My First Two Weeks at Charlford House

Contributed by Vivian Gietz

When I applied for the Administrative Assistant position at Charlford House Society for Women, my goal was simply to find a new full time position. My previous workplace had become stressful and had a long commute from my home. At the same time, I was determined to find something that aligned better with my long term career interests in social justice and communications.

When I interviewed for the position at Charlford, I instantly knew that this was a place I would be able to call home. I immediately had a “gut feeling” I was meant to work here and was completely overjoyed when offered the position. Since starting, I’ve been told by everyone here that you can feel the love and magic of Charlford House the moment you step inside. That is certainly true; I felt it when I first came for my interview and every day since. I am very humbled to be a part of it.

Though I haven’t personally struggled with addiction, I have dealt with my own mental illnesses. I’m all too familiar with the overwhelming negative power the troubled mind can have. I also have a number of friends and family who struggle with addiction. I find it incredibly encouraging and inspirational to hear the women of Charlford speak so openly about addiction recovery and mental health.

I’m someone who loves to think and talk about emotional growth and connections to others and the world around us. It’s very important to me that these virtues, and the self-awareness that comes with them, are valued as part of people’s journeys towards improvement. Here at Charlford House, everyone truly demonstrates that through dedication to growth, conversation, and connection, miraculous things can happen.

The success stories and impressive history of Charlford House are clear evidence of this. I knew I was joining an organization I could be proud to say I work for. Working here for only a couple weeks, I’ve already learned much more about addiction than my limited knowledge was before my arrival. This knowledge will help me continue to empathize with those in my life struggling with addiction and provide tactics applicable to coping with my own mental illness, even if it isn’t addiction-related.

The position is exactly what I was looking for in so many ways. Writing articles, managing social media, and redesigning websites are exactly the areas where my passions lie, especially for such a great cause. With such a welcoming environment and the opportunity to expand these skills, I certainly seem to have found a position that exceeds my expectations. I look forward to working here for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see what I help Charlford accomplish while I’m here.

Protective or paranoid - or something in between?

Contributed by Miranda Vecchio

Protective or paranoid - or something in between?

Am I too rigid? 

On the subject of privacy protection and anonymity of our women – past, present and future - I take this responsibility very seriously: I won’t allow the women in our main program or transitional housing to be photographed except for internal communications and I won’t allow use of the women’s real names when sharing written testimonies.

In the age of the “selfie” and social media madness, this is an ongoing challenge. If alumnae choose to be photographed, a waiver /photo release has to be signed so the specific intent and exposure of the individual is known and agreed to (or not) in advance.

Policy is framed to protect the organization and the women and families we serve. Our values and commitment to safeguard each individual are reflected here.

Not everyone in this line of work agrees with me. Websites, facebook posts, blogs and e-newsletters explode with pictures, videos and stories of fresh-faced, enthusiastic men and women extolling the virtues of recovery.

I understand this phenomenon; after all, I too experienced the emotionally-charged zeal that results from confronting and overcoming spiritual death. Life erupts and is never the same afterwards. Out of our desperation, a hope-filled path forward has been presented to us and naturally we want to share it with the world!

But at what cost?

Outside the “bubble” of addiction, exists the rest of the world and within that world, realities differ from our own. Our experience with recovery, no matter how amazing, was borne out of addiction. Addiction is not a good thing - now that’s an understatement!

As staff, we have a responsibility to prepare our charges for success. Women come to us as emotional infants or adult children, not necessarily capable of seeing the “big picture” as they leave “the nest”. It is up to us to anticipate potential pitfalls and caution them accordingly. Part of “real-world” success might mean shielding this part of one’s life from employers, potential employers or educational institution faculty for instance. To reveal this part of one’s life could very well mean professional suicide for some.

In contrast to this, others believe that by ”putting ourselves out there“, we are breaking down the stigma of addiction. I don’t disagree but I don’t believe in “sacrificial lambs” either. I see a difference between “exposure” vs. “exploitation”. I also know that courageously revealing one’s whole self to the world can be very empowering.

But again, at what cost?

Let me be very clear here: I am not suggesting any of my colleagues knowingly put at risk or exploit any of their respective clients. Rightly or wrongly, I just don’t feel comfortable “telling all” about our women or alumnae in the first few years of their recovery, even with their consent. I know better and realize that they are not necessarily capable of providing “informed” consent.

So I ask you, from your point of view: Am I too rigid?

Please give me your feedback. I’d like to hear all points of view.

