Last week there were several activities in schools and around the community pertaining to National Addictions Awareness Week.
Hay River inter-agencies reached out to the community in their concurrent event with the RCMP and Drug Free Zone hockey game on Thursday night.
But the end of last week didn’t just mark the end of National Addictions Awareness Week.
It was also Restorative Justice Week in the territory. The Community Restorative Justice Committee brought in youth educator Rand Teed.
Teed has worked in the addictions field for decades. Along with him he brought 17-year-old Hayley Huartson, a self proclaimed addict in recovery.
At every event they attended, Teed started off by letting Huartson tell her story. Wrought by a family history of alcoholism and neglect, the youth said she took her first drink at 10 years old and developed a problem shortly thereafter.
She was trying to block out the pain and trauma she had experienced at such a young age. She later developed a heavy addiction to oxycontin.
“In about one month (after I started) it was all I could think about,” she said. “By 12 years old I had had alcohol poisoning, I had been raped, and I still didn’t see alcohol as a problem in my life.”
Teed presented to several crowds over the course of the week, also revealing the struggles he used to have with addictions and how those currently affected need understanding and support.
“Often we think of those with addictions as bad people making bad choices,” he said. “(For adolescents) it’s not about bad kids. They are using substances that alter how the brain works trying to fix some kind of pain and it changes their ability to see what’s going on.”
Huartson went to a 30-day treatment program when she exhausted all of her options.
She entered post acute withdrawal which lingered in varying degrees for six weeks and experienced a nasty spectrum of side-effects like vomiting, sweating, tremors and anxiety.
She said after that she could begin working on her mentality.
“My biggest thing was changing my thinking,” said Huartson. “I realized that drugs and alcohol were my problem and I was digging myself a hole.”
The beginning of NAAW also coincided with a milestone for a group of men undergoing a 28 day treatment program at the centre.
The group graduated last Tuesday amid a stir of community involvement, support and activity.
On that night, they were visited by Huartson and Teed, and held one final drum dance.
“It was inspirational hearing her come out about it and be so open,” said Joey Dillon.
Dillon was part of the group who had just completed a treatment program.
He’s heading back to his home community of Deline to live a sober life and serve as a role model for young people.
“I thought he was very informative,” said former treatment centre staff member Cecile Deneyoua of Teed.
“It’s always good to hear from someone who’s been through alcohol and drug addiction because that’s the real McCoy. You know there’s no b.s. about it.”
Attendance was high for Teed’s talk at treatment centre.
Clinical supervisor Ofelia Leon was pleased to see more attendance and across the board community involvement this time around during NAAW.
“One of the strengths of the Dene people is their presence and their laughter,” said Leon.
“There was a strong grounded presence.”
The centre is currently looking at more outreach into the community, but it’s still in the initial stages and needs to be approved by a territorial board of directors.
“I think it’s important for those who are still addicted to see those who are not addicted having a healthy life,” said Leon.
“It lights a candle of hope; it plants a seed while they are still young so even if they started out using they know there is another option.”
As the week wound down and the treatment centre hosted school students and one final drum song and dance, Leon reflected on a philosophy she thinks all people, addicted or not, should consider.
“The medicine wheel balance is good for everyone,” she said.
“I think it’s actually one of the most important teachings of the Aboriginal people to the world that everything is interconnected – physical, mental, emotionally and spiritual.”