private medical practice, specializing in complex care, minor surgery, mental health, and addictions. Dr. Dolgetta had completed her medical degree and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Calgary. She was also a Philosophy professor at Mount Royal University teaching healthcare ethics. But Shamek was not a philosopher, at least not one she lectured about in her classroom. He was, in fact, Dr. Dolgetta’s best friend. Przemyslaw Shamek Pietucha, a doctor himself at Toronto’s CAMH facility, a Canadian Olympic swim team member, and accomplished poet, tragically passed away in 2015 at the age of 39. Shamek had long been an inspiration for the kind of compassionate care Dr. Dolgetta was offering to her patients, often challenging cases that no other doctor wanted to treat. She says, “For me, it all starts from a place of compassion and lack of judgement. This is inspired by Shamek. He was the sort of person who knew you, or made an effort to know you, from the inside out. And I think we translate that into care. And, as a result, we get much better outcomes.”

Across EHN Canada’s treatment centres, this holistic, whole-body approach to care, and a collaborative team of caregivers, has been a big part of their success with recovery. It’s an aspect that drew Dr. Dolgetta in the first place. “It has to be a whole person approach,” she emphasizes. “Towards that end, I’m very collaborative, I’m very humble in my approach. Everybody on the team—from the support workers, to the nurses, to the clinicians, to the security—they all have something to contribute to understanding an illness and helping a person heal.”

Which brings us back to her offer from Bellwood and the question: What would Shamek do?

“My best friend, my kindred spirit, my platonic soulmate begged me for years to move to Toronto,” Dr. Dolgetta remembers. “He was all about the moment, and all about experience. So when this opportunity presented itself, I knew he would’ve said: ‘Speranza, it’s time.’ ”

Last week, Dr. Dolgetta arrived in Toronto and began her new role as Bellwood Health Services’ Medical Director, a position she is approaching with her signature enthusiasm, spirit, and energy.

What does she hope to bring to Bellwood in this new capacity? “I have some exciting new ideas, new treatment modalities, ways that we can keep up with what’s happening in the world of addiction. And I want to create a team, to foster an environment where everybody feels professionally fulfilled, and we’re offering world-class medical care to people who so desperately need it.”

She breaks from her solemn tone, before letting out a smile, and laughs: “I am so excited!”

And so is everyone at Bellwood Health Services.

ABOUT EHN CANADA

EHN Canada is the nation’s largest network of industry-leading mental health, trauma, and addiction treatment facilities, each with a passion for providing quality treatment for Canadians. We are committed to both caring for our patients and supporting their loved ones. With over 75 years of collective experience, our inpatient, outpatient, and online programs are offered across the country, providing essential compassionate care to patients wherever they are.

Top Ten Signs You Might Be An Alcoholic:  Holiday Edition

After overcoming her own addiction, EHN alumna and current EHN Patient Care Specialist Carlee Campbell shares ten key experiences that she remembers struggling with during the holidays.

Despite being in recovery for several consecutive years now, every year when the holidays roll around, I find myself wandering back down memory lane of what life was like before recovery.  In all honesty, the journey is down much less of a lovely lane and more of a trash-filled alley.  It is a trip my mind ends up fixated on, whether my spirit wants to go along or not.  Every December, the Ghost of Christmas Past shows up, jangling the locks and chains of addiction that used to hold me captive for many years.

So, this year, I decided I might as well put all those painful memories to potential good use, both for myself and others.  I know the anecdotes that follow will remind me why I continue to prioritize recovery during my Christmas present.  For without my sobriety, the Ghost of the Christmas Future carries a very foreboding vision of what might be.  For someone else, I can only hope these stories get them curious enough about their own relationship with alcohol or other substances to seek the support they deserve.

Thus, without further ado, I hope you enjoy these festive signs that helped me realize that I was at the bottom of the pre-sobriety holiday barrel:

1.  You enjoy taking online quizzes

Unfortunately, I am not talking about those fun Facebook quizzes that enlighten you as to what flavour of potato chip you are.  I am talking about those medical ones, where you tick off the symptoms of a disease.  For example, The World Health Organization Audit Screen or Alcoholics Anonymous’ Twelve Questions.  Towards the end of my drinking career, I started to take these tests, usually while drinking.  Sounds like a fun way to unwind after a holiday party, right?! When my score came back unfavourably, I would then then argue with the scientific validity of the test.  Of course, that argument was between me, myself, and I.  Nothing quite defines “festive” like social nights alone in one’s apartment wondering if one is addicted to alcohol over a nice glass (read: bottle) of Chardonnay.

2.  You’ve reinvented Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

If you need to brush up on your high school biology, have a look at the Hierarchy here.  Essentially, these are the things we humans require to thrive.  Unfortunately, as Joel Hughes (Clinical Director of Edgewood) uncomfortably pointed out to me, my addiction overtime had become more important than every single one of my basic needs.  My desire for alcohol somehow was my entire hierarchy of needs.  From the top of the pyramid (right where booze blocked any ability I had to actualise my potential right) on down to when I was scraping the bottom of the triangle, starving myself to try and get a better buzz.  I mean, who “ruins” a good drunk by eating a delicious turkey dinner?!  Someone who’s not addicted to alcohol, that’s who.

3.  You’re a Darwin drop-out

Survival of the fittest, the classic Darwinian theory, where organisms best suited to their environment are those most able to survive and reproduce.  Unfortunately, for us alcoholics, we behave towards alcohol the way cavemen behaved towards food.  We are acutely aware of our supply and the level needed to achieve the desired end: altered consciousness.  We know exactly how much alcohol is in the house, even if that house is not ours.  If you have ever found yourself visiting the garage beer fridge, rec room bar in the other room, or that flask in your bag, for just for a quick “top-off” no one else will see, you may be protecting your supply.  Yet that supply is just not the one you need to actually thrive in life.  We alcoholics and addicts will develop elaborate schemes and excuses to get the quantities we need, even on the most special of holiday occasions.  Those who attempt to limit our supply will often encounter incredibly disproportionate, dramatic, and even rage-filled responses to what we perceive as a threat to our survival.  The unfortunate part is that the thing we think we need to live, namely our substance of choice, is actually the thing killing us.  Insanity at its finest.

4.  You could give up chocolate

When I was in treatment, Patrick Zierten, Clinical Manager of the Vancouver Outpatient Office, gave a lecture on alcoholism.  During the lecture, he made a very interesting point I have never forgotten.  He conjectured how differently I would be reacting if the treatment team was asking me to give up chocolate instead of alcohol.  He postulated that if the doctor at Edgewood told me surviving a life-threatening illness depended on giving up chocolate, I would be quite willing to do so.  I thought about it.  I really love chocolate, particularly those little individual ones wrapped up in a fancy advent calendar.  Delish!  However, if there was even a possibility that they were killing me and destroying my life, I would give them up without hesitation.  When I swapped alcohol for chocolate in that same scenario, the reaction became very different.  I was defensive–defiant even–at the proposition of having to surrender alcohol to make the physical, mental, and emotional lives of myself and those around me significantly better.  That incredibly unusual allegiance to the thing that was destroying me was in fact evidence of the problem itself.

5.  You’re obsessed with Addicts/Alcoholics

The medium didn’t matter: news, blogs, magazines, books, or TV shows.  I loved them all.  In fact, one of my favourite holiday past times used to be watching a marathon of AE’s Intervention while sipping (read: guzzling) Gin and Tonics.  After all, that’s what a “real” problem looked like, and I was ever so unlike “that.”  Stereotypical scenes of the homeless, crime-ridden drug addict were so unlike my life that I could re-entrench my already very fortified beliefs that I just enjoyed alcohol more than some.  After all, I knew what “the good life” was really all about.  In great irony, and because the universe has a sense of humor, I ended up in treatment with more than one person from the show Intervention.  It turns out we had an awful lot in common, at least in terms of our pain and the effects of our diseases on our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual condition.

6.  You’re friends with Jim, Johnnie, Jose, Remy, Bailey, and Captain Morgan

Most individuals who partake in casual drinking tend to have a preferred drink, particularly over the holidays.  Whether it is that drop of Bailey’s in their coffee, or draught of rum in their egg nog, there is a simple tradition to maintain.  If that drink of choice is not available though, they are perfectly happy to forgo the indulgence.  Those of us who have a pathological relationship with alcohol are not quite as capable of doing the same.  Sure, I had preferences, but there was no way I was turning down a drink even if I hated the way it tasted.  Eventually, the taste or the enjoyment was entirely beside the point.  The point was to get drunk.  I craved the effect that alcohol, any alcohol, had on me.  All I cared about back then was changing the way I felt, and the means to that end was irrelevant.

