New for 2015-2016

Please read the new six stories below.  The following writings explore and express the experiences of seven women. Two are staff members, and the other five are women that made the commitment to recovery.  Our hope is that these stories will provide some insight into   the residential treatment process.  

Tobacco-Freedom at Vesta Recovery Program for Women Inc.

As of April 1st, 2016, Vesta has successfully become a tobacco-free environment. We implemented the STOP (Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients) Program, Tobacco-Free Programming, a scent-free policy, a “No-Fear” policy, and the regular use of a Smokerlyzer machine to support this transition. As a staff team, we strive to support women and promote their wellbeing and empowerment, I see our tobacco-free transition as a direct extension of this philosophy. Our team have gained the skills and acquired the resources to best support women becoming and remaining tobacco-free. We work diligently to foster a climate where women can be successful becoming tobacco-free without fear of punishment for experiencing difficulties or it preventing their substance use treatment. We have deepened women’s awareness of addiction by acknowledging the use of tobacco as an addiction and addressing it simultaneously. I have actively participated in this transition and I am honored to say that Vesta has experienced great successes and countless positive impacts for the women in the program. 

In preparation for this shift, Joyce Durette (Team Leader), Melanie Whyte (Program Staff), Aldona Guest (Support Staff), and I all received training with OTRU (Ontario Tobacco Research Unit) and became certified with the TEACH (Training Enhancement in Applied Cessation and Health) Project through CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). Certification with the TEACH project connected Vesta with the STOP Program at CAMH and through their support and supervision, the TEACH certified staff became STOP Practitioners. The STOP Program provides practitioners with the means to provide free NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) for  clients, and TEACH provides practitioners with the tools for understanding best-practice techniques for providing clients with cessation counselling and NRT. Vesta became an active STOP site in the months before our transition to tobacco-free. Joyce, Melanie, Aldona and I are all now STOP Practitioners at Vesta, we routinely register new clients to the program and have weekly or bi-weekly visits with clients to assess their needs for counselling support and NRT. The STOP Program has been invaluable to Vesta, giving practitioners the tools and framework for supporting clients with smoking cessation and the ability to provide clients with NRT--which can be impractically expensive for clients with low-incomes.

In the transitioning period at the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year, 8 women were enrolled into the STOP program and began receiving smoking cessation support. By March 31st, 2015 every resident had either stopped smoking or was prepared to stop smoking the following day. In the 2015-2016 fiscal year, 32 women were enrolled in the STOP Program and a total of 314 STOP visits occurred, with an average of 22 STOP visits each month. Enrolment involves obtaining consent, completing a registration and baseline questionnaire and having a STOP visit. STOP visits are individual appointments with clients to determine the course of action for smoking cessation, distinguish appropriate NRT, provide behavioural counselling, and administer a Smokerlyzer test. The Smokerlyzer is used as a motivational tool to help women see the impacts of quitting smoking on the carbon monoxide (CO) levels in their lungs. Participants of the program noted the lowering of their CO levels as just one of many benefits they noticed after becoming tobacco-free. Women also reported higher energy levels, increased sense of taste and smell, decrease in coughing and difficulty breathing, and less financial strain among other benefits. The atmosphere of Vesta has noticeably changed, the physical smell of smoke has vanished, the cluster of clients smoking in the backyard is gone, and the buzz of anticipation to ‘get out’ nearing the end of group-sessions has dissipated. Women are supporting each other’s journeys, sharing their tobacco-free accomplishments with pride. Women are exploring the connections between their compulsive and addictive behaviours with smoking, sometimes discussing the bigger picture of their lives and where their smoking fit into it. I have been noticing these changes in all groups, free-time, and meals, however, the crux of these discussions have been taking place in the Tobacco-Free Groups.

