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'Bridge the gap': Event aims to break stigma around addiction

'Lived experience voice is everything ... so you know you’re not alone,' says former city councillor

Organizers of an addiction recovery event being held this weekend in Barrie hope it will help bring awareness and education to people who need it.

Saturday’s event, which is being hosted by Edgewood Health Network (EHN), an evidence-based recovery network which includes Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, will feature what organizers are calling an “inspiring afternoon” of 12-step recovery speakers, local, provincial and national recovery services and partners, as well as a hot buffet.

Event organizer Shawn Carr says the day, which will be the first of its kind in the city, will help "bridge the gap" of people leaving treatment centres to find recovery in their community to continue their journey with sobriety. The event is also expected to include a visit from Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo.

Retired paramedic and former Barrie councillor Natalie Harris said the death of a friend served as the impetus to bring this type of an event to the city.

“Our recovery community lost a good friend to addiction during this past year,” she said. “We are just reaching out to Barrie and the surrounding area, because it’s a close-knit community. We are trying to make it open to anyone. It’s not a confidential meeting or anything … and hopefully it will be the first of its kind and can occur every year.”

Harris, who has been a well-known voice on addiction, has also been open about her own struggles and her ongoing recovery. She told BarrieToday this type of event is important as it gives those struggling with addiction, and their families, access to information, services and other individuals who can openly share their first-hand knowledge.

“Lived experience voice is everything. It’s peer support and it really makes it so that stigma falls away so you know you’re not alone," she said. "That is definitely something that keeps people from participating actively in recovery — the stigma that you’re weak, a failure or that something is wrong with you. A lot of times, when you’re very into addiction, you have heard these things even from loved ones.

"Being able to go and listen to people that have a lot of recovery — and it’s not always a linear path of recovery — sometimes it’s hearing about the journey of recovery and getting through the stigma that it isn’t just about loving someone enough and being able to stop. It’s a very complicated disease that needs a community to be able to recover in," Harris added. 

Tickets for the event, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 17 from noon to 4 p.m. at Lion’s Gate Banquet Hall (386 Blake Street), are $10 each and available online by clicking here.