7.  You’re on the downhill side of the curve

Despite my steadfast determination that the way I drank was uniquely justified by my special combination of trauma and tragedy, alcoholism and other forms of substance use disorders are actually incredibly predictable diseases of a progressive nature.  Lauren Melzack, Deputy Clinical Director of Edgewood, uses the Jelnick Curve to illustrate the alcoholic’s decline.  A few particularly apt examples of this for the holiday season might be “avoiding friends and family” and “unreasonable resentments”.  For example, if Aunt Betty’s question last year about “whether you really need another glass of wine” led you to want to avoid all family gatherings for the next century, it might be an interaction to get curious about.  If Aunt Betty’s comment was also made at an event where you swore you would only have two drinks, but that glass of wine she was referencing happened to be your fifth (read: fifteenth), you might be at the stage of the curve where “efforts to control fail repeatedly”.  Simply follow the curve down until you spot familiar behaviours to help you determine which phase of addiction has taken hold.

8.  You’re an eternal optimist

As in, “tomorrow, all these problems in my life will get better.  Tomorrow, I will go stop drinking.  Tomorrow, I will stop risking my health.  In fact, right after this holiday, on New Year’s Day, I’m going to get healthy, just you wait!”  Unfortunately, when tomorrow would come, I was hungover and rather unmotivated to do anything differently at all.  I felt anything but festive, let alone prepared to let go of the one thing I thought could make me feel better.

9.  You’re hopelessly in love…

….with alcohol.  And love can make us do very foolish things, incomprehensible, demoralizing things.  Caroline Knapp describes this situation perfectly in her book, Drinking: A Love Story.  To describe her relationship with alcohol, she writes the following:

“It’s about needs so strong they’re crippling.  It’s about saying good-bye to something you can’t fathom living without… Anyone who’s ever shifted from general affection and enthusiasm for a lover to outright obsession knows what I mean: the relationship is just there, occupying a small corner of your heart, and then you wake up one morning and some indefinable tide has turned forever and you can’t go back.  You need it; it’s a central part of who you are.”  (Read on here.)

This shift from casual to compulsion is actually a result of complex neurobiological changes in the brain.  However, I much prefer Ms. Knapp’s summary of the emotional experience of the biological reality of addiction.  Much like a love affair gone wrong, I would wake up the morning after drinking and wonder why I was still sticking with alcohol when it usually ended up bringing me way down.  It turns out persistence in substance use, despite negative consequences, is actually a classic trait right out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

10.  You just made a mental list of all the reasons you’re  different than the items listed above

Fun fact: normal drinkers don’t ever question whether they are alcoholics.  That question takes up exactly zero percent of their headspace in a day.  They don’t take quizzes or obsessively watch documentaries on addiction.  They don’t skip meals to get a better buzz.  The booze doesn’t negatively impact their relationships, health, or livelihood to any significant degree.  They just have a glass of wine, or even half a glass of wine (who does that?!), and move on with their lives.  In fact, a person who doesn’t have a pathological relationship with alcohol, doesn’t need to mentally argue with this list at all.  Most importantly, this list surely doesn’t leave them with that nagging feeling in the pit of their stomach that something needs to change.

Give Yourself the Gift of Recovery

If you find yourself relating to these stories, my only hope is that you do not wait another holiday season to get the help you need.  Do you really want to risk ruining another holiday, even if it is the pandemic version?  I assure you, spending the holidays in treatment is far better than waking up hungover and filled with regret.  Perhaps this Christmas, the gift you most need isn’t the new Apple iPhone or a post-pandemic tropical vacation.  Perhaps the gift you most need this year is to give yourself–and those you love–a new way of life.  I finally gave myself this gift and now my life is filled with true joy and peace, unlike anything I ever found in a bottle.

EHN Canada Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the addiction and mental health treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enroll yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

The Need for LGBTQ+ Mental Health Care

Written by Hillary Webster, Writer at EHN Canada.

The Need for LGBTQ+ Mental Health Care

“Do you know what PrEP is?” asked my friend, casually.

“Uh… no.” I scolded myself silently. I’ve worked in healthcare for years, but this was an acronym that had slipped my mind.

“Well, neither did my doctor in New York. I had to explain it to him! That’s why sometimes it helps if your doctor is gay. Or your therapist. Then, they understand the situation and you don’t have to keep explaining everything.”

Right. “PrEP” is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a medication that gay men take in order to prevent HIV infection. Most people haven’t heard of it, and that’s the problem. LGBTQ+ people remain a minority, and have to deal with their cis-gendered, heterosexual healthcare providers remaining ignorant about healthcare issues that are important to them.

Sadly, LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of mental health and addiction disorders than the general population, and there are fewer places for them to get treatment that feel like truly safe spaces.

A Confession

I write this as a self-professed ally—or a friend, if the word ally is no longer friendly to you. I can’t pretend to know the full extent of my LGBTQ+ friends’ experiences, but I can bear witness to the extra burdens they carry, to varying degrees, and I can swear to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Growing up, my best friend in high school came out to me when we were 16, and since then I have had the distinct pleasure of being surrounded by wonderful people who happen to be LGBTQ+. While sexual orientation isn’t a defining factor in our friendships, it was normal and commonplace for me to discuss LGBTQ+ issues with my friends.

LGBTQ+ Mental Health and Addiction Statistics

There are many reasons why LGBTQ+ people face higher rates of addiction and mental health disorders than others. According to research, LGBTQ+ people are 2-to-4 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than their heterosexual counterparts.[1] These addictions include alcohol, smoking, and other drugs.

Some people, heterosexual or LGBTQ+, report using drugs not only for partying, but also for sex. However, this might happen more often among LGBTQ+ people. Many drugs that are more popular among LGBTQ+ people enhance energy and libido, and increase feelings of intimacy.[2] For some people who have discomfort with their sexual orientation, drugs can lift inhibitions and increase the joy of their nightlife.[3]

Some regular community events that are popular with LGBTQ+ people, including circuit parties, more commonly involve drug use. A questionnaire-based study of gay men in San Francisco found that half of the studied population who had attended bars and dance clubs reported using methamphetamine in the past three months.[4] As many as 46% of gay men surveyed reported drug use in the past year.[5] Substance use problems are not exclusive to gay men. Lesbian and bisexual women report higher rates of alcohol use disorders than women of other sexual orientations.

LGBTQ+ and Mental Health

The Canadian Mental Health Association states that LGBTQ+ youth are highly vulnerable to mental health and substance use disorders. They are 14 times more likely to commit suicide or develop a substance use disorder, compared to heterosexual youth.[6]

Researchers have begun studying mental health in LGBTQ+ populations and have conclusively found that mental health, substance use, and mood disorders are more common in LGBTQ+ populations, but the reasons why this happens are multifarious. Stigma, discrimination, and violence can contribute to creating a hostile environment that places additional stress on a person. According to the Center for Disease Control, 38% of LGBTQ+ youth were bullied on school property.[7] When someone’s everyday life has the potential for assault, losing their job, or being cast out by their loved ones, the stress takes its toll on a person’s mental health.

Minority Stress Contributes to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

The official term for suffering experienced by members of marginalized minority groups, such as LGBTQ+ people, is “minority stress.” It means that life is harder for someone because of the discrimination that they face for being “different” from the majority.

Some ways that minority stress manifests for LGBTQ+ people are as follows:

Researchers have found that feeling alienated from one’s own community, including social structures, institutions, and social norms, increases a person’s risk for suicide.[10] A basic human need is unmet when a person feels rejected by their community.

One of the main reasons why minority stress remains a problem is that there are often less resources available for people in marginalized minority groups. We found the same to be true for mental health and addiction treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals. Fewer facilities exist to fulfill their needs. Our aim is to create a community of our own that addresses the needs of LGBTQ+ people and helps them get better, together.

People Can’t Openly Discuss LGBTQ+ Issues

For a lot of people, sadly, open conversations are not normally possible. Many LGBTQ+ people still face terrible discrimination. Many still fear that disclosure of their gender or sexual identity will result in worse treatment, and so they don’t disclose. The problems of higher rates of mental health and addiction disorders among LGBTQ+ people are made worse by this silence. Everyone needs a safe space to receive high-quality healthcare from professionals who are familiar with the issues particular to the patient population.

Disclosing Sexual Orientation

Unfortunately, most of the LGBTQ+ people who walk through our doors won’t disclose their sexual orientation. Most LGBTQ+ people don’t disclose their sexual orientation to healthcare providers. For example, a study of 173 lesbians living in the United States found that heterosexism and homophobia were significant factors in their healthcare, affected by discussions of their sexual orientation.[11] This fear does not create a healing environment. The potential for negative consequences of disclosing one’s sexual orientation, such as discrimination, makes it natural for people to conceal it when they are admitted to long-term care facilities.[12] This issue of disclosure affects LGBTQ+ people of all ages.

