Returning to your small, northern town as a recovering alcoholic or drug addict is a tough battle.
Many fall back into the same peer group, the same habits they had before they left for counselling and detoxification.
For one Carcross resident, it was different.
He returned from the Last Door treatment centre in New Westminster, BC, and started Narcotics Anonymous for his community.
Darren Galer, an addictions counsellor at Last Door, told the Carcross resident’s story.
The 23-year-old First Nation addict has to travel regularly to Vancouver for dialysis.
During the blood transfusions, the nurses always told him, “If you don’t stop drinking, you’re going to die.” The crack-cocaine he was using also worried the nurses.
So he finally referred himself to the Last Door program.
“He was literally dying,” said Galer.
When clients like the Carcross resident come to Last Door, social interaction and communication make for a “noninstitutionalized environment.”
“You don’t have staff walking around in white coats with clipboards, assessing you, telling you what you need to do. It’s a therapeutic community. It’s a pure model where guys in treatment are keeping each other accountable.”
Support is offered through one-on-one counselling, group therapy and an addictions doctor.
Clients are also encouraged to spend time away from the centre. Rather than having a gym or swimming pool at the treatment facility, they do those activities right in New Westminster.
“You’re not confined out in the bush. Guys are invited to go out in the community, feel a part of it, feel normal,” said Galer, who also went through the Last Door program.
As a young adult, Galer used almost every drug there was – cocaine, heroin, marijuana and alcohol.
“My life, on a personal level, was as bad as it could get.”
He grew up in a tight family and had a good upbringing, he said.
“I’m kind of the proof that addiction doesn’t have to have a shitty childhood or abuse. It can be experimentation gone wrong.”
Living on the streets, nothing fazed him. The scariest part, he said, was thinking about making it through a day when he had no pot.
Even walking through a US airport with drugs and the thought of going to an American jail didn’t convince him to stop.
Coincidentally, as he spoke about his experience, I Can See Clearly Now played in the coffee shop, the lyrics, “It’s going to be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day,” rattled out of the speakers.
After six years of heroin and crack-cocaine and trying 13 different treatment centres, Galer made his way to Last Door.
“When I got there, it was the fact that I wasn’t listening to any authoritative person. It was a group of guys who surrounded me, helped me just get through the first couple days of detox and being sick and being crazy.”
This kind of support let Galer find sobriety and also allowed the Carcross resident to complete treatment.
“In an attempt to bring some recovery with him and help other people in his community,” he returned to his small hometown.
“They either go home and get caught up in the same old stuff and don’t follow the after-care program or they become the influence in their community to provide some recovery.”
The Carcross resident was the latter. He’s already the founder of the town’s Narcotics Anonymous meetings and now he plans on going to Vancouver Community College to get a counselling certificate. He wants to return to help out at Last Door, like Galer did.
“Just being around Carcross and the community over the last couple days, it’s completely evident that he’s doing good,” said Galer. “I think everybody who’s known him through his troubles are pretty proud and surprised at the accomplishments he’s made.”
His story of recovery helped bring the organization to the Yukon.
The Carcross/Tagish First Nation government invited Last Door to the Council of Yukon First Nations General Assembly. They set up an information booth, but they also wanted to meet with some of the chiefs.
“He’s the reason they wanted a little bit more information on our program,” said Galer. “He’s their proof.”
Last Door also came north to meet with the territory’s detoxification services, Indian Affairs and family and children’s services.
The organization hopes to streamline referrals, said Galer, because addicts have to wait a long time or be shipped around before they can get help.
“We just want to meet the people who are involved in that process to less complicate the situation.”
There aren’t enough treatment centres in the Yukon, said Galer.
What the territory needs, he said, is a treatment facility that provides long-term support and teaches a new way of living. Like Last Door, it has to be about the solution, not the problem.
“I think sometimes a community gets together and victimizes themselves over something that’s done, that’s over. Rather than let it dictate what you do, how can we get past that?”
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org