By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (www.ccsa.ca) estimates that between 2016-2017 roughly 1 out of every 341 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador were in treatment for substance abuse, and 1 in 4 accessing treatment were doing so for multiple substances. First among them is alcohol, and one third of those seeking treatment have done so before.
The Addiction Recovery Drop-In Centre, located in the Harmon Mall in Stephenville, has provided an understanding and judgement-free space for individuals battling addictions for over five years. The centre’s founder, Don Russell, saw that there was a need in the community and opened its doors on Jan. 5, 2016.
The centre is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday every week from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and Russell shared that there is usually a good mix of individuals who are at different points in their journey to recovery.
“I have 18 to 20 regulars, but there is always somebody new coming in,” said Russell. “Some go to A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous), some come here, some see counsellors, and some do all of it. There are three here now who have over five years of sobriety since I started.”
One regular, who we will not name, has been sober for the past 26 years. He said that he is very grateful for Russell being there to help.
“Resentment is bad. I went through a lot of years resentful and angry. I thought I hated myself, but I’m fighting now. I have to be number one. If I don’t like myself enough and I spend all my time contrary, there’s nobody going to like me for that.”
Russell said the centre offers a safe space for people to get the guidance they need to get over the hurdles they face along the journey to their sobriety.
“They come here for some support, and I explain the program to them; my background. I explain recovery and the anxiety, depression, fear, guilt, and shame that goes along with it once you stop using,” said Russell. “Sometimes the using is a way to cover up some of those feelings, and some things people have done that they wish they hadn’t done. You face these things in recovery and you deal with it, and they need help and assistance along the way to understand what they are going to go through.”
Russell said there are no set programs or schedules, and that people can drop in at any time while they’re open and stay for as long as they want.
“I have people from all different walks of life,” said Russell. “Some people are older, some people are middle-aged, and some are younger. They are all progressing through different stages of their lives, and when you mix all that together in a therapeutic environment, it makes them all feel welcome.”
Russell said one of the most important things about the centre is that it allows people to feel safe and comfortable from the moment that they first walk through the doors. There is a pool table, crib board, guitars, a keyboard, and a table that people can sit around to have coffee, tea, some food, and just talk.
“(It’s) The atmosphere here that you will notice right away. I’m not set up to have it where people don’t engage – they interact constantly,” said Russell. “There’s a lot of healing and interaction and people with the same problem know how to speak to each other, and they help each other through their turmoil and struggles as they go along.”
One woman, who has been in recovery for the past nine months, said she feels so much better knowing that this resource is here and shared that it has helped her immensely throughout her recovery.
“I come here. I’m at peace. Chatting to the people here is nice and if we want to talk to Don we can. It is really good. I’m very happy to be here.”
Russell, who has numerous degrees and designations in the field of addictions and has been in recovery himself for 37 years, understands the importance of being able to talk through the struggles people face at every point during recovery.
“I feel that I understand and I know they need understanding,” said Russell. “We get along well. It’s very laid-back. We have a lot of humour, and humour is very therapeutic. Some people have their troubles. They’ve made mistakes and are paying the price regarding the guilt and shame. Forgiveness is hard sometimes, but you need to talk about it.”
Russell receives no money from the government and no salary for the work he does. He is able to keep the doors open and pay the rent because of numerous generous donations from different organizations around the community.
“There is no money involved. There’s no files. There’s no notes involved. I just count people,” said Russell. “There have been 8,700 visits in five years at nine hours a week, and sometimes we were shut down during COVID.”
Russell no longer has to worry about pandemic-related shutdowns anymore as the centre is now considered an essential service by the government, as it is essential for people in recovery to have that safe space.
“It’s a place to go. People in recovery don’t want to be around bars but they need to socialize and the things they’d like to talk about you can’t talk about in Tim Horton’s. There’s no privacy,” said Russell. “It’s completely open, but anytime people want to talk to me on the QT, I’m available for that and it happens about once or twice a day. It’s a slow process. Not everybody heals at the same time, but that’s what makes it so effective.”
Another who frequents the drop in centre said that it has been instrumental in teaching him how to be around people again.
“I have been withdrawn from society a lot and this place here has brought out my socializing and my ability to meet people again. It’s a great place to go; very positive. I’m struggling but I keep trying.”