''Now, I'm not afraid to be myself.''

Dustin, 18, Portage Ontario Alumni

When Dustin was younger, he never really listened to anyone. He always did what he wanted to do and nothing else. But as Dustin grew up he started hanging with the wrong crowd. “I thought it was the cool thing to do – to fit in.” Dustin’s story starts the same as many kids’ stories do. But Dustin went deeper. Anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses were being fueled by drug addiction – which led to arrests and probation. Dustin was walking along a long trail of hurt, lies and guilt.

“I didn’t like myself and I was trying to do everything I could to change, I thought the person I was creating through drugs and alcohol was a better one, but he wasn’t.”

An epiphany came at Dustin’s last arrest:

“I looked at my Mom and realized this was not how I wanted her to see me, this was not how I wanted to live. I was living off cheap thrills and then feeling like garbage the next day. I realized how much I was really losing when I wasn’t respecting myself, how much I had hurt my family and my girlfriend – how much I was pushing everyone who loved me away. I needed help to break the cycle.”

The approval process to access a residential rehabilitation treatment bed funded through OHIP is a lengthy one – often up to four months. An eternity for a young person in crisis. While a few Ontario families are able to afford private residential care for their children, often through second mortgages or drawing from retirement savings; the majority are forced to wait. They watch painfully as their children struggle with addiction, even get incarcerated, or worse, die as a result of an overdose.

Portage Ontario, a registered charity, is able to make available through private donations, free of cost treatment to such at-risk youth, so they can access treatment immediately. This not only ensures timely help for the young person, but often helps prevent a family breakdown.

Portage Ontario’s 40 bed residential drug rehabilitation facility for adolescents (ages 14 to 18+) is located in Elora and offers gender separate programming. A mandatory onsite school helps residents continue to earn their high school credits. An average stay is 6 months followed by 2 years of personalized aftercare in their home communities. Portage aftercare counselors remain in close touch with the families during this time. Youth are also able to return to Portage Ontario for a short 4-5 days stay to refresh their learning or if facing a challenge; these are made available free of cost to families.

As Canada’s first such adolescent substance dependency rehabilitation centre, Portage Ontario has helped over 4,000 Ontario youth overcome addiction and lead healthy, happy and productive lives.

“If I didn’t come to Portage, I would have most likely gone to jail – I wouldn’t have a family anymore, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend and I would be alone. I have learned at Portage that it’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to have feelings and it’s ok to live life the way you want to live it, instead of trying to impress people by making something of yourself that you’re not. The road that addiction led me down wasn’t worth it at all – everything I was doing wasn’t worth it. When I look back it saddens me to think of that lost little boy.”

“I always took. At Portage I learned to give. The staff’s non-stop support is unbelievable. Portage saved my life. I’m probably not the first person that’s been through the program to say that, but it made me realize who I really was and who I really wanted to be.”

We all know someone, whether a family member, friend, or colleague, who has been affected by addiction in some way. It wreaks havoc on our society and it is our shared responsibility to help young people who are suffering before it’s too late. At Portage, they can acquire the skills to free themselves from the grasp of addiction. It will assure them a better future, and benefit all of society.

Dustin looks forward to his new life. He’s taken a few co-op courses towards a career in culinary arts. He’s going to be a father soon, which is something he truly looks forward to. He wants to be the best father he can be – living life positively and sober. “I think I will be able to help my son or daughter through anything they go through in life – they can trust me with their whole life. I can now look in the mirror and be proud of myself – I never thought I could.”

With your help, we can help others like Dustin who are caught up in the growing 21st century opioid crisis.


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