With the support of my coworkers, I had the opportunity to develop a five-week rotational cycle of groups aimed at providing support, information and tools for successful long-term smoking cessation. Each group within this cycle has its own goals and objectives, culminating information provided by the STOP Program, the TEACH course, the OTRU course, and government information about best-practices in smoking cessation. The groups explore tobacco-industry and marketing de-normalization, the addictive components of tobacco and managing triggers and cravings, the health/financial/social costs of smoking, building confidence to remain smoke-free, the origins of tobacco in North America, the medicine wheel, and mindfulness. I have been facilitating the weekly tobacco-free groups on Thursday evenings with clients who are in the stabilization phase of the program through to week 8. Aldona Guest has been co-facilitating these groups with me since February 4th, 2016. 2015-2016 hosted 45 tobacco-free groups, with a total of approximately 40 different women who participated in these weekly groups to share, learn and discuss. Participants of these groups share milestones in their cessation journey, look at the connections between using substances and smoking tobacco, discuss their concept of the smoker’s identity, engage with information about tobacco as a sacred medicine in First Nations’ culture, practice techniques for managing cravings and triggers, dissect tobacco company advertisements and marketing to women and children, calculate the cost of their tobacco-use to date, and discuss the impacts on their health and family members.

Vesta’s journey towards becoming tobacco-free has been enriching for me professionally and personally. I have learned so much, not just about tobacco, but about addiction and recovery, about resilience and change. Being a part of an environment so involved with women’s health, well-being, recovery, empowerment and new-beginnings is contagious and I have seen it impact the staff team and our community, not just our clients. This process has been a great learning opportunity for the staff team at Vesta, we have spent a great deal of time training, discussing, planning, implementing and reporting on the changes and developments that have occurred. It has been invaluable experience for me to work with my colleagues and supervisors in this way. I have learned about the implementation of new programming, and collaborating with another agencies. I have witnessed and been inspired by the achievements of the clients we have worked with during this year, I am also encouraged by the benefits that becoming tobacco-free has had on clients and the environment at Vesta.

Kailey Brennan, RSW BSW ADS, Program Staff

Tobacco Cessation Program

 When I first learned that Vesta was going to become a smoke free facility I was determined to find another woman’s treatment centre. I postponed entering treatment for 2 months after I got clean. I wasn’t going to let anyone force me to quit smoking, I didn’t even have the desire to quit. After 2 long moths of white knuckling through one day at a time, I decided that if I truly wanted to embrace a recovery program and reclaim my life I accepted that it would have to be without cigarettes. Of course I had all kinds of reservations like “I just have to quit while I’m here” and “I can smoke on the weekends when I go home”. These thoughts made it easier for me to accept.

When the STOP program was announced I was much less sceptical. I wasn’t aware that NRT was going to be provided. I had never tried to quit smoking before and I had never wanted to quit. Participating in the STOP program showed me firsthand the benefits. I was given the opportunity to experience how it feels to be a non-smoker. I also proved to myself that I can quit, a thought I had never entertained before. Just as I knew I needed help to get clean and a guide to introduce me to the life of recovery, I knew I couldn’t quit smoking on my own. I would need some form of support. Many of the options are very expensive. If I were to buy NRT product on my own it would cost me double what I actually spend on cigarettes and I would be unable to guarantee consistency in product use due to finances. That alone is discouraging enough for me.

I came to Vesta as a smoker and the STOP program was implemented a few months after I arrived. Despite all the concerns brought forward by clients, myself included, the transition was beautiful. Having support on all sides made the experience very positive and hopeful. It’s extremely hard to quit such an addictive habit on your own. Having peers all going through it with me made it a lot easier.

In conclusion my entire STOP experience was a blessing. It’s given me insight and hope. I now know that I can improve even more on the quality of life for my kids and myself.

 CB


A Five Week Experience

Vesta was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t be here today.  My life was then just turned upside down.  I was on a roller-coaster of death and my ride was coming to an end. I had everything to lose. My relationship was already over and I was about to lose my son to CAS. I only had one option, to get myself better so I could be there for my son.  No one could prepare me for the next step I was about to take.

Two months into sobriety and CAS down my throat, I believed I was on the verge of relapsing.  I called OAARS again.  They contacted Vesta, which in turn contacted me.  I went for my interview a few days later with Joyce.  She made it seem safe to say yes to the program.  We went over all my options and I chose the five week program.  That meeting happened on a Friday in April and that following Monday I was checking into Vesta.

