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What You Should Know about Alcohol Use Disorder or Alcoholism:

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol has been and remains the most common substance of abuse in Canada. While the legal age of alcohol consumption is 19 in most provinces, people typically begin experimenting with alcohol in their min-teens and start drinking without incident in their early twenties and beyond. Despite the common place that alcohol holds in our society, there is a continuum of risks and problems associated with alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a recognized medical condition that refers to the regular use of alcohol despite recurrent adverse consequences. To be diagnosed with AUD, individuals must meet certain criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Under DSM–5, the current version of the DSM, anyone meeting any two of eleven defined criteria during the same 12-month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of AUD—mild, moderate, or severe—is based on the number of criteria met.

The Eleven Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) as per the DSM-5:

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.

  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.

  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.

  5. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.

  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.

  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.

  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.

  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

    1. A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect
    2. A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

    1. The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to criteria A and B of the criteria set for alcohol withdrawal)
    2. Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

We Can Help You

If you would like to learn more about the 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.

Johanne’s final story

Johannes never expected to be in jail. He wasn’t counting on smoking pieces of fentanyl patches either. And he hadn’t envisioned dealing with ethnic cleansing in Bosnia or being on patrols in Afghanistan.

In fact, growing up in a small Nova Scotia town, all he wanted was to be outside. Fishing. Swimming. Hanging with his buddies.

Addiction had another plan.

Fit, rested and relaxed as he sits on his mountain bike looking out at the gloriousness that is Queneesh, a massive glacier on Mount Washington towering over the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, Johannes’ face breaks into a smile.

“I’m very happy,” he says. “I wake up every morning and, when I open my eyes, I’m automatically happy. So, there ya go.”

He’s come so far.

Born in 1977, raised in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Johannes is a minister’s son. His mother stayed at home raising Johannes, his brother and two sisters. He had no trouble with faith. Higher Power was all around them.

“I was raised in the church. We lived in the back of a church, actually, in the church parsonage,” he says. “We went to church twice on Sunday, Tuesday night and sometimes Friday night.”

“I was close to all my siblings. I had maybe two or three really close friends.”

There was no drinking or smoking in the family home. No wild parties. No television, even.

“I was kind of a quiet kid — an introvert, if you will. I was always out in nature. Always out with my friends in the woods, building camps, swimming in the creeks, fishing, boating.”

By high school, when friends began experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol, Johannes began to see the differences between himself and his strict, God-based upbringing and the lifestyle his adolescent classmates were beginning to explore. Though he remembers sneaking a taste of fermented grape juice at 14 behind his dad’s pulpit and “feeling a little bit funny”, Johannes would buckle down and stay focused on his career path — one in uniform.

“In high school, I was wanting to be an RCMP. So, I took the co-op program for RCMP, doing ride-alongs, even getting into a couple of high-speed chases,” he says. “When I was in Grade 12, they hired me as a jail guard to watch the drunks when they would come in on weekends, or whenever they would call me on my pager. I wasn’t getting into any trouble at all.”

He also made another move — into the Canadian Armed Forces as a reservist at 16.

As he finished high school, Johannes was in love with his high-school sweetheart and working for the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. His life was going swimmingly. He proposed to his fiancé, they married and began planning for a family. He applied and was accepted into the military Regular Forces and was posted to the Third Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment – one of the nation’s most decorated and respected army units, based in Petawawa, Ontario. The outfit had served at Vimy Ridge, in Sicily, in Korea. Johannes had joined an honorable, historic family and life was good.

“We were both living a spiritual life. I still had God in my life at that point. We’d go to church at least once a week, sometimes twice a week.”

His wife was soon pregnant; a boy was on the way.

But the storied “3 RCR” was about to get involved in the simmering conflict in Bosnia, and life would change forever.

In the early 1990s, the break up of Yugoslavia had percolated into a cauldron of inter-ethnic conflicts. Yugoslavia, which had been set up as a federation of six republics after the Second World War, had split apart following the death of its president in the 1980s. By the time Johannes and his new bride arrived in Petawawa, Serbs and Croats were just three years removed from the Bosnian War, a horribly complex and vicious conflict which basically ended in a stalemate. But, along with over a million refugees, over 100,000 were left dead, many as a result of the first case of genocide in Europe since World War II.

The capital city of Sarajevo, which had hosted the Olympic Games in 1984, had spent four years under attack before the siege was lifted in 1996. Civilians were targeted and massacred in many parts of the Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO, of which Canada is a key and active member, was involved during and after the conflict, attempting to establish long-term peace. In fact, over 60,000 soldiers from over 30 countries were eventually deployed under Operation Joint Endeavor as peacekeepers. Twenty-three Canadian soldiers died in that war.

Once the war had ended, stabilization peacekeeping forces continued to get between tense and hostile pockets of resistance to the ceasefire. This was the environment to which Johannes and his brothers in 3 RCR were deployed in Bosnia in July 1998 as Rotation 3 of Operation Palladium.

While his wife was at home, selling Mary Kay and looking after their baby boy, Johannes was thrust into a world in which he had no experience.

“I guess you could say I was pretty innocent, ignorant of the world. I was raised in such a closed environment,” he says quietly.

Johannes was dispatched with medics, going on calls with military and civilian first responders, transported in armored personnel carriers converted into ambulances.

“We’d go pick them up and bring them back to camp.”

As well, there were regular patrols, going from town to town.

“I felt a lot of threat. I was scared for my life many times. It was a whole new side of the world I had never experienced before.”

Not one to speak about the horrors of what he saw and experienced, suffice to say coping was a challenge in the tinderbox of post-War Bosnia.  Three months into his six-month deployment, he was given two weeks’ leave and went to Croatia for some R&R. It quickly deteriorated into something else.

“That’s where I really got into the drinking. In Porec and Bled. I barely remember them. Blackouts. Trying to cope,” he recalls. “My spirituality was non-existent at that point. I didn’t have God in my life. Praying was non-existent. So, I started drinking to fill that hole.”

Peacekeepers have an interesting perspective on what they are called to do. With the war ended, there were progressively fewer incidents of breach of the terms of the ceasefire. Johannes downplays the anxiety with which he and his colleagues were living.

“Danger? Well, that’s the way I felt at that time. It wasn’t a constant threat. 1998 was a little bit different from past tours … but I still felt threatened.”

