Victoria Coun. Shellie Gudgeon walked off stage at Centennial Square Park on Sunday afternoon gripping several pages of folded paper in her trembling fingers.
The political newcomer had just announced that she is a recovering alcoholic. Afterward, as she found her place in the crowd, she smiled at passersby and shed some tears.
Gudgeon was one of several speakers to reveal publicly for the first time their struggles with addiction as part of Recovery Day celebrations at the square Sunday.
A group of recovering addicts in Victoria had urged the city to declare Sept. 30 Recovery Day, as part of their efforts to help eliminate the shame people often bear because of their addictions, even though they have long been clean and sober.
That group approached Gudgeon about a week ago.
Addiction touches everyone and we, in society, still have the picture of the homeless and the drug-addicted people living on our streets when they think of us, Gudgeon said in an interview, looking around at the crowd gathered at the square. Clearly, that is not the case.
Gudgeon said alcohol had controlled her life until she gave it up eight years ago. The mother of two and bar owner at the time didnt use any program to quit.
My journey to recovery began after a social event, she said during her speech. Months later, privately and quietly, I chose a path to sobriety.
Sue Donaldson, one of the organizers of Sundays event, says it was hard for participants to tell their stories publicly, particularly for people like Gudgeon because of her political profile.
That took a lot of courage, Donaldson said. There is a lot of discrimination around addiction.
Others who shared their stories included Stephanie Wray, whose alcohol and drug use began at the age of 13. She went from being a straight-A student with aspirations of being a lawyer to hanging out in crack shacks getting high with strangers.
But after she turned 17, thanks to help from her friends, family and a recovery program in Victoria, Wray got clean. Shes been sober for more than five years and is closer to her family than ever.
All I ever wanted to be able to say was that Im best friends with my mom and now I can say that we are finally, Wray told the crowd.
Highlighting stories like these can go a long way to illustrating the impact treatment programs can have on peoples lives, according to Donaldson, who is also a recovering addict and counsellor.
If [policy makers] dont know that people can and do get well, why would they further fund programs and resources that enable people to get well? she said.
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