Contributed by AC

"Spitfire: a person, especially a girl or woman, who is of fiery temper and easily provoked to outbursts." dictionary .com

The word spitfire is what comes to mind when I think of my first encounters with Olive (not real name).  Spitfire not in the sense of outrageous outbursts but definitely being able to push her buttons and watch her anger sweep in.  She is a bit older than I am, an East Van gal; small in stature but mighty in spirit.   Olive was always a party girl; by late August 2002 her party had long ended though and she found herself on the brink of homelessness, had her things repossessed, her relationships with her family were not great and she was unemployable.  After a family intervention she made the decision to head to detox; she has been clean ever since.  Olive chose Charlford House because while in detox she was handed a book of recovery house options; she misread the Charlford information and thought it was a 3 week program. Amen to impatient detox reading.  Her first impressions of Charlford House were the house was rundown but she was greeted by someone wearing yellow rubber cleaning gloves- she felt a sense of relief that although old at least Charlford House would be clean. Olive was- and to this day still is- a tad- obsessive about cleanliness.

I met Olive the first day I arrived at the house- she was my roommate.  I came into the house straight from a tent on Hastings St- with a better than attitude. Olive had her own better than attitudes; and we clashed.  Before I got to the house I can't recall the last time I had changed clothes or bathed.  I had the beginnings of street feet, there were actual holes in my ankles from ill fitted shoes and I was dirty.   Olive loves cleanliness, structure, routine and rules.  I had gotten to the point where I loved getting high more than anything else- including hygiene.  In regular everyday life I do not need ridged structure and can easily go with the flow.  Our personalities were so different and we had not yet learned how to practice acceptance, tolerance and love for one another.  Olive could also at times be a bit of a controlling person- she would get on my case about everything man- from my boyfriend to how I cleaned, to what music I let my kid listen to.  My reaction was pretty much always the same: I did not care what she had to say or what she thought- which seemingly fueled her disdain for me - and-I thought it was hilarious.  It got to where I could just give her a certain look and it would set her off- she would grumble or mutter something under her breath, put on her sweats, her headband, yellow gloves and clean her anger away- it was awesome! She was the only woman in the house who ever called me a nasty name- to my face anyways.  Her and Sally (not her real name) would conspire to get me tossed out of the house, they would attempt to find faults with my every action in an effort to strengthen their case to have me kicked out. Admittedly, I was not a likeable person. I thought I was more fun, smarter and different from the other women I was in the house with.  I was there for the singular goal of getting my son back- building bonds with the women was not even on the low end of my priorities and they knew it.  I had no idea it would be Olive and Sally who would become the 2 most important women I would forge lifelong bonds with from Charlford House.

There are various ways for women to develop relationships while in Charlford.  Being roommates, groups, chore duty, the buddy system, helping each other with step work etc.  On Friday nights Charlford Women stay home- we would watch movies, play games, do facials etc.  It allowed us to get comfortable with not having to be out every Friday night, we got to know each other in a different way than in heavy groups or cruising for guys at meetings; it was just women spending time together without distraction.  Before recovery many of us were so used to being out every Friday night; it felt like were missing out on something by staying in.  For me it was almost like a punishment; I rarely got to pick the movies, don't really enjoy games nor am I into facials or makeovers etc; so Friday nights were never my favourite time at the house.  Looking back I think the same could be said for Olive- so overtime those Friday nights allowed for our relationship to soften. The therapeutic value of mutual complaint does wonders.  From there we started to share funny, intimate stories with each other, she took the time to get to know my son; truthfully I think she felt sorry for him that he had me for his mom- but her interest was appreciated. With time she became a person to me and I to her.  I admired her desire to learn recovery, to make sure she was doing it right.  I was envious of the relationship she had with some of her family members; they would visit her often. When they came I got to watch their love for her thru their eyes.  I'm not sure how it happened but over time we learned that we could trust each other- that we both wanted the same thing- to be in recovery.  I began to like her, invest in her and find value in who she is.  Words cannot convey the gratitude I have that both of us are still sharing recovery together all these years later.  Olive celebrated her 16th year of recovery at the beginning of September and I was at her celebration- just like every other year- and she will be at mine at the end of October.  

I left the house a few weeks before Olive and Sally moved into their place.  I was getting settled into my own roommate situation and learning how to parent without getting high.  I was also not sure how to reach out for help when I first left the house- but I knew I needed help or I would soon repeat my old patterns.  I needed breathing room and knew I could trust Olive and Sally with my heart.  They showed up for me and my son without judgement. I started to feel loved by them. They would take my son shopping, he would have sleep overs, and they would invite us for meals.  We shared celebrations.  They became my family.  To this day my son- who is 19 now- considers Olive and Sally to be 2 of his favourite people.  After Sally moved away to be closer to her son Olive still took my son out for day trips and has maintained that relationship.  I live with a chronic back condition that at times renders me immobile.  When my son was 13 I spent 4 months in bed, unable to cook, clean, shop etc.  It was Olive who came to help me and yes she brought her yellow gloves.  When my lungs were bad Olive sent someone over to my house to test our air quality- turns out our rental place was filled with bad mold- we moved 2 weeks later.  When I got married Olive was there. Olive is a part of my heart.  

