A father's story
Luc Rivard talks about his son, Nicholas
Written by Keith Peckover
Published to Zack's Crib Facebook page June 28, 2019
“It was over five years ago when I realized my son was suffering from mental health and addictions. At first, I didn’t realize how extensive the problem was or how big it was. It was only after time that I noticed how his behavior patterns and how his behavior changed. He would try to stop using. He’d tell us he could do it on his own. His mother and I offered our help, but truthfully, we didn’t even know where to take him. We felt helpless. At one point we went to the hospital because he was coming down from a bad trip and was hallucinating, hearing voices and saying that I could read his mind and knew what he was thinking.
Just prior to this past Christmas, Nick went to a Detox Centre in North Bay for a couple of days. After Christmas, Nick was in a good place. I agreed for him to come live with me. I really enjoyed my time with Nick and feel this was a gift before his passing. He was attending sessions at CMHA. Nick said that he wanted and needed the help. He has two children and wanted to be part of their lives. When he was well, he respected me and came to work with me. I started to notice that he was back on drugs because when he was coming down, he would get belligerent. After he stole pills from a family member, I was upset with him. We talked about it later and I asked him why he did it. I wanted to understand. He felt bad for doing it, but he just couldn’t seem to stop himself. After two months of not using drugs, he verbalized how he would get “the itch.” At that moment it sunk in for me; his addiction was a great force that had a grip on him and caused him to act out. It was hard to believe at first and I soon started realizing that there were many people out there who would front him the money to get the drugs he wanted.
In the back of my mind I really wanted to believe him when he’d tell me that he was going to beat this and that he’d fine. After his disappearance, for days I would drive around and all I would see was a tarnished world. I assumed everyone was a suspect. I felt like people were watching me. While he was missing, everything felt so tense. I would wake up at 4 am and not be able to get back to sleep. I was exhausted. My head would be spinning, and I was on high alert. I was fearful for my life at times and made sure everything was locked. I felt so disconnected from the world.
I was concerned about letting him see how helpless and hopeless I felt. There were so many challenges for Nick such as starting over, getting a job he could hold on to, being a father to his children as well as helping to raise them and support them financially. He was a good man and wanted to do what was right. He felt extremely challenged because the drugs would always pull him back in. Then he’d be out of control again. I just wanted to help somehow, to do everything I could to help him to regain control. I thought that by bringing him to work with me, he’d at least be safe. I’ve blamed myself because I couldn’t help him but ultimately, I know it was up to him.
As a parent I felt like I should know how to talk to my kids... and hesitated to involve others because of the feeling of shame. I didn’t want to let go or give away that control. It’s not easy and the treatment centers are far away and not easily accessible. But I would say, push harder. I felt I should have pushed the doctor to get additional help. I understood he couldn’t be there for my son all the time. I wish I would have voiced my concern louder to let them know that it’s not acceptable to let someone out of a hospital when they are not okay.
I feel that there is a great need for people in our community to know that this is happening in our backyards, neighbors’ homes and it can affect anyone. I owe it to my son Nick, to my other children, to myself and I owe it to my community. I want to help create more awareness because I feel people don’t realize how big this problem truly is. Zack’s Crib would be a place for guys like Nick to find refuge and maybe even to find the help they need to rebuild a normal life.”
"Ça fait plus de cinq ans que je me suis rendu compte que mon fils souffrait de problème de santé mentale et de toxicomanie. Au début, je ne constatais pas l’ampleur du problème. C’est seulement après un certain temps que j’ai perçu des changements dans son comportement et sa routine. Il tentait d’arrêter de consommer et affirmait qu’il le ferait tout seul. Sa mère et moi lui avons offert notre appui mais en vérité, nous ne savions pas ou l’amener. Nous sentions un sentiment d’impuissance. A un moment donné, nous l’avons apporté à l’hôpital car il hallucinait suite à un bad trip. Il entendait des voix et disait que je pouvais lire ses pensées.
Juste avant Noël dernier, Nick est allé à un centre de désintoxication à North Bay pour quelques jours. Après Noël, Nick semblait bien dans sa peau. Je l’ai accueilli chez moi. J’ai très apprécié ce temps avec lui et c’est un cadeau qu’il m’a partagé avant son décès. Nick assistait à des sessions de CMHA. Il disait vouloir et avoir besoin d’aide. Il a deux enfants et voulait s’impliquer dans leurs vies. Lorsque Nick se sentait bien, il me respectait et venait travailler avec moi. Je me suis aperçu qu’il consommait à nouveau lorsqu’il est devenu oppositionnel. Après avoir volé des médicaments d’un membre de la famille, j’étais déçu. Plus tard, nous en avons parlé et je lui ai demandé pourquoi il a posé ce geste car je voulais comprendre. Il ressentait de la honte mais ne pouvait pas s’en empêcher. Après deux mois sans consommé Nick disait qu’il en avait besoin. Là j’ai compris à quel point sa dépendance était une grande force qui avait une emprise sur lui et l’amenait à consommer.
