A man is sitting hunched over the edge of his bed in detox. He knows he wasn’t forced to drink this, smoke that, snort this. He did it all on his own.
On so many levels, he feels sick. About as loveable and trustworthy as a bag of dirt.
In that moment, the financial costs that come with taking up a bed in a highly recommended recovery centre hit him. Quickly, he sees his out. It costs too much. His loved ones shouldn’t have to pay for his actions. He’s got to go before they’re on the hook.
He’ll stop on his own, and soon, too.
And that’s the moment when the words of a Member Care Specialist (MCS) can be life-altering. Life-saving. Right on time.
Sherry G. is one who speaks those words. Not from some memorized script. Her words come from the heart. The heart of a lioness, a warrior who has been there, done that. She’s less than two years into her role as an MCS at Aurora, but she’s decades past entry-level into the world from which so many of Aurora’s clientele come.
“Your parents are willing to pay for this for you. And it’s not about the money. It’s about saving your life,” she states, matter-of-fact-like. “How much money did you spend on a weekly basis before you came in here? Spending money is easy. You’re smoking crack or you’re doing meth or you’re drinking – add that up. Every week.”
At 54, she’s the quintessential been-there, done-that person. Her recovery resume contains all the landmines and black holes necessary to make her a perfect go-to person in any recovery centre. A survivor of sexual and other forms of violent abuse. Crime and punishments. Adoption. Broken homes. Homelessness. Gang life. Crack cocaine. A two-bottle-of-Vodka-a-day habit. Seizures. Psych wards. Funerals.
As the new year dawns, with end in sight of yet another period in life in which she and many others are at wits end, she is fighting to keep another life from going down the drain.
She gives it to the members straight up, no sparing feelings as she fights for their lives, sometimes harder than they do themselves.
“You go through X amount of dollars a lot faster in addiction than sitting in a rehab. And at least you have a chance to save your life in rehab. This rehab. Other ones, I don’t know about. But this one in particular works.”
A voice from the heart for Aurora.
Sometimes a person appears at just the right time and says the right words that reach deep inside, where a person is feeling most hurt in that moment. That moment of clarity. Do I stay or do I go now?
In the world of recovery and its alternatives, life often hangs on the fragility of such moments. Sherry often is the person to offer those right words at the right time.
Aurora’s Member Care Specialists are often the best proof, for those trying to attain recovery, to know there is room in the real world for them. An MCS buys no lies, no grandiosity. There’s no pretending why someone is in treatment. They know exactly why.
A good MCS naturally knows how to deal with someone trying to find their way out of the maze of addiction. Someone looking for some semblance of hope. Of dignity. Of direction.
By the time she started working at Aurora herself, Sherry had been through multiple centres, mere “drying-out joints,” as she calls them. Uninterested in recovery, she drank the day she was released from two of those centres. When you’ve lived hopelessly, you are attracted to hopeless like a moth to a flame.
The darkness of someone fighting a losing fight is hard to watch. The struggle is something she knows intimately.
“Some of them want recovery – yes, some of them do. Some of them, I can tell … they don’t really care,” she says with a sad shrug.
As a newborn, Sherry was adopted into the family of a nurse and a Manitoba Hydro electrical engineer in St. Vital, a middle-class Winnipeg neighbourhood. It was a blessing in one way, a setup for more trouble in another.
Her new family had tragically lost a daughter, and the grieving process was rough on them. Sherry was filling their void. It was a strict, religious home, the twice-on-Sundays-and-once-on-Wednesday church routine. Mom suffered from extreme depression. Sherry wasn’t able to live up to her mother’s standards in many aspects. It led to a debilitating dynamic.
“Everything was my fault.”
As a young girl, a relative of the family was sexually abusing her, “but nobody believed me. It was hush-hush and swept under the table for a very, very long time,” she says quietly. “I grew up afraid. Uncomfortable in my own skin.”
By the time puberty arrived, boys and drinking came into the picture and she was told to leave.
“She’d had enough of me. I came home from school one day, my suitcase was at the door and that was it.”
Homeless for much of her remaining school years, she found shelter in “cars, streets, the backs of businesses,” wherever she could, until a compassionate woman in the sex trade offered her a roof over her head. Sherry worked nights waitressing and, through sheer tenacity, stubbornness and survival skills, she made it through high school.
Her drinking was manageable and the consequences not severe. For a time. But time always runs out.
The dark side and its various characters were present all along the way, as a series of relationships introduced her to gang life, violence, drug dealing and prostitution. Drinking slid from fun and sporadic towards out of control and dangerous. She worked the rough life of bars and strip joints, unsavoury gangsters in and out of her life for decades. Four children were born to two fathers, having a front-row seat to Sherry’s tumultuous life and repercussions. Eventually they, too, would all leave when older, unable to cope with their mother’s lifestyle.
Finally, when there were no more escape hatches to use, no more enablers, no more excuses, the spiral came to its conclusion. Shortly after her adopted mother died in 2014, her father moved in with her. He had a terminal illness and was watching his own life, as well as his daughter’s, dissolve. He was on his last legs, and she was up to two bottles a day of gin or vodka.
In the final year of his life, 2016, it was her father who would get Sherry to Aurora. She wanted recovery and took hold of the lifeline being offered to her.
“Without Aurora, I wouldn’t be here,” she says, two weeks before Christmas, 2020. “I truly believe that everything I went through in life, the good the bad the ugly, was in God’s plans so that I could understand and be of service to other people caught in addiction and suffering.”
Why would Aurora work for someone with that level of pain and suffering when other facilities did not? In a word, “Structure. One hundred per cent. I learned structure for the first time in my life.”
In case you forget, or haven’t been told, structure is a treatment centre’s day-to-day routine.
“Getting up early. Going to meditation. Having breakfast. Going to a group. Talking to a counsellor. Being accountable. Going to see a therapist. Making sure you are on time for lunch. Making sure you are on time for the next meeting. Discipline, yes.”
As an MCS, Sherry has been through as much pain and suffering as anyone you are likely to meet. She does not wave it around like a flag, but she is one who will tell you the truth easily, if it will help someone else.
“I am here for a reason. I am sober and alive for a reason. To help others find the light in the darkness,” she says quietly, confidently.
Her father died three weeks after she finished treatment. Along her continued path, she met her biological mother. And those four boys she brought into the world? They are all back in her life.
Oh, they still check the cupboards on visits, blown away by their mom’s new life. But Sherry is walking proof that if you want recovery, no matter how far down you have gone, you can still turn things around.
Today, her life is full, she’s happy, joyous and free, and she knows exactly where it comes from.
“It was at Aurora that I found my strength through having faith in my higher power. I follow the rule, ‘Give it to God and let go.’”
And, of course, there’s that structure.
“I truly believe that success is found in my daily routine. Which, for me, is an early morning, prayers, push-ups, and a long walk through nature with my English bulldog each and every day.
“The structure that I learnt at Aurora I carry with me in my life. I am very structured and disciplined. I am constantly using tools from my recovery toolbox, and the Serenity Prayer is my go-to, several times a day.”
“Aurora helped me find myself again and put me back in touch with my Higher Power which, to me, is God.”
By Jeff Vircoe