Since leaving Charlford Olive's life has totally changed. She was able to make and continues to live the amends she made to her family. She took care of her father until his unfortunate passing.  She focused on fixing her credit, found employment and has been working for the same company for more than 10 years.  I believe she is in management now.  For someone who prior to recovery could not leave her East Van basement suite Olive could be considered a world traveler with some epic vacations behind her now.  She is active in her 12 step fellowship and has sponsees who rely on her.  Olive remains active in helping Charlford, she used to do volunteer shifts at the house- now she helps with events.  Olive's life is what living a program looks like.  



Sally's Story (Not her real name)

Contributed by AC

“The women I went thru Charlford House with left lasting impressions upon me. Each of us are bonded for life through our shared Charlford experiences - those experiences are both unique and powerful. Charlford includes women from all walks of life; with so many personalities it is not surprising that some of us have remained closer with each other than others. Regarding the women I have not stayed close with, I still feel a strong kinship and know they are in my corner should I ever need for anything - as I am for them. My goal is to capture each of their stories and account for how they helped me. For the sake of comfortability, I will start with the women I have stayed the closest with.” AC 

I want to commence my storytelling with one of the women who gave me the hardest time while we lived together in the house - but ended up being a dear friend; she was instrumental in those formative years of recovery for me to maintain my sanity as a single mom in recovery. She is in my heart as well as my son’s. Before we get to that part of our story, we must first understand her journey. 

Sally (not real name) was the oldest of our crew; she started her recovery - for the first time in her life - at the tender age of 52. She arrived at Charlford House Oct 17, 2002 - with almost a month clean. Prior to Charlford House, her 2002 included 12 hospital admissions, more hospital visits, multiple suicide attempts, the imminent loss of her Point Grey home and she was stuck in a co-dependent relationship with a man who became more of her using partner /supplier than any sort of lover. The relationship with her adult son was salvaged only because he lived across the country and was not witness to his mom’s destruction; he would often find excuses not to talk to her on the phone as he could tell she was loaded. Sally lived in isolation - juggling between using and fighting ongoing serious medical issues. 

Sally’s failing health was the catalyst for her entry to recovery. In detox she was given an approximate 4-5 year life expectancy. While in detox she made the decision to check into Charlford House. Her reason for choosing Charlford was simple - it was a non - religious based recovery house. By her own account, Sally was pleased when she pulled up to Charlford and saw that it was an actual home and not another institution. Her previous thoughts were that recovery houses would be similar looking to Army Barracks - I had thought they were on rolling hill estates with horseback riding as a method of healing - we were both so wrong. 

I met Sally Oct 30, 2002 - and let me tell you my impressions of her: she reminded me of Carol Burnette’s character in Annie. She was too thin, a bit nasty, shaky, grumpy and very sick. She had multiple hospital, doctor and pharmacy visits while we were in the house. As beat down as she was, she also had an air of superiority about her that was both comical and truly sad; her front was rooted in low self-esteem, fear and denial. Despite all her ailments and attitudes, I do not recall her missing too many meetings, morning workouts or groups; she was a warrior. 

Sally struggled with honesty - as many of us do - I struggled - and to this day still do - with intolerance, judgement and impatience. Between her lies and angling to get what she wanted and my contempt for those qualities, we were a bad combination. Efforts were made on both parts to get each other kicked out of the house; fortunately, the staff were ‘hip’ to our games and disregarded both of us. FYI: the other day when she and I were talking about this blog, we could not help but laugh at how ridiculous we both were towards each other - and so grateful our hearts opened for one another. 

While in the house, Charlford women are never alone; if we had appointments or wanted to leave the house for any reason - even on weekends - we needed to ask and find another woman to agree to go or we had to stay home. I learned a lot of great things while I was at Charlford - upon reflection, learning how to ask for help to meet specific needs might be the most valuable of those tools. Over the years I have been able to ask for help for many things without it being overwhelming. 