Au début, je trouvais cela incroyable mais je me suis rendu compte que plusieurs gens lui donnaient l’argent nécessaire pour acheter les drogues dont il voulait. Derrière mes pensées, je voulais vraiment le croire quand il me disait qu’il allait surmonter sa dépendance et se rétablirait. Après sa disparition, pendant des jours je conduisais partout et tout ce je pouvais voir c’était un monde souillé. Chaque personne devenait coupable et je me sentais surveillé. Pendant son absence, tout semblait intense. Je me réveillais à 4h et je ne pouvais plus m’endormir. J’étais épuisé. Ma tête tournait et j’étais très vigilant. Parfois, j’avais peur pour ma vie et je m’assurais que tout était verrouillé. Je me sentais tellement distant du monde. J’étais sans espoir et sans appui.
Il y avait tellement de défis pour Nick tels que recommencer sa vie, obtenir un emploi et être un père de famille qui réponds aux besoins affectifs et financiers de ses enfants. Il était un bon gars qui voulait bien faire. Mais il était défié par les drogues qui l’enjôlaient à nouveau. Ensuite, il était encore une fois, dépourvu. Je voulais l’aider d’une façon ou d’une autre et faire tout selon mes moyens pour l’aider à reprendre contrôle de sa vie. Je me blâmais car je ne savais pas comment l’aider, mais finalement, le premier pas lui revenait. Comme parent, je devrais savoir comment discuter avec mes enfants. J’hésitais d’impliquer d’autres gens à cause du sentiment de culpabilité. Je ne voulais pas donner ce pouvoir. Ce n’est pas facile et les centres de traitements sont éloignés et difficilement accessible. Mais je me disais, pousse plus fort! Je vois maintenant que j’aurais dû aller plus loin avec les médecins et insister pour plus d’aide. J’aurais dû exprimer mes inquiétudes que ce n’était pas acceptable que mon fils sorte de l’hôpital quand il n’était pas bien.
Je crois qu’il y a un grand besoin dans notre communauté de se rendre compte que ceci se passe ici et cela peut toucher n’importe qui. Pour mon fils Nick, mes autres enfants, pour moi-même et pour les gens de la communauté j’ai choisi de sensibiliser la population à l’ampleur de ce problème. Zack’s Crib est un endroit ou des gars comme Nick pourraient retrouver un refuge et peut-être même recevoir l’aide qu’ils ont besoin pour reconstruire leurs vies"
Executive Director of Living Space, a Homeless Shelter located in Timmins, Ontario
Interview and article completed by Keith Peckover, published to Facebook on July 26, 2019
"I have lived with anxiety and depression for much of my adolescent and adult life. I struggled with the illnesses untreated and behind closed doors due to the stigma and the fear that it creates. This stigma was compounded by the fact that I worked in the mental health field. I knew I was supposed to be the person helping others. I finally opened up about my mental health and began taking medications two years ago and now in recovery.
Living Space was created in 2017 through a partnership of Timmins’ service organizations who recognized the need for a comprehensive and coordinated response to the large number of people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity in our community. I have worked within the sphere of homelessness for the better part of fifteen years and was shocked when I moved to Timmins in 2012 to find that resources did not exist and that the issue was not being talked about. I became motivated to change this out of pure frustration with the system and with decision makers who did not feel the issue deserved attention.
The key to ending homelessness is comprehensive, coordinated, and accessible services. Living Space is advocating for change at the systems level that will allow people to access the right type of support, at the right time and move them quickly out of homelessness. These coordinated services need to be matched with harm reduction, non-judgmental, and no-barrier approaches. It is important that Living Space creates a non-judgmental atmosphere so that no one feels unwelcome or afraid to seek support. It’s difficult to build awareness around the need. People assume that smaller communities do not face the same issues, and so therefore don’t focus on finding solutions. I am confident that people now know the extent of the issue and are wanting to build solutions.
Housing is a human right and shelters are an important part of the puzzle to ending homelessness and are absolutely necessary to enable people to take the first step to recovery."
Defying the odds
The story of a man's recovery from the trenches of homelessness to being a productive member of society in a loving relationship.