My first week was for settling in and getting to know the girls, then I started my first real week of program.  For a new woman entering Vesta that settling in period is critical. Most women know by the end of that week if they were going to stay or not.  Even two months into sobriety I knew if I didn’t take myself out of my comfort zone to get better, it just wasn’t going to stick.

The first two weeks of the program started with just trying to find a sense of who I was.  I had lost myself for years and I was very scared about what I would find.  Nothing really made much sense to me, and I thought the women alone would be the reason I would leave. For the next few days I just opened up to the women of the house and soon realized they all would be big supports.

The first half of my program allowed me to start peeling back the layers of my shame, guilt and anger. The hardest part about Vesta is how it works.  It is very intense, not only in peeling back the layers of my addiction, but also keeping me in what I call “functioning living form”. Three chores a day, doing my laundry, going to three groups a day and coming together at the end of every day for reflections, seemed like a lot to handle.  Vesta is very harsh but very necessary. I am an addict who rather of got high then do my laundry or clean up my house.

Vesta allows you to get better, but it also retrains you for life. Unlike most rehabs where you get your meals made for you and just about everything else, Vesta is the complete opposite.  Vesta showed me that I could get better while still functioning like I should have been.

Vesta, the house of hope, faith, and success.  Vesta was the toughest thing I’ve experienced.  From day one it was a struggle.  I would journal multiple times a day. I had a roommate who also turned into a really good friend for that period of time.  She made me feel comfortable.  Only one thing made me uncomfortable was sing-song. I never really got comfortable with it.

I was assigned one chore a week. That one chore was done three time a day.  Because of that I’ve regained my focus.  To have the ability to focus again has helped greatly.  I really focus now on my son and his needs. It was always about me and what I needed.

I‘ve gained most of my abilities back.  All the little things I thought I lost, I found while staying at Vesta.  Vesta will always be a safe place for me. Every staff member treated me as a person, a real person.  They would sit and listen, but allow you to find your own answers to questions.  They work in a way where you’re the one doing all the work.  The staff guided me, but always allowed me to figure it out on my own.  It felt great to get everything off my chest with people I didn’t know.  They made it safe for me to say anything and not feel like I was an idiot.

Now I see so much clearer.  I’m still learning a lot about myself.  I could go on and on about my experience.  All I have to say is Vesta turned my life around. I thank every single one of you.  This place helped me end a really bad chapter of my life.  I’ve started a new chapter, a great chapter so far.  If it wasn’t for my choice to get clean and chose Vesta, I would be dead right now.  My son wouldn’t have a mommy.  Pulling through with the help of Vesta and everything it offered, really gave me a fighting chance.

MK


The twelve week program at Vesta is a little hard to explain but here goes. 

I came into Vesta after being clean and sober for a month and three days.  I honestly believed being sober was going to be the hard part.  I was completely wrong.  Being sober was my first step to recovery and all of the baggage that I carried around for years needed to be addressed. All of the feelings and emotions that I had not known needed to be felt.  Not only felt but I needed to feel and know that I was going to be okay with feeling.

For those of you who do not know, I have been an active user for most of my life.  I used alcohol and at times drugs to numb myself so that I could not feel.  It was a learned behaviour that I am still learning to let go of.  I walked into the Vesta program with an understanding that I would finally give up substances for the rest of my life.  What I did not know was that in order to do that, my behaviour needed to change.  I needed to open up at group and let other people into the tiny world I created for myself.   The tiny little world has been mine for more than 40 years.  Vesta, the staff, my peers past and present, the structure and guidelines allowed me to open up for the first time since I was a little girl.  The reason I believe that I was finally able to open up was and is because I finally felt safe to do so.  I felt that my story was never going to be judged or ridiculed and I never felt humiliation or shame while at Vesta.

