- Our Town
Celebrating people in recovery
Recovery Day, on September 30, is the first of its kind in Canada and it came about through the tireless work of local recovery advocates, Lorinda Strang and AnnMarie McCullough of the Orchard Recovery Center on Bowen Island among them.
This is an important year for the Orchard as it reached the milestone of being 10 years in operation this April. And Lorinda Strang, the Orchard’s executive director, remembers the time it first opened. “There was a mutual excitement felt by staff and the original group of six clients when they walked through our doors,” she said. “There is heartache and joy experienced daily at the Orchard but the prevailing sense of hope and pride exists as strongly today as it did 10 years ago.”
One of the things Strang is proud of is the fact that many of the Orchard’s first clients are still in long-term recovery today. “An example is our client from Panama who is returning to celebrate at our 10 year alumni reunion party this October,” she said. She recalls hiking in Cape Rodger Curtis with him and asking how he decided to come all the way to Bowen Island. “He said that he had been to Vancouver once before and had been deciding between Canada and Europe but fortunately he found the Orchard on Bowen Island. He stayed connected to us through e-mails,” Strang said, adding that he sent her a note in one of his earlier alumni check-ins that she wants to share. It says: “You will never know how many times in these last 14 months, I have wished to be there at the Orchard in a safe and beautiful place like Bowen Island.” Strang says that the client from Panama celebrated his 10-year-anniversary of recovery this April 2012 and adds, “It will be an honor to present him with his 10-year-recovery medallion in person at the Orchard next month.”
Strang has often heard that the Orchard’s clients “feel a sense of safety after leaving the city behind and often describe the connection to nature as an important part of their healing process.” She and her family had been long-time island residents with a history of being active and engaged members of the community. She feels that this may have led to the continued support Bowen Islanders are showing for the Orchard. But the support is not one-sided.
“Bowen Island is a diverse community that has residents that work in many different therapeutic modalities and the Orchard utilizes the services of many of them,” she said. “We have a rotating roster of people on island who come in to the Orchard for Thursday morning programming. This includes everything from drumming circles, meditation, music therapy, poetry workshops and team building. Not only do we employ a staff of 40 people, but we also purchase supplies and use the services of almost everything the island has to offer.”
As examples, Strang mentions the farm fresh turkeys from McDonald’s Farm that the Orchard’s clients will enjoy this Thanksgiving or the ingredients for the Saturday night dinners that often come from the local butcher at Alderwood Farms. “Our clients’ families book into local accommodations, eat in the cafés and shop in all of the stores on island. Some of our alumni purchase homes, work in the community and take pride in becoming islanders who give back to the community,” Strang says. “I would say that the Orchard helps drive the Bowen Island economy which I’m sure is appreciated by the community – especially in the long winter months.”
For Strang, the community’s welcome to the Orchard’s clients and their families plays an important part that has contributed to its success - it is considered to be one of the premier treatment centres in Canada. “I hope that islanders know that the work we do is often difficult but the rewards are that we have saved lives and families. From that, all of society benefits. We are witness to the miracles of the human spirit daily and I am forever proud of the accomplishments of our clients young and old,” she says.
Through her work, Strang was aware that the US Government, through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, recognizes September as Recovery Month but that Canada had no equivalent. Together with McCullough, the Orchard’s director of communications, she decided to plan a local and public celebration of recovery. They joined forces with Chuck Doucette and David Berner, executive director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada. Strang mentioned an interesting twist to the story as Berner had worked with her brother over 30 years ago when Berner was head of the X-Kalay Foundation Society, a halfway house turned treatment centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. Berner was instrumental in drafting a proclamation that was issued by mayor Gregor Robertson and officially recognizes September 30, 2012 as Recovery Day in Vancouver.
“There is still a stigma attached to people who have walked through the hell of addiction and have come out the other side. Many of them still fear that they will be judged negatively if they reveal they are in recovery when seeking employment, housing, or ‘come out’ to their employers or new people they meet,” Strang said. “Recovery Day is about celebrating people in recovery and shifting the focus from the problem to the solution. We want to show that there are thousands of people from all walks of life in long term recovery. And they lead healthy lives.”
Strang hopes that Recovery Day will show the general public, other people who need help, politicians and policy makers that recovery works and that there is proof. “We want people to understand that recovery heals families and benefits communities. My hope is that no addict need ever feel shame when asking for help. There is a solution. Many roads, one destination: recovery,” she said.
She would like to invite Bowen Islanders to show their support by joining Recovery Day on the steps of the Art Gallery at noon on Sunday, September 30, for Vancouver’s first Rally for Recovery. “Our goals are to organize and mobilize the recovery community to speak effectively with one voice. Our mission is to demonstrate the power and proof of recovery from addictions and its value to individuals, families and communities throughout British Columbia and the nation,” she said. “We are actively and vigorously seeking to advance public policies and practices that promote and support recovery. We envision a world in which recovery from addiction is both a commonplace and a celebrated reality, a world in which the entire spectrum of effective prevention, treatment and recovery support services are available and accessible to all who might benefit from them.”
For the next step, Strang is hoping for a declaration signed by Canada’s prime minister that proclaims September as recovery month in Canada.