Learn Laugh and Listen at Recovery Day Ottawa Benefit

Images courtesy of Recovery Day Ottawa

People with addictions are weak. They bring it on themselves. They are just lazy.  They need to grow up. These are the types of stereotypical misconceptions people like Gord Garner strive to remove every day.

As the Festival Producer for Ottawa’s annual Recovery Day, Garner has worked alongside The Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA) to raise awareness and stronger support networks for those who battle not only their addictions but the stigmas surrounding them them.  

“(There is this) stigma of blaming, labeling and shaming the individual and not the condition,” says Garner on typical reactions to those with addictions. He goes on to say that “as a result, individuals and families have hidden their addiction and their recovery. Hence, there a real misconception about whether or not people get better. The result is that there are no role models for those suffering.”

The mandate for Recovery Day Ottawa is a five step ideology that seeks to celebrate the many pathways to recovery, foster hope for those still suffering, reduce the barriers of stereotypes and discrimination towards affected individuals, engage a larger community in support of recovery, and to construct a platform for conversation on increasing resources for new and already existing service within the community. The event was inspired by various public rallies in support of addiction recovery held in US cities in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Three Canadian cities (Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria) joined the cause in 2012. While the first local Recovery Day only had three people attending, last year’s event brought 2,000 plus into City Hall to show their support. At this year’s event, they hope to double that.

In an effort to spread the word early and also to raise funds to ensure Recovery Day Ottawa continues to grow, Garner and a group of likeminded speakers, comedians and musicians will be holding the first Learn Laugh Listen! An evening to benefit Recovery Day Ottawa inside the Bronson Centre Saturday night. The idea stemmed from Garner witnessing the impact last year’s “A Conversation on Addiction” forum had.

“Those who attended reported the experience was meaningful for them in better understanding either their own problem or a family members. We also received thank you notes from the presenters who expressed their positive experience in connecting directly with members of our community,” Garner says.

“We have a real desire to reach more people with this message of hope.”

Garber tells Ottawa Life that recent statistics show there are roughly 400,000 people in Ottawa who are affected by addiction either directly or indirectly be it through family or another loved one. Only one in 10 of them will come forward to find support. Through these events he is looking to open more doors for people by showing that they have the support of people and organizations within their community to turn to.

“If 0.2% of those people came to Learn! Laugh! Listen! we would be sold out. If 2.5% of them came to Recovery Day Ottawa we would have 10,000 circling City Hall. Only stigma stops this from happening and only breaking stigma will allow us to move towards solutions that can be supported publicly, politically, academically, professionally, and by peers.”

Dr. John Weekes, Adjunct Research Professor of Forensic Psychology and Addictions at Carleton University, says that making a difference in the life of even a single person makes his training worthwhile. He says that his work as a drug strategy advisor for governments agencies here and abroad has seen positive effects on thousands of people around the world as it pertains to better strategies to tackle substance misuse.

“We need to understand that this is a chronically-relapsing condition that can be overcome. Positive change can happen,” says Dr. Weekes. “Individuals and their families also need to seek treatment and support services that are founded on evidence. Many programs, while good intentioned, lack an evidence base and theoretical frame. They are based more on belief about what works than science. This is key.”

While Weekes offers news of positive advancements he is quick to state the concern still exists. Complicating matters further, the challenge people like him and Gord Garner have is that there are not enough services or educational programs out there to meet the needs they are seeing. Along with his colleague and friend Dr. Kim Hellemans, he plans to shed more light on these subjects as part of the “learn” portion of Saturday evenings events.

“Kim tackles the neuroscience of addiction and I address the psychology and treatment side of things. As academics, we strive to communicate about the science of addiction in ways that are understandable, pragmatic and engaging,” says Weekes convinced that, while the crowd may see them as stuffy professors, their message will resonate.

The “listen” portion of the evening will feature a performance by Ottawa folk icon Lynn Miles. Former teacher at the Ottawa Folklore Centre, the Juno Nominated singer-songwriter was quick to lend her voice to Garner’s event. They have been friends for 30 years and she says, having been present for much of his journey, she is happy to see what he has accomplished. To her, there should be no shame surrounding addiction.

“It's part of the human condition, and the more open and accepting we are of the issues, the more help and healing there can be,” says Miles. “Getting to the source reason for the addiction is key.”

Comedian Jim McNally will provide the laughter for the evening as Garner sees providing these three different facets for the show as a way to attract more of an audience. To him, the most important thing anyone, including the guests, can do is simply showing up to show their support. It means a lot to him and those he is trying to help.

“We have invited the recovery community to come out where it safe for them to do so. Stigma is real and we don’t want people to suffer consequences for their participation,” says Garner. “We have also asked all of our supporters to come out from behind a veil of silence and say “Yes!” recovery-oriented supports and services are important in my community — these involve people I know and a care about and I support recovery.”

Tickets for Learn Laugh and Listen ($20) can be purchased by emailing ggarner@capsa.ca or in person at Serenity Renewal for Families and The Brookfield Diner.