POWELL RIVER, B.C. — There exists as much stigma about drug users as about the centres that treat their addictions. Here are a few stories of people who sought treatment for substance abuse, both their backgrounds and the stereotypes they themselves held about rehab facilities. Some of them have given only their first names:
Growing up the son of a missionary, Joel McNair says his family never vacationed, they moved. The Saskatchewan native followed his dream to "drive the shiny red fire truck" and became a firefighter in Saskatoon in 2003. Seven years later he responded to a series of calls involving dead children and turned to alcohol to cope with post-traumatic stress.
He says his addiction got to the point where he was getting drunk and passing out twice a day. McNair arrived at the Sunshine Coast Health Centre in March and says he has come to realize the stigma around treatment centres and their clients "isn't even a relative of accurate."
"There are some pretty moving moments around here. Complete strangers who want nothing but the best for you because they understand at some level what you're going through," McNair says.
He remembers a moment during group therapy involving a rig worker who was shot in Afghanistan while serving in the military.
"I tell a story and he's in tears. He gets up and he's twice my size, it feels like, and suddenly you're in the middle of this incredibly loving bear hug."
Geoff Thompson worked as a communications consultant in the corporate world until the age of 39, which he says is the "statistical average" for when people ask for help with alcoholism.
After getting help, Thompson shifted careers and earned a PhD in psychology. Now he is the program director at Sunshine Coast.
"Maybe all of this excess drug use, maybe there's something in our society that is contributing to it. That may be a tough thing for a lot of people to take a look it," he says.
"That kind of turns the tables, and I suspect a lot of people are uncomfortable with that idea, that maybe we're partly at fault."
Jonny, who is in his mid-30s, grew up the son of a Calgary lawyer. He was the middle child, the only boy in a family of seven, and was bullied "quite a bit" after moving from school to school.
He became addicted to alcohol and cocaine while doing shift work on the oil rigs. His first stint in Sunshine Coast was in 2008, followed by three years of sobriety. A relapse brought him back early this year, but his first visit had already changed his view of treatment centres.
"My conception of them was it would just be a bunch of heroin addicts who are homeless, who are dirty, thieves, or criminals … the people who never got a chance at life," he says.
He says he was wrong.
"It's your neighbour. It's your lawyer. It's your doctor. It's your teacher. It's business owners. Everyone under the moon. And they all have different stories."
Troy's first experience with opioids was a prescription he was given after surgery to treat Crohn's disease. The ensuing addiction saw him cycle in and out of rehab, losing his marriage of 27 years and a multimillion-dollar business on Vancouver Island he had started. Troy eventually began injecting heroin, developing a blood-bone infection that kept him in the hospital for three months last year.
"I remember coming here the first time and hearing the stories of people losing everything and I distinctively remember thinking, 'That'll never happen to me. Never.' And here I am. So it can happen to anybody," he says. "This isn't by choice. I've been in rehab here with 250 to 300 guys over the four times I've been here and I've never met one who did this by choice. We don't wake up one day and say, 'Ah, I think today's a good day to become a drug addict.' "
Warren realized his dream of working in the film industry when he became an assistant director in Vancouver. He drank more because of job stress before turning to other drugs. Cocaine became "an animal" he couldn't control.
"In my business, I've watched people's lives get destroyed. I've watched people die. I've watched people overdose. They don't come into work the next day. What happened? Oh, they died of a cocaine overdose, heroin overdose? Doesn't get talked about," he says.
"There's a bulletin board where they stick up a piece of paper saying someone died. They lived from this point to this point. There's a dash between. In lieu of flowers send your donations to this charity. And then when there are three or four on the board the old ones get thrown off. But nothing changes."
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Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press
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