Joel Winegarden, seen here with his son, is a staff member at Kootenay Boundary Supported Recovery Program. Photo: Submitted

Joel Winegarden, seen here with his son, is a staff member at Kootenay Boundary Supported Recovery Program. Photo: Submitted

COLUMN: Finding stigma-free acceptance at Kootenay Boundary Supported Recovery Program

Joel Winegarden writes about his experience with the program

I am a human services student at Selkirk College, and a member of the staff team at the Kootenay Boundary Supported Recovery Program (KBSRP).

I found my way to the KBSRP through my own recovery from addiction. I was looking for an opportunity to serve the community and I found it in the KBSRP as a volunteer. My first weeks being a part of the program left me with culture shock. My previous experiences with recovery programs were dogmatic and punitive, but not so with the KBSRP. The staff demonstrated to me the power and efficacy of flexibility, individual care plans, and working through a harm reduction lens.

I used to manage a recovery house in East Vancouver. That organization had very clear rules around clients’ substance use while in the program — you do it and you’re out! I was mandated to kick out many participants for having a slip. We were very close to the Downtown Eastside and many of the folks I had to remove from the program were relegated back to homelessness or to an overdose death. Putting people through that left a stain on my soul. I set out to help people and felt those practices only achieved the opposite.

The KBSRP recognizes that slips or relapses can be a part of our client’s stories. We work with them through those tough times and help them to actualize the people they want to be, rather than punishing them and pushing them closer to becoming yet another overdose statistic.

My recovery from addiction began in a residential treatment centre that was 12-step oriented. The 12-steps were presented to clients as “the proper way to recover.” While I personally found success with the 12-step method, many did not. The KBSRP supports clients to follow that path if they choose, but our curriculum is more strength-based and consists of psychoeducation about mental health and addiction, evidence-based tools for relapse prevention, improving mental health, mutual support, and community reintegration. The KBSRP also employs attachment education and relationship building, with a focus on breaking stigma, self-compassion, goal setting, and building intrinsic motivation, all through a trauma-informed lens.

At the KBSRP we separate substance use from problematic behaviours. What does that mean? Substance use on its own isn’t inherently a bad thing if a person isn’t hurting themselves or others. Behaviours that are driven by problematic substance use can be influenced by a diverse group of contributing factors. One salient factor is stigmatization. At the KBSRP we use person-first language to help destigmatize our clients. People are not their labels or behaviours, and I think that’s something that our society can forget. For every person labelled “junkie” or “homeless” there is a unique set of causes and conditions that have contributed to them being where they are.

Everyone has a story and their own strengths. We aim to help people shed the labels society imposes on them and help them to capitalize on their strengths to facilitate them writing their story the way they want it to be written.

Being a part of the KBSRP team has enriched my own recovery in ways I can’t begin to describe. Our program is structured that the group facilitators are not the only teachers in the room. Clients have a voice in all we do and often bring lessons they’ve accumulated through their lived experience forward to help their peers in the program, myself included. The KBSRP offers clients six months of supportive recovery housing, life skills, clinical support, volunteer experience, an opportunity to be a leader in our peer mentorship program, and much more.

Do you or someone you know think that you’d be a good fit for our program? If so, you can contact your local branch of Mental Health and Substance Use and ask about a referral to the Kootenay Boundary Supported Recovery Program. We would love to learn and grow with you.

The KBSRP is operated by ANKORS in partnership with Nelson Mental Health and Substance Use and Nelson CARES.