To the powers that be

This is in regards to the loss of funding for the Fort Alcohol and Drug Services and the decision made to integrate alcohol and drug services with mental health.

This is in regards to the loss of funding for the Fort Alcohol and Drug Services and the decision made to integrate alcohol and drug services with mental health.

Speaking as someone with 34 years experience as a client who has utilized both alcohol and drug counseling and mental health services across Canada, I feel I have an expertise on this matter.

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, adult abuses, post traumatic stress, drug addictions, some unhealthy drinking binges and mental health issues, I was shocked, and angry to learn about the Fort Alcohol and Drug Counseling Services (FADCS) losing their funding.

I am here to tell you that the two services are not the same (mental health and addictions services). This community will suffer by this decision just as other communities I have lived in have.

I witnessed people’s lives change for the worse due to these same decisions that do not appear to be made with the client’s health and wellbeing in mind.

Each time a community decides to combine alcohol and drug counseling with mental health, clients get lost in the shuffle.

“We don’t need any more chaos!”

I am not sure about other users but dealing with drastic changes when I have established relations with a counselor generally is a challenge and could lead to a slip, relapse or heavier using.

That would be a normal behavior to fall on for us. How can this change be of benefit?

You are talking about forcing change on established counselor-client relations that take long and gentle periods of time to develop. Even one client who is lost in these changes is one too many.

It is not the question of if, but when.

Especially those just beginning their new clean time discoveries. Their first feelings of really being alive! Wow, then to be denied choices of ongoing care.

Diplomats, or what I refer to as silver tongued devils, will tell you that this is “better for the client, all will be well and to just give it time.”

This may sound like a win-win for those who fortunately have not had to utilize these services but, unfortunately, the truth is being blanketed.

Clients will suffer. Clients will be affected.

The facts as I see them are that these silver tongues are sending a message of false securities and pushing the clients farther into invisible cracks. The voices of the users (us human beings) are being silenced. We deserve choices of treatment and health care. I was informed that the community clients were included in this decision by Northern Health and that we agreed to it without any complaints. That the adjustment would be smooth sailing.

Honestly? Really?

Well, no one asked me! And, I can also speak for others, who at this point cannot or may be intimidated not to speak up, that no one went banging on their door either.

The much-needed proven works of the holistic healing component that one develops with the alcohol and drug counselors will get lost in the sterility of the mental health restrictions and policies being run by Northern Health. How can anyone argue this?

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I will share some examples: I went to mental health with some personal issues that I was troubled with and felt needed attention and had written down and stuffed in an envelope with expectations to discuss them.

I handed the envelope over to the counselor at mental health, the envelope was not opened and it was literally shelved in front of my eyes.

That day after filling out about thirty minutes of paper work I was given a counselor’s diagnoses of clinical depression. Then put on a list to see a psychiatrist. This was just from paper work.

I really needed to talk! Not be evaluated.

When I took that same envelope to alcohol and drug counseling, I gave the material inside to my counselor and the contents were taken seriously and the empathy poured out of her. My issues were validated, my feelings were allowed to be expressed, I was encouraged to follow through with closure and the healing process.

There is not the same policies and barriers that comes with the Northern Mental Health. (By the way I feel compelled to also mention the contents of this envelope was also given to the “STV” “Stopping The Violence” counselor in town at the Fire Weed Safe Haven where I also received empathy, care and empowerment to follow through with a course of action).

The women’s shelter is also very much needed and vital to this community and communities globally. It takes a village of these services.

The system is not perfect as it is, but to down size makes no sense!

What ever might be said on paper to make this decision of cutting the funding for FADCS and having all clients go to mental health is just that, a piece of paper.

In my experience both services are indeed beneficial to the community, but, different and the diversity is necessary. This is a diverse northern community and it’s growing. Those who are in need of psychological evaluations for medications, and for referrals to psychiatrists will find mental health the place to go. Also, the counseling, can be wonderful as well, it is just not the same as addictions counseling.

If you visit the FADCS in the Fort you will hear a water well in the waiting room. Each time I have been there I was the only one in the waiting room.

It is a welcoming, safe, atmosphere. There is time to collect your thoughts and to prepare for your session. Then when you are called into the counseling session, you have a choice of herbal tea freshly brewed by the counselor or water.

There is not a feeling of rigid protocol being followed or that you are being drilled for a diagnosis. You do not feel like a statistic.

There is a sense of calmness and before you leave there is a debriefing so the counselor and yourself know it is safe to go back into the world. This holistic approach is irreplaceable and is extremely important to the user.

Now, in comparison, there is the office in the Hospital. Well, sterile is the only description I can muster up. I don’t even know how the counselors can feel grounded in such an environment.

Hospitals are for sick people, mental health needs their own building, and the FADCS requires their funding back to continue in their building. We users are organic beings who are capable of healing so much on a holistic level, with the proper care and services.

The combined experience of counseling in the FADCS office is over 30 years! Drug and alcohol, detox, treatment center services only began 30 years ago. Before that, individuals had to white knuckle their withdrawals with out any help except the hospitals which were not set up for follow up care only emergency room care.

The holistic component is not a part of Mental Health. There will be, as I have seen, many users who will fall through the cracks. And speaking for myself, that could be reason enough whether I have two days, a month, or a year of sobriety to say forget it, why bother.

Those of us who have used and for those who are still using or are contemplating on using or quitting are not just people suffering with addictions and the complexities that go with that title. Nor are we to be labeled, stigmatized, marginalized or treated disrespectfully. We are human beings. Addictions are just a part of our make up and how we cope with our demons. We are in your back yards, walk on the same side walks, shop in the same stores, bank at the same banks, pray at the same churches, eat in the same restaurants, go to or teach at the same schools, etc., and will be around as long as humans exist. Addictions know no boundaries.

You would be surprised how many people use secretly and have prominent positions in communities. So, having said that, alcohol and drug counseling services will be needed as long as humans exist!

In town we have a counselor whose years of experience go as far back as when alcohol and drug counseling was first needed, her name is Louise Evans-Salt. Counselors such as herself are mentors for the newest alcohol and drug counselors on the block and in my opinion irreplaceable for the clients. Louise will be sadly missed in this community if she chooses to retire due to the loss of funding. I found her to be diverse in her wisdom and methods used in sessions, and healing. Did I mention irreplaceable? The positive influence of a caring,compassionate, empathetic, counselor ripples into the community as a whole. Speaking for my own being, you will not see me entering the hospital for on going counseling.

For those of you who are concerned about your pocket books, I am sure that this decision will affect your tax dollars as well.

I sincerely wish for the funding to be renewed for the Fort St. James Alcohol and Drug Counseling Services.

Name Withheld by Request