Step By Step—Recovery or Quiet Degradation?

I managed to get myself into yet another recovery facility after spending the past six months in and out of various recovery facilities. This begs a number of very valid and serious questions, not the least of which being “Why do I insist upon torturing myself in this fashion???” Because, let me tell you, living with a bunch of addicts/alcoholics is about as much fun as pulling your toenail off whilst having a root canal.

There is, however, a rather marked difference with this facility as opposed to the others; this one is government run and licensed. What that equates to, at least in British Columbia, is a decent living environment wherein staff are actually trained in real schools on Addictions and Recovery.  A lot less than I can feasibly say about almost all of the other recovery houses I’ve had the misfortune of living in.

Let’s start with the last recovery house prior to this, entitled “Step by Step”, and run by Debbie Johnson. The homes are not licensed by any government organization, nor would they be given that a)the women’s house is run by Crystal Gogun, Debbie’s daughter, whose idea of “Group” seems to consist of ripping any client she dislikes to shreds in front of the other residents. She entitles this practice a “Process”. To survive these groups, one either 1) runs away swiftly in their head and plays tic tac toe with their brain until Crystal has finished her tirade,  or 2) Dares to fight back, in which case, your days, I’m afraid, are numbered.

b) All food in the houses is expired, some of the food has been expired for at least two solid years. The theory here seems to be that if you can survive eating this food without dying, you can easily survive anything else recovery is planning to throw at you.

c) All of the houses are falling apart at the seams, and remind clients of crack shacks. Whether this is done in an effort to make clients feel more at home when they enter off of the street, or whether all the money is still tied up in the owner’s boating pursuits remains an unknown.

d)Methadone and other medication is distributed at each of the houses. Although the ingestion of methadone is monitored by pharmacy staff, the rest of the medication is controlled and handed out by the “Medication Monitor.” The “Medication Monitor” is another client in the facility, presumably due to their own addictions. The wisdom, let alone legalities, of allowing another client access and control over all of the other client’s medications seems to be something along the same lines as the food; if you are able to stop yourself, whilst in this stressful environment, from eating all of the other client’s medications and then floating about the house, you can put another notch into your belt of recovery.

e) Rules and Regulations: Step by Step, at the Women’s House in particular, reads out all of the supposed infractions of the rules that took place during the week. These infractions can be anything from leaving ones cup on a table for thirty extra seconds to not doing your chores properly to using. Upon the monitors, other clients appointed as the rats of the house, reading out these supposed infractions, Crystal happily hands down punishments. Punishments vary from client to client, depending upon a)how useful you happen to be to Crystal, b) how much Crystal likes you today and c)How much Crystal hates you today. One client once was forced to wear her coffee cup on a string round her neck for an entire week due to having too many “leaving the coffee cup out” infractions. Another was made to wear a sign that read “I WILL STAND UP FOR MYSELF” for a week due to doing too much for others, and had the distinct pleasure of getting to wear said sign to meetings, outings with friends, and trips to the grocery store. The theory behind which seemed to be that public humiliation instills better behavior, or, at the very least, the behavior the facilitator expects. Other clients have been placed on voice restrictions, during which they aren’t permitted to speak to any other clients in the house, or any individual they may run into at meetings outside the house until further notice. One client was actually kicked out of the Coed house for failing to comply with his voice restrictions.

f)When clients leave Step by Step, they are not refunded any of the money owed to them for the remainder of the month as sanctioned by the Ministry, rather, they lose the remainder of their check, and must live upon air until the issue of next month’s installment. Step by Step justifies this gross injustice by reminding said client that they signed a contract to this affect upon coming into the house. (Despite this being a clear case of undue influence as the majority of individuals entering Step by Step do so because they are either a)homeless, or b) fresh from jail and needing desperately to have a place to stay.

g)Dishes are done by the clients by hand, as there is no dishwasher in any of the homes that functions properly, let alone a dishwasher capable of raising the dishes to the required temperatures to kill bacteria. Mind you, given the clients are also eating expired food every day, we have to assume health and sanitation are NOT Step by Step’s greatest concern.

Step by Step is located in Surrey, and is still up and running, stealing people’s welfare check’s and offering them nothing but a bed in a room with between one to four roommates, expired food, and groups which are run, at least in the women’s house, by a twenty three year old child with no applicable education, experience or notable facilitation skills beyond intimidation and exhibition of a strong superiority complex; to offer the ladies they take in.

This saddens and upsets me greatly, primarily because, now that I’m residing within a properly run, government licensed facility, I am reminded of all I’m freely given in the way of recovery tools, in a safe, happy and homey environment where the food is always fresh, and delicious and the staff are both knowledgeable and aptly trained for their positions. When I leave this place, I will have a home to go to, suitable for myself and my family. When the girls at Step By Step leave the women’s house, they will leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and whatever dignity they’ve managed to maintain in an environment geared towards stealing it.

Isn’t it time we, as a public, got involved in shutting down some of these so-called Recovery Homes that offer nothing but more heartache to their residents? Isn’t it time we started to demand that anyone running one of these homes be licensed by the government, and that our municipal government return to mandating that? How is it fair for a woman, who is told some place is a Recovery Home, to find herself paying out all of her pittance of  a welfare check (which is what most of us must live on entering recovery as we are not allowed by the homes to work) for unqualified power hungry children to yell in their faces, a program which is essentially run by their peers, a fridge and cupboards full of expired foods and nothing but a mattress in a room full of women to call their own?

If we are to find addicts turning their lives around and making it, it’s going to be those of us who are lucky and fortunate enough to find programs that are licensed by the government, and staffed by professionals in addiction recovery.  We, who are fortunate enough to find dignity within our recovery home, and therefore our recovery experience, are the ones who will go on to pass the message of hope on to other suffering addicts. We will be the ones to become tax payers instead of system sufferers, and by GOD, don’t we need more of that kind of turn around in this province? We live in a gorgeous province, British Columbia boasts beautiful views, ocean front property, and some of the saddest and most humiliating addicts in the world. Addicts who need safe places to turn to if they are ever going to find another way of life. Addicts who, I might add, could just as well be your child, your mother, or your sister or brother. They are all somebody’s child. They are all somebody.

Isn’t time we started treating them as such? Isn’t it time we started to demand proper and adequate care for the addicts and alcoholics who, brave enough to ask for help, are currently finding themselves shuffled off to places like Step by Step?

Isn’t it time we stopped looking away when we drive down Hastings and started looking up and ahead instead? I sure as hell think so, and I can only hope you do too.


~ by double2dee on January 24, 2009.

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