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A Safe Place for Women in 12-step Recovery Programs

Avalon Recovery Society

Michelle MacQuarrie

Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2 (9), p. 37-38

stock photoAvalon Recovery Society, established in Vancouver in 1989, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women in recovery from addiction. The founders, Helen Burnham and Virginia Giles, recognized a need for a place where women could get away from their drinking or drug using environments, provide support for each other and gather resources. In 1997 Avalon opened a second centre on the North Shore and the two centres now host over 100 12-step meetings each month. We provide facilities for Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step meetings, as well as other 12-step programs.

In the last few years there has been much publicity about the addiction problems in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. While it’s true that the problems are severe and the poverty level is appalling, it’s also true that a very small percentage of active addicts living in the Lower Mainland live in the Downtown Eastside. Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. Women suffering from the disease are daughters, mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, employees and employers—of every race, every religion and all ages. The women who attend Avalon represent a true cross-section of our society and come to us from throughout the Lower Mainland of BC.

When Sandra (not her real name) first came to Avalon, her life was in complete turmoil. Her alcoholism had negatively affected all areas of her life. Her marriage was on the rocks, parenting was overwhelming, her friends and family were avoiding her, and she was in financial trouble. She was referred to Avalon by her employer after being reported as “under the influence” at work. She was drinking to deal with stress. She was sick, scared, full of guilt and shame, and had extremely low self-esteem and very little hope for the future. At Avalon she found other women who had been through similar situations. She was no longer alone. There was no pressure, no forms to fill out, no questions to answer, no fees to pay—she could just be.

Sandra wanted a different life, but wasn’t sure where to begin. We encouraged her to call Vancouver Detox and put her name on the wait-list for a bed. She then called her employer and was granted a stress leave. With those two phone calls, the dam broke. Sandra couldn’t stop crying, yet said she felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from her and she felt hope for the first time in years. She had been hanging on for dear life to the things that were killing her.

Sandra came to Avalon every day while waiting for a bed at Vancouver Detox, availing herself of the free childminding service during our noon-hour 12-step meeting. Then, after going through detox, she went on to an outpatient addiction treatment program, and attended meetings at Avalon on weekends.

When it was time to go back to work, Sandra had begun to make some very necessary changes in her life. She is active in a 12-step recovery program, attending drug and alcohol counselling, and working on repairing her marriage and relationships with family and friends. She participates in our professionally facilitated workshops, reads voraciously from our lending library of books dealing with addiction and recovery, and volunteers at Avalon, organizing our clothing exchange closet. Sandra is just one of the many miracles we see. Women, who thought life was hopeless, learn to respect and care for themselves, regain the trust of their families and friends, and become a part of their communities.

Recovery is an ongoing, slow process that requires time and patience. People in recovery would benefit from additional and timely resources within the community. There are waiting lists for most of the community addiction services available. The immediate availability of a detox bed, with medical support, can frequently mean the difference between recovery and ongoing addiction. While Avalon does not provide professional counselling, peer support and 12-step meetings are available immediately and on a daily basis. This can often provide the support needed during the difficult and fragile days of recovery.

unity health agencies, physicians and others within the professional community on an ongoing basis. Each month Avalon attracts more women through word of mouth and referrals from doctors, counsellors, psychologists, hospitals and our own outreach efforts in the community. Last year we had over 16,000 visits from women seeking to reclaim their lives from the devastation of addiction.

After 16 years, Avalon continues to be a grassroots organization. Our ability to maintain the quality and consistency of services is a constant challenge, but worth every effort. Funding is raised through private donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and the women who visit Avalon. We do not receive government funding; the experience of others has taught us that government funding can lead to cutbacks and closures. Avalon Recovery Society’s unique, warm and safe environments continue to make a difference in the lives of women in recovery and in the lives of their families.

 
About the Author

Michelle has been Coordinator at Avalon Recovery Society for the past seven years. She is 18 years in recovery for alcohol addiction

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