Community Papers

Taking the first step towards recovery

Cindy Morrison discusses the 12-step program used at White Rock’s Avalon Women’s Centre to help women address addiction issues.  - Alex Browne photo
Cindy Morrison discusses the 12-step program used at White Rock’s Avalon Women’s Centre to help women address addiction issues.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

For many battling an addiction, the hardest step is seeking help and support.

There’s a sense of shame to overcome, but also the many complex systems of rationalization and denial we humans construct to cover up our problems – which  only ensure they continue.

Cindy Morrison, manager of the White Rock branch of the Avalon Women’s Centres, at 101-1548 Johnston Rd., knows the hardest step for the women she meets is the one that brings them in the front door.

But she and the branch’s network of volunteers – most of them also on the road to recovery – are determined that, from there on in, the steps will be as easy as they can make them.

Avalon Women’s Centres do not provide counselling, Morrison emphasized. Instead they facilitate, and offer a venue for, a range of established 12-step programs dealing with addictions (which can include alcohol and narcotics, but also behaviours such as anorexia and bulimia).

The White Rock branch, which opened in November, joins a centre on the North Shore and the original Vancouver location, which has been helping women for some 30 years.

The welcoming atmosphere starts with the comforting main room of the centre itself – a private, closed-blinds environment of settees and couches, that, thanks to the creative decor contributions of volunteers, provides a restful, far-from-institutional setting.

“I actually had a woman come in here and think she was in the wrong place – she thought this was a spa,” Morrison said, with justifiable pride, during a recent tour of the facility. “It’s really comfy – like a living room. We want it to feel like that.”

A well-appointed and equipped children’s room with movies, toys and colouring supplies; a shelf of books; clothing exchanges for both adults and children; a coffee room with a notice board full of listings offering free items, job postings and other material help, as well as less-tangible support – all these are aimed at creating a respite for women balancing their problems with the necessities of  carrying on daily lives.

But the biggest surprise for those visiting the centre, Morrison said, is the discovery of a friendly, welcoming, non-judgmental group of women very much like themselves.

What many may have dreaded as a bleak road to recovery, can instead become the basis for a new and positive social interaction – which even includes the opportunity to take part in monthly potluck dinners with guest speakers.

As in the other centres, the White Rock branch features a ‘Sobriety Tree’ on which women can chart and celebrate their accomplishments, she said.

There is a spiritual base for Avalon’s support, Morrison acknowledges. “But it’s not religious – it’s completely non-denominational.”

Morrison, who is very open about being a recovering alcoholic, knows from her own experience that people battling addictions are not always ready for help.

But Avalon is ready to supply a supportive environment for women who have made a genuine commitment to recover, she said.

“I share my own experience – I’m in my eighth year of recovery,” she noted, adding that the women who visit the centre soon learn that they are not alone in their problems or their inevitable struggles with their own doubts and fears. “We share a 12-step experience, but we’re from all different walks of life, all different ages,” she said, adding that those suffering often defy common stereotypes of addiction.

Some work very hard to conceal the fact there is a problem, she said.

“When I first (sought help) many years ago, I didn’t want anyone to know I was going to meetings,” she said. “But everyone knew I was a drinker.”

Integral to all of the programs is a component of giving back, which includes donating and volunteering to help others with addiction problems. The greatest satisfaction of all is to be able to help others over the same hurdles, she said, particularly at the beginning of their journey.

“It’s wonderful to see someone who walked in here looking nervous and frightened leaving with a smile,” she said.

For more information, visit or call 604-542-7772.

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