After 12 years of struggling with alcohol and prescription drug addictions, Ellen Taylor is celebrating one year sober — and she's marked the occasion during a worldwide pandemic.
Her journey to sobriety has been challenging enough without COVID-19 in mind. Luckily, Taylor began her journey prior to the pandemic as she went for treatment off-Island in 2019.
"I was just so mentally and physically broken and done and just so sick and tired of being sick and tired," she said. "I've been incarcerated … police, hospitals, institutions. I was just killing myself and I was killing my family and I just had enough."
She was months into her recovery when COVID-19 hit, and spoke about her journey now because she worries for those on P.E.I. who are beginning recovery during the pandemic.
In the early days of COVID-19 on P.E.I., recovery groups stopped meeting in person, many in-person appointments with counsellors switched to over-the-phone, and the transition unit at P.E.I.'s addictions treatment facility in Mount Herbert moved to a school on an outpatient basis.
Since then, recovery groups have started meeting again in person, people in recovery can meet face-to-face with counsellors and the transition unit recently moved back to Mount Herbert and is running as it did prior to the pandemic. While Zoom meetings and calls are great to keep in touch with health officials, friends and family, Taylor said those in recovery should emphasize meeting in person.
"In-person connections are so important, and that's just not available, and it's just starting to become available now," she said. "It's that in-person connection that, really, people need."
There are also people with addictions who may not have had proper structure throughout the pandemic, and may be putting off recovery until COVID-19 is over, she said.
Delaying starting a recovery process because there wasn't regular support in place is dangerous, she said — people with addictions need to keep being their own advocates, especially in a time like this.
"Some of those people don't get to come back. It's really scary for people. People don't really understand how life or death it is," she said.
"People just need to reach out and be your own advocate, because if you were physically ill you would do that, and I think that's what people need to keep doing."
'I just don't want people to give up'
Kayla Broderick is six years sober after having been addicted to opioids. She went through the methadone maintenance program and said it, Narcotics Anonymous, her family and friends saved her life.
Having consistent in-person meetings with psychiatrists or a counsellor and having a structured recovery is necessary to get people out of active addiction, she said. That's why since the pandemic hit, she's been scared for people in active addiction as well as those in recovery who could not access the same level of support that was available pre-pandemic.
"I was worried about the people in active addiction and what they were going to do and where they were going to stay," she said. That's because they were "not allowed to go to your family's house, couldn't be around supportive people."
When the Confederation Bridge closed, she was terrified.
"I know that sounds crazy, and people are happy that there wasn't drugs coming on the Island, but I knew these people were going to be sick and I was worried there was going to be lots of suicides."
It's for reasons like this, she said, that the province must consider mental health and addictions and those in recovery when making decisions to close or limit access to important resources, including things like alcohol. Back in March, government-owned liquor and cannabis stores were considered non-essential and shut down for a time.
For those recovering during the pandemic, Broderick said, she's speaking up because she doesn't want people to suffer.
"I know the feeling and I want it to be an open subject where people can talk about it and be honest," she said. "I just don't want people to give up. I almost gave up, and I wouldn't have the life today if I did."
'You have to start somewhere'
Melissa LeBlanc said she lost her fiancé to a drinking and driving accident years ago and that event led her to "spiral out of control." She ended up losing custody of her child, which is when she made the decision to recover. She hasn't looked back.
She is sober now and has custody of her child.
She said she's privileged in that COVID-19 hasn't affected her recovery, but those who aren't as far along as she is are facing an incredibly stressful time.
"I think for some people who perhaps they want to give it their first go, it would be a big deal," she said.
When the transition unit in Mount Herbert moved to an outpatient program at a local school, LeBlanc said that was great for people who may be far along in recovery "but not everybody can do that."
In general, she said the transition unit and detox are great resources for Islanders in recovery, adding that continued care after detox should be the priority so people can stay sober long term.
"There needs to be more stability in that … what people really need to do after they have a clear mind is to connect with somebody and to really get all of their dirt, so to speak, out on the table and let it go," she said.
"With somebody that they trust and somebody that they're able to continue to speak to until they feel at peace."
For people with addictions thinking about recovery, she said you just have to make the decision to start.
"Just go for it. Find somebody who you love, who supports you, who's able to be there for you, who's healthy and just go for it. You have to start somewhere."
What to do if you need help
The province's website on mental health and addictions support has information and links for walk-in and call-in clinics as well as telehealth supports.
The Mental Health and Addictions Information Line is 1-833-533-9333.
For child and youth urgent mental health care the number is 1-866-833-5443.
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