Clean, sober and ready to party

Women “graduate” from drug, alcohol abuse with a chance to start anew



CAMBRIDGE BAY – Margo Neglak is supposed to be slicing sausages, but instead she’s dancing to hits from the eighties. Other women in the su nny kitchen of this hostel are in a similarly good mood. Today is the last day of Nunavut’s first 28-day live-in drug and alcohol abuse program.

Four weeks ago, 12 nervous, rough-looking women entered the hostel, not sure what to expect. Today, nine healthy, happy women rush up and down the two large staircases on either side of a huge dining table getting ready for their graduation ceremony one hour from now.

The intensive four-week program came about through years of persistence. The local Wellness Centre had been running one and two week versions of the program for a year and a half, when they learned that the department of health and social services had an empty building next to their own headquarters.

The Government of Nunavut generously agreed to donate the building for a month. Alice Isnor, wellness centre director, then called up a facilitator she’d been working with for years who agreed to take part. With a building and people in place, Isnor made a funding proposal to the department of health.

Today, the centre can take credit for changing the lives of nine of the women who made it through the program. Nine out of 12 may not seem like a success story, but facilitator Grayling Malaterre, himself sober for 19 years, says that it’s the best result he’s seen in his years as a counsellor.

Throughout the program, the women spent most days in the classroom, learning about awareness, relationships, self-esteem and anger management. In the evenings, they went out for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or did AA meetings in house. Sometimes, they played volleyball at the local school for a break.

For Margo, the hardest part was doing her lifeline. All of the participants were asked to draw a map of their life from age one to now, and write the positive things that happened at a certain age, and the negative things.

“I found there were more negative things than positive,” Margo says. Now, she’s learned to look back and emphasize the positive.

For Rosie Evetalegak, the hardest part was leaving her three children. Luckily, she didn’t have to go far, and the centre has generous visiting hours for friends and family. Ten-year-old Dana, Rosie’s second-oldest, is here today, and Rosie is excited for the graduation.

Millie Angulalik was also scared when she entered the program, but says that she’s learned a lot: self-esteem, accepting and forgiving, dealing with anger and how to stay clean and sober.

“I’ve been in and out of jail my whole life,” Millie says. Now, she says, her large family has already seen a big change in her personality and her attitude, and she thinks her future will be much different.

“It’s already different right now,” Millie says. “Even walking to the store you can see so many different behaviours in other people. You can see who’s angry and who’s hurting.”

Millie also says it won’t be hard to stay away from booze, now that she’s learned it’s a disease, and has seen what it’s done to her in the past. She also has a new group of friends who are in the same boat.

“We’re already making plans for out there.”

But “out there” need not be so scary. Grayling has signed on to the program for two years, and will continue to host workshops in Cambridge Bay. These women will be invited back to a two-week follow up program in June.

All of the women have had the support of their friends and family, who fill the Elder’s Palace on Saturday afternoon.

Several shed tears as their loved ones go up to receive their certificates, and get long hugs from the facilitators. Grayling also hands each woman a rock.

The women are instructed to keep the rock with them at all times, and put it in their mouths if they’re ever tempted to take a drink.

This rock was once rough, but it’s been polished, Malaterre says. “It may have taken 28 days.”

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