Friday, May 24, 2013

RECOVERY all day...and TONIGHT!

 Public-recovery movement key to addressing alcohol and drug addiction

AnnMarie McCullough started drinking heavily when she was 14, but it wasn’t until she was about 26 that alcohol really began to take over her life. The Toronto native had moved to Vancouver to be a DJ in 1994, right around the time that the rave scene was thriving. Add marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine to the mix, and McCullough wasn’t just into hard-core partying; she was a full-on addict.

“From 1997 until 2008, alcohol and cocaine were the big focus of my life,” McCullough says in a phone interview. “With the late nights in the DJ world, you’re just surrounded by it. I wanted to quit that lifestyle, but it got to the point where it was no longer up to me. I spent 23 years in addiction.”

Now 42, McCullough has been sober for almost five years. Not only has her recovery led to a new career—she’s the director of communications and community relations at the Orchard Recovery Centre, a drug-treatment centre on Bowen Island—it’s also spawned a nationwide movement. McCullough helped found Recovery Day Canada, an event that originated in the U.S. but now takes place in 10 cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria, this year on September 8.

To help convey the gist of Recovery Day to Vancouverites, this weekend Orchard is presenting a screening of The Anonymous People—a documentary about the 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery and the emerging, grassroots public-recovery movement—as part of its REEL Recovery Film Festival series for 2013. The way McCullough sees things, the film and the movement have the power to transform how alcohol and drug addiction are addressed within, and perceived by, society.

“We were inspired to try and put something together for Vancouver because with this being a city where addiction is such a huge problem, it just made sense to show the other side and focus on the solution. There are people living in recovery and who are doing well.

“The vision we have is to eradicate the stigma and build awareness around recovery and celebrate recovery,” she says. “We want people not to feel shame about getting help. The Orchard really believes in the recovery-advocacy movement in Canada, and we want to continue to work toward more and more people being comfortable sharing about their recovery.”

She’s quick to note that the Orchard recovery programs are based on the 12-step model, which emphasizes anonymity. Although confidentiality is still assured and respected for anyone who takes part in such a program, the public-recovery movement is being mobilized by those who are comfortable coming forward in the hope that their story will inspire others to get support.

People struggling with alcohol addiction might feel especially ashamed because it’s so misunderstood, McCullough says. When she was addicted to booze, she still managed to keep her day job in an office and shared a home with her husband.

“I hadn’t lost all the things on the outside,” she says. “The destruction for me was emotional. I woke up one morning and realized that who I thought I was and who I really was were not congruent. It was a really defining moment. You don’t have to be homeless or drinking out of a paper bag or living under a bridge, but when you hear the term alcoholic, that’s still what the general population thinks of. But you can also seek help before it gets to that point.”

Dr. Patrick Fay, clinical director of the Orchard Recovery Centre, explains that drugs “hijack” the brain’s reward centre.

“Depending on the route of administration, the effect may be immediate,” Fay tells the Georgia Straight. “The problem is they also impair brain functioning, eventually producing less dopamine and less functioning receptors, leading to depression and feeling lifeless. Then more drugs are needed just to feel normal.”

Brain impairment resulting from the use of crack cocaine and crystal meth is especially profound, Fay says.

“Dependency on these drugs is difficult to treat,” he says. “Dopamine transporters are significantly reduced, and the frontal lobe becomes affected, making planning and decision-making difficult.
“Drug abuse is a health problem rather than a moral failing,” he adds. “For most addicts, it is a primary brain disease, and drugs of abuse change the way the brain functions. The word addict is derived from addictus, meaning slave.”

Genetic factors account for about 50 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, Fay says. Environmental factors, such as a chaotic home or peer influences, play a role too. Then there is the drug itself: its availability, effect, route of administration, and early use.
“The faster a substance reaches the brain, the more addictive it becomes,” Fay says. “Smoking or injecting a drug offers a faster route to the brain [than drinking]."

Successful treatment of addiction usually involves detox or residential care as well as relapse prevention, Fay says. Four factors are commonly present to prevent relapse, and at least two are required: external supervision, ritual dependency on a competing behaviour, new love relationships, and deepened spirituality.

“Competing behaviour means the addiction needs to be replaced by something of equal value,” he notes.
McCullough says that wanting to become sober was a huge part of her own recovery.

“It was my decision to go into treatment,” she explains. “I was not coerced by a family member. It made a huge difference. If you have a desire to get sober, you will do well.

“Willingness is a key ingredient,” she adds. “I came in with a desire and willingness…and because of that, I haven’t struggled. I’ve been through a divorce and I’ve lost friends and I’ve lost pets, things that are hard to deal with. But that’s what sobriety has given me: the ability to live life on life’s terms and not have to anesthetize myself in any way to pull through life’s challenges. I stick with people who are sober and do the work that’s necessary to stay sober. I’m happy in my own skin. I have an excellent life today.”

Monday, May 20, 2013


On May 24th, at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in Vancouver (SFU, Woodward's), Orchard
Recovery Center is proud to present a one night sneak preview event of 'The
Anonymous People'-a film about the millions of people living in long-term
recovery, and the emerging public recovery movement that will transform how
alcohol and other drug problems are dealt with in our communities.  Film
maker Greg Williams showed the trailer and answered audience questions at
the RRFF gala last October. It was the trailer that inspired us to initiate
Recovery Day which has now grown to 10 cities across Canada!

The film is now complete so come and be part of this very special event
which includes a Q&A with Greg Williams and special guests after the film.

Sponsored by Unity App.