Disclosing, or “coming out,” is often associated with positive emotions such as self-acceptance. It’s also necessary for getting support from loved ones and it eliminates the stress of perpetually hiding a core element of one’s identity.[13] In fact, habitually concealing one’s true sexual identity may reinforce feelings of shame and increase one’s risk for developing an addiction or mental health disorder.

In contrast, patients get the best health outcomes when they can form strong therapeutic relationships with their healthcare providers. Strong therapeutic relationships can’t be formed if the patient feels unsafe to disclose fundamental details of who they are. In fact, researchers have found that people who feel accepted after disclosing their sexual orientation, whether to parents or healthcare providers, are less likely to develop an addiction.[14] Issues like these contribute to the stress of falling outside the umbrella that shelters the heterosexual majority from discrimination.

No Place for LGBTQ+ Addiction Treatment

When an LGBTQ+ Canadian decides that they need addiction treatment, their options are scarce. Treatment facilities, whether public or private, may do all they can to train their staff on how to address LGBTQ+ issues, but they can do little about the attitudes of their heterosexual patients.

Group counselling is an important part of treatment programs and LGBTQ+ patients must feel comfortable in their therapy groups to fully benefit from their treatment. Unfortunately, if even one group member expresses discriminatory attitudes, an LGBTQ+ patient may not feel safe enough to disclose their sexual orientation, and this may create a major roadblock to their healing process.

An LGBTQ+ patient may also feel triggered by the fear of discrimination, which is, again, counter-productive when trying to heal from a mental health or substance use disorder. A diverse group with mixed sexual orientations may be beneficial when transitioning to aftercare, but real-world exposure to potentially triggering situations is often too much when someone is beginning their treatment.

Since Canadian private facilities do not provide truly safe spaces, LGBTQ+ people are often forced to attend non-accredited programs that are created exclusively for them. These programs are support-group based, but they often do not include science-based methods that profoundly improve success rates of treatment.

In no way are we looking to call down the incredible grassroots work of community organizations or to dismiss the effectiveness of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous groups, many chapters of which are LGBTQ+ exclusive or welcoming. However, they do lack the daily structure, supervision, clinical expertise, and medical care required by some patients with more complex mental health and addiction disorders.

The Benefits of an Accredited, Science-Based Program

A science-based program can benefit Canadians in a number of ways.

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care can address the difficult experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, who have double the rates of PTSD compared to the general population.[15] Treatment of trauma and any accompanying mental health and substance use disorders requires specially trained and experienced professionals.

Medical Detox

Drug addiction often comes with physical, not just psychological, dependence. Detoxing from a drug or alcohol addiction can be dangerous and should be managed by an experienced doctor trained in addiction medicine. Such a doctor can prescribe medications to make detox safe and comfortable. Once detox is complete, some people may need medication for their continuing treatment, which should be managed by an experienced medical team.

Psychiatry

In some parts of the country, the wait time for a psychiatrist referral can be up to one year. High-quality private facilities have in-house psychiatrists to provide care as needed.

Expert Counselling

Counselling methods, such as group and individual counselling, should integrate science-based techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT). These and other science-based techniques have been researched, tested, and shown to help people change their underlying emotional and thought patterns to help them get better faster.

Public Services Lack Full-Spectrum Mental Health and Addiction Care

While some larger communities have LGBTQ+ focused programs, many public services are stretched so thin that they are unable to provide full-service care. Often, public programs can offer little more than support groups, occasional individual counselling, and medical detox. However, one of the greatest weaknesses of the public mental health and addiction care model is its lack of continuity. Someone who enters a hospital for an overdose or for detox is discharged as soon as they are stable. They must then wait to visit either their family doctor or seek treatment from a public health centre. The result is a patchwork of services that doesn’t fully meet the needs of LGBTQ+ Canadians.

The Solution: An Accredited LGBTQ+ Program for Mental Health and Addiction

This gap in care is why we’re creating an LGBTQ+ program that provides science-based medical and psychological care to a group who have been demanding it for years. LGBTQ+ people have suffered from second-rate mental health care for too long. We’re creating programs that have the quality of large-scale facilities, with the discretion and exclusivity of specialized community groups.

EHN Canada is creating an exclusive program designed specially for LGBTQ+ individuals who need mental health and addiction treatment. We’re the first private healthcare provider in Canada to provide a full-service residential addiction and mental health program for LGBTQ+ individuals. And we’re going all-in! We’re ensuring our counsellors aren’t just allies, but that they’re LGBTQ+ themselves, so that they can relate to patients and understand their experiences. We’re also proud to provide LGBTQ+ counselling methods that have been developed by some wonderful social workers at the University of Toronto. We want to ensure that this program provides the best service we can to our LGBTQ+ friends.

So our ask to you is this: please, share this news with people you know who need it. If your friend or loved one is having problems, or partying too much—let them know about us. We know that it can be tough to reach out to someone who needs help. But people with mental health and addiction disorders often don’t reach out for help when they need it the most. You might save someone’s life.

EHN Canada will be launching our new LGBTQ+ Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Program at our Edgewood facility in Nanaimo, BC. For more information, please call us at 1-800-683-0111 or visit our LGBTQ+ Program page.

References

[1] Queensland Association for Healthy Communities. “Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drug Use in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Communities.” Available at: https://www.qahc.org.au/files/shared/l__Tobacco___Other_Drug_Use_LGBT_factsheet-p.pdf.

[2] Smith KM, Larive LL, Romanelli F. Club drugs: Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, flunitrazepam, ketamine hydrochloride, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate. American Journal of Health System Pharmacology. 2002;59:1067–1076.

[3] Sandowick D. Spinning out of control: Sex addicts using drugs. The Advocate. 1998 May 26;:1.

[4] Heredia, C. (2003). Crystal methamphetamine fuels HIV. San Francisco Chronicle, A1.

[5] Sanchez T, Finlayson T, Drake A, Behel S, Cribbin M, Dinenno E, et al. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk, prevention, and testing behaviors-United States, National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System: Men who have sex with men, November 2003-April 2005. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary. 2006;55:1–16.

[6] Gibson P. Gay and lesbian youth suicide. In: Fenleib MR, editor. The Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, United States Government Printing Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, United States Government Printing Office, 1989; Benibgui M. Mental health challenges and resilience in lesbian, gay and bisexual young adults: Biological and psychological internalization of minority stress and victimization. 2011.

[7] https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm

[8] 9. Schneeberger, A. R., Dietl, M. F., Muenzenmaier, K. H., Huber, C. G., & Lang, U. E. (2014). Stressful childhood experiences and health outcomes in sexual minority populations: A systematic review. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49, 1427–1445.

[9] 10. Huebner, D. M., Thoma, B. C., & Neilands, T. B. (2015). School victimization and substance abuse among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents. Prevention Science, 16, 734–743.

[10] Meyer I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological bulletin129(5), 674–697. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674

[11] Dehart DD. Breast health behavior among lesbians: the role of health beliefs, heterosexism, and homophobia. Women & Health 2008;48 (4):409-27. )

[12] Jackson NC, Johnson MJ, Roberts R. The potential impact of discrimination fears of older gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals living in small- to moderatesized cities on long-term health care. Journal of Homosexuality 2008;54(3):325-39)

[13] Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2009). Disclosure of sexual orientation and subsequent substance use and abuse among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: critical role of disclosure reactions. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 23(1), 175–184. doi:10.1037/a0014284)

[14] Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2009). Disclosure of sexual orientation and subsequent substance use and abuse among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: critical role of disclosure reactions. Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors, 23(1), 175–184. doi:10.1037/a0014284))

[15] population (Roberts AL, Austin SB, Corliss HL, Vendermorris AK, Koenen KC. Pervasive trauma exposure among US sexual orientation minority adults and risk of posttraumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Public Health. 2010; 100(12):2433-2441.)

Top 13 Excuses for Avoiding Alcohol Rehab

Everyone always talks a lot about self-improvement and the steps that they’re going to take to better themselves. However, when it comes to actually taking action, it can be easy to talk yourself out of making real changes. This can be especially true for individuals who have an alcohol addiction and might need to attend alcohol rehab. The diverse and varied excuses people make to avoid alcohol rehab are evidence that human creativity has no limits when trying to avoid discomfort. 

To help people make positive changes, we’re tackling the most common excuses we hear people make to avoid facing their alcohol addiction. In fact, these excuses can contribute to worse health, disease, and can lead to a downward spiral to rock bottom. Conversely, recognizing one’s alcohol addiction and making the decision to go for alcohol rehab can be the first step to a healthier and more satisfying life in recovery. 

