Beating addiction

Sharon Kemp | Bendigo Weekly | 10-Nov-2017


RECOVERING from drug or alcohol addiction is as tough as it gets but worth every sober minute.

The rolling positive impact is felt for generations of Australians to come, according to the leader and recent graduates of a Bendigo rehab program.

Three graduates of Transformations, the Connect Church-led residential rehab program with two houses in Bendigo, can attest to the challenges of getting clean, but also to the profound changes it has made to their lives, and their families.

The program’s success is why its director, Richard Gibbs, wants a detox centre built in the city, which he says he could operate.

Mr Gibbs said Transformations had vacant beds, but with nowhere local to detox, people were struggling to meet the entry criteria of being seven days clean.

Supervisory role

Gayle Morris is wonderfully articulate, a mother of two slowly rebuilding family relationships, a self-confessed high-functioning addict until alcohol took charge and she reached rock bottom in a psychiatric ward after several suicide attempts.

That was less than two years ago, and after 13 months of living in a Transformations house, missing her children but healing to become a full-time mother rather than the part-time parent she admits she had become while drinking, Gayle graduated from the four-step program and is now working as a supervisor in the women’s residence.

She admits she felt after two weeks that she had done all the work she needed to and was ready to return home to her children. Fortunately, she was convinced to stay.

“It is really challenging, there were lots of tears, lots of outbursts,” Gayle said.

“It is the most selfless act you can do is to put away your feelings of wanting to be with your child, it is really, really tough being away from them, especially for women who have younger ones. Some have got babies, and for them it is really hard.

“But you know it is the best thing for the child, sometimes the best thing is putting your feelings at bay and healing yourself.”

Life for Gayle as a graduate is “actually really good”.

“There is purpose to life now, there is absolute purpose whereas I didn’t have any before,” she said.

“It is hectic, it is meaty, it is fun, it is still challenging, but it is also really good.”

It is a long way to travel from believing her children were better off without her.

Life changing 

Twenty-one-year-old Marshall Coulter’s words have the weight of 18 months of recovery from entering the program as a young alcoholic and pill addict, to graduating two weeks ago.

Like Gayle, he has also trained to stay on with the program as a supervisor, and is embracing a life that was counter-intuitive before training in Transformations.

“I came here and my life has changed,” Marshall said.

“Life is great, before the program I was a pretty quiet, I would still say I am introverted but I struggled very much to communicate with other people.

“I would use alone all the time, but since I have been here I have opened up completely, these guys are my family, my friends.

“I have found here (gesturing to his chest) what I think I was looking for through my childhood and at high school, that I didn’t get.”

Completely outside his previous life experience, Marshall’s work with Transformations in the men’s house means he has confronting conversations with house mates.

“It can be pretty confronting on stuff that can be quite embarrassing,” he said.

Notwithstanding the sheer challenge of working through emotional pain, new people are often at their lowest.

Many, like him, have attempted suicide and been hospitalised before deciding on change.

He, also like others, relapsed during time away from the centre.

The honesty demanded of him by Richard and program leader Dylan Whelan, also a graduate, brought him back three times.

Managing recovery 

Tristan Dengler is managing his recovery after graduation in Melbourne, more than an hour from round-the-clock support in the Bendigo house.

He says his days have changed from a $1000-a-day ice habit, theft and imprisonment to full-time employment, a home and car and good health.

And he is closer to his children. His post-Transformations recovery has included a regrettable return to smoking cigarettes, but his 13 months of training is holding him steady.

Tristan said he had tried and failed in other rehab programs, but succeeded in Transformations because it covered so many life lessons he hadn’t been taught.

“Without their continued support, it is very difficult to integrate,” he said.

“But I have learned my strengths and weaknesses.

“Before the program, I didn’t know how to budget, I didn’t know how to work out a weekly meal plan and use it.”

It also helps that Richard and Dylan are persistent in checking in and offering continued support, and Tristan said he felt he was with family when he attended church services in Bendigo rather than in Melbourne.

Reasons to stay 

Dylan Whelan has been clean of a heroin addiction for five years after graduating in Bendigo in 2014, admitted as the program first started.

He is the person who will tell anyone who wants to leave before graduating why they shouldn’t go.

“A lot of people want to leave before the 12 months, but people aren’t ready until they are honest and choose to be accountable, until they have true friendships or true professional relationships,” Dylan said.

“If they choose to be accountable, they will be alright, if they get that, they have got a real good chance, but if they are still deceptive and try to hide stuff, it is the first signs of an attitude or behaviour that hasn’t left.”

Now in a program leadership position, Dylan is seeing from others’ perspective how difficult it is to detox in Bendigo in order to enter rehab programs.

He said the community had a right to be fearful when it came to ice.

People entering the program for ice addiction equals those with alcohol addiction, accounting each for 40 per cent of participants.

Richard Gibbs said he would offer to operate a detox facility if one was built in Bendigo, a need he is agitating for.

 “We refused four people last week because they couldn’t find anywhere to detox, if they can’t get into a detox centre, they are gone,” he said, adding there was typically a window of 24 hours before a potential participant in the program would go back to using if they were without support.

“People are throwing money at the end product but they are not throwing money at the detox part.”

After five years with the program, watching participants battle their demons and walk away with a different life language at the end, Richard is mindful that their work is changing the future for the generations that come after them.

“It is generational, so these guys graduate and we have three this year, and if they get it right, that affects hundreds of people in the future, hundreds of people who are not on the dole, who have a job, who are good mums and good dads, because these guys are changing that in their families, they are learning a new way of doing things,” he said.

“These guys are heroes.”


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