Sally and I ended up spending time together going to various appointments and to the pharmacy. We were “buddies” at a 12 Step Convention. We might have been the only women from the house at that convention there to learn about the fellowship instead of checking out all the guys; not that there is anything wrong with checking out men - we did our fair share of that at different meetings. Slowly we began to get to know each other - we learned we were a lot more alike than we wanted to admit. Eventually we started to sit together on the bus, sharing our mutual contempt for our chipper house mates. We were like a cross between the two old grumpy men on the Muppets and Blanche and Dorothy from the Golden Girls. We shared a similar defiance and disdain for many of the house rules and over time we came to accept then respect each other. I truly believe if it were not for the Charlford “buddy” system our time spent together would not have happened and we would have robbed each other of the relationship we developed. 

I left Charlford a few weeks before Sally completed the program. When Sally left, she went back to her Point Grey home to pack up her things, put her home on the market (after she sold it and paid back what she owed, she was left with approx $6,000.00 - she gave most of that to her son for his education), ended her long-term relationship and prepared to move to a basement suite in Burnaby with one of the women we lived with in the house (her roommate may have hated me more than Sally did - we will get to her story next). That was a lot of change for one person to cope with on their own. I can’t recall who reached out first but we connected and started doing 12 Step recovery together. We believed in each other and in recovery. The underlying contempt we had for one another faded and was replaced by acceptance, love, respect and the sincere desire to help each other. 

When I left Charlford I was hit with a different sort of culture shock and I needed help. By May 1, 2003 my son was back in my care full time. My three, about to turn four-year-old son was a challenge and greatly disliked that he had to live with me. He expressed his feelings with violence - he would hit me - he gave me a black eye and nobody believed that this sweet 3-year-old could be capable of such a thing - he would break my things and essentially torture me as a way to process all of his feelings. I had limited financial resources at the time, the wait lists to get him help were long and as per MCFD, I could not leave my son with just any sitter. I owned all of that, for my addiction caused a lot of damage to him but I also recognized I needed help. I was at my wit’s end and started to truly believe he would be better off without me; using again started to look like a good idea. Sally and her roommate became my lifeline- my son loves them both - I could call Sally in tears, tell her what was going on in my home and she would let me drop him off; for the record,he was sweet as all get out while at their place. They would build forts, cook together, watch movies, read etc. That time allowed for me to take care of my spiritual condition. I was able to learn how to be an advocate for both my son and myself. It is not a stretch to state she saved my life by being there for us. 

Sally in her own right, began to rebuild her career. She is smart with other people’s money; she began keeping records for local companies. She became active within her 12 Step Fellowship and remains so to this day. Within the first few years of Sally’s recovery, her son returned to BC; he was able to see her transformation. He fell in love with a gal, they got married and now have two kids. His family moved to the Island. Sally wanted to have a hands-on role in her grandkids’ lives so she followed them and has been there for almost 10 years. Prior to her move, she was active on the Charlford Board. For the past number of years, she has worked at a local bar keeping their books. The bar is located in an area known to have many homeless people live behind it - over the years Sally has been able to carry the message of recovery to some of those people and some are in recovery now because of that. 

For Sally, Charlford was the game changer because it introduced her to this new way of living. Her medical issues are manageable, she no longer has a limited life expectancy. She is active with her dog and her two grandkids. Sally lives with integrity and when she tells me something, I no longer question if it is true. None of this would have been possible had she not entered recovery. 

We don’t see each other often because neither of us like the ferry system - she was here the beginning of September for her former roommate’s 16-year celebration. We had dinner and a great hug. I have made a commitment that within the next 11 months, I will make the trek over to see her and the kids. She called me this morning – today is her 16-year anniversary of continued recovery. What a gift it is that after all these years, we are still connected and able to nurture each other.

Starla's Story

Contributed by Anonymous

When I think of the year 2002, I can’t help but think of it as my own Wonder Year. It was the year I began a truly life altering journey and ended up in Charlford House, meeting some of the coolest chicks I had ever met; even if I did not know it at the time.  As I look back at that time in my life, I feel a sense of fondness for our time together; nostalgia and fondness deeply rooted in gratitude. Each of the women who played a part in saving my life that year has a unique story to tell- each story worthy of sharing.  As I will be their storyteller I figure I will start with my own from 2002.

The first major memories of 2002 begin in February- MCFD had investigated our home no less than 18 times in the previous 1.5 years but could never substantiate their concerns.  I was tired of beating their system so I opted  to put everything in storage, take my 2 year old son on a month long cross country excursion to Ottawa, Montreal, New York City, Baltimore and Washington DC using booze to detox myself off the dope.  I can gladly report I succeeded in the sense that although I was wasted on whiskey the entire trip, I was not using anything illegal.  I felt truly accomplished by my progress until the day we returned to the lower mainland; that very day I was using - as if my month long break had never even happened. 