Now is the perfect time to recognize bad excuses and embrace positive change. Change is difficult—but it’s worth it!

1. “I’ll quit drinking after this weekend—because Saturday is my best friend’s cousin’s cat’s birthday party!”

We’ve all heard different versions of this excuse. It’s the “my diet starts tomorrow” excuse. There’s something going on every weekend, and these events provide convenient ways for people to avoid facing their alcohol addiction. No party is more important than starting alcohol rehab and taking your first steps towards a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life.

2. What my kids don’t know can’t hurt them.

Problem drinking affects children in many ways. You might not realize how much alcohol addiction affects your family members. Research shows that children of parents who suffer from substance use disorders are more likely to develop addictions themselves.[1] You owe it to your kids to get better.

3. I can stop whenever I want to…I just don’t want to!

Think carefully about all the big problems in your life—how many of them are being caused (or made worse) by your drinking? You might realize that you actually do want to stop drinking and that you might need the help of professional alcohol rehab to succeed.

4. I don’t have the money to go to alcohol rehab.

There are many ways to fund your alcohol addiction treatment, including specialized loans that can help you pay for EHN Canada treatment programs. Some facilities also offer shorter treatment programs that are more flexible and affordable. Get in touch with us and we can show you some options.

5.   Private alcohol rehab is too expensive—it’s not worth it.

Have you done the math? Multiply how many dollars you spend on alcohol per week by 52 weeks. Then, multiply that by the number of years in the rest of your life. That’s how much your alcohol addiction costs. We guarantee this number is larger than the cost of private alcohol rehab. Private addiction treatment has higher success rates compared to public treatment. Private alcohol treatment allows you to start right away, compared to public treatment programs that have lengthy wait lists.

6. Alcohol rehab doesn’t work.

We realize that not all alcohol rehab programs are created equal, and not all of them have evidence to back them up. We measure our patients’ mental health and alcohol addiction symptoms when they start treatment, and again after they complete treatment, so we have hard numbers to show that our programs work.

7. Alcohol rehab is for people who’ve hit rock bottom—not normal people like me.

You may be well-educated, successful, and an upstanding citizen, but being a good person does not make it any easier to stop drinking. When alcohol addiction gets bad enough, almost everyone needs professional help to be successful long term.  You’ll be surprised by the people you meet and connect with in treatment. The community is strong and welcoming.

8. I can’t be away from my job or family that long.

That’s why quality rehab providers offer a wide range of alcohol treatment programs and will personalize them to meet your needs. You can enter residential treatment, or attend a day program or an evening program. After completing your treatment program, we offer continued therapy and aftercare online in case you live too far away from an outpatient clinic. There are always options.

9. I don’t think alcohol rehab will work for me.

We admit it—rehab doesn’t work 100% of the time for everyone. What we do know for certain is that recovering from alcohol addiction on your own is incredibly difficult, and very few people achieve successful long-term recovery without professional help. The psychological, emotional, social, and environmental factors related to your alcohol use need to be addressed by a counsellor who has experience and expertise in treating addiction—doing so significantly increases your chance of success.[2] Also, you may need medication to help along the way which should be prescribed by a doctor who specializes in addiction medicine. There are no guarantees, but getting alcohol treatment at a top-tier facility will maximize your chances of getting better and staying better.

10. People will judge me if they find out.

Many of us are taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, we see entering rehab as an act of courage—being strong, making a decision, and taking back control of your life. At the same time, we realize that alcohol addiction is still among the most highly stigmatized of mental health disorders. For this reason, the best treatment centers will do everything possible to protect your privacy—so that no one will know you were there, unless you choose to tell them yourself.

11. It’s going to be too hard.

It’s probably going to be tremendously hard. After all, alcohol addiction involves both a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. In alcohol rehab, you can draw on the strength of your peers, your counsellors, your nurses, and your doctor. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

12. 28 days isn’t enough.

You’re right. We don’t think so either. The old-fashioned 28-day program length for alcohol rehab is not based on any actual science. Research shows that longer program length produces better results for patients.[3] That’s why the alcohol treatment program at most of our facilities is seven weeks—because our patients asked for more time, and we listened.

13. What if I try and fail?

Not everyone succeeds on their first try—but that’s true of anything difficult—so there’s no shame in it. Many people make multiple attempts at recovering from alcohol addiction before they’re successful. It’s important to have a structured system and plenty of support in place to help you. As we’ve said before, professional alcohol rehab greatly improves your odds—an effective alcohol treatment program can double your chance of success.[4] In fact, many counsellors treat relapse as a learning experience that will help you succeed in the future. The only people who are certain to never achieve recovery are the ones who never try. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get there!

EHN Canada Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the addiction and mental health treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Online Treatment and Support

If you’d like to learn more about our online treatment and support options, please call us at 1-800-387-6198 or visit onthewagon.ca.

References

[1] Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Social work in public health28(3-4), 194–205. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.759005

[2] Mclellan, A. T., Hagan, T. A., Levine, M., Gould, F., Meyers, K., Bencivengo, M., & Durell, J. (1998). Supplemental social services improve outcomes in public addiction treatment. Addiction, 93(10), 1489–1499. doi:10.1046/j.1360-0443.1998.931014895.x

[3] Romelsjö, A., Palmstierna, T., Hansagi, H., & Leifman, A. (2005). Length of outpatient addiction treatment and risk of rehospitalization. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 28(3), 291–296. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2004.12.010

[4] Moos, R. H., & Moos, B. S. (2006). Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction (Abingdon, England)101(2), 212–222. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01310.x

Bright Lights During Dark Times: Clifford’s Spotlight

When speaking to Clifford, it becomes apparent very quickly that he has a big heart and an even bigger sense of duty. 

Clifford is the night shift nursing team lead who had to step up in a big way when Grace, Bellwood’s head of nursing, was nearly locked out of the country after visiting her family on vacation. 

When Grace was overseas, coronavirus was just background noise. Numbers were beginning to grow in other areas of the world, but in Canada, most of us were blissfully unaware of the impending lockdown.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Begins

However, as time wore on and international borders tightened, it wasn’t certain whether Grace would be able to make it back to Canada, let alone back to work at Bellwood. When Grace was able to travel home, she needed to quarantine for two weeks, which is when Clifford stepped in and did what was necessary. While Grace was worried about the hole she would leave in the team by having to quarantine, Clifford assured her, “I got this.” To fill the void, Clifford took charge of the entire nursing staff in addition to his typical nursing duties.

Clifford Takes the Helm

Clifford insisted he “couldn’t let the team, or Grace, down,” and kept the nursing team tightly knit and functioning as a smooth unit. As events developed in the outside world and people began to isolate, Bellwood formed its pandemic response team of which Clifford was a crucial part. Clifford worked constantly to ensure that doctors’ and nurses’ schedules were up to date, as well as to assume Grace’s position at the helm of the nursing team. He provided hope, determination and optimism to everyone in an attempt to lead by example. “We’re here. There’s no turning back,” Clifford asserts, and it was his responsibility to ensure that patients and nursing staff were safe.

The Ever-Changing Pandemic

Creating and implementing protocols in a constantly-changing pandemic environment is a challenging and never-ending task. New developments happened “in an instant” and protocols were constantly changing at Bellwood to keep up with, and exceed, the evolving public health guidelines. Developing isolation protocols with doctors was a critical task to ensure everyone was safe to be at Bellwood. Clifford also directed scheduling and care, ensuring that patients got their medications on time and that doctors could have patient appointments at the right moment. He also brought it upon himself to lead and motivate staff, a tall task when many people are afraid of venturing both into the outside world and into healthcare facilities. 

Patients Felt Safer In Treatment

However, Clifford’s determination and commitment to serve helped patients feel safe. In fact, across our network of facilities, we’ve often heard throughout this time that patients have felt safer within our buildings than in their own communities. Some patients have even asked for extended stay to ensure they feel protected. We credit this feeling of safety to the impeccable care provided by people like Clifford, who are calm and focused in the face of a challenge. All it takes is one person to be a confident leader to help everyone stay grounded. Thanks to people like Clifford, there weren’t any crises at Bellwood to worry about.

Teamwork Makes For Excellent Patient Care

Like any good leader, Clifford insists that the nursing team’s success was due to their collaboration and the quality of their response to the pandemic crisis. Clifford admits he doesn’t like to take full credit for the success of Bellwood’s COVID-19 response. Other team members helped Clifford while he responded to additional supervisor duties: maintaining the work flow of the nursing station, adapting to a new schedule, climbing out from the mountain of extra administrative work, and being adaptable to the ever-changing coronavirus situation. As Clifford says, mimicking the oft-repeated unofficial slogan of quarantine, “we’re all in this together.” 

