Advocates, addiction survivors celebrate Recovery Day in southwestern Manitoba

Advocates and people in recovery from addiction gathered in downtown Brandon Saturday to share their stories in order to help build connections for others on the road to healing, in celebration of International Recovery Day.

Local agencies from the southwestern Manitoba city were also on hand to provide support and resources for those effected by substance use disorders.

Nichelle Wilk, whose spirit name is Red Thundercloud Woman, spoke during the event, saying her goal in sharing her experiences with recovery was to spread strength and hope.

“Addiction chose me, but I chose recovery,” Wilk said.

Conversations around healing from addiction are essential, she said, because they help destigmatize substance use disorders and help others to see that recovery is possible.

“Today I am celebrating recovery for myself and for the other people that are here,” said Wilk. “I have a new life in recovery.”

A woman wearing a green shirt with long blond hair speaks into a microphone.
Wilk said her goal in sharing her own story at Brandon’s Recovery Day event was to help spread strength and hope for others. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Growing up as a child of an alcoholic, alcohol was normalized in her family, Wilk said. The experience left her searching for love and acceptance, she said, which often took the form of toxic relationships and finding a “false sense of belonging” through using alcohol and other substances.

She hit a “spiritual rock bottom,” she said, but was able to find hope for the future through recovery.

Brandon Recovery Day committee chair Dee Taylor-John has been helping organize celebrations in the city since 2018.

Taylor-John, who uses the pronouns they and them, was in the early days of recovery when the event first started, with less than a year of sobriety under their belt. 

“It’s almost like a baby to me, because 2018 was my first year sober,” Taylor-John said.

There is a continuous need for resources and programming, government support and funding to support holistic healing for everyone, they said.

A woman wearing a black shirt that says hope dealer and aviator glasses smiles for the camera.
Dee Taylor-John is Brandon’s Recovery Day committee chair. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“Sometimes stigma and shame holds us back from living our best selves, and living that authentically and loudly and proudly in the community,” said Taylor-John. “Recovery Day is simply … celebrating being in recovery, wherever that is for you.”

Taylor-John agrees sharing stories is a critical element of recovery, because it helps break down barriers those seeking recovery may face.

The hope is that people who took to the stage to share their recovery stories can help inspire others, they said.

“If one person says, ‘This has touched my heart, this has spoken to me, this has created a community for me, this has created space for me to live in my authenticity’ — that’s success to me.”

Community essential in aiding recovery

Jeff Fawcett, the city councillor for Brandon’s Assiniboine ward and the lone candidate who has registered so far in the city’s mayoral race, was among the attendees at Recovery Day.

“As a community, we need to support one another, and we are working together as a community,” Fawcett said. “Collectively, I think we can make a lot of difference.”

Addiction can be challenging to tackle, he added, because it is a topic that is often treated as taboo.

He hopes people walked away from Saturday’s event with the message that recovery effects everyone in the community and it’s OK to talk about it, whether someone is experiencing the effects of addiction directly or indirectly.

In Brandon the recently established Community Wellness Collaborative is looking tackle addictions at a grassroots level, by tapping into key agencies and decision-makers, Fawcett said.

The group is in its “ground floor” stage, he said, but he hopes to see it become a place of learning and trust, where people can work together on strategies to tackle core community issues.

Two women stand in front of a metal tipi with coloured poles.
Taylor-John, left, and Wilk. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Fawcett said he’s optimistic that “boots on the ground” work, and working with different levels of government, will make a difference in the future of recovery in Brandon. 

“The end result is a stronger, better community,” he said.