When we got home, I thought it was a good idea to move my son and myself into the shack I was selling out of - to cut out any commute time and so I could “work” more hours.   MCFD did not see things my way and finally had what they needed for their removal order.  The depth of failure and magnitude of shame I felt the day I lost custody of my son is not easily conveyed in words - all I can say is:  if you don’t know what that feels like, I hope you never do; and if you do know what that is like - you are not alone and there is hope. 

The day after I lost custody of my son, I went to detox - it was my first exposure to a life without any mood/ mind altering substances.  I was less than eager for the change and was very confused about the concept that alcohol could also be a problem  but I began to hear messages of recovery.  From there I attended my first recovery house; it was all female.  I was kicked out within 30 days because my attitude was not suited for their program.  I spent a few days in a shelter, stayed clean; I was then placed in another recovery house, it was co-ed.  I stayed there for a few months, made some friends, completed a separate 28 day MCFD required treatment program, got a boyfriend, got a job, found a place to live and I had a return to care date for my son.  My 2 roommates (both have since passed away from the disease of addiction) and I talked about wanting to be in recovery but we were not really sure what that meant - we also really wanted to use without consequences so while we were figuring out how to do that, we kept going to meetings and were generally bored with what we thought were mundane existences - we missed the chaos of a drug fuelled day.  I made it to 6 months and 1 day clean before I relapsed - it was not planned and at the time, it was not even something I wanted to do.  After 6 months of abstinence, 2 recovery houses and 1 treatment centre, I still had not learned how to not use. 

I told my MCFD social worker that I was using again - she told me I had one more chance to get clean - that my son would be put up for adoption if I was not ready for a return to care plan by the 1 year anniversary of his removal.  I was given the names of 2 recovery houses that I could choose from - I had to successfully complete either program before return would be discussed again; one of the houses I could choose from was Charlford House.

During the previous 6.5 months I had heard a lot about Charlford House - it was THE “bootcamp” of recovery houses.  The rules were strict, no cable, stay in almost every Friday night, the women were never alone, there were no outside influences permitted and you had to keep your room in pristine condition, including hospital folded bedding.  I was warned you only get one opportunity to attend their program so make sure not to waste the opportunity; essentially it is where women go when they are ready for their addiction to be replaced with recovery.  I heard that many of the women who completed Charlford’s program stayed clean and each woman contributed to the legacy of spiritual warriors Charlford helps create.  I am not sure I was ready for that shift, however my desire to have my son back in my care motivated my decision to call Charlford House.

I will never forget calling the house and hearing Linda’s (the Program Director’s) voice - I had heard she was a genuine saviour - and to be honest, I felt it through the phone.  She reiterated the basic structure of the house rules and agreed to let me enter the house 2 days later; I had a bit more using to do.  As planned, I arrived 2 days later, somewhat ready for change.  I was picked up at the Sperling Skytrain Station by a car of super cheery women; it was overwhelming but also cool. 

To say I was angry, broken and all but hopeless would have been an understatement but for some reason I chose to put what little faith I did have into Charlford - It is a house that exudes love - it can be felt from the moment you approach that front door.  “We will love you until you can love yourself” rings so true for Charlford.  The house itself was unremarkable but the stories and women within the walls and woven from the fabric of Charlford’s history is life affirming.  Little by little, I opened up and finally started to learn how to live, really live, without getting loaded.  It became a choice and each day since October 30, 2002, I have made the choice not to use.

In the time since I left Charlford, I had my son returned to my care; he has remained with me and is now an adult.  I completed my BA (double major) in University; I have a career that I love. I quit smoking May 1, 2003 which is almost as miraculous as being off dope.  I was married last year, which I never thought would happen.  I maintain friendships and am active in my 12 step fellowship.  I kept the amends I made to my family all those years ago.  I love working with other women who want to be clean.  I have had struggles with finances, chronic pain, weight gain, mobility issues but with each adversity, I was able to apply the tools I learned at Charlford to stay solution focused.  I am not just happy with my life but most moments, I am truly content - not to say I don’t get angry, frustrated or have the occasional “why me” thoughts - but when I do, they are short lived and without damage.  In the past almost 16 years, I have created a life that is worth living and more important to me than using ever was - I never dreamed that could or would be my story.

Most of the women I was in the house with, like myself, are clean today. The groups, tears and laughter we shared together bonded us for life.  Like our own Breakfast Club but instead of one Saturday in a library, we spent months together in a house.  We don’t see each other often but our time together at Charlford, taking the bus everywhere, going to dances, writing steps, doing yoga, sharing crushes/ heart ache, discovering how to live day by day without using, how to be brave through vulnerability, to let go of the chips we had on our shoulders or to emerge from the invisible low/ no self-esteem lives we were living is not forgotten.  I want to celebrate our stories, including the role Charlford House played in each of our personal development.  My name is Starla (not her real name); I’m not only an addict, I am a Charlford Alumna and I am going to introduce the women who were pivotal in making my 2002 remarkable. 