Learning Through Adversity

Clifford leaned fully into the difficult situation. One of his personal mottos is “you don’t learn when things are fine; you learn through adversity.” Perhaps having personal philosophies like this have equipped him to handle uncertainty and difficulty, things many of us have experienced to varying degrees during this pandemic. When Grace was able to return safely to work, Clifford took extra steps to ensure there was a smooth transition of leadership. He did not want Grace to be “thrown into the lion’s den” that was the pandemic chaos. 

A Natural Helper

Clifford is a natural at helping others. During typical operations at Bellwood, Clifford is the evening team lead, working 2:30-10:30pm to ensure that medical care of patients runs smoothly into the evenings once the day shift goes home. Nursing, after all, is a 24-hour profession. Patients need help beyond typical 9-5 hours, and it’s people like Clifford who help them. 

Clifford had been a cardiac nurse in The Philippines for 10 years before moving to Canada in 2015. He worked on the cardiac ward at Rouge Valley hospital in Scarborough and started working at Bellwood as a support counsellor before graduating to casual, part time, full time nurse, and finally team lead. He’s truly shone as he rose up the ranks here. 

Helping Patients Recover 

Clifford finds true pleasure in serving others and helping people overcome adversity. As an experienced cardiac nurse, Clifford views working in addiction and mental health a welcome opportunity; he finds great satisfaction helping people through their recovery, and he is honoured to witness patients as they recover. When a patient requires nursing support through medical detox and stabilization, they are at a powerfully vulnerable time, physically, mentally, and emotionally. People like Clifford make that time a little easier. 

Lessons From the Pandemic

Now that there is more hope in the news as new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from coronavirus begin to stabilize, things have slowed down a little for the nursing team. Everyone’s anxiety levels have subsided slightly as we have settled into a new routine at Bellwood. Clifford has already begun reflecting on his experience at the beginning of this quarantine and looking forward to the future, saying, thoughtfully, that it’s “only a matter of time before all this is over and we can look back on things we did.” 

We have no doubt that Clifford will be thoughtfully analyzing his team’s response to the situation. We are grateful to have him on the team at Bellwood. Without people like him and the rest of the hard-working clinical staff, we wouldn’t be able to provide the high level of care that we do. Thank you, Clifford, for stepping into an unfamiliar role when things got difficult and helping us get through these challenging times.

Bright Spots During Dark Times: Joe’s Spotlight

Let’s face it—we’re all having a more difficult time lately.

We’re especially sensitive to the unique difficulties faced by our alumni, patients, and future patients. Isolation can cause all sorts of problems for people with mental health and substance use disorders and for people in recovery. We’ve taken time in previous blogs to provide tips for people facing isolation, health anxiety, job instability, and other challenges of this coronavirus pandemic.

Everyone has had to adapt. People are working from home and feel more disconnected than ever. There are line-ups at grocery stores. Hand sanitizer is a rare commodity. People feel trapped at home with toxic or abusive relatives. The situation feels dire. Our clinical teams are working tirelessly to ensure our facilities are not only as safe as possible, but still offer the intensive treatment experience we’re known for. In the addiction medicine world, connection, community, and closeness are necessary for healing and recovery. Now, we’re living in a world that depends on staying 2 metres apart.

We Need Inspiration During Difficult Times

In these dark times, lights can shine even brighter. We’ve seen the best of people when they are faced with difficult situations. We’ve been witness to a number of wonderful people doing outstanding things, stepping up when our patients, alumni, and recovery communities need them the most. We’re going to dedicate some blog posts over the coming weeks to amazing people in our communities. After all, our patients and alumni say time and time again that it is the people they meet in treatment that make a lifelong impression and can influence their recovery in powerful ways. We know our people are special. We want to showcase them to you. We hope you find it inspirational.

Our first spotlight is on Joe Manget.

Joe is the CEO of EHN Canada. In other words, he’s the head of our organization. Think what you want of c-suite executives, but Joe exhibits a drive and determination to improve our healthcare system for everyone. He’s run Ironman triathlons and is working towards his PhD. Last year, he was awarded EY’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award in the Healthcare category for the province of Ontario. On paper, Joe’s accomplishments and accolades paint an intimidating picture, but Joe is a refreshingly down-to-earth person who puts heart and hard work into this organization. Joe comes to patient graduations (a tearfully triumphant send-off ceremony to celebrate patients who’ve completed treatment). Bringing other staff in tow, Joe congratulates patients and their families when they are about to start their new lives.

That heart and hard work is no accident. EHN Canada is borne out of Joe’s mission to fill in the gaps in our incredibly important yet overburdened public healthcare system. Determination like this comes only from first-hand experience. When his corporate star was rising as a senior partner at BCG Canada, Joe witnessed one of the healthcare system’s greatest challenges: end-of-life care. Joe lost both of his parents six months apart. At the time, Joe was apoplectic—in a time of great grief, he ran head-first up against some of the greatest weaknesses of our healthcare system. Joe was already a board member of Bridgepoint Hospital, and he saw how excellent care can be efficient as well. (Side note: Joe is on countless boards. His staff think he has found a way to invent a day with six extra hours to accomplish all that he does). Joe made a promise to himself: to help Canadians get healthcare that is, in his words, the following:

(1) Affordable: paid for by government or employers

(2) Accessible: immediately available without year-long waiting lists

(3) Excellent: based on best available scientific research

 

Thus EHN Canada began. Joe has big aspirations to help Canadians looking for excellent, affordable care not only for mental health and addiction, but also for long-term care and other chronic conditions. In order to do this full-time, Joe left what he calls his “big” corporate job running billion-dollar operations to spend more time with his family. In his previous career, Joe was traveling overseas up to three times a month and spending very little time with his teenaged children. His biggest regret was not spending more time with his parents before they died, and he didn’t want to inflict the same situation on his own family. Joe now operates in a “very different world” from his former career, heading up operations for treatment facilities across Canada from EHN Canada headquarters in Toronto.

Our CEO Is Stepping Up

These past few weeks, Joe has been taking on additional responsibilities. To lend extra help to our support counsellors, Joe has helped our patients get exercise (all the while ensuring everyone is able to maintain safe physical distance, of course). Joe has been taking patients on morning hikes on the scenic trails surrounding Bellwood. He mentions that it’s a nice chance to get outside and connect with the community of patients staying at Bellwood, asking them about their experiences in treatment and listening to their stories and feedback. Apart from criticism of the hikes being “too hard” according to some patients, who cited Joe’s triathlon training as an unfair advantage, Joe was able to have some meaningful conversations with patients.

Here are two of Joe’s hiking routes.

Connecting With Others While Distancing

Many patients said they were nervous about leaving treatment and going into a world less sheltered from the looming danger of coronavirus. “Some patients told me how safe they felt in Bellwood versus outside of Bellwood,” Joe says, “they felt very good about our infection control procedures and that we are trying our best to take care of them and keep them safe.” Another patient mentioned to Joe how impressed she was with the caring nature of our staff and the intensity of the clinical treatment. While Joe recognizes the value of having meaningful conversations with patients, he also knows how crucial it is to take some pressure off the hard-working clinical team who are putting every ounce of effort into ensuring patients are safe.

When the head of your organization rolls up his proverbial sleeves and helps out, you know you’re working at a caring place. We’ll be sharing more stories about people rising to the occasion during uncertain and difficult coronavirus times. Check back here on our blog, or like our Facebook page, to see more as they’re posted.

7 Steps for Dealing With Conflict More Constructively During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Opinion by EHN Staff

Written by Carlee Campbell, Patient Care Specialist at Edgewood Treatment Centre.

It has been approximately a month since the coronavirus began rapidly changing the world in which we all live. There is not a facet of our lives that has gone unaltered.  Workplaces, schools, churches, and communal gathering spaces have been shuttered. Sporting, entertainment, vocational, and recreational events have been cancelled until future notice. Even informal social gatherings cannot happen in the same manner at the risk of fines.

Our worlds have shrunk, often to the size of our own homes and the grocery store. Within these homes, there are unprecedented stress levels associated with uncertain physical health and financial futures. The mental and emotional issues we so often find ourselves too distracted and busy to confront have risen to the surface. All this is occurring while we find ourselves suddenly and starkly “socially distanced” from the recovery and spiritual networks we have carefully crafted to deal with life on life’s terms.