The consuming of alcohol soon wasn’t restricted to R&R leaves, either.

“Oh, a couple of times a week I’d get drunk. Some Bosnian moonshine stuff they would give us. I forget what they called it, but it was pretty powerful stuff,” he remembers.

And the innocence of a maritime boy, a preacher’s son, was quickly fading.

“It was a combination of being scared and it’s a whole new world. I was excited for this whole different experience. Trying new things. I never really got to party growing up. So, I was liking this drinking thing.”

“It felt so normal. Everyone that I knew was doing it. Everyone was smoking cigarettes, smoking cigars. That’s where I started smoking cigars too. I remember buying some Colts, so now I was smoking cigars too.”

He returned to his new baby, his high school sweetheart bride, and attempted to reclaim his pre-deployment life.

“I would call it a slow climb because, after Bosnia, I came back to Petawawa and didn’t really carry that drinking lifestyle on anymore. I slowed down, maybe had a drink once a month or so. It hadn’t got its claws into my life yet.”

Everything changed two years later when, on a night airborne jump exercise, his parachute malfunctioned. Johannes injured his back and broke both legs.

“I came home from that in two casts and a wheelchair.”

Confined to the chair, on low-dose medications for pain, he would still go to work every day – a military van would pick him up and take him in. But, between his ears, his mind was in a battle.

“The whole accident itself played in my head a lot. I had nightmares steady about it. It really affected my sleep. So, I started drinking a lot.”

The accident, the drinking, the nightmares all took their toll on the marriage. His legs would recover. The marriage would not.

“One day I came home and she was, basically, cheating with the landlord. So, I packed up my truck with some clothes, my uniforms, and that’s about it. I moved into the shacks [barracks].”

His addiction lifestyle blared. The slow climb was over.

“Drinking takes on a life on its own. It gets out of hand. I’d buy 40 pounders, rum or vodka. I’d try to down it. I remember playing music really loud, crying in my room, isolating and drinking.”

He didn’t isolate entirely. He took the show on the road.

“My first night living in the shacks, I went to the bar. I drove back and got my first DUI. A week later, I got caught driving my truck around base again. I got into a cop chase. I had no insurance and was driving while under suspension. So, due to that, I got a little bit of jail time.”

He also discovered ecstasy and cocaine.

“The first night I did them, I loved them. I found my drugs.”

As the needle climbed on the addiction speedometer to oblivion, Johannes passed all the criteria, from abstinence to drinking moonshine to impaired driving to jail time.

“I met all the right people. All the drug dealers in town, [gang] affiliates. A month after first doing dope, I started selling dope. I’d be the guy that everyone would come to.”

He was banned from seeing his first son, but even that wouldn’t wake him up. Johannes’ addiction, fueling the choices he was making, began to rule his life and career.

“Even during training, I was still doing lots of drugs and partying. It was very much a big part of my life. I would be a functioning addict.”

In September of 2001, two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City. Two years later, as a serving member of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, Johannes was part of Roto 0, Canada’s initial deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan.

As part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the main purpose was to train the Afghan National Security Force and help them rebuild, while securing Kabul and surrounding areas from Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents. From the summer of 2003 to the winter of 2004, Johannes served in a theatre teeming with tension, fire fights, and constant threat of roadside bombs.

“It was a lot hotter,” quipped Johannes, deflecting from the seriousness of his journey into Afghanistan. “It’s really different from Bosnia. I was a lot more scared in Afghanistan that I was in Bosnia, I can tell you that. In Afghanistan, I was in a section, so we were doing patrols non-stop. Night patrols. Day patrols. Going on missions. Walking on foot. In vehicles. Roadside bombs happened. I felt vulnerable.”

Things got real, and really fast.

By October 2003, Canada had 1,800 soldiers deployed in Kabul. That month, Johannes was in camp when word got back that a friend and fellow New Brunswicker, Sgt. Rob Short, was killed in a bombing that also claimed the life of Ottawa’s Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger. Three others were injured. By the end of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, 158 men and women had been killed. It’s not something Johannes, nor any military member or family, for that matter, can shake easily.

The loss of Sgt. Short was particularly difficult. Though his superior in rank, the two were buddies. They had even run an Iron Man together four years prior.

“Yeah, we had trained all that summer together. I remember at the 43-kilometre point, I passed him, and, at the end, I got 19th and he got 20th,” Johannes says quietly. “I still remember the look on his face when I passed him.”

In the war zone of Afghanistan, it was the drugs and alcohol that kept the ghosts at bay for the 25-year-old minister’s son.

“I was numbing myself out. Still carrying on. Doing drugs when I was there [in Afghanistan]. Cocaine and ecstasy was brought over. I wasn’t into the opiates at that point, thank god. They were everywhere. Poppies. Opium.”

As he counted down the days before his Afghanistan deployment ended, Johannes broke his ankle in a charity function. His war was over.

“I got operated on over there by a German doctor and got sent home about two weeks prior to my six months [service]. I made it back safe. It was meant to be, I guess.”

For the next 12 years, his addiction rampaged, however. The alibi of wartime trauma makes sense. The actions did not.

“Back home, I got harder into the drugs. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was a different person when I came back. Numerous people say that. I remember feeling different, too. I had a lot of adrenaline in my body and I just couldn’t stop moving. I felt different. I needed more drugs to fuel the adrenaline. It was the only thing that made me feel safe.”

He was living a double life. Working for the military. Working for drug dealers. Collecting debts. Kicking down doors, beating people up. Splitting proceeds with the dealers. The military police, the OPP, judges, became unwelcome-yet-predictable players in his dangerous lifestyle choices.

Johannes spent most of 2004 behind bars in Ottawa. Assault. Kidnapping. Drug charges.

“It’s another level of fear. A lot of shanks. [There are] a lot of Somalians in there and they’re all packing shanks. Almost every day, I’d see bloodshed. People stabbed with shanks or pencils. Definitely knocked out. Every day, there’s violence. I was included in that sometimes.”

The next year, the military had had enough. Johannes was released, but not before being sent to treatment at Bellwood.

“I was pretty defiant. Very angry. Violent. I got kicked out of Bellwood after 25 days or so for violent behavior. I met a girl in rehab who gave me her condo keys. So, I went AWOL to her condo for a few weeks down by the CN Tower.”

