In Memory of My Big Brother Mike

R.I.P. April 5, 2015

My older brother Mike died 5 years ago today. He lived a very full life and enjoyed much of his 57 years on earth. He was the second of six children born in rapid succession to my mother and father after immigrating to Canada following world war two. Had Mike not succumbed to his declining health related to Hep C and prolonged methadone use, he would have been 62 years old this December.

Family 1970’s Toronto – Mike is holding up his Peace Sign. I’m all smiles in pink on the bottom right.

Mike was an active and smart student excelling in his elementary school years. He attended a local high school where he dropped out of school in grade 10. Mike later disclosed that he began to skip school when his gym teacher mandated swimming in the nude. He opted to hang out at the local park instead. Like any good mother, our mom supported Mike skipping gym as he felt self-conscious in the nude. What she did not see coming was Mike meeting up with other teenagers who had less interest in schooling.

In an all too common story, it was during these formative years that Mike began to experiment with alcohol and drugs. In the ’70’s, it was common for young people to be hired for full-time employment and Mike landed himself a job as a grocer at a local store owned by Weston Foods called Loblaw. He stayed working as a grocer until moving to work as a Landscaper with the City of Toronto in 1982. Mike worked with the City, and then Metro for 28 years.

Mike’s teenage experimentation with drugs and alcohol did, in fact, become the gateway to a lifelong addiction to alcohol, gambling, and street drugs. Our mother stood beside Mike, and tried to support his personal battles with addiction and gambling. Mike was always a happy drunk who never quite learned to identify when he had enough. Mike was an addict who could not keep money in his pocket. Like many people who suffer with addictions, Mike’s drinking was his emotional burden he carried for most of his adult life.

His addiction to street drugs was mediated with an extensive treatment program provided by a team of specialists at CAMH and his inclusion in the methadone harm reduction program. This methadone program saved Mike‘s life. Similar to the effect of alcohol, Mike was happiest when he was high. It was only when the alcohol and drugs tapered off that his overwhelming sense of sadness and depression would rise up.

Mike was deeply remorseful about the negative impacts of his addictions on our Mother, family, love-interests, colleagues, and his own health. In his lowest points, he felt such intense shame about his personal vices. Mike did engage in counselling treatment and did his best to change his unhealthy ways. He failed more times than not, but never gave up. Mike stayed close to family and we hung in there for him.

As the youngest in the family, Mike was always my Big Brother. In my eyes, he was strong, fearless, and protective. I learned to be confident and brave in part, because I always knew that Mike would be there to protect me. He relied on me quite a bit. He knew that I would never give him money or alcohol. But I always had an ear and meal whenever he felt lonely and sad. Mike would drop in often, and did take interest in all our children. He was like our family guard dog always watchful that our children were safe and well.

As his health declined, Mike told me that he would rather die than lose his legs. One of his greatest fears was to be an amputee, like many of his chronic alcoholic friends who lived in a local rehab hospital.

When Mike died, all of us were with him. He died peacefully surrounded by all of his siblings and their partners at our local hospital. In truth, everyone loved Mike. He always had a funny thing to say and he would say it when it was least expected – making everyone laugh. Mike was a sincere and loyal friend. He enjoyed comedy and music. He protected the weak and stood up for people he believed were mistreated.

The family was prepared to meet up at the cemetery today to reminisce about Mike’s life, but was prevented by COVID 19 physical distancing restrictions. Mike will forever be in our hearts. He has shaped my work in harm reduction and addictions care. He taught me about co-dependence, healthy limit-setting, and the importance of humanity in care providing roles with all people.

Sunny dispositions deserve to shine!!!!

#wellness #healthy #family #addiction #concurrent disorders #codependence #harmreduction

Cultivating Calm

Mindfulness has become a popular approach in mental health counselling. Stemming from Eastern philosophies and spirituality, practitioners have adapted and secularized therapeutic aspects of deep focus, stillness, reflective introspection, and purposeful breathing.