In short, things are getting messy. We are forced to confront the best and worst of ourselves in the quiet and stillness that the coronavirus pandemic has created. That reality can be a painful one to face. However, pain has always been the price of our best growth in recovery. It was deep, unrelenting pain that forced us to confront and overcome our addiction. In sobriety, it is learning from the most hurt-filled experiences that spurs us to even greater growth. Isolation in response to coronavirus will be no different, if we allow the pain it causes to be our teacher.

However, moving through pain is rarely pretty, particularly for those of us who were used to using the “easy button” of addiction to avoid feeling it altogether. Pain brings to the forefront all our ugliest coping mechanisms initially, as we start awkwardly grasping at doing things differently. Whether it is control, anger, intolerance, depression, tears, self-pity, or some other poison of our picking, our default reactions are often not exactly where we would like them to be right now. As a result, we may find ourselves coming out sideways at the people we care about the most.  Friends, family, partners, children, and coworkers (if we are lucky enough to still have them) are often having less than ideal interactions with us these days.

So, what can we do about this after the damage has been done? The answer is “lots.”

(1) Acceptance

You have heard me say it before, and you will likely hear me say it again before this time is over. Acceptance is the answer to all of our problems. The thing that needs accepting this time around is the fact we are not going to do this whole pandemic coping thing perfectly. This is certainly the first pandemic we have had to weather. So if you find yourself in the same situation as me, and there is a pretty good chance you are unless you are old enough to have lived through the Spanish Flu, we are all in unfamiliar territory. We are going to get it wrong. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to break it and have to pick up the pieces. That is okay!

(2) Awareness

Awareness is a superpower. That’s good news! It is one of the most amazing gifts recovery has given us. We have rejoined the land of the living. We are actually capable of feeling when something is off. If we are having trouble identifying what exactly that thing is, we can reach out to our friends, family, recovery network, and counsellors in our lives to help us figure out what exactly is off. We can then discern what our part is in the problem. You cannot change that of which you are not aware. In more good news, once you increase your self-awareness, you usually get to spend a lot less time spinning on choices, finding courage, and making amends. Meditation is a great way to heighten self-awareness, which you can learn more about here.

(3) Choice

Once we have identified what has gone wrong, we get to do something about it. I like to call this part “acceptance, now what?” There are, after all, two parts to the Serenity Prayer. Part one is the call to accept the things we cannot change. Part two is the courage to change the things we can. If we have acted out and hurt someone else, I would suggest we find ourselves in part two. We get to confront the choice of whether we will do something about our wrongdoing or not.

(4) Courage

Do not get me wrong—admitting when we are wrong is not an easy thing to do. It may be hard, it can be scary, and it is almost always uncomfortable. That said, it also feels incredible when it is done. Again, in recovery, we get to live our lives in accordance with our values. When we have stepped out of alignment with those values, we have the opportunity to do something to course correct. We just need to be brave enough to do it. A quick reminder here, we got sober from drugs and alcohol. We can do hard things, including owning up to our mistakes.

(5) Amends

A good amends is more than just words of apology. During our addiction, we became experts at using words evasively to get out of difficult situations in which we found ourselves. A proper amends should actually lay the foundation for behaviour change. One helpful way to break it down is by using the “Three A’s,” which are as follows:

Acknowledgement

What was the wrong done? This is where you lay out the facts of what happened. It is super helpful to have talked this one through with a friend or sponsor, otherwise chances are you may only being seeing the facts from one point of view—namely yours.

Apology

Why was it wrong? Saying we did a bad thing is a lot different than an “I’m sorry” that acknowledges the underlying value our behaviour or words violated. When we acknowledge the why, it brings our values back into alignment with our own integrity, and often the beliefs of the person we have wounded. This opens the possibility of healing for both parties.

Atonement

This is where we commit to acting differently. The acknowledgement and the apology are meaningless if the behaviour stays the same. Atonement requires action to make things right, not just once, but at every opportunity. In other words, this is where we do more hard things.

(6) Grace

Very often, conflict has two sides. We may entirely clean up our side of the street, and be incredibly disappointed to look over at the hot mess remaining on the other side. People may not respond to our amends in kind. They may carry on unwilling to even acknowledge their part, let alone consider changing it. However, we still get to choose our response to their behaviour. Choose grace. Choose to extend unmerited favour and love. We have often experienced so much forgiveness for the things we did in our addiction. Now is the perfect time to reciprocate the grace we were once shown.

(7) Compassion

This may be the hardest task on the list. Compassion, by definition, is consciousness of distress together with the desire to alleviate it. The above list certainly addresses the desire to alleviate the distress of others.  However, we need to show the same concern for our own distress that we extend to everyone else.  If we have done our best to do the above tasks, we need to let the conflict go. That includes letting go of the mental obsession attached to it. The matter is now out of our hands.  We do not have a time machine to undo the conflict in the past. We also cannot control the reactions of others in the future. We can only do our part. If the matter is now out of our hands, it deserves freedom from our minds as well. Let self-compassion fill its place.

This list may seem daunting. It certainly is not easy. That said, it may also be very necessary if we want a little more peace and connection during this incredibly difficult time. In fact, it just might be the right thing to do. 

 

 

Addiction Treatment and Recovery in a Time of Social Distancing and Coronavirus

Times are strange. With the constantly developing national and global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, people with addiction and mental health disorders may experience unique challenges with self-quarantine and isolation. We’ve had many calls to our Admissions Counsellors to discuss our infection prevention plan and learn about the precautionary measures that we’re taking to protect our patients in addiction treatment from coronavirus. People are concerned. The media is both helpful and harmful. Governments are scrambling to save our healthcare system and the economy.

Addiction and Mental Health Disorders Are Currently More Lethal Than Coronavirus

The fact remains that about 6 million Canadians will meet the criteria for addiction over the course of their lives. One-in-five Canadians will experience symptoms of depression. In 2016, someone died in Ontario of an opioid overdose every 10 hours. The mental health of Canadians is being taxed more than ever given the panic-buying, self-quarantines, and economic instability that come with a pandemic. While many citizens are doing their part by social distancing, this strategy has the unfortunate consequence of causing people to second-guess their decisions to get residential (inpatient) addiction and mental health treatment due to fears of coronavirus infection. We’ve had many calls over the past while from potential patients and their families asking us what measures we’re taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus in our facilities.

To those people, our answer is the following—don’t delay addiction treatment because of coronavirus.

As an important note, we are not looking to profit from the panic and suffering created by this disease. We are a healthcare facility above all, and it is our duty to provide the best care for our patients who have mental health and substance use disorders. We offer life-saving treatment for patients, and getting treatment quickly, like for any other lethal disease, is a matter of life and death—addiction treatment is an essential service. We have great concern that some of our current and potential patients will suffer greatly due to coronavirus, and we are doing the best we can to help anyone who needs treatment for addiction and mental health disorders.

As a healthcare facility, we’re taking the strictest approach that we can. We’re providing daily updates on our website on the infection prevention measures that we’re taking at our facilities. As the coronavirus risk changes from day to day, we’re adapting and increasing our measures accordingly. We’ve instructed groups of non-essential staff to work from home. We’re bringing as many of our services online as possible. We’re increasing social distancing measures in our group meetings by using only the largest rooms in our facilities so that patients can have appropriate space. Since we’re healthcare providers, we have doctors and nurses on staff daily, and we can provide excellent medical care as needed.

Addiction Treatment in Emergency Rooms Is Risky Right Now

It may be even more dangerous than usual to avoid or delay addiction treatment during this time. One of the greatest advantages of being in residential treatment is to have complete medical care without having to be in the emergency room. If someone is at home and suffers a crisis or an overdose, they would be sent to their nearest emergency department, where risk of infection by coronavirus is increased due to exposure to others with the infection. With the increasing overwhelm of our public healthcare system, emergency and ICU beds will be increasingly hard to come by. While we hope that the situation improves as quickly as possible, we fear that it may not be in time to spare the lives of Canadians who would needlessly suffer due to the coronavirus. While in treatment, our patients can go through detox without fearing the risk of contracting coronavirus—they can get their medications without having to go to their doctor’s office and risk additional exposure.

Self-Distancing Can Trigger People with Addiction

While many people are remaining in their homes, for individuals with addictions or in recovery, this situation can create difficult challenges. Self-distancing can present unique problems for people with substance use and mental health disorders. As people quarantine themselves from the outside world, isolation and loneliness have well-established negative consequences on people’s physical and mental-emotional well-being.

In addiction circles, we know that community is critical to achieving and maintaining healthy recovery—that’s why we offer aftercare groups for our alumni. That’s also why we host community support group meetings and refer our patients to groups in their communities when they finish treatment. Social distancing, self-quarantine, and other forms of isolation will be damaging to the recovery of our patients and alumni. Some people risk relapse, while others risk increased drug or alcohol consumption if they are alone at home and not working. One of our patients recently said, “I can’t self isolate—I need to be in a safe place and talk to people who are dealing with the same issues as I am.” Another patient noted, “I’ve been in a basement for four years dealing with my Trauma. I am just getting starting to get over that—going back to that basement is the worst thing I could do.”

