A support worker at Safe Harbour House and The Bridge, two neighbouring assisted living programs, David had to overcome his own crisis before he could help others.
“My life fell to pieces as a result of both mental health and addictions. It was an ongoing struggle for a good portion of my life,” David says.
At 50, David entered recovery through a 12-step program. Newly sober, he didn’t have the “passion or stomach” to continue his career in aquaculture.
Instead, he wanted to work with people living through some of the same issues he had lived through, but a counsellor advised him to wait until he reached five years of sobriety.
David, whose Bachelor of Science degree includes a minor in psychology, waited five years before applying to Safe Harbour House and The Bridge. He’s now worked in both programs for six years.
“I’m glad that I followed the counsellor’s lead because even coming into it at five years of sobriety, I still had to negotiate a lot of emotional territory in the first year or two working in the field.”
In addition to emotional territory, David had to negotiate his role as a support worker.
“Coming into this field, I knew what my belief system and values were, but how does that work with being a support worker? I knew that bringing my agenda to the table was not going to serve the best interests of the clients.”
Prior to working at Safe Harbour and The Bridge, I was fairly rigid and close-minded in regards to recovery options.
David has observed clients with concurrent disorders (mental health and substance use disorders occurring at the same time) recover without a 12-step program through medication, ritual, and human connection. It opened his mind to the variety of ways people with multiple barriers can recover.
“Prior to working at Safe Harbour and The Bridge, I was fairly rigid and close-minded in regards to recovery options. It was a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Over the past few years, my understanding has become much more open-minded. Connection, vulnerability, and safety are powerful tools essential to all recovery.”
For David, the best part of being a support worker is the clients.
“I’ve witnessed some miraculous comebacks that I couldn’t have predicted in my wildest dreams that have occurred as a result of a little bit of rest and food and care.”
David references one client with concurrent disorders who is actively involved in the community, practises a multitude of hobbies, and has become an example to incoming clients.
“It’s stunning to me the ability of this individual to be a part of the community in a very meaningful way and feel heard and feel safe. He has no idea how much I learn from him and the courage I think it takes for a person with concurrent disorders to be who they are.”
Safe Harbour House and The Bridge can be transformative not only for clients but also for support workers like David.
“It’s not just me helping others—it’s them helping me to understand David better.”