The evolution of Mindful practice first began in heart attack recovery, pain management and rehab services, and now in mental health.

A calm lake is priceless imagery.

There are several relaxation videos and recordings that teach mindfulness techniques. In simple terms, you learn to really pay attention to what you are doing every moment of the day.

Mindfulness practices help you to be more aware of what you do and feel each day. It helps to draw you from states of distraction or busyness that can contribute to stress and overwork. It also helps you to connect to activities that cause you stress and what to do differently.

Some people infuse a prayerful element to mindfulness practice, rather than using affirmations or triggering words. There is a lot of evidence that cultivating a sense of calm each day heals the heart and your overall wellness.

Yoga is another simple way to grow your awareness between your movement and breath, as well as stress and any lingering aches and pains in your body. It helps you to notice damage caused by repetitive motions at work, lifting heavy objects, workload issues or emotional problems.

Mindfulness used in mental health counselling is not a spiritual practice. You are not expected to pray or learn a new religion. Instead, mindfulness strategies will help you to be more aware of the way you go about the business of your day and how it impacts you.

Speak up if you feel weird or awkward in your psychotherapy session. Feel confident to express that you have your own spiritual practice or religion and that you are interested in therapeutic mindfulness strategies only.

Mindful eating and now mindful alcohol-use are growing in popularity as harm reducing activities. Are you aware of the amount of beer or wine you are consuming or do you fail to count or notice how many drinks you have had before feeling unwell?

A skilled clinician can help you become more mindful of your habits, words, and behaviours that are automatic to you, yet harmful to your health in the long run. Enjoy the benefits that stem from lower blood pressure, diaphragmatic breathing, and alert mental acuity. This investment to your wellness is guaranteed!

#mindfulness #counselling #wellness #psychotherapy

New Year, New Decade, New You – 2020

Aurora Festival of Lights in Toronto, Ontario

One of the main reasons societies celebrate “endings and beginnings” each year is the hope to begin anew. It is a time when people review the past year and decade reflectively.

You may have lost family members and friends due to illnesses, misunderstandings, divorces, or tragedies. At the same time, your life may have been blessed with family weddings, the birth of children, new degrees, credentials, diplomas, promotions, or a new job or business!

Everyone in society shares in the passing of the old year and the hope of the new year in common. New Year’s day is a statutory holiday for everyone to remember how fortunate you are to begin anew.

You may find yourself wishing you had reacted to something differently. You may also find yourself seeking to make amends with people you may have hurt or offended. The road you take in the New Year is completely up to you.

Starting slowly and honestly to review what aspects of your life you wish to improve, change, sustain, or maintain this year as the foundation to the next decade is an excellent way to move forward in your life.

Some people benefit from making a list of goals, ideas, resolutions, or plans for the next year. You may also expand your list to include a 3-5 year plan. Having an overall structure or framework for you to organize immediate and future goals is healthy and critical to success.

None of us experience success in isolation. Ensuring that you cultivate healthy and happy family relationships is essential to feelings of fulfillment, gratitude, health, and wellness.

In this past decade, North American societies have learned to talk openly about mental illness and the years of silent suffering caused by the social stigma created by misinformation and bias.

Know the signs of mental illness and be there when your friends need you most. Forgive yourself if you have missed the needs of others due to petty distraction or busy-ness.

Gone are the days of historic institutionalization where people lost self-determination and freedom due to episodes of depression, mania, anxiety, or psychosis. Canadians have come a long way due to the bravery of individuals such as Margaret Trudeau, Clara Hughes, Princes William & Harry, and Michael Babcock.

The constitution has also caught up accordingly and people with mental disabilities are protected equally under the law – even in the workplace and academia.

Your mental health and wellness is far too important to be misunderstood or mistreated. More service is needed, so you can find expert support at school or work without barriers.

Connect with a Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist today who will truly remind you about your rights to be Well!

#NewYear #Let’sTalk #Heal #Wellness #KnowYourRights