Another Charlford Angel Gets Her Wings: Local Women’s Recovery Home Honours 20-year Program Director with Long-term Service Award

Another Charlford Angel Gets Her Wings

Contributed by Laura Johnson

Burnaby-based women’s recovery home Charlford House Society for Women bestowed its highest honour, Chalford Angel, to longtime Program Director Linda Shaw at the Society’s Annual General Meeting on July 9, 2018.

Shaw will be retiring after nearly 20 years’ service in December 2018. Her tenure has been marked with years of caring support for thousands of women who have successfully gone through the program.

Executive Director Miranda Vecchio says “the Charlford Angel is awarded to women who epitomize longtime service, heart, commitment and dedication to the Society. She says that the Charlford Angel “is an inspiration and the best reflection of the organization”.

Shaw developed the Surrogate Family model during her time at Charlford House, a female-focused addiction treatment framework centred around unconditional love and support. 

Vecchio says “it is a unique and special program which encourages collaboration and nurturing amongst the women in the program and staff. We believe in the power of a circle of women”. The connections built in the house become a foundation for a lifetime of support. 

Jen Rosval began her four-month stay at Charlford House on March 25, 2002. She says "Linda has been there for me since day one when I walked through the doors of Charlford House to start the program. She is the first to remind me any moment, that I am always welcome to come home to her and Charlford House for the support I need.”

Rosval has now been sober for over 16 years “Linda will say that I saved my own life by making good decisions, but in reality, I owe the life I have today to Linda and the rest of Charlford House for teaching me how to do this."

The Charlford Angel designation is a rare honour, and has only been given to three other women in the organization’s 48-year history. The first was to Founder Thelma McPherson, the second to long-term board member and local comedienne Ardell Brophy both of whom received the honour before their respective deaths. Both women shared the same recovery anniversary date and died within months of each other. The third Charlford Angel is past Executive Director Trish LaNauze. 

Linda Shaw will publish a manual /memoir of the Surrogate Family Model of treatment later this year  in which Linda details her career as an addictions counsellor.

Gifts of Recovery

Gifts of Recovery
Contributed by Victoria Heard

I didn’t get much sleep last night and I was having a hard time getting out of a funk this morning. Up at 5:30, 45-minute drive in traffic to work, where I arrive 2 hours early to avoid heavier traffic. Usually, I go to the gym, work out, then get to work and do yoga. I work at a yoga studio so I’m fortunate to be able to use the studio. But this morning I wasn’t feeling it, I felt off and exhausted.

Thinking about my addiction struggles and worrying about all my new found responsibilities, I was feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. I’m just over 2 months clean from a debilitating addiction to fentanyl, crack and crystal meth. I am trying to put my life back together. I haven’t worked in almost 4 years, I recently got a new job, I signed a lease for a new apartment and I am starting to tackle that enormous list of neglected affairs. I can’t help but live in fear, I am a master at burning everything to the ground, especially when things are going well in my life.

I decided to put my headphones in and take a morning stroll along the Seawalk in West Vancouver. I listen to Slacker Radio with entirely random playlists.

Over a year ago I went through this magical recovery program, Charlford House for women. It was there in music therapy I learned the power and influence of music. It bypasses our brain and inspires our heart. A song has the ability to mean something different to everyone, it all depends on their perspective. Also at Charlford I built a strong connection with, what I believe to be, my higher power. My best friend James Enright who passed away, he communicates with me through little signs, “coincidences”, prayer, and meditation. These moments in my life, as long as I open my eyes to see them, allow me to feel his presence and I know I’m not alone. He’s right here with me, he’s Got My Six. (Five Finger Death Punch reference.)

As I start my walk, I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace, is the first song to play. I listen to the lyrics and think about how much I hate my addiction, how much my addiction hates me. My addiction despises my potential, loathes my assets, and belittles my accomplishments. Deep down I hate that I love drugs, but, hey! I’m an addict. This song gives me a boost, my mindset started to shift knowing I’m headed in a different direction today.

The next song to play was Never Going Back by Sick Puppies.

