The Wave Effect

By John Robertson, R.P., Registered Psychotherapist, Serenity Renewal for Families

When we hear the term “recovery”, it’s very easy to focus our attention on the addict or alcoholic who’s in the process of making changes to their lives. These changes usually begin out of desperation – a fear that something will be lost, such as a spouse, child, home or job, or that they are losing their sanity and ability to function and make sound decisions. The edge of the cliff is at their feet. From here, they either step off or step back. Or if they so choose, they are told, they can step in a different direction, into recovery, where there is a safety net to catch them when they hit bottom and supports to raise them up slowly to a new way of living.

As a Registered Psychotherapist, I hear a familiar refrain from clients who have recently come out of treatment for alcohol and drug addiction and are entering the world of 12 step recovery. “Wait a minute,” they say. “All I wanted to do was stop drinking or using?” Then the realization sets in that there is much work to be done.

The first year of recovery is a very self-centered one and a time for great introspection. Clients will take a long look into their pasts and analyze resentment they may carry, pain, their conduct toward others, their shortfalls and amends that need to be made. They may also come to the realization that they are responsible for many of the issues in their relationships and possibly carry too much blame for their role in these relations. For sobriety to truly take hold, a complete personal inventory is necessary and a heavy burden must be faced.

As these things are dealt with, it usually becomes evident that there is a family connected to the recovering person that has been given little attention over the years. If there was attention, it was likely the family being blamed for the actions of the alcoholic or addict. The Wave Effect this has on the family, including children, spouses and parents, can run deep. Feelings of guilt, shame, anger and resentment can be experienced by everyone in the family, not just the person in recovery.

As a high school teacher, 36 years ago, Sister Louise Dunn recognized the devastating impact that substance use could have on families. It was quite evident to her that addiction affected the entire family. It prompted a career change and led to her co-founding Serenity Renewal for Families, a forerunner in family addiction services, in the Ottawa area.

Since 1983, Serenity Renewal has offered counseling and helpful programs for both the addicted and vulnerable family members. It is a place of hope, support and understanding that has helped thousands of families enjoy a new sense of well-being and move beyond the destructive generational wounds of addiction. Since day one, it was apparent that family members needed treatment just as badly as the addicted individual.

Sadly, Sister Louise passed away, in December, at the age of 85. Well into her final year, she worked 40 hours per week as an addictions counselor making transformation possible for area families. If anything, the novel service she helped create is more relevant today than ever, with the demand for family addiction assistance increasing. It turns out, Sister Louise created a Wave Effect of her own. Not only did she positively impact families, she helped highlight the growing need for family services and helped reduce the stigma associated with addiction.

John Robertson is a Registered Psychotherapist for Serenity Renewal for Families, an Alta Vista Charity that assists individuals, couples and families affected by addiction and other impactful issues. To donate to families needing assistance, call 613-523-5143 or visit