Anonymous People info:

Ticket purchase link:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Drew Snider is an old friend from Radio Daze. This was his fulsome response to the CNN documentary.
And we continue to cry out, "But the Emperor has no clothes!"
As I think you know, I've been a leader (not officially anymore, but I still do the promotion and fundraising) for The Lord's Rain, a facility that provides showers on the DTES. It's become a whole lot more than that in the five years it's been open, and a total of 9 years in the area still has me convinced that InSite is a rank failure.
Thought you'd be interested in this excerpt from a newsletter I send to supporters of The Lord's Rain. I have a few more musings after that (so you don't cut away too soon).

Dear Friends of The Lord's Rain,
It's hard to believe it's almost quarter-past 2013 -- and harder still to believe it's spring, with snow penning in my mother-in-law in Toronto and the weather here (at least, this past Wednesday, as I started to write this) reminding one of the Two Ronnies gag: "today's weather will be hot in Stott, cool in Goule, choking in Woking ... and those living in Lissing Down are advised to carry an umbrella." And for those coming into The Lord's Rain, the hot showers and coffee are a relief and a blessing.
It was similarly awful weather a couple of weeks ago, when I accompanied Frank to OnSite. OnSite is the cousin of InSite, the "safe" drug-injection facility on the Downtown East Side, where nurses keep vigil over people as they shoot up their drug(s) of choice. If someone feels they finally want to take a crack (pun intended) at kicking the habit, they can go across the foyer to OnSite, to see if they have any beds available. Frank has been trying to beat his addiction for years, so this was his latest attempt. I offered to walk there with him and give him moral support. It was 8:30 when we talked and OnSite didn't open until 10, so I told Frank I'd meet him at The Lord'sRain at quarter-to and we'd walk up together. I did want to support Frank, but I was also interested in seeing what's inside the place. As many of you already know, I'm skeptical of the "harm-reduction" approach, so even a cursory look would be instructive. 
It was a good sign when Frank came back to The Lord's Rain at 9:30 -- he was serious. We walked up and stood in line: other addicts, waiting to get their hit. A couple of them started banging on the window around 9:58 (the slight peevishness shown when the coffee isn't quite ready at The Lord's Rain is positively virtuous patience by comparison) and when the door finally opened, they all surged through and were directed to a door leading to the injection rooms. When Frank said he wanted to go to OnSite, he was sent to another counter. Two people ahead of him were told to "come back tomorrow," which was not a good sign; Frank went up and was told the same. I hazarded a question. "What treatment method do you use here?" "Oh, a number of things," was the reply, "like acupuncture, meditation, whatever the client thinks will work." "Does anyone help them make that decision?" "Oh, yes: we have counsellors here."
I didn't ask anything more, because I was afraid they might think I was spying and that might have affected Frank's situation, so I just nodded and Frank and I left. We agreed to meet there the next day, just before 10.
Frank was there before I was and this time I stayed outside while he went in. There was a curtain over the window looking into the OnSite reception area, but I found an opening and peered through. It gave me a good view of the front desk and I saw Frank wait in line, then step up. A few words were exchanged, and then he turned away and went to a different part of the building and through a door. Had he gotten lucky? I waited another 10 minutes as the rain intensified. A guy standing next to the door was calling out, "jib-jib-jib!" -- "jib" is the street term for crystal meth, and I couldn't tell whether he was selling or looking to buy. Finally, when Frank didn't come out, I squelched away, figuring he had gotten in.
That was Thursday. The following Tuesday, Frank was back at The Lord's Rain. "What happened?" I asked. "They said, 'come back tomorrow'." "Did you?" "No." He didn't explain where he went when he went through that other door. I haven't seen Frank since. It strikes me that that particular facility is built on the premise that drug addicts have freedom of choice: that they can choose to come off the stuff, and when they do, there's a facility to help them. Moreover, that facility gives them a choice as to how to be treated. But doesn't being an addict, by definition, mean that they've surrendered freedom of choice?
One of the Lord's Rain supporters, a dear friend who also does outreach work on the DTES, replied, saying she "couldn't disagree more" about harm reduction and told of the terrible decisions OnSite workers have to make every day, trying to determine who is less likely to die if they don't let him or her in.

Of course, it's a terrible decision, when you're called on to play God, but the thing she didn't address was the fact that, in the case of Frank, they only told him to come back tomorrow -- did not attempt to refer him someplace else. How does that speak to the level of caring they have for the addicts? Are they so convinced that their method is the only method that matters that they won't give a person a chance someplace else?

Nearly a year ago, my wife was co-chair of the BC portion of the Governor-General's Leadership Study Tour -- a cross-country expedition by people identified as potential future leaders (not Junior Achievement types, but adults of various ages, backgrounds and skill sets, with experience in government, labour, business and social work) to study various issues and how they're being handled. Amelia arranged for the tour to include The Lord's Rain, partly because she wanted the participants to meet the DTES people she knows -- the ones for whom she would cook on Saturday nights at Gospel Mission (we stepped away from that role in September).

The participants came on a Tuesday morning when the showers facility was in full swing, and they were blown away by the kindness and openness the people at the Mission showed towards them. They got to talk to "actual street people"; one of the tour members, from a reserve in Saskatchewan, met people she knew and who had more or less disappeared.

Worth noting is that the tour members visited InSite the day before. They were not allowed to talk to the "clients" -- only the staff. Go figure.


Drew Snider
communications/media relations professional

Monday, May 13, 2013

INSITE - The International Debate

A producer from CNN International called me from London in early January.

She said their documentary unit had been preparing a report about Insite. They had all the supportive material they needed for their film, but they needed an opposing point of view.

On January 30th, a producer from Atlanta and a photographer from Los Angeles rang my door bell.

The video posted below was aired on three consecutive days in April in over 200 countries.

Let me know what you think.