I am 45 years old and I have always felt shame and humiliation in one form or another, my entire life.  I never felt that at Vesta, not from staff.  I also felt safe being different, which is something that most people celebrate.  I felt like I could let out the big gulp of air that I have carried around for decades and take a fresh breath.  I do still have challenges and my gulp of air still builds, but what I build now is lighter and more manageable.

Most importantly, my time at Vesta has taught me the tools to cope with emotional challenges without going out to use.  I now know, that will the help of Vesta , whatever happens in my future, I only need to do one thing right for right now and that is not to use. 

Thank you,

CA


Continuing Care

Continuing Care...another component of Vesta's program that has helped me to build a foundation in my recovery.

When explaining this group to a woman who has worked hard throughout her time at Vesta and is joining us for the first time, we say - this is the group where we talk about the things that we don't want to talk about. What are you holding onto that may put you at risk for relapse? What are you feeling? What plans are you making in preparation for your transition back home or into Rent Geared to Income, or wherever you're headed? Who are your supports? Are you going to meetings? What does it look like for you when you’re slipping back into using behaviours? In Continuing Care we talk about what is going on in our lives, how these things are affecting us and how we can keep our recovery the number one priority.

I’m finding it extremely difficult to illustrate just how vital Continuing Care has been for my recovery. Sometimes I feel as though there are certain pieces of our lives that when experienced - are so powerful, that when we attempt to explain their impact … it feels as though words diminish them. Have you ever been really excited about something or so touched by something that when you tried to explain the impact it had on you to someone else, you found yourself feeling unsatisfied? Perhaps you were even a little frustrated with your inability to accurately capture the experience in a way that would help the other person to truly understand. Well, that is how I feel about Continuing Care. The impact has been profound. So here goes.

As an addict, I became a pro at deceiving myself, pushing down my feelings, putting on a mask and becoming whoever I felt you wanted me to be. I didn’t know who I actually was, what I enjoyed and I didn’t have the confidence to allow myself to let go of the expectations I had of myself. I was always trying to please everyone else and make it look like I had it all together. Vesta’s 12 week program, gave me the opportunity to learn skills to keep me moving forward, to explore myself and to truly feel. Continuing Care is the group that has helped me to continue to consistently break down those walls.

I have been more vulnerable, honest and genuinely myself in Continuing Care than I actually thought was possible. Not only have I shared pieces of myself that have left me feeling scared, relieved and incredibly proud of myself, but I have had the privilege of being a part of that process for other women. A lot of firsts happen in Continuing Care.

When I sit in the Continuing Care group, I am surrounded by women who are working toward a common goal of creating a healthy life for themselves. Some days I would show up feeling defeated, like I just didn’t know if I had it in me to keep fighting this disease. I would try to remind myself to be present and listen respectfully as others have done for me. It always amazes me when I hear women share so honestly because it has a ripple effect that encourages that willingness to be vulnerable and trust. You can feel that resilient energy flow throughout the room. Often I am reminded of how difficult it is to share such intimate parts of ourselves and the courage is takes to do so while feeling afraid.

 Continuing Care gives me the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences, feel connected to other women and to help myself and others identify patterns in behaviours merely by sharing honestly. I can’t count the amount of times that I have smiled as I realized I could completely identify with what another woman was sharing about. It is definitely a good reality-check at times too! I hear women share about how they have handled situations and it causes me to reflect on how I have handled similar situations in the past and helps me to reflect on how much I have grown as a result of this program. In the same breath, I can say that other women sharing their experiences has also helped me reflect on areas that I may have let slip, that I definitely still need to work on or that I didn’t realize were even a problem until someone else had the courage to say it aloud.

Continuing Care has helped me to realize that recovery is not defined by how many consecutive days, months or years you have been clean/sober for, how many chips or key tags you have picked up from AA or NA meetings, how many people validate your progress, achieving good grades, getting that perfect job, or by looking put-together and successful all the time.

Recovery is a process, not a destination. We don’t recover, we are in recovery. Recovery means I am working every day to allow myself to be human – to feel my feelings without sabotaging everything in my path, living with integrity, and be willing to take whatever steps I need to take to keep myself healthy just for today!