After a few weeks, Johannes decided he’d better go back to Petawawa. He showed up to work and was arrested immediately.

“I did a couple of days in their cells on suicide watch. Somebody watching me all day, all night. I was that dark.”

He was released from the military and discovered needles.

I hadn’t done [needles] before because I don’t think I’d felt that desperate or dark. But, by that point, I was so helpless, I didn’t care about nothing, myself, or anything. I didn’t care if I died or lived.”

He was shooting cocaine, drinking every day. Smoking crack. Crystal meth. Couch surfing.

“Sometimes I was sleeping in hallways. Running from the cops. Doing crime. Busting into houses. Getting in fights. It was just chaos,” he recalls.

The army sent him $13,000 as compensation for his contributions.

“I blew all that on drugs in a month or so. So, [that was] all gone.”

A few more month-long visits to the crowbar hotel later, Johannes was a shell of himself, 40 pounds under his Afghanistan fighting weight. Yet, he soon found another relationship and got off the needles.

“She got me off the needle, so I was just snorting cocaine. I was just doing lines now,” he chuckles, emphasizing the “just” word. “Yep, I was getting better. I was just drinking a lot and doing lines. Everyday. I couldn’t go a day without drinking or doing drugs or something.”

On a doctor’s visit, he was introduced to morphine. Then OxyContin and Percocet. His OxyContin habit alone began at 80 mg a day. By the time he finished, he was at 800 mg per day. Add the Percocet and alcohol on top of that.

In 2013, he was back in prison for a car accident while impaired, without insurance and in possession of drugs. He reached out to Veterans Affairs and asked for help. He had every intention of getting sober for good. He was again sent to Bellwood and completed its two-month, cutting-edge PTSD/OSI program. Johannes got off the drugs — to some degree.

“It didn’t click in that alcohol was a problem, just drugs,” says Johannes. “So, I stopped the drugs. I was off the drugs for a good eight, nine months. But, as soon as I got out of Bellwood, I was drinking the same day. I thought I was sober. I was telling everyone I was sober.”

Anyone who believes they are sober when they are drinking alcohol is destined to revisit their addiction, it seems. At least, that is the way it was for Johannes. Within a year, he was back into drugs, all of it, except for the needles.

“Of course, my doctor at that point cut me off my meds [from] the car accident. So, I had to get all my opiates from the street. I got into heroin. Heroin is cheaper. I was doing lines of heroin and fentanyl patches. Smoking fentanyl patches. What a big mess.”

“I’d reached a point in my life where I was now stealing from big-box stores. Going into Walmart with a shopping cart and coming out with two big 60-inch TVs, going to get a fast $500 bucks from dealers [who] buy them. At that point, my habit per day was a good $400-$500 I needed just for myself.”

Another prison sentence. Another year in jail. Johannes received visits from ministers, and he began trying to get his head around changing his life. A fellow veteran-turned monk visited him weekly and got him into meditation. Again, he intended to stay sober and reclaim his life. His pension contributions were banked while he served his prison time. He got out to $30,000 – a powerful reason to lose, or not lose, control.

“The very first day I got out of jail, one of my drug connections met me at the parking lot and drove me to town. Everyone was doing drugs. I said, ‘Okay, just give me a little piece of the fentanyl.’ I smoked a little piece of the fentanyl, and 25 days and an overdose later, I’d spent $30,000. I got arrested on my birthday. There I was, back in jail. Really, really coming down off the fentanyl like you wouldn’t believe. For about two weeks, I couldn’t sleep. All that good stuff that goes with it.”

He spent his final month in jail, in hell. He had no reason to live.

“That was my ultimate bottom. I was in there for a month. I was trying to hang myself in the washroom with bedsheets. I just wanted to die. I just didn’t want to be in my own skin.”

He reached out to Veterans Affairs one more time, and to Vets Canada. He was given another reprieve, put up in a hotel and fed while a bed was readied for him, one more time, at Bellwood. His third and final kick at the can. He knew it.

He completed six weeks at Bellwood and was offered an opportunity to come to Edgewood for Extended Care. Understandably, his Ontario clinicians thought leaving the province would be a wise move. He had also just finished an anger management course at Bellwood and was practicing meditation daily. Johannes agreed, and, in May 2016, he arrived in a province he’d never been to, in a town with literally hundreds of alumni, sober, connected, and supportive. He has never looked back.

First off, his counselor was a fellow veteran. Ryan Tompkins served 23 years, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer First Class.

“I felt like [I was at] home right away. A fellow vet in authority. I felt comfortable,” Johannes says.

And, the Extended Care program was exactly what was needed, he says.

“It gave me the structure which I so craved. It helped me plan my life. I learned how to live. I didn’t know how to do that before. I didn’t know how to wake up at a certain time and to actually get things done. To live. To actually plan my day. And to socialize and not isolate.”

He was recommended to take up yoga, which he did with vigor. He learned more about what makes him tick, all the while attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings five times a week in and around Nanaimo.

“I had a lot of anger. I had used anger all these years to hide every other emotion. Now I know why. To hide my fear and what have you.”

He got himself a sponsor. Lived in a sober house. And, finally, after 10 months, two treatment centre programs in two provinces later, Johannes moved out to a small town within an hour or so of his most recent alma mater rehabilitation centre. Later this month, he expects to attend Edgewood’s monthly Cake Night celebration and claim his two-year medallion.

“I love Edgewood,” he says with an unmistakable sincerity. “I feel like they always accept me. I’m always welcome there. They’re just so nice all the time to me. They always give me compliments when I go in. They always say how good I’m looking. They always try to bring me up.”

These days, Johannes is keeping a low profile, but not so low he isn’t connected. To his friends. His support system. To Edgewood. To family.

He receives a modest pension for his military service, and the PTSD that came with it.

“They don’t foresee me working at all,” he says. “My PTSD level is quite high. They’re going to leave me alone right now, let me do my thing. Just stay sober.”

Living in a small town with one stoplight is right up the alley for this minister’s son.

“I love it. I’m a country boy, so this is right up my alley. I don’t have a driver’s license as of yet, so there’s a city bus that goes right by my house to town,” he says.

“I got a mountain bike, so I’m always on my bike. I got lots of sober friends that will drive me around. I get around just fine.”

There are good days and bad days, he says, though, “the bad days are very few and far between now.”

