For Anthony Cafik, this year is different.
It is Christmas in treatment. The energy is different. People are feeling it. A mix of excitement, sadness, togetherness. Members. Staff. Everyone is experiencing something different.
Anthony Cafik, the new clinical director at Aurora, is outside taking pictures of snow angels.
“Angel translates into message. We have a message of hope for a new life,” he says.
Cafik, 57, arrived from Vancouver Island to take the helm of the counselling team in September. He had been on a sabbatical from his previous position as a counsellor at one of BC’s top addiction recovery centres. Two and a half months into that break, he received the call from Aurora.
“Yeah, I was on hiatus. I was loving it. I hiked. I didn’t think about work. I visited people. I got really grounded in my spirituality, just being me and not being busy. I was resting. And I was discerning. What is the next phase of my life? Lo and behold, it was presented.”
An invitation to come to Manitoba with winter nearing and, as Clinical Director, lead a team of clinicians in a fight for the lives of those suffering from addiction.
He had been a counsellor, a chaplain, a lecturer – but a clinical director?
Rested and ready, the answer was clear. Yes.
He loaded up his car and his dog, Bandit, leaving the lush green of temperate rainforest and the salty tang of the Salish Sea. Traversing the peaks and twisting roads of the Rockies, across the expanse and open skies of the foothills, he found the heartland of our great nation and arrived in uncharted territory for him – the banks of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli. He promptly moved into one of Aurora’s guesthouses and went to work.
“You can’t plan it. [Aurora’s president, Steve Low] was away that week, too. So, I stepped into it without missing a beat.”
And just like that, Aurora Recovery Centre owner, Paul Melnuk, and Low added another key piece to the puzzle of offering good addiction treatment on the prairies during a pandemic.
That’s how Anthony rolls. He pauses, waits for his answers, and goes with his heart. And, this Christmas, the current members of Aurora and the staff who support and counsel them are learning firsthand all about faith in the process that he possesses.
“Anthony acts swiftly,” says Tracy Falk, Aurora’s executive assistant. “He’s so compassionate about the members, the program and the staff.”
Like so many in recovery and in the business of helping others recover, Cafik’s story is one of incredible ups and downs. The son of a former federal cabinet minister, Norman Cafik, who served as Minister of State and Multiculturalism under Pierre Trudeau in 1977, he was raised to know better. Good parents. Good homes. Good schools. But, his live-on-the-edge and explore-at-all-costs mentality took him off the rails. He went from the highs of nine-figure incomes in the high-tech industry and Silicon Valley to the lows and loneliness of sweeping parking lots in his first year of recovery 18 years ago. It was four years into studying to be a priest when he discerned that doing God’s will, in a frock or not, was what he needed to do.
He is all about discernment.
In that sense, the call to come to Aurora was exactly on time. He knew intuitively where he needed to be.
In Manitoba, helping others, at a most sensitive time.
“It is work to help people understand that what they are doing is a gift for their family and [themselves] ,” he says of what it can be like to try to grasp recovery at this time of year. “They are feeling like they’ve let people down. Of course, they have. But, helping someone realize that their family, their work, their children, brothers, sisters – all of it – can be at peace, and rest because they know they are in a safe place.”
He has spent 18 Christmases collecting his own experience at treatment centres before Aurora. Learning the ropes. Practicing, practicing, practicing. First, as a patient himself, then as a chaplain, then counsellor, now as Clinical Director. All that experience is now coming to the forefront.
He lists the names of counsellors, spiritual advisors, friends, and colleagues who have influenced his style of helping others.
“I can see that I’ve taken on a lot of those things they’ve taught me, but I haven’t been in a position of authority to use them. So, in that sense, it’s almost like you didn’t know what you knew.”
He smiles and relates how, just last week, after working through a particularly tense crisis which included an angry, aggressive member and frightened staff, he sent a text to his former clinical director for whom he previously worked to thank her for teaching him how to handle situations like that.
“And that is exactly it. What I have seen has prepared me for this,” he says.
As Christmas makes its way to Aurora, his focus is on the members he serves. People trying to find recovery.
“It is my opinion that they’re even less well at this time of year. You would have to be really sick to miss this time of year with your family.
There would have to be some significant things going on in your addiction … your addiction has progressed this far. Those who are less severe will wait to do the New Year’s promise. They’ll hold it together for Christmas and power through it. But those that we get are past that ability to hold it together.”
Which means his staff have to roll up their sleeves.
“In a way, we have to step up our game even more. The nature of their illness has progressed that far, plus they are now thawing out emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically. All these emotions that have been numbed out because of the intensity of their addiction are unravelling. The roller coaster is a lot higher and a lot lower. So, it takes a lot more love, tolerance, patience, empathy, and compassion. And, at a wide level, to walk them through that in a way that treats them with dignity.”
Christmas time in a treatment centre is different than any other time of the year.
“It’s work, but with most people, it’s about good counselling. Being with them, supporting them emotionally and walking them through it all to help change their thinking about what’s going on. They [members] think they are letting their families down even more by not being there. That’s a beautiful sentiment, but they don’t understand that their illness is not wanted at this time.”
“So, we have to help them see the gift, that they are the gift. That they are taking a time out to prepare themselves to fulfill their destiny.”
The counselling staff and the members are learning that there is no I in We. Group therapy goes on all day in the sense that people need to feel safe to talk about their feelings, whether they are in a counselling session or shooting pool. Sharing feelings and working with others, reviewing assignments – staff and members working cohesively. That is what Anthony is bringing as he tries to execute Aurora’s new vision for treatment on the prairies.
“My position … I believe it’s a real Clinical Director. Not sitting in an office and directing a supervisor or a counsellor here and there. It’s bringing our team together. We create a vision for the team. I help. I’m here to serve the team. They’re not my pawns in a game. I’m here to help them be successful so our members can be successful.”
Again, there is no I in We.
“To me, it is about unity. We are building and forging an alliance as a team to come together. It’s the same thing as we are doing with the patients because we are forcing them to come together as a community, and as a group to help to achieve sobriety. They get well together. We are doing the same thing as a team. We stay well together. So, it is not Anthony. It is not Steve. It contains me. It contains Steve. It’s Steve’s vision of how he wants things to be, then I have to execute them. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Always.”
And using all means available. Even Bandit.
Anthony’s best friend, his companion, is a Parsons Jack Russell terrier. Arriving as a puppy 13 years ago, Bandit has fished, boated, hiked, been in the Rockies, kayaked, you name it.
“He goes on the back of my Vespa in a pouch. He loves it.”
He, too, has been invigorated by the move to the centre of the country.
“Bandit is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – he is going! The members love him. He comes for walks with them. Whenever I have an escalated patient or someone that is elevated and it is at night, I bring him in with me and he saves the day, not me,” he says with a laugh.
“They melt in his eyes and he’s cute. He licks them and they’re, like, great. And they go to bed. He’s the best therapist ever.”
Therapy in the middle of Canada is getting the full-team effect. Two legs or four.