I am so grateful for Continuing Care and for Vesta. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t always make all of the right choices but I have learned to love myself through it because of Vesta’s program, especially Continuing Care. I was standing in the hallway of Vesta not too long ago and something hit me. I often point out my childhood home to people as we pass it driving somewhere, and usually I say, look… that’s where I grew up! I’m now 23 years old and as I looked around the room, noticing the light pink paint color, the pictures hanging, all of the energy that flows throughout, I realized - no, this is where I grew up.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the board members for being a part of something much more powerful than words can illustrate!

Sincerely,

L C-M


My Experience in the Rent Geared-to-Income Program at Vesta

I would like to start this piece by expressing that I never imagined myself partaking beyond the Phase I (5 week program) at Vesta. In that short period in recovery, things weren't very clear to me; what I did understand was that I was not ready to move on with life at that time.  I graduated onto Phase II of the Program, where I learned more about myself in a total of 12 weeks than I had in years. As I became aware of my own thoughts and feelings, I realized my inexperience in reality, really. As I did not have a home to return to after ending a long-term relationship, I decided to invest in myself with the gift of time. I graduated from the 12 week program in July 2015 and Vesta supported my decision to enroll in the Rent Geared-to-Income (RGI) phase of their program. I moved out of Vesta in January 2016, when I successfully found a place to call home.

RGI was important to me because Vesta was a safe place to live while searching for and integrating into secure housing. My recovery was paramount and throughout the integration process I gauged the risks and chose the environment of most suitable fit to continue practicing living a healthy lifestyle. There were many other benefits being in RGI. I had a room of my own, had my cell phone and laptop with me for use, and did not have to attend all of the groups as in the 12 week program. That being said, these freedoms came with increased responsibilities, and I still needed to adhere to Vesta's schedule, infrastructure and guidelines which kept me grounded. Staying up all night on social media was not an option. Given that I now had additional time to myself, a concept foreign to me long before I came to Vesta, I planned outings to nurture recreation and leisure. For example, I took glass-blowing classes, went to the gym, discovered what was new in the library, or simply went to the park to sit with myself and watch nature. In revisiting some of the groups at Vesta, I was able to pick-up on missed concepts and continued to make connections, identifying harmful thought patterns where intervention and change would be helpful in my recovery.

Strengthening a social network in recovery was valuable to me, as past experience has proven that I cannot be successfully sober alone. I allocated time in RGI to establish supports outside of my peer group and primary counsellor at Vesta in preparation for the next phase of my life. This included attending community programming (Serenity Renewal), becoming involved with AA, and using resources at the University of Ottawa Psychological Services. I attended Continuing Care group sessions to share relapse risks with past Vesta clients. Being a part of the community and giving back in service was personally rewarding. I have shared my recovery journey with many groups of women at Vesta, all whom have inspired me in some way or taught me something new about myself.  

Of all these aforementioned merits of being in the RGI program at Vesta I will conclude, seeing hope in the eyes of a newcomer to Vesta when I would introduce myself and say, "Hi, I remember how I felt on my first day here, hang in there.", was priceless.

Gd


Working at Vesta

During my last year with Vesta Recovery I have enjoyed a unique position of not working directly with the clients but witnessing never the less their progress through the program.  

It has been astounding to me to watch some seemingly very broken women arrive at Vesta and master over their time here healthy behaviours and practices.  The obvious structure established by the staff here empowers the clients. I remember one client so afraid of being in charge of any kitchen duties when she arrived, only to later relish taking responsibility.  At all steps through this, I watched the staff reinforce her confidence and growth.   

Sometimes the clients arrive so sad and I hear their pride in reaching a goal, being consistent and exploring new passions and interests. I loved hearing about the night some of the women went to the NAC and heard the orchestra.  The arc of their progress is quite something from my view.

Though my interaction with the clients is limited to lunch time and small administrative duties, the staff has always made me feel like I have a stake in the client’s progress.   

I believe the lack of staff turnover is evidence of what a nice working atmosphere there is at Vesta.

 Erin PS, Intake and Admin support Staff









 

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