“A bad day? Well, it might just look like I sleep in. Feel angry. I want to isolate. I might go into mental relapse. It’s moreso [that] the anger comes back. I’ve got to keep my anger in check because that’s old behavior.”

But he doesn’t want to dwell on the negative days when there is so much peace in life now. He practices yoga and meditation daily and is always looking forward to the next local meditation workshops.

“I’m always out in nature. On my paddleboard or on my kayak, mountain biking. I got a ski pass, so I spent almost 40 days up on the mountain this season. I go to yoga all the time. I’m now dating my yoga teacher. She lives down the road,” he says with grin.

He makes coffee for his 12 Step groups, puts away chairs, and is volunteering for their annual rally. Like Bellwood, Edgewood recently launched its own Concurrent Trauma and Addiction program for first responders and military men and women. This pleases Johannes, and he is obviously highly recommending it for those who have worn uniforms, and who have seen and endured more than can be expected without residual effects.

“If I’m coming in with trauma and I’m a soldier, that C-TAP program is very important. It’s important to have people around me who can relate to me. Who are on my level. Especially being a soldier with trauma. We relate to each other much more than civilians. I feel comfortable talking to you because you are a veteran yourself. That’s the way it is.”

And, if at first you don’t succeed, remember to keep at it, he says.

“Well, for me, three tries is quite a magical number. So, I say to anyone there is hope past the anger. There is hope past the isolation. I was isolating too much. There is comfortability after isolating. It comes easier after time. Have patience. It’s all about the patience. Little bits. Little bits at a time.”

In the end, Johannes has come full cirlcle. A quiet life. A handful of good friends. The outdoors. Love. And a returning, deepening faith with a power greater than himself. He’s never been more at peace.

“You don’t need to fight addiction all alone. You just need to ask for help and get curious about a higher power.”

 

By Jeff Vircoe

Shirley Bob retires – Staff Story

One of the great characters of Edgewood is leaving.

After warming hearts and filling tummies of vulnerable patients for over 15 years, Shirley Bob has decided it’s the right time to hand in her cook’s whites.

The Snaw-naw-as First Nations elder is 70, and is frank about the reasons for packing it in.

“My body is giving up. My hands. The orders that you have to put away, picking up the boxes of carrots, potatoes, celery, onions. I suffer two days later with sore arms, and my hands are beginning to cramp. And my legs too. My body is saying enough. Go home now.”

With her quick smile and sarcastic wit, Bob started at Edgewood in the maintenance department in 2002, but was quickly moved by the late Jane Ferguson, founder of Edgewood, to the kitchen. Bob had an extensive background in cooking, having completed the year long Cook Training Program at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) in 1982.

It was clear from the get go she didn’t quite know what she was getting herself into when she showed up at the House of Miracles, as Edgewood is affectionately known.

“I seen it in the newspaper. And I said to myself, hey if I get my foot into an old people’s home I’m happy. So I come here and I see, wow, the doors are locked. I come in and I say good morning to one gentleman. He grumbled at me. Wow, happy people, hey?”

“I worked one month as home making, (maintenance), until late Jane spotted my papers and threw me in the kitchen,” said Bob.

Bob brought a diverse and often called upon presence to the kitchen at Edgewood, now called Bridges Dining. As a First Nation elder, and someone very active in her culture and traditions, she offered a unique bonding opportunity whenever patients with aboriginal backgrounds came into treatment. Her story, and her ancestral lineage are fascinating.

Bob was raised on the Snaw-naw-as reservation in Nanoose Bay, B.C., about a 15 minute drive north of the treatment centre. The Nanoose First Nations, located between Nanaimo and Parsksville, includes a population of 210 Coast Salish people on the reserve and at least 60 off reserve. The traditional territory of the Nanoose people comprised of more than 3,000 hectares, though the reservation includes roughly 50 hectares.

She is the daughter of the late Thomas Edgar Bob Sr., a hereditary chief held in high regard of the Coast Salish people. He passed at age 91 in 2004. Her father’s father, Snaw-naw-as Bob, was also a hereditary chief.

“Hereditary chiefs carry the responsibility of ensuring the traditions, protocols, songs, dances of the community, which have been passed down for hundreds of generations, are respected and kept alive. They are caretakers of the people and the culture, according to Bob Joseph who explained the position in a 2016 blog post at Indigenous Corporate Training (www.ictinc.ca).

As the daughter of a chief, Shirley Bob likes to remind friends playfully, she is in fact “a princess.”

She was raised with four sisters and two bothers, and has two sons, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren of her own. Two other sons have passed away.

Though there was alcohol in her upbringing, it was not as damaging to her as some of the harshness she and her siblings were experiencing outside of her home.

“We lived on the reserve. We tried coming this way, into Nanaimo, to go to school, but they were too prejudiced. Parsksville wasn’t. So we went to school that way. Parksville was really good. They treated you like human beings – except when you were competing in sports,” she recalls.

But alcohol did become a factor in her life. She won’t go into details about it. Suffice to say  “It was in my family. Still is.”

At one point in her 20s she became an addictions counselor for her people, having been through an intense training program at Kakwis on Meares Island, off Tofino. The facility was on the site of the former Christie Indian Residential School. She would take clients to workshops to help them deal with their issues. She would also go on to work for two years at the First Nations treatment centre at Tsow Tun Le Lum on her reserve.

At age 33, looking at the face of her youngest son, Shirley faced her own addiction issues.

“I’m looking at him and I say my son can’t grow up like this. So I quit. Just like that. I shut it down,” she says. “I did it for my son. I did not want him growing up smelling ashtrays or the stink of stale beer spilled on the floor. Or having to pick up empties.”

To a thunderous applause, in 2006 she accepted a 25 year medallian at an Edgewood Cake Night celebration. She remains abstinent to this day.

Bob spent many years cooking for cultural gatherings in the Long House on the reserve, as well as in Big Houses in Nanaimo and Chemainus Bay. She likes to tell the story of how in the 1980s, she and two other women were once chosen to be part of a major celebration of First Nations culture held for thousands at BC Place in Vancouver. Arriving at the big dome from her little reservation with a belief that she was pretty good in the kitchen, she found her brothers and sisters from other tribes were more than capable themselves.

