By Michelle Tasker

I am the Client Services Manager at Serenity Renewal for Families, the “small but mighty” non-profit in Alta Vista that has been helping individuals and families impacted by addictions for almost 40 years. Every week, I answer calls from people who are looking for help, either to deal with their own addiction, or to deal with the impact of a loved one’s addiction on themselves, on their children or on another loved one.

The stories below are representative of those I hear almost every day. Before I answer a call, I remind myself that I am not responsible for other people’s pain. At the same time, I remind myself to be present for every person who calls. This may be the first time that they are reaching out for help, or the first time that they have been able to break the wall of silence or denial that has kept them from seeking support sooner.

Melissa phoned one day. She had heard about Serenity Renewal for Families from her aunt, who accessed service 25 years ago … maybe we can help her? (I hear that a LOT). Melissa gave her partner Guy a choice: Go into a treatment centre and get help or move out of the house.Guy chose to get help. He completed an in-patient treatment program, leaving Melissa at home alone with their seven-year-old  daughter and 11-year-old son. Once he finished treatment, life seemed better. Unknown to Melissa, Guy started using again. Two weeks later, Guy died of an accidental poison overdose. Through her pain, Melissa asks, “What do I tell my children? How do I speak with them? I told them that Daddy was going away to get better, and now he’s dead. What do I do now?”

Pierre called to ask for help with his 30-year-old adult son Pete, who moved home because he was evicted from his apartment after he started spending the rent money on alcohol and weed. Pete is wreaking havoc on the household. “Can we please force him to get help? Is there somewhere to take him to get help?” Pierre is angry and aggressive and scared … very, very scared.

Mary phoned because someone told her about Serenity Renewal for Families. She is 76 years old, and says I must think it’s horrible that she’s calling at her age. Her husband is dying, and she can’t let go of the anger for all of the destruction that his drinking caused in their marriage. She is kept awake at night wondering, “Why? … Why was he an alcoholic and why did I stay?”

To help Melissa navigate Guy’s death, I refer her to our Family and Youth Coordinator to set up some family connections sessions to help both children talk about their feelings. She can meet with a counsellor for help with how to talk to her children, and to deal with her own complicated feelings of grief mixed with sorrow, guilt and anger.

For Mary, I thank her for reaching out. No matter what age, people deserve to learn, to grow and to heal. Mary registered for an educational workshop, “Introduction to Healing and Recovery.” The workshop explains the core issues of addiction. After the workshop, Mary provided feedback indicating that she no longer feels alone with her issues in life. She said, “People were so respectful … I am so glad that I took this workshop. I am finding some peace and compassion … finally.”

Pierre was more challenging. He wonders why the needed supports for his adult child are available to the affluent (those who can pay for private treatment programs and counselling) but not available for his son without long waits. When his son does reach out for help, how long will he have to wait? I told Pierre about our weekly support group, Parents Forever, which is made up of parents who have lost adult children to addiction. There, Pierre will be able to talk to people who understand and who don’t judge him. There, he will learn tools for self-care and self-compassion. I also recommended that he register for our next Introduction to Healing and Recovery workshop.

At Serenity Renewal for Families, everyone is welcome to access our services, no matter their ability to pay. Over 90 percent of people who come to us for help have no extended health care benefits, yet all who fit our mandate are helped. How do we do this? Donations, grants, hope. Can we help everyone? Not always. Can we listen, compassionately and without judgement? Can we offer hope? I wouldn’t listen to all these stories without hope. I am privileged to provide hope and to watch people transform. Every day.

For more information, or to donate, you can go to our website at www.serenityrenewal.ca.