I can’t self isolate—I need to be in a safe place and talk to people who are dealing with the same issues as I am.

Furthermore, if someone is self-quarantined with a family member with a substance use or mental health disorder, there can be unintended negative consequences. Someone with an addiction may also be forced to detox if their drug or alcohol supply sources become scarce—a potentially dangerous event if not managed properly by a doctor. On the brighter side, some people may take the opportunity imposed by scarcity and try to quit on their own. If anyone finds themselves in this position and feels that they need some help, we have some new options available that can help patients benefit from group treatment while also honouring their obligations to self-quarantine. While the best option is to get residential treatment, we understand the need to meet our patients wherever they are right now.

Addiction Increases the Risk of Coronavirus Exposure, Infection, and Complications

Smoking drugs, such as crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and also tobacco, increase a person’s vulnerability to lung infections. Chronic use of alcohol or opioids are also associated with an increased risk of lung disease. Chronic use of alcohol and most illicit drugs damage many organs in the body, and compromise an individual’s immune system, making them more vulnerable to infections and diseases of all types. For these reasons, individuals currently with addictions or substance use disorders are especially vulnerable to coronavirus infection if they are exposed to the virus. Likewise, these individuals are also more likely to develop severe symptoms and complications if they get infected.

People with addictions and substance use disorders are already a vulnerable and stigmatized group. For the reasons described above, they are also more vulnerable to coronavirus exposure, infection, and complications. If you currently suffer from addiction, then a residential treatment facility that follows best practices for Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and that has a 24/7 medical team may very well be the safest place for you during the coronavirus pandemic—with the added benefit of starting your recovery process towards a happier, healthier, and more satisfying life.

Residential Treatment Is a Safer Place During Coronavirus

From an insider’s perspective, many of our patients feel safer from coronavirus in addiction treatment than they would feel outside of our facilities. After all, residential treatment is a place for self-care and to learn lifelong skills to weather the effects of stress while leaning on a community for support. Many of our patients reflect on the urgency with which they needed to get care. Some of our patients have failing livers and kidneys, overburdened hearts, and breathing issues due to lifelong addictions, and are therefore at a higher risk should they become infected with coronavirus. One of our Edgewood staff members shared the following:

We were in a group doing a Monday morning check-in in the CTAP [concurrent trauma and addiction] program. The topic of the COVID-19 issue came up. Several patients discussed looking forward to getting home with family, but indicated their desire to complete the program as their first priority. One patient said, “I waited so long to come to treatment that my liver had to be almost shut down before I asked for help.” I posited that more people will die from addiction during the COVID situation than from the virus. The entire group nodded in agreement and then one said, “I’m more afraid of my addiction than I am of COVID-19, I won’t get my family back if I don’t get sober.”

I’m more afraid of my addiction than I am of COVID-19, I won’t get my family back if I don’t get sober.

Our patients are here because they need treatment, and we’re going to continue helping as many people as we can.

Virtual Groups and Aftercare During Coronavirus

We know that not everyone needs residential (inpatient) treatment, and we also know that some community members may be suffering due to the economic impact of coronavirus. You are not alone, and we’re sensitive to this problem. Luckily, we’ve been offering our Wagon online programs to patients for some time. Now, we’ve moved our intensive outpatient programs (IOP), aftercare, and regular outpatient programs, in addition to virtual Cake Nights, to this online platform. By using Wagon, our patients, alumni and community members can continue to have excellent addiction and mental health care, even if they need to quarantine themselves. While the ideal situation is for anyone who needs addiction treatment to be able to come to our facilities, we want to reach out and help as best we can in these unprecedented times.

To learn more about Wagon, or how our facilities are constantly adapting to coronavirus to keep patients and their families safe, please call us at one of the numbers below.

You can also find out more about Wagon online outpatient services on our Wagon page.

10 Strategies for Staying Sober in Recovery While Maintaining Social Distance

Written by Carlee Campbell, Patient Care Specialist at Edgewood Treatment Centre.

Those of us in recovery often hear about the dangers of isolating. Yet, right now, even those of us in recovery must maintain social distance to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. However, while we may need to isolate physically, we can stay connected mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to each other. Here are some thoughts on how to utilize the amazing variety of technologies out there to ground your recovery program.

(1) Attend recovery meetings online

There are many great forums online for attending a variety of recovery meetings virtually. Not to mention, it is an amazing chance to hear new perspectives and strategies outside of your regular meetings. “In the Rooms” is one such resource, offering a wide variety of traditional AA and NA meetings online, as well as specialized groups such as She Recovers, Trauma and Recovery, Chemsex, Codependency, and even Yoga in Recovery. Check out their website to see what they have to offer.

(2) Connect through virtual hangouts

You and your friends in recovery can still connect face-to-face, even in groups. Use free platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts for group chats. You can also use Facetime, Facebook Messenger, and Skype to chat one-on-one with your friends from the comfort and safety of your own couch.

(3) Create an email literature study

Pick a recovery book, any recovery book, that you and your people are interested in reading. Each day or week, commit to reading a chapter and then writing an email to the group thread, journaling your thoughts. The same can be done for working a set of steps, if 12-step recovery if your thing. Focusing on your recovery in this way can make it even stronger while maintaining social distance.

(4) Listen to recovery based podcasts and speaker tapes

YouTube is full of amazing speakers sharing their stories of recovery. There are also incredible podcasts you can download or stream from whatever platform you subscribe to, created by a multitude of people in recovery. Some popular favorites available on a variety of platforms, such as Spotify and Google Play, include The Rich Roll, SheRecovers, RecovereD, and Refuge Recovery.

(5) Read your recovery strong

There are hundreds of recovery blogs online, full of experience, strength, humor, and hope. A list of award winning recovery blogs is published annually by Healthline.

(6) Make a phone call

This is a great way to connect personally with others in recovery while maintaining physical social distance. Perhaps even daily. Don’t just text message. Connect with other people in recovery using your voice and hearing theirs. Use that phone list gathering dust in the corner. Listen to people’s stories, struggles, and moments of gratitude. Share your own. Connection is not cancelled.

(7) Go outdoors (if you’re not quarantined)

The great outdoors has always been a place to deliberately seek social distance. Go for a walk, breathe the fresh air, get grounded and present in the moment. Connection to nature is incredibly useful. Wherever you are, there is likely a park nearby where you can stay at least two metres away from other people.

(8) Don’t forget the physical

Connecting to your body is so important in times of stress. Your gym may be closed, but many trainers, gyms, and yoga studios are offering at-home versions of their most popular programs, often for free. Check out their websites or Instagram feeds for more information. Download and get moving!

(9) Access counselling supports online

Edgewood has a platform for you to access counselling and aftercare services online. Rather than cancel your appointment or aftercare session, simply make it virtual. Contact our outpatient department at 1-800-683-0111 to learn how.

(10) Get on the Wagon

The app that is. Wagon is the outpatient clinic that’s always with you wherever you go. Wagon provides an interactive recovery plan that you can access anywhere, anytime. You’ll spend a few minutes each day logging your goal completions, emotions, triggers, and more. Wagon will remind you exactly what you need to do each day to achieve your recovery goals. With Wagon, you won’t be doing it alone. Your counsellor follows your progress in the app, and provides you feedback during your sessions, together with best practice treatment methods. Find out more on our Wagon page.

Beyond Resolutions: Recovery Conversations in January

Opinion by EHN Guest Writer

Paul Dilworth is a Toronto-based social worker with a private practice focusing on addiction. He has been in recovery for 26 years.

If most therapists were asked, they would probably say that one third of their clients struggle with substance abuse or their client’s partner has a substance use disorder. Some clients are openly talking about their substance use while others may start talking about it in the future. We are just waiting for another crisis to finally drive reality through the denial wall.

The holidays are usually a fertile time to provoke these crises. Too much stress, the proximity of partying, or visits with some relatives we dislike pushes many people with addiction into more substance use to try to cope with it all. This time of year may cause a partner or friend to realize that “something has to be done because we cannot live this way anymore.”

Honouring Each Client’s Unique Pace

My clients are always at different stages in their recovery. Some have not yet discovered that substance use is a big factor in their unhappiness while others are very aware and just waiting for that final internal push to put the brakes on and keep them applied. We all possess our individual agendas. Everyone has their own timeline. 