“I knew how to clean fish. I was watching and they would (swish sound), skinned it. I said may I try that, they said nope. They wouldn’t let me try that. All they wanted me to do was to cut the ends off that they didn’t need – the fins and that. One man said “Can you do that without hurting yourself?” I looked at him and said are we being sarcastic? He said “Yeah. Can you take it?” I said oh yeah. He was a comical guy. He said ‘The reason I’m saying that is because these knives are really sharp.” In typical cheeky fashion, Shirley asked “You got steel gloves?”

“But I got through it. That was an honor to cook there,” she recalls with a smile.

That bluntness and willingness to tell it like it is has been a refreshing and appreciated aspect of Shirley Bob’s personality.

“The First Nations patients, I go out and I greet them. I say do this, do that. And I do everything with them – I try to,” she says. “Some of them are good. Some of them you can’t get through to them.”

She recalls one man who came to treatment from the Northwest Territories and wasn’t a fan of therapeutic duties, especially in the kitchen (which most alumni recall as solid team and esteem building exercises).

“I could here was him saying, they are picking on us First Nations. I’d say No they’re not! He’d say “Yes they are. They’re making us slaves. I’d say I’ll get to you later.

“I stopped him and I explained to him First Nations are not picked on here. They are treated like the rest of the people. Orientals aren’t picked on. Nobody is picked on. You got to do your share, yes. But you will learn. You are in the kitchen now. You start from the dishes, to dining area, to kitchen help, mopping the floors in the evening. Mopping there. You got to go through all those steps. Nobody is picking on you. You’ve got breakfast lunch and supper. He said thanks.”

“I said look at my skin. I’m telling you what to do. Are you mad? He said no. I said well grow up.”

“So he started understanding. What a guy,” she says with smile and a shake of her head.”

For his part, Bob’s supervisor, Bridges manager Clay Sanders, says it’s not just the First Nations cultural aspects that made her such a valuable member of the Bridges Dining team.

“She’s a hugely interesting woman. She’s probably the most grounded employee I’ve got,” says Sanders. “I see calmness. I see an acceptance.”

He told how Shirley was a vital component a few years previous when a decision was made to smudge the kitchen and dining room area in First Nations tradition. And how another time she was instrumental in the provision of a just-like-home-cooked-dinner for a host of Nunavut patients who had arrived at Edgewood.

“I had to source some Cariboo,” says Sanders. “We ended up going through Rankin Inlet and getting it from the Trappers Association. So they shipped us a couple of boxes of frozen Cariboo. Shirley was a big part of that dinner and made some scow (bannock) bread as well.”

“If there’s anything I ever need from her, she would have no hesitation. She would give you the shirt off her back. She reminds me of my mom. A very dignified lady with a hell of a sense of humor.”

As she prepares to retire, Shirley says she wants to down size her house, and spend more time with her grandchildren. She will continue to help out at First Nations and family events and celebrations, on the Island reserves when asked, and in the school districts.

And she says she’s always available to work as a fill in for Edgewood if needed, though Sanders isn’t buying that willingness just yet. He’s seen others retire from kitchens.

“When I phone her and say hey Shirley, can I get you to cover a shift for me? I expect all I’m going to hear is her giggling. Before the no.”

For her part Shirley wanted to make sure all the staff and patients who came through Edgewood during her time know how much she appreciated working at the centre.

“I love all of the staff. It was so nice to work with every one of them. They had nice, touching smiles. They were friendly. They were all friendly. At least they said good morning!”

And the clients?

“I loved working with the patients. You see them come in, and two weeks later you see such a difference in them. Different expressions. They’re coming alive. That’s what I love to see. I’m going to miss that.”

“It’s been awesome. I came here to relax. It is a soothing place. Really soothing. To me it has been.”

 

By Jeff Vircoe

LIFE ON THE FRONT LINES: DR. GARY RICHARDSON IS ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S MOST ADDICTION SAVVY PHYSICIANS

­­­­­By Jeff Vircoe

 

Gary Richardson was a young physician in a new country when the warning came. It arrived loud and clear.

An elderly patient in his private practice heard he was leaving to go to work at an addiction treatment centre, and she wanted to offer some advice about his soon-to-be clientele.

“Just remember they’re all liars on wheels.”

And with that one pronouncement, the young doctor was introduced to the most common perception about the tens of millions in North America who suffer from substance use disorders. The judgement, the stigma, that says users are, at their core, dishonest and basically unworthy of the love and compassion with which members of society with other illnesses are treated. Essentially, throwaways.

Thankfully, Richardson kept an open mind to that advice. Today, 15 years later, having treated over 14,000 addicts, his mind remains open, his reservoir of compassion as full as ever. Addicts crying for help continue to arrive. He and his team continue to provide it.

Gary Richardson is the Director of Medical Services at Edgewood Addiction Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, B.C. on Vancouver Island. Established in 1994, Edgewood mental healh and addiction treatment centre treats alcoholics and other addicts, many of whom struggle with multiple mental and physical health complications, with its multi-disciplinary team of physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, Masters-level clinicians and others. It’s a daunting challenge, one the staff take seriously. In fact, staffing at this 85-bed inpatient facility is nearly 150-strong. Nobody slips through the cracks here.

Dr. Richardson’s decade and a half as a full-time physician at one of the country’s busiest and longest-serving addiction treatment centres has enabled him to form uniquely qualified opinions based on science, spirit, experience and plenty of evidence.

Richardson was born and raised in Port Elizabeth, a city of 1.3 million on the most southern portion of the African continent. Though 51, his youthful face hides his age well. He’s fit. He smiles easily and often. Always polite, he makes a point to use first names when addressing those around him.

During his fifth year studying medicine, he married Karen, a friend with whom he had grown up his whole life. The couple’s parents were friends, so Gary likes to say they knew each other from their stroller days.

After completing his internship in 1990, he spent much of the next year and a half working in hospitals in South Africa. The couple purchased a home before deciding to travel and work abroad for a year. Karen, a school teacher, had once been a high school exchange student with the Rotary Club and had spent a year in Canada. She was a big fan of the country. Before settling down to raise children, they felt the time was right to travel. In 1992, they arrived in Lampman, 50 km northeast of Estevan in southern Saskatchewan, where Dr. Richardson commenced work as a family doctor.

It was a bold endeavor in a new country with a new climate. Though he had seen smatterings of snow at higher elevations in his home country, it wasn’t Canadian Prairies snow. The new physician learned the hard way about the severity of Canadian winters.

