For most people, adolescence is a bumpy road, fraught with difficulties. Teenagers are constantly wondering who they are, and what they want. Sometimes, their path diverges sharply from the one they expected to follow, or even started paving. For those who want to put an end to their drug addiction, the chances of succeeding may feel unbearably slim, perhaps non-existent. To help them go beyond their own limits and reach their goal, Portage teaches them 21 competencies that are all part of the rehabilitation process.
Seventeen year-old Alexandre tried several times to quit using drugs. “Before Portage, I spent nine months and a half in a youth centre. I stayed in several different centres for two to three months at a time, with some time spent at home in between. Nothing worked for me, I kept failing.” Each youth centre has its own methods. Alexandre realizes now that they didn’t fit properly with who he was, that they couldn’t help him stop the toxic behaviours that led him astray.
“I had a really hard time working on myself there. When I was in, I would work on myself, I was doing the right things and putting in the efforts, but the bad habits came right back as soon as I was out.”
Coming to Portage
The teens in the youth centres are there because they don’t have any choice. Alexandre is here at Portage because he wants to, although the court strongly pushed for it” says Hakim, Alexandre’s case manager at Portage. Alexandre chimes in:
“I made the decision to come here because it seemed like the best option for me. If I don’t make it through the program, I’ll have to go back to the youth centre until I’m 18. But if I do make it, I can go home and get my life back.”
“In the beginning, I was always in bed. I wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t care about what happened here or elsewhere. I kept telling myself there was no point to it, because I would fail anyway.”
But five months into the program, Alexandre is still at Portage and well aware of all he’s accomplished. “It was hard in the beginning. I wasn’t used to working on myself and on my thinking. Therapy here focuses a lot on the way you think. Actions have consequences, and here, you get that, the idea that everything you do has repercussions.”
Since becoming a Portage resident at Lac Écho, Alexandre has worked on several aspects of his behaviour. “I worked on my attitude towards others, my aggressiveness and the way I think. I used to not give a damn about anything. I didn’t understand that what I did had an impact on me and my family. I wasn’t thinking.”
For most Portage residents, somewhere along the way, a long-lost spark of light is rekindled, an aha moment happens. Alexandre got it when he realized that his poor decisions would have much more serious consequences as he was nearing the age of majority.
“All my decisions will have direct consequences on me, and they’ll become increasingly important.” Family is also a major factor in his rehabilitation.
“I don’t want to lose my family. It’s what matters most to me. If I lose them, I’ve got nothing. I lost them when I was in the youth centre. I was working on myself there, but I didn’t reconnect with them when I was out. The trust I was trying to build with my parents was destroyed every time I went out. My parents would take their distances, and that’s what pushed me to take more drugs.”
Portage’s program accentuates the importance of the youth’s family and their surroundings. A solid family structure is essential to the drug addict’s rehabilitation. “My parents and I are getting close again, and I think it’s great, because it’s been so long I’ve had a good relationship with them. All of this is thanks to Portage. If I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t be experiencing all of this.”
Changing one’s environment is, in some cases, the best decision. The youth centres Alexandre went to before Portage didn’t give him the possibility to do so. “Portage gave me the opportunity to make a drastic change. Where I lived before, it was bad for me. Every weekend I went out with my old friends. Portage allowed me to focus on myself.”
Such a change can be destabilizing. When you’re cornered and the only way out of addiction is to leave everything behind, it’s a shock. “When I’ll be out of here, I’ll find it difficult. The changes I’m making will help me rebuild my life, but it’s still scary.”
What I Learned at Portage
Transparency is one of the 21 competencies that Portage residents learn. “I’m able now to say what I think. I’m not afraid to disappoint anybody anymore.” After a little over six months of living in a supervised and structured environment and receiving guidance, the residents can count on Portage’s support, even when their treatment is finished.
“For six months, there are weekly follow-ups in Montreal. After that, meetings are scheduled every other week, and after another six months, they happen every month.” The 21 competencies taught at Portage are crafted with everyone in mind. Alexandre worked especially on self-knowledge. “I’m getting to know my own values, my qualities. I got to know myself. Portage also helped me better communicate with everybody. I used to not talk a lot, and I had trouble saying what I meant.”
“The Portage community is solid. But if it’s not doing well, everybody will feel it. We work a lot on ourselves, thanks to the community. It’s what helps us change our bad habits, like aggressiveness and poor anger management. Alone, we wouldn’t be able to invest as much energy into it. Living with other people for 6 months, 24/7 is difficult, but it’s helpful. The friends we make here will become good supporters once we leave Portage.”
Today, thanks to Portage's family services, Alexandre continues to strengthen ties with his family and rebuild the confidence he had once lost.
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Lan Vi Pham
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