My January conversations with clients take different forms. Someone might say, “I think I might have a problem with alcohol” or a partner might say for the very first time “Joe overdoes the alcohol at times and I worry about the impact on the kids.” They continue to describe the scenario that made the light bulb go on. Then, there are other people with whom alcohol or drug use has been a significant part of our conversations. With them, we are waiting for the internal push! This push can never be rushed and has to come from within the client as one only acts when one sees the reality of addiction for themselves.  

Emotions Drive the Realization That Something Must Change

That reality has to be based upon some uncensored memories of the effects of drug or alcohol use, worries about the future, and the accompanying emotions one can no longer deny, project, or rationalize away. Emotions are a good thing! Thoughts are like a movie without the soundtrack; when you add emotion, you see and experience your whole painful addiction in undiluted Technicolor and you cannot exit to get popcorn or go to the bathroom.

For my clients who are having their first realization, we talk about how they are feeling and what they think of abstinence going forward. If they accept the idea of abstinence, or getting treatment, we can move forward. If the client resists, we still have more waiting to do. At least they have given me permission to make their substance use a regular topic in our sessions. Talking is the only way to bring our fiercely-kept secrets into the light of day, and that is when the romance with our substance begins to end. 

Supporting Partners of People With Substance Use Disorders

If my client is the partner of someone with an addiction, they have given themselves permission to start talking to their partner. My task is to support them and get them past their fear of their loved one’s defensiveness upon bringing up the subject of dependency. The treatment goal in both situations is to regularly talk about the problem so that everyone can appreciate its magnitude and understand a solution is required.

Formal Residential Addiction Treatment is Necessary

Those who have experienced the final internal push need help with solving the problem of where they wish to get treatment. Overcoming addiction just by seeing a therapist once a week is very difficult. People often need an experience where they are immersed in the recovery community and culture. To achieve anything you must live it 24/7, eat, breathe, and sleep it with your eye always on the prize. The rest of my work involves helping clients overcome their reservations about joining a program and helping them begin to mourn the ending of a long bitter sweet affair with drugs or alcohol. It truly can be a breakup process. 

So January ends with two groups of clients pursuing two different stages of recovery. The first group is on the way towards fully admitting to themselves and their families they have a drug or alcohol use disorder that must stop. The second group are entering the active rehabilitation stage by calling a facility for an assessment. In all, our conversations have created a very productive month!

EHN Canada Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the addiction and mental health treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Your Greatest Present is Presence: Tristan’s Holiday Story

Alumni Interview by EHN Staff

In this blog post series, EHN alumni share their experience, strength, and hope for the holiday season.

Before recovery, Tristan’s holidays were forgettable for him, and painful for his family.

He remembers one particular Christmas around 2005, when he was full into the grips of alcohol addiction. He spent the Christmas holiday in Michigan with his family. However, Tristan never really spent much time with his relatives. Instead, he could be found in the basement, playing video games and drinking for hours on end. Occasionally, he would groggily surface for meals, only able to stomach a small amount of food. He then would skulk back downstairs into darkness, drinking until he would fall asleep with a glass of liquor in his hand. He would wake up hung-over or still drunk only to repeat the process over the next few days, squandering family time to hide in shame as he drank away the holidays.

Binge-Drinking Through Christmas

Instead of cherishing fleeting precious moments with his family, he binge-drank his way through the holiday season. Tristan reflects about his drinking habits, “I was a binge-drinker,” he said, and although he didn’t need to wake up and drink, he was constantly sullen and tired, appearing for the bare minimum of time to grab some food from the fridge after missing a family meal.

The impact on his family was undeniable. As much as he showed up for opening presents, he couldn’t be present with his family. While the focus remained on the grandchildren, his relatives excused away Tristan’s behaviour. Family members tip-toed around the subject of Tristan’s drinking, and walked on eggshells to avoid confronting him and drawing attention to his drinking habits.

Tristan’s Family Intervenes

Tristan recalls that there were no spectacular, dramatic blow-out arguments over his drinking, but this time, the energy had changed. His relatives were tired of pretending Tristan’s drinking wasn’t affecting them. He had missed too much crucial family time, he wasn’t fulfilling his family duties, and this was a turning point for them.

It was at this point that Tristan’s mother started doing research for 12-step programs.

Then the conversations began. Tristan imagines that his family had been talking among themselves about his drinking habits for a while beforehand, but now they began reaching out to him. His grandmother was calling, “Tris, we’re really concerned. You have to do something about that drinking.” His Dad, who had separated from his mother some time ago, warned Tristan “people were looking at the amount that you drink.”

His folks used to go to Antigua over the holidays, but were worried about leaving Tristan alone. They were worried about what they would come back to.

The Road to Bellwood

Initially, Tristan promised his mother he would go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but all he could bring himself to do was sit in the parking lot, afraid to go in and face his demons. After two years of struggling, Tristan’s mother called Bellwood, and he finally relented when “the light at the end of the tunnel burned out.” Tristan would wake up and hope to die. He went to Bellwood feeling as if everything was falling apart. “I was welcoming death, but I just thought it was the way your life is supposed to go.”

Tristan spent six weeks in treatment at Bellwood. During this time, his wife was pregnant with their first son. Tristan was scared, and he didn’t want his child to have “an alcoholic dad,” so he continued his treatment, even though it was difficult…especially over Christmas.

Tristan’s First Sober Christmas

While Tristan was in treatment, he decided to go home for the holidays to spend time with his family, but he was overwhelmed and anxious—how would his family react? How would he respond to potential triggers? He recalls being upset because he noticed that wine was conspicuously absent from the table. He didn’t want his family to deprive themselves of festive drinks just because he was not going to imbibe, but he was glad to be home with his family. For the first time in a while, Tristan’s holidays were joyful.

Joyfully Celebrating the Holidays In Recovery

Now, while in recovery, Tristan loves spending Christmas with his three children. His kids are nine and seven years old, and seven months old, and Tristan can be present for all three of them. His favourite part of recovery is being fully available for his family, remembering his children’s laughter, and being more excited than the kids to play with the new Christmas toys. Tristan laughs, bolstered by the fact that he can show up to family events and be fully present in both mind and body; he is no longer just there “like a piece of furniture.”

Now that his stepfather has passed away, Tristan is encouraging his mother to travel somewhere warm for the holiday. She can travel, Tristan assures her, without the worry of having her house burned down when she returns. Her son is in recovery with a beautiful family of his own, and is able to celebrate the holidays by embracing family and Christmas cheer.

Tristan used to think that the holidays were about drinking alcohol. Now, he knows they’re about so much more.

EHN Canada Can Help You…For the Holidays

If you would like to learn more about the addiction and mental health treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enroll yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Recovering Through the Holidays: Ken H.

Alumni Interview by EHN Staff

In this blog post series, EHN alumni share their experience, strength, and hope for the holiday season.

What were the winter holidays like for you prior to recovery?

I used to stock up on Christmas booze only having to restock it as my consumption increased. I was a firefighter and I didn’t want to have to wait in lines because it was “all about me,” so I would purchase large quantities during slower times with the intention of not having to stock up again. These extras were getting used up before celebrations even started and I would have to go back for more. At my worst I was going through 40oz every other day and hiding alcohol around the house as well. It was never enough.

Is there a part of the winter holidays that is particularly special for you now?

Yes: being with my wife, our children and our grandchildren. There are no words for what this feels like. It is like when I am just constantly smiling on the inside thinking “thank you.” I am so grateful to spend time with these people. I get to be with my grandkids two nights a week. I got to remain married to my first wife, my high school sweetheart. What a life we have.

What would you say to the loved ones of someone who is new to recovery or attending treatment over the winter holidays?

I imagine it would be tough. Stick it out and let the process carry through. It will be worth missing one Christmas to have them back for the rest of your life.

What are your top three suggestions for people celebrating the winter holidays in recovery for the first time?

Attend lots of 12-step fellowship meetings, have an exit strategy when attending functions. Take your own car; don’t arrive with friends unless they are other recovering individuals, and leave when you feel ready. Always ask for help.

What struggles do you still face during the winter holidays and how do you respond to these struggles?

I am an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, so I don’t have to struggle. Pain is mandatory, and suffering is optional. It is only my own thinking that causes me to suffer. When I start talking to my Higher Power about my problems my suffering resolves itself. The solution for me is spiritual.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I completed treatment at Edgewood on December 10th, 2004. At my first house warming party at Christmas I asked the hostess for a different glass so I wouldn’t confuse mine with another guest. Mickey Mouse never looked so good! So a new tradition was formed that year. I went back to work as a Firefighter after two months following treatment and was welcomed with open arms. I am so grateful to all who have supported me on this path.

EHN Canada Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the addiction and mental health treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enroll yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.