One blustery, snowy, mid-winter night, while heading for dinner at another physician’s house, his car broke down on a side road. Wearing just a light jacket in a -50 windchill storm, he endeavored to free the vehicle from the snow. “I got the front bumper rocking, my wife’s trying to go back and forth,” he says with a smile. After some time, they managed to get the car free and made their way to their dinner engagement. Their dinner host was alarmed.

“As he opened the door, he just looked at my ears and he went, ‘Oh dear, you’re in trouble.’ He could see that the top part of them had frozen,” recalls Richardson. “I slept the next few weeks with a headband on. I was concerned that my ears were going to end up being deformed. I had sensitive ears for years to heat and cold. That was a good learning experience.”

While the Richardsons were adapting to their new climate and country, their homeland was also in a process of change. Apartheid, a system of racial segregation to which South Africa had adhered since 1948, was heading for an explosive ending. As Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he began to work with President F.W. de Klerk’s government on a new constitution. The two would share the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, enfranchising the non-white majority and ending the apartheid system two years after the Richardsons arrived in Canada. But, by then, the couple had already begun to see Canada as home.

“It took leaving the country to be able to look at things more objectively,” says Richardson. “To realize that there was a lot of stuff there that we thought was normal, but it wasn’t.”

After working in Saskatoon and developing a host of what have become lifelong friends, “we just sort of decided to extend our stay,” he says. “After a couple of years, we realized that this is where we wanted to live. We were very grateful to be here. We wanted to start a family here.”

Three children and 15 years later, they remain. A motorhome trip to Vancouver Island with their newborn son and visiting parents in 1995 left a huge impression on the Richardsons.

“When we saw the Island, my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Wow! If there’s ever an opportunity to live out here…’ It was incredible!”

Opportunity knocked when they had a chance to purchase a general family practice. They made their way to Nanaimo in 1998, leaving behind deep connections in Lampman, Regina and Saskatoon.

“Karen and I always say that our time in Saskatchewan Canadianized us. On so many fronts, we are very grateful for our time there.”

Dr. Gary Richardson at work with a member of Edgewood Treatment Centre‘s team of nurses.

The Richardson family in Canada grew. And, over the course of the next 12 years, all the couple’s blood-family members, including parents and in-laws, would leave South Africa and join them on Vancouver Island.

In Nanaimo, Dr. Richardson joined a frantic pace of handling medical issues for an exceptionally busy clinic. It was go-go-go, and the young doctor, now with two young children and another on the way, was soon overwhelmed. For nearly four years he kept the pace, paying the bills, going flat out. Like most doctors, his heart was in the right place, wanting to help people. But there was only so much of him to go around.

“I reached a point where I was probably pretty close to burn out. I was trying to be the best husband I could be, the best dad I could be, the best physician I could be. I was spread pretty thin. I had a good few-thousand [patients],” he recalls.

“Retrospectively, I didn’t know how to say no. People would come to me with significant medical histories. I remember having someone coming to me with severe eating disorder, and here was a specialist coming to me and asking if I’d take them on as a family doc … I didn’t know how to say no. I just wanted to help people, but didn’t have really good boundaries.”

Richardson is a man of deep faith, and he believes things happen for good reasons. One Sunday, a visitor to the church the Richardsons attended told him about a job coming up at a local addiction treatment centre. That facility was Edgewood. The founder and owner was Jane Ferguson, a woman who just happened to be one of his patients.

“It was one of those conversations where time stopped for a moment,” Richardson recalls.

“Jane was actually one of my patients. I’d looked after her for almost two years before my coming to Edgewood. I knew all about Jane. She was Edgewood. So, I had heard all about this incredible place and the work that she did. I think she respected my current position as a family doctor at that time. She could tell that I loved it.”

The interview process was successful and Richardson was offered the position. He began work in 2002.

With a background in private practice and emergency rooms, Edgewood presented an unfamiliar environment for the new doctor. With 85 residential inpatients and another 40 onsite in extended care at any given time, the pace of work was manageable – especially when compared to the more than 3,000 patients he had been looking after in his private practice.

But, working at a busy treatment centre presented a daunting and steep learning curve. After all, addiction was a new realm in which Richardson, like most doctors, had had little training. There was so much to learn. Withdrawal management can be a life-threatening proposition. Certain substances bring higher medical risks. There are many cognition issues. Plenty of patients have experienced serious trauma.

And then there’s the shame of it all. Sometimes an addict fresh out of the fire is less than honest – or downright defiant – about the extent of the issues he or she faces. The ‘liars on wheels’ warning proved appropriate in that sense. But it is also understandable.

“The battle is intense when patients arrive here,” Richardson says with a shrug. “Because the last place the disease wants the patient is in these walls, in this building.”

Being a major part of a medical team of counselors, psychiatrists, nurses and physicians fired up Richardson in a way he hadn’t felt before.

“To be working in a place that so passionately works at putting the disease in its place, that’s the part that I love. Confronting the disease very aggressively and from every angle is what we do as a team. And we see beautiful people come out.”

In 2003, Jane Ferguson would die in a horrible private plane crash near Penticton, B.C.. Shaken but united, Richardson and the rest of the staff came together in their grief. Several joined in an ownership agreement with Ferguson’s family, allowing the centre to continue the work Jane had started.

Today, Edgewood mental health and addiction treatment centre has over 4,000 alumni, a family of previous patients in regular contact with the facility that launched their recoveries, on its mailing list. As well, it has created the Edgewood Health Network, Canada’s largest provider of addiction treatment and mental health services, with treatment centres and clinics from Nanaimo to Montreal.

After 15-plus years at Edgewood, Richardson continues to see his arrival and tenure at the centre as being something that was meant to be.

“Typically, in my medical career, I got itchy feet after four or five years of working in the same area. That never happened here. To me that was a sign.”

Richardson would go on to be certified twice in addiction medicine, once through the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2004) and again a decade later through the American Board of Addiction Medicine. But the formal letters behind his name do not adequately explain the truth of working with patients in their battle to be free from mental health addiction. Richardson has seen all facets of the mental, physical and spiritual warfare that is addiction treatment. His compassion level has not wavered since he arrived.

“I just love seeing the people get healthy. I love seeing the transformation in people’s lives. To be a small part of that is such a privilege. Going into the medical field, you want to see people change and get healthy and be part of that. We get to see that every day of our lives here.”