Written by Keith Peckover
Published to Zack's Crib Facebook page August 16, 2019
"I was 14 years old when my parents divorced. After the divorce, I lived with my mom. She couldn’t handle my anger issues, so by the age of 15, I became a ward of the crown through the Children’s Aid Society. I had to grow up rather fast when that happened. After becoming a ward of the crown, I lived in a group home for 6 months, then with a foster family for a year. At 16 I was renting a room in a house with 4 older guys and still going to school. Children’s Aid was paying for the room I rented as well as other bills; the money I received was equivalent to student welfare. I got involved with drugs and alcohol during that time, as it was readily available.
My relationship with my mom was strained. After I left home, I would visit my mother off and on, but would never live with her for more than a few weeks. Both of my parents were alcoholics. My mother was a recovering Alcoholic who was in AA for years and my father was still active in his addiction. I never had much contact with my father. I believe that the last time I saw him was when I had just turned 19. During this visit he threatened me with his belt, like he had done and hit me with for many years. This time I was able to challenge him because I was older and no longer small, and he backed off. My father passed away when I was 24 and my mother passed when I was 30. I have a biological sister with whom I do not have a relationship with. To me, we happen to have the same parents and that is it.
I was a street kid on and off from the age of 18 to 25, at which point I aged out of being considered a youth. When I turned 18 I dropped out of school. As I was of age, and no longer in school I was cut off from Children’s Aid. That summer, a friend and I joined a midway where we worked and traveled throughout Ontario. Once the season ended in October, I became homeless and lived in youth and men’s shelters throughout Toronto. Most shelters only allowed you to stay there for 3 weeks, at which point you were kicked out and not able to return there for 60 days. To survive, my friends and I would rotate our stay between 6 or so different shelters. During that time I would spend my days panhandling or hanging out either at the Eaton Centre, or at a drop-in literacy centre. Being a homeless youth was hard both mentally and emotionally on me. People look down on you like you are the scum of the earth and are no better than trash. Over the years I developed a bit of a drinking problem. I drank to kill the loneliness, the feelings of emptiness and my own self-hatred. But, it ultimately made things worse. I had and still do at times suffer from depression and general anxiety disorder. I’ve also been on and off antidepressants since I was a teenager.
I went back to finish my high school diploma at 21. Even though I was still drinking at the time, I did far better than I did when I was younger. I finished that semester still needing 3 credits to graduate. At the time, I was living in another city and yet again, got evicted from my home. I decided to go back to Toronto because that is where most of the resources were available. I started volunteering at the street youth literacy centre that I used to hang out at and enrolled in an alternative school program where I finally graduated high school. During this time, I got an apartment with some friends and earned money working as a temp for different agencies. I tried to limit my drinking because I knew that with my family history, I had a higher chance of becoming an alcoholic like my parents. Even though I wasn’t homeless, I felt like I was just surviving, working and trying to hold on. At times I felt suicidal, anxious and depressed. I didn’t really go to therapy because I felt like I had had my fill of it when I was younger. I suppose what kept me going through those times were my friends. I had known them most of my life, meeting some of them through Alateen or as a result of our common background.
After being laid off from a job that I was working at for almost 10 years, I had the opportunity of pursuing my post-secondary education through Second Career training. So, I went to a career college and got my Community Service Worker diploma. I decided to go into the social work field because I felt it was a way for me to give back to the community that helped me survive all of my life. I also remembered that I once saved a girl who was having an overdose as a result of a fight she was having with her boyfriend. I was able to get her to the hospital in time for her to get her stomach pumped. That experience really affected me and put the thought in my head that I could do some good in this world. To this day, I still wonder how her life turned out.
After graduating college, I got a job as a counselor working in a group home for at risk youth. I did well at this job because I was able to relate to the youth – as I was once in their shoes. Unfortunately, the job ended after 8 months and I found myself going back to a manufacturing job to pay the bills. Breaking into the social work field was challenging. Competition for Social Service Workers is high in Toronto. During this time, I met the woman who would become my wife. After two years together, we were presented with an opportunity to move to Temiskaming Shores to work for Community Living and we took it.
I am grateful to have met my wife of 3 years. Bev is amazing in her own right. She has put up with me for 7 years and sees things in me that I don’t see in myself. She always encourages me to do better and is truly the best part of my life. I still live with anxiety, and sometimes depression. I also recently learned that I am on the Autism spectrum. Bev always knew and says that it explains a lot of the challenges I faced in my past and why some things where harder for me than others. With everything that I have experienced and learned, I am glad that I get to work with the people that I do and I am able to give back to those in need of help. I was lucky enough to survive, but a lot of people I knew did not."