There’s no going back,
When life’s a loaded gun, you pull the trigger, trigger
There’s no going back
The past is in the past
Thank God it doesn’t last forever
There’s no going back
F*!* that going back
There’s no going back
F*!* that going back

As I’m listening to this song, I start to bounce in my step, and I was overcome with this feeling that James was letting me know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I felt safe. Then I thought, okay seriously, if the next song is Five Finger Death Punch this is James. Now, remember how I mentioned Slacker Radio is COMPLETELY random. Not only was the next song Five Finger Death Punch but it was my favorite song, Far From Home. I started to tear up, I was overcome with happiness and gratitude for my life today. This song means so much to me. I believe, in my addiction, there were too many times to count… I shouldn’t be here. And I believe it was James in heaven keeping me alive, he always believed in me, he makes me feel like I’m worth it.

I needed to express my gratitude and share this beautiful experience. There is no high, no drug that induces the euphoric contentment I felt this morning walking alongside the ocean, with the sun shining on my back and confirmation James has Got My Six.

Motherhood is an institution vs. motherhood in an institution

Motherhood Is An Institution vs Motherhood In An Institution
Contributed by Miranda Vecchio

A Mother's Day introspective of a Charlford "peach":

"I dreaded Mother’s Day for years; In part, because my mother (who was neglectful and abusive) died at a young age and in part, because I never conceived a child of my own. The sting was deeply rooted and literally burned on the inside. I would do my best to avoid people so I didn’t have to deal with the awkward question “So, are you doing something special for Mother’s Day?” Such an innocent question but it pierced my heart every time.

When I sought help from Charlford House years later, for what I thought were totally unrelated circumstances, I was able to work through some of the conflicted feelings, anger and pain; I managed to come out the other side. I was given permission to grieve. That alone was incredibly freeing!

While living at Charlford House, I met a lot of moms and learned not to envy them for this fact alone. Here, I became accepting, whereas before I had been judgemental, believing that given the chance, I would have been a better mom than anyone. Very easy to say of course, when I had never been in their shoes!

Here I am years later and I work at the very facility that saved my life, saved my soul and saved the best for last.

I have the incredible honour of witnessing the journey of the women here. Emotions run high around Mother's Day. While some women yearn to see their children, others are anxious and overwhelmed at the thought of seeing theirs.  Still others ruminate on how past behaviours have harmed the relationship between themselves and their children or with their own mothers.

It tugs at the heart strings, listening to the women interact. They comfort and reassure each other. I hear their words: “Don’t worry if you don’t get to see your kids this weekend. I’m gonna need a lot of help with mine so you can be like mama #2”; “I think you’re really patient and kind. Maybe you’re just being really hard on yourself because you feel so guilty”; “Don’t worry if you don’t know how to be a mom. There are lots of women here who will give you all the help and support you need”; “You don’t need to overcompensate by having every minute filled with some activity. Your kids are so young, they won’t necessarily remember everything they’ve done. What they will remember is their mother’s love so just spending quality time with them is enough.” “Even when you leave here, your “sisters” will always be there for you so don’t panic”.

This last remark strikes a chord because recently, one of our graduates gave birth to a baby girl. As of right now, I am aware that one of her “sisters” is spending the day with her, looking after the newborn while mama gets caught up on some much needed sleep. This is the kind of unconditional love that is taught, learned and shared thanks to the Surrogate Family Model of Treatment at Charlford House.

I believe that there is a certain reverence that goes along with motherhood. I consider the fact that many men (those who are institutionalized in particular) have “Mom” tattooed somewhere on their person. Further, I don’t tend to hear comments about how Mother’s Day is “commercialized” the way I do with other occasions. God intended for mothers to be nurturing, protective, kind and loving and most of them are. In my own mother’s case, it is clear to see in retrospect, that she was mentally ill at a time when such conditions were rarely acknowledged or treated. We are extremely lucky today to have facilities like Charlford House that address co-occurring mental health disorders like bi-polar and addiction.

Many of our women are single moms on a fixed low income. When they leave Charlford House, it is heartening to follow their journey – how they navigate challenges large and small and become amazing parents to their children.

If the children are our future, then that future is made brighter by the loving example set by moms everywhere - especially those who courageously seek help to battle their issues and become the best version of themselves.

If it hurts to say or hear “Happy Mother’s Day”, please know that there are all kinds or resources available to help to heal your aching heart. My prayer is that you will find the one that best mends yours.

For the record, today I have a wonderful step mom and two incredible step sons. I am pleased to say that I now derive much pleasure from selecting the perfect Mother’s Day card, calling and receiving a phone call on Mother’s Day.

My heart is full. Thank you Charlford House. And thank you to moms everywhere."

International Day of Happiness

Did you know that March 20th is the International Day of Happiness?

I recently sat down with Calvin Johnson, founder and CEO of Lykki Office Supplies (Fittingly, Lykki is Danish for ‘happiness’) and asked him what happiness means to him. His response was that “Happiness is...Making a positive impact in the lives of others.”

