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Dec 23
ShareLife and St. Michael’s Homes Offer Hope to Men With Substance Use Disorders

In 2019, ShareLife raised about $15 million to support 43 agencies that help our neighbours who are facing difficult times in their lives. One of those agencies is St. Michael's Homes, which provides holistic recovery programs for men with substance abuse challenges.

Robin Griller, Executive Director of St. Michael's Homes, explains how donations to ShareLife make a life-changing difference to men who are overcoming substance abuse disorders.

1. Can you describe the work done by St. Michael's Homes?

St. Michael's Homes provides support for men in the early stages of recovery from substance use challenges. We currently have five programs:

  1. Engagement Program: We work with men waiting to be admitted to our residential programs. A weekly engagement group and individual staff support prepare participants for admission into our treatment or housing programs. This individual support includes things like helping clients in accessing crisis and stabilization programs (such as detox or crisis beds), assisting men in accessing medical care and resolving problems with their prescriptions. The goal is to help men stabilize their lives so they can focus on getting well once they are in our residential programs;

  2. Residential Treatment Program: We offer a 30-day Treatment Program and an up to 60-day Extended Treatment Program. Individual care plans help clients achieve their treatment goals. We offer individual counselling sessions, meditation and a range of psycho-educational groups. Group sessions cover a range of topics: grounding techniques; education on substance use, mental health and stigma; and social and spiritual elements of recovery. Groups in the Extended Treatment Program are much smaller so the men can cover these topics in more depth.

  3. Transitional Housing: Our Matt Talbot housing program is a transitional housing program, offered in two buildings. One building houses a one-year program for men who have been through a Residential Treatment Program for substance use. The other building houses an up to four-year program for men whose co-occurring mental health challenges and histories of homelessness mean they require a longer period of support. The programs help the men stabilize in community living so they can start rebuilding their broader lives. If these men in recovery do not establish a joyful and meaningful life after substance use, they will struggle to sustain their recovery, so we help them reconnect with family, return to education and/or employment and identify their long-term housing location.

  4. Aftercare: We have one Aftercare worker, funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation for three years, who provides individual support to men leaving our residential services.

  5. Psychotherapy: Our psychotherapy program provides individual psychotherapy for 25-30 men. We have up to six part-time psychotherapists doing this work. Among the team are two therapists with backgrounds in spiritual or religious counselling who are available for individual work with men who self-identify as wanting those supports.

2. How is St. Michael's Homes' approach to addiction recovery different than what is used by most other programs?

We are different from other addiction services in a number of ways. Our program is based on a holistic psycho-social model of recovery that recognizes:

  1. Addiction is usually a consequence of other challenges (trauma, mental illness and so on);
  2. Recovery is an existential choice. People in recovery from substance use disorders are facing the need to choose living rather than avoiding the pains of life through substance use;
  3. People need holistic recovery rather than a narrow focus on the substance use;
  4. Recovery is not a straight line. People come in and out of use so our job is to support men through relapses and other difficulties.

    Some of the ways in which our program is quite different from other programs include:  
  1. We work through relapse where possible (many programs discharge after a relapse);
  2. We work with men on their external challenges (legal, medical, housing and so on) while they are in our treatment program so they are set up for success when they leave;
  3. We support the full range of addiction medicine supports — including methadone and suboxone — and we have an on-site physician at our treatment program every week;
  4. We do not encourage separation from real life during treatment, other than the expectation that clients will take time off work for their recovery. Our clients have cell phones, family and loved ones are in contact and they can go home regularly. If men can't manage their every day lives with our support, how will they do so without our support?
  5. A spiritual component is among the pillars of our recovery program, for those who are interested. For men who are interested in a spiritual component to their treatment, we help them explore what spiritual paths would be helpful for their recovery. One of our staff who provides individual counselling to men whose recovery is spiritually focused; he is both a registered psychotherapist and a published theologian (he is Catholic who converted following decades of ministry in another denomination).

3. Do you have a success story that you can share with us?

James (not his real name) grew up in Toronto, married young and had a child. He had a steady job and he had bought a house.

When James's marriage broke down, so did his happiness. James faced depression due to the loss of the marriage and not being able to see his child. He found himself jobless and alone.

The emotional turmoil that came with these problems led James to drugs. The drugs were an escape, allowing him to forget his problems. He was only happy when he was high.

James fell into a cycle: Find a low paying job, work for the first pay cheque and then get high on drugs until the money ran out. Each turn through the cycle ended in a worsening low that had James praying for death.

With his family's support, James completed a treatment program. However, afterwards he found himself without a support system in place and he ended up relapsing.

Back in the cycle of addiction, James's life revolved around unhealthy relationships. Isolated from his family, he once again thought about suicide. But the arrival of a second child made him think about his family and forced him to seek help.

He joined the treatment program at St. Michael's Homes and worked diligently on his recovery. After completing treatment, he entered the Transitional Housing Program. With his support system in place, he was able to work through issues with his family and build a new life.

James has been supported in helping his sick father and reconnecting with his mother, sisters and youngest son.

With the help of St. Michael's Homes staff he has come to realize that relapse is often part of recovery and has worked through stressful periods, learning how to recognize and avoid triggers. James has focused his energies on stabilizing his life, volunteering in the house and eventually returning to work.

James knows hope exists and says, "Help is there, but it's up to you to do the work. Nobody does it for you."

4. How does support from ShareLife help St. Michael's Homes do this work?

We couldn't accomplish our work without ShareLife. The housing program is the focus of Sharelife's funding. We have support from the Ministry of Health to pay for the buildings and administration. But ShareLife dollars pay for the staff who provide individual supports to the men in our housing program and the group activities (both therapeutic and social!) that make this a warm and supportive home environment. ShareLife ensures we are able to provide good food, bedding and all the other material things our men need as they move into a new life of recovery from substance use disorders.

Watch this video to learn more about ShareLife and St. Michael's Homes.

Thanks to your generosity, ShareLife can support agencies that live the Gospel mission in our community. Click here to support ShareLife and receive a charitable donation tax receipt.


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