Doctors having fun. Edgewood’s full time psychiatrists, Dr. Charles Whelton (L) and Mel Vincent, are never shy about having a little photobombing fun with physician Dr. Gary Richardson.

Going back to the warning he received about addicts being ‘liars on wheels’, he understands as well as anyone the fight necessary to find recovery.

“For people active in addiction, they generally are liars on wheels, because nothing else matters to them but to use. But the flip side of that is I see people that had been liars on wheels and they do a complete 180-degree turn. They find themselves in an environment where it’s safe to actually get honest. Get brutally honest,” he says.

He is aware of the stigma addicts face, and he treats them as he treats staff, with respect, integrity, and straightforwardness. He discusses all aspects of the disease with the patients, and does not hesitate to talk prognosis with someone who feels they want to leave early, before what is recommended. When it comes to advice, he is more than likely to bring up the word honesty as one of the most valuable tools for getting well.

“You know that saying, ‘You’re as sick as your secrets?’ Well, your secrets stand between you and health or you and recovery. When I find a patient clearly getting honest with me, I take a moment to actually say, ‘I appreciate your honesty.”

He continues, “My way of putting it into context is I speak of fertile ground. Anything that the person is keeping secret or keeping bottled up that speaks to emotions and feelings becomes fertile ground for the illness. I speak of needing to purge themselves of all that fertile ground so that, by the time they leave Edgewood, there isn’t any fertile ground left for the illness. Then, carrying it forward into their recovery on a daily basis, to actually practice that, so they are being true to themselves, being honest. So they are not laying down any new fertile ground for the illness.”

He understands the liars-on-wheels warning. He knows how it works. And he knows Edgewood is a special place.

“Why am I passionate about that? It is a privilege to work in a place where feedback is allowed and is so important, so critical. It makes for an incredible work environment,” he said. “As much as the work is tough that we do, because there is such a team, on a daily basis I can see how different things happen and how different members of the team play different roles in terms of the patients getting healthy. Seeing the clinical [team] interacting with the medical [team], people walking through medical stuff, sometimes really tough stuff. Having this amazing team that is doing all this good clinical work with the patients.”

“Even bigger than that is the love and support that everyone gets as patients and as staff. I hear it all the time, when people walk into this place, that there’s something about it, right? For that to be one’s workplace, well, I feel really blessed.”

 

Alumnus Celebrates A Decade of Recovery

My name is Judy P. and I was an inpatient at Edgewood during October, November and December, 2007. I also returned the following year for a week of Insite.

I am coming up on my 10-year anniversary of being clean and sober. At 62 years old, I am very happy about this and will mark the occasion in style, I am sure.

My path to become an Edgewood alumnus has been interesting to say the least. I owe much of it to a remarkable woman — my best friend.

In 2007, Kathe, who is now 38 years sober, took me out for dinner one evening and suggested, in a very kind way, that perhaps I was drinking too much. She pointed out that I had told her on a previous occasion I was probably drinking too much wine. It did not go over well. I sat in heated silence, seething with anger, basically wriggling in my seat with zero witty come backs. I went home. I did not speak to her for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, whether I agreed with her or not was not the point. The point was that I could not get her words out of my head.

Kathe truly wrecked drinking for me. I would pour myself a glass of wine in my crystal goblet, take a sip, and her words just kept echoing in my mind, my internal committee debating their merit.

“Do I drink too much?” Well, sure, but so what?

“If you had been through what I’ve been through, you would drink too.”

I even had a therapist and a GP that counseled me. I was told, “Your problem isn’t drinking, your problem is your relationship,” or, “You need to get rid of him.”

I am including this because well-meaning health professionals are not necessarily trained nor do they know a great deal about alcohol abuse. I was having a very hard time admitting I was an alcoholic. I went around and around with that but, in the end, I decided that I just wanted to stop drinking and if that made me an alcoholic, then, fine, I was an alcoholic.

Kathe gave me the Big Book to read. I phoned her one evening after drinking several glasses of wine. She asked me what I thought of the book. I told her I thought it was stupid and had nothing to do with me.

After waking up another morning, feeling hung over and absolutely wretched and driving my son to school, I finally decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I emailed Kathe and said I was ready. She was amazing! She booked me into Edgewood. She tried Betty Ford first, but when she told them it was for a friend, the receptionist kept telling her, “It’s alright dear, you can tell me it’s really for you. People do it all the time.” She hung up and called Edgewood. She offered to look after my son for the duration of my stay.

To me, Kathe is the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful about A.A., an amazing human being with whom I count myself extremely fortunate to be friends. She wasn’t just kind and caring. She was knowledgeable and effective. She went with me to see a counselor in another town, and she flew with me to Nanaimo. She brought my son out to visit me. I owe my sobriety, and much more, to her. I was a mess, and she picked me up and put me exactly in the right place to get the help I needed. It doesn’t get any better than that. I will always be grateful to her for having the courage to call me out.

I signed into Edgewood on October 17, 2007, which is my anniversary. I left on December 14.

My memories? Well, my counselor was Dale Burke, who, along with the other staff, was incredible. I can remember very clearly how confused and upset I was when I showed up. I was so bewildered that I had actually checked myself into rehab, and I questioned the wisdom of that decision daily for the first couple of weeks. I questioned Dale so much that she finally drew on a page in my binder for me to look at.

“Judy is an Alcoholic.”

I do remember having a hard time with all the rules. Not because I have authority issues, but because, as a mature business person with success under my belt, I was used to being the authority. I remember complaining to a friend on the phone during the second week, “They keep telling me what to do!”

She replied, “Why don’t you try doing what they tell you?”

Good grief. Apparently, not listening to what others tell me to do was not restricted to my drinking.

The Serenity Prayer also pissed me off immediately. My attitude was, well, maybe all you losers who have nothing better to do can be serene. This was said inside my head, but dripping with sarcasm. Seriously. Who has time for this stuff? I had places to go, people to see, and things to do – except I didn’t. I was stuck in that chair, in that auditorium, by my own admission.

Weeks later, while I was obsessing about my boyfriend, a peer said to me, “Oh, you have the codependent crazies.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks. There was a name for that? There was a condition that other people experience similar to the one I was feeling? That was my eureka moment. Far more than identifying with being like other alcoholics in treatment, it resonated, and I literally reverberated with that recognition. It was a huge turning point for me. The book Codependent No More and its sequel have both proven very influential.