This comes as no surprise and is certainly a sentiment shared between Lykki Office Supplies and Charlford House Society for Women.

Calvin started his business almost 30 years ago and for over a decade has contributed greatly to the life of Charlford House (a 15-bed facility for women starting a journey of recovery from drug and /or alcohol addiction). As a not-for-profit organization our “little house of miracles” could not have continued to serve the community for the past 47 years, without the ongoing support of businesses such as Lykki.

The corporate culture at this company is reflected in details large and small – each seeming as intentional as the next: from the Tiki Bar reception desk to the palm trees & cabana style work stations (Did someone say fun?); from their core values: “Live, Love, Laugh, Learn” to their “One for One” initiatives (for every one dollar you spend, one litre of clean, safe drinking water is donated to a person in need; for every piece of fruit you purchase, Lykki will donate one piece of fresh fruit to a child in need - now that’s impactful!).

In his earlier days, Calvin considered that success would be making lots of money & accumulating lots of toys – although he always had a heart for others (volunteering for the Annual Variety Telethon for instance) and was proud at the time, of his 40-under-40 recognition. Nowadays however, his perspective has changed – matured – “Success is all about happiness”, he proclaims.

As a responsible business owner, Calvin believes that creating a people-first work environment is imperative. This includes considering the importance of and respecting his staff’s work /life balance. Such thinking results in a much happier, healthier, more productive workplace.

Their tagline is “Delivering office supply happiness”. As a customer, we are certainly happy that if we order before 3pm, the product is delivered the next day. We are happy that there is a 24 hour chat feature on the website, ensuring that personalized service is available anytime. We are happy to do business with a company that has a social conscience. While Lykki supports many local charities, they also make a global impact. Visit to learn more.

What does happiness mean to you? Go to and let us know. We will be happy to hear from you!

Finally Home

Finally Home
Contributed By Tara

Walking up the twelve steps into Charlford house, I was broken; life had beaten me down and I didn’t know how to get back up on my own anymore. The house itself isn’t anything special, just a regular home in a normal residential neighborhood but inside, magic happens. It was here that I first learned about being loved by strangers without anything being asked of me in return. The first few days were a whirlwind of new faces and a noise level I had never before encountered. Addiction is a dark quiet place and it was hard to get used to living with so many people. Eventually I found myself disappointed when I went into a room and there wasn’t anyone there. Now it doesn’t feel like home unless fifteen people are there to say hello when I come in. The noise is what I learned to love at Charlford. If you listen closely you can hear the girls empowering each other, consoling each other so much more. These girls are keeping each other alive. Girls that had no one, girls that felt worthless are now standing up together and fighting not only for themselves but the people around them. It’s a type of power none of them possessed their first day in the house. The new ones are being shown how the house works and what to do by the seniors but they are also teaching the seniors responsibility, how to care for others and so much more. Humility lives here, no one is more important than anyone else, no one is better than or worse than, everyone has a voice, a vote and a chance.

What is that magic feeling?

What is that magic feeling?
Contributed by Laura Johnson

There is a feeling inside Charlford House that immediately soothes the soul of anyone who enters it. I'm not the only one to notice this - you hear it from the women, staff, and volunteers – and there are others much more qualified than I am to describe what it's like to walk into the house for the first time. Over the years, many women have shared their experiences stepping up the 12 concrete stairs and through the front door, imbued with equal measures of courage and trepidation as they prepare to face their demons for the next 3 months. My first step over the threshold was much less courageous. As a prospective board member, I had only to meet the other board directors and present myself as a worthy candidate. Yes there were nerves involved (a lot), but they were quelled once I sat down in the dining room that serves as gathering place for monthly board meetings. And now each time I enter the house I am instantly put at ease. It's as though nearly 50 years of miracle-making lingers in the walls and gently instills the air with the residual magic of lives saved and renewed. There is a palpable sensation that this is a good place. All are loved here, and anything is possible. But is it really these four walls that are the source of these feelings of acceptance and inspiration? I believe that the true genesis of Charlford House's magic is its people and their collective will to see each woman succeed: it's the hope and drive of board members, staff, volunteers and the women themselves to overcome. From what I have witnessed in just one year, it is this good will that produces a determined, indefatigable, and loving energy that fills every corner, and fuels every function and operation of the house. The impossible becomes possible time and again and more miracles are made. Charlford House is a special place. You will feel it if you are ever lucky enough to be present under its roof. However, its magic lives within each person who has ever walked back down the 12 stairs, empowered with the love and message of Charlford House and ