Over 300 people gathered at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary for the 23rd annual Wellness Walk on November 18, 2019. 

Organizers say the walk is a celebration of recovery. This year’s theme, ‘stigma ends with me,’ attempts to address the largest barrier that prevents those struggling with addictions from getting help: stigma.

Addictions are still stigmatized in today’s society

Trinique Shupe is a student who is currently in recovery at Sunrise Healing Lodge. She says that a common misbelief surrounding addicts is a lack of drive and purpose in life.

“I don’t think that’s true at all. If anything, we have more going for us now, we’ve overcome so much in our journey,” says Trinique.

Other participants share similar and different responses to the stigma that exists surrounding those struggling with addictions.

Jed Running Rabbit, a recovered alcoholic from 1835 House, a men’s addiction treatment facility, shared his personal journey of addiction and recovery. This included many hardships, including losing loved ones while battling alcoholism.

“They judge an addict before they even get to know him. They’re lazy. They’re broke. Whatever. But it’s actually a disease,” he says.

Community support exists

Wellness WalkWellness Walk participants come from all walks of life as addictions exists across all groups and social classes in society. Photo by Michelle Huynh.

Over 20 local agencies gathered at the event to support those struggling with mental health or addictions, spreading the word that recovery is possible. 

Liz Veitch, chair of the Wellness Walk committee, says the media mainly focuses on addiction as a crisis, but does not place enough emphasis on the support that exists in the community.

“I’ve heard so many inspiring stories year after year [from] people who have overcome so many hardships and they’ve changed their lives around – but not without support,” says Veitch. “And that’s what all these agencies represent – all the support out there in the community, in Calgary.”

The walk attempts to let those who are struggling know that they are not alone. John Howard Society, Fresh Start Recovery Centre, Sunrise Healing Lodge and Aventa Centre of Excellence for Women with Addictions were just a few of the organizations in attendance. Many of their clients came along, too.

Eliminating the barrier of stigma

Cheryle Sklapsky, an Indigenous youth advocate and support worker for Calgary John Howard Society, says addictions do not discriminate between age, gender or social class.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter who you are. Addiction is an illness – it happens to everybody,” says Sklapsky.

WomanCheryle Sklapsky has been a member of the Wellness Walk Committee for over six years and works to reduce the stigma surrounding addictions by supporting the youth at the Calgary John Howard Society. Photo by Michelle Huynh.

According to Sklapsky, a common misconception surrounding addictions is that, “mental health isn’t a part of it”. From her experiences working with Indigenous youth ages 12-24, Sklapsky says three-quarters of those she works with suffer from addictions, mental health and chronic crime.

“People have just such a negative opinion of people who struggle with addiction. They have a disease, and yet you wouldn’t look at someone with cancer, with diabetes, as just a horrible person. But people in addictions – they really paint them as horrible people, people who don’t care, thieves, liars, I could go on and on,” Veitch says.

“It’s time we start to think differently about people who struggle with addiction.”

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Editor: Isabelle Bennett | ibennett@cjournal.ca 

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