I did not receive a chip when I left, as the counselors felt I still needed more time. However, I did attend aftercare groups for a year. I went to A.A. for 90 visits in 90 days and I got a sponsor. My aftercare plan suggestions continued for years, as did Big Book studies and my Insite stay at Edgewood.

Still, it was not a smooth transition. It was rough and bumpy, and I got in my own way at every conceivable step. Just trying to be honest with myself, let alone the rest of the world, was dicey. My mind was a whirling mass of anxiety spiked with rage, self-pity and blame. I was an equal-opportunity blamer, dumping as much on myself by excusing the bad behavior of others, and simultaneously spewing venom on the unchosen. Again, I was busy doing this inside my own head.

I clearly remember the first time I drowned out the raucous, nasty, noise in my head with gratitude. It seems the two are mutually exclusive. At least, for me they are. It gave me peace of mind. That was, and is, the most valuable thing I learned, or, at least, the one I came to rely on the most.

My biggest challenge in early recovery was an abusive relationship in which I was embroiled, of which I continued to reel in and out for my first few years before ending it for good seven years ago.

But, thanks to Edgewood, having another drink was not an issue. I stayed sober throughout it and have not had a drink since before checking into Edgewood. That relationship signified my rock bottom, and I needed to be living sober long enough to realize my self-worth. Once I got out of the relationship, I felt truly free.

Going to Edgewood and A.A. gave me the tools to do that.

These days, I am retired, happily remarried and living in Pennsylvania. My husband, an anesthesiologist, is a wonderful man — intelligent, kind-hearted and the owner of a great sense of humor. Living on 150 acres in the country with a flowing stream, we are about 90 miles from New York City. Our quiet life is punctuated with trips into the city to see a play or shop, and lots of travel. Life is very good.

I have one son. He came to visit me in Edgewood one family day. If you ask him about my drinking, he will tell you he only ever saw me drunk maybe twice. I simply did not drink around him. He did, however, suffer through the rollercoaster of emotional upheaval and the chaos of the effects of my drinking and being involved in an abusive relationship. We have talked about this many times and I have made amends; he assures me that all is well. Thank God. He is now 23 and has just graduated with his Masters Degree. He went through university at a prestigious post-graduate school on scholastic scholarships, and, if I was any prouder of him my head would explode. He is kind and big-hearted, and I love him to bits.

In closing, I hope my story can be of some use to our extended family of Edgewood alumni. Over the years, I have recommended Edgewood to several people. It was an amazing experience. Ten years later, I am still very grateful for having had the opportunity to get sober and turn my life around in such a supportive, caring place.

Some call it service work. Others call it volunteering.

Written By: Jeff Vircoe

No matter what you call it, the giving of your time is about as unselfish a gift as you can present. And this week Canadians from St. John to Tofino are standing up to say thank you to the givers.

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week. Around the Edgewood Health Network, volunteers have long been a part of the fabric that makes treatment successful. It fact integrating volunteers into both Bellwood and Edgewood goes back to the roots of these facilities.

At Edgewood, including alumni in all kinds of events – from picnics to Christmas events, from driving inpatients to outside meetings to taking them shopping, to driving extended patients to the airport for home trips, wrapping presents at Christmas, to encouraging former patients to tell their stories at speaker meetings has always been a big priority.

“For me, when it comes to our volunteers, our alumni, is they offer our patients their experience, strength and hope,” says Edgewood’s clinical director, Elizabeth Loudon. “They talk to our patients, about being where they’re at, and the fact that their lives are so different today. I’m very appreciative of our volunteers, and what they are able to give our patients,” she says.

In Extended Care, volunteering is a big part of the weekly plans each patient builds. Patients are encouraged to be in school, work or do volunteer work as part of their day to day process. So not only are they receiving the help from volunteers, they become volunteers themselves.

“We use a lot of volunteers in extended,” says Jim Edwards, who has been helping patients get ready for their transition back to their lives as an extended care counselor for over a decade.  “Every day there are alumni and other men and women in recovery coming by, helping out our patients. Rides to meetings, they take them hiking, kayaking, driving them up to the ski hill.  They take them on home trips to get their stuff and bring them back. They help them to go into their old place, and clean up all the paraphernalia and messes so that they can have a safe place to re-establish themselves. I can’t think of where they don’t volunteer, really.”

Be it in Nanaimo or Toronto, volunteering has always been a method of connecting people back into their communities.

In his book A Special Calling: My Life in Addiction Treatment and Care, the late Dr. Bell, founder of Bellwood, described the role volunteers, both alumni and the citizens of Leaside in Toronto, played in the Ontario arm of the EHN.

“Their genuine concern, understanding and compassion became a very significant part of our entire recovery program,” he wrote, describing the residents who lived near the old Donwood Institute in the late 1960s.

For their part, organizations like Volunteer Nanaimo, which serves the non-profit organizations in greater Nanaimo by organizing and matching the waves of volunteers who phone in to a specific non-profit or needy service, appreciates everything Edgewood patients do to help the community.

“They’re such quality people, high caliber, and very enthusiastic,” says Rita Innamorati, a spokesperson for Volunteer Nanaimo.

She explains how Edgewood extended care patients volunteer for all sorts of causes and organizations from music festivals to food banks, from the SPCA to the Vancouver Island Exhibition country fair each year. In fact during the National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Volunteer Nanaimo will be hosting a luncheon for almost 400 community volunteers at a Beban Park, a local community hall complex.  Edgewood extended care patients will be in group therapy during that luncheon, but many of them will come down after their own lunch to tear down and tidy up after the luncheon. It’s all greatly appreciated and helps build community relations between organizations, citizens and the recovery community , says Innamorati.

For Bellwood Health Services, each year during the National Volunteer Appreciation Week, a special dinner with all the volunteers and some staff is held in honour of all the work that they do at Bellwood. From the first time a client walks into treatment to the day they leave and need to make plans to transition back into their communities; Bellwood volunteers are always there to assure clients that they are not alone.

“It really helps us and I think it benefits patients too. They benefit in that they have a place to go, a place they are appreciated. It’s good for self esteem, for stamina. It gives them a place to go, a reason to get up, to be productive.”