As a result of the public health state of emergency announced by the Québec government in March 2020, Portage has implemented extraordinary measures in its rehabilitation centres. Visits and weekend outings have been suspended, and all residents are confined to the centre for health and safety reasons. We asked the young residents of the Saint-Malachie centre to talk to us about their experience in confinement thus far.

Daily Life in the Therapeutic Community During a Pandemic

The residential phase of the treatment program at Portage is six months long. The centres’ young residents form a therapeutic community based on the principles of mutual help and support, and a shared common goal: #FreedomFromAddiction. Daily life moves at a fairly quick pace in the centres and there is little time for boredom or idleness. That being said, a lot of things have changed in the past few weeks.

Portage had already radically bolstered its hygiene measures in previous weeks, through efforts like making sure employees get their temperature taken when reporting for work in the morning and consistently reiterating the importance of hand hygiene, in preventing the spread of the virus. Shortly after, school boards began shutting down one after another and classes at the residential centres were suspended. Portage subsequently decided to suspend all visits and outings throughout its residential centres. There was some concern that this might heighten anxiety among residents and families. ʺWe usually have more outings, classes and group clean-up activities at Portageʺ, explains Caroline, a resident of the Saint-Malachie centre.

We asked the young residents of Portage Saint-Malachie, located in the Chaudière-Appalaches region if they understood the magnitude of the current health crisis. ʺYes, we listen to the news every dayʺ, answered Anne-Sophie. ʺWhen the school closed down, the teacher talked to us about the pandemicʺ, added Kylie. These young people understand the gravity of the situation gripping the entire world and stay abreast of new developments by listening to news coverage and to the press conferences given by Québec’s Premier.

While this is a unique circumstance in which to form a therapeutic community, it is a setting that is conducive to mutual help among residents. Caroline joined the Portage community one month ago. She explains how daily life has changed since then: ʺWe spend more time doing therapy, getting to know ourselves and understand our past. We’re learning to stick together and to communicate effectively. And we work a lot on the issue of respectʺ.

The Importance of Hope

Suspending visits and outings means that residents cannot see their families for the duration of the confinement period. This is especially difficult because relationships with family are such an important part of the therapeutic process. Portage has provided residents with telephones and access to video conferencing software so that they can keep in touch with their loved ones. Patrice Coulombe, who has been a counsellor at Portage Saint-Malachie for several years, talks about the anxiety felt by young residents at the centre: ʺDespite everything we’re doing to help them cope with the current situation, they’re anxious about their families and friends. Without visits or outings, they’re cut off from the outside world. They can only communicate by phone or videoconferencing. Overcoming a dependency is a daily struggle. When the level of stress and uncertainty experienced by people with dependencies escalates, they become even more fragile and sometimes feel like giving up the struggleʺ.

Drug rehabilitation is about striving to overcome dependency, but most of all it is about striving to find hope again – the hope of leading a healthy and fulfilling life. One thing the current pandemic will not do is prevent the residents of the Saint-Malachie centre from pursuing their hopes and dreams. We asked some of them what they plan to do when they leave Portage. ʺI’m going to start a new life and finish schoolʺ, says Alexis, who just started therapy. ʺI’m going to finish high school, get my driving licence and go back to work. I’d like to find a new, positive passion in life and do some more horseback riding and moto crossing. Most of all, I’m going to get closer to my familyʺ, adds Anne-Sophie. ʺI want to find an apartment and join the armyʺ, says Loïc.

ʺAlways have hope because hope is the key to successʺ, says Kylie, a resident of the Saint-Malachie centre.   

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