Clean and sober in Vancouver

A few weeks ago, to the delight of all the recovering addicts in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson declared that September 30th would be “Recovery Day.”

The last weekend of September saw a variety of Recovery Day events in many places across Canada and the US. While cities like Atlanta, Georgia celebrated their 4th annual Recovery Day, Vancouver enjoyed its first of hopefully many more days like this to come.

As a recovering addict myself with 25 years clean and sober, I was extremely happy and grateful to be a part of this amazing event on September 30th. What an awe-inspiring day.

COME TOGETHER, RIGHT NOW…

Hundreds of recovering addicts and alcoholics, as well as their loved ones, gathered on September 30th to shine a spotlight on the vitally important role that recovery plays in their lives. Those of us who choose, one day at a time, to remain abstinent from our problematic addictive behaviors, know the immense pride and self-respect we feel when we ‘carry the message’ to others who are still struggling to do the same. Feeling compassion and empathy for those who are still in active addiction, our gratitude speaks when we share our journey with them. We know that if we don’t put our own recovery first and foremost in our lives, we could easily relapse right back into our old destructive ways—no question about it.

So this day held special meaning for all who attended. For most of us, it was a celebration of our own personal clean and sober time—after having spent many years in the shame, guilt, remorse, and self-hatred that active addiction brings. For others, it was a perfect opportunity to share vital and fundamental information about treatment centers, recovery homes, detoxes, and other addiction-based resources, so that those people who are still suffering from addiction could find some much-needed assistance. Loved ones who were there also had the opportunity to talk with professionals like myself who offer help for people in their situation. All the bases appeared to be covered.

But for all the clean and sober addicts in recovery who were in attendance last Sunday, it was a tremendous validation for those of us who wish to be part of the solution instead of choosing to remain part of the problem. And when the numbers were tallied at the end of the day and we heard that we represented 1600+ years of recovery, the joyous impact of that realization was deeply felt by each and every one of us.

SUNSHINE, BALLOONS, FACE-PAINTING—AND DANCING

Our Recovery Day event was held on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown—and the weather cooperated with us, giving us a beautiful sunny day. There were several very moving speeches from both addicts in recovery and their loved ones, after which there was music and dancing in the sunshine. I couldn’t help but remember my early days in recovery, all those years ago, when I couldn’t figure out how to dance without being under the influence of a mind-altering substance—but there I was, dancing up a storm with everyone else. I watched as children ran through the crowd, chasing their errant balloons and showing off their freshly painted faces, squealing as only happy children can do—and it warmed my heart to see families that were now reunited after being torn asunder by the harsh realities of addiction.

As an Addictions Therapist in private practice in Vancouver, I especially enjoyed being able to talk with the loved ones of people with addictions, for whom there are not nearly as many resources as there are for addicts and alcoholics. There seemed to be quite a few loved ones at our Recovery Day, which I found gratifying because they were reaching out for help to understand how they could best assist the addicts they so dearly love.

More often than not, people who grapple with addictive behaviors themselves are also loved ones of addicts, either because they grew up in families where addiction was rampant, or perhaps because they found themselves in significant relationships with someone with addictions—or both. I’ve recently begun to see a much-needed spike in understanding about this phenomenon, as those with addictions also come to talk with me about their fears and frustrations of being a loved one. This is a great step forward, because the only way a family can become more healthy, united, and whole is if all the members are on board in their own active recovery.

THANK YOU, MR. MAYOR

I would like to personally thank our Mayor, Gregor Robertson—on behalf of myself and all addicts in recovery in Vancouver—for having the foresight to know how important this day would be for us. We no longer have to be ashamed of ourselves because we got caught up in the devastating realm of addiction, sometimes for many years at a stretch. Instead, we can come together—with healthy pride and serenity—as role models for those who continue to need our assistance. We can stand tall and finally be the change we want to see in our families, in our communities, and in our world as a whole.

Let’s do it again next year—but let’s have at least twice the number of people in attendance and several times more than 1600+ years of recovery represented—one day at a time.

I can’t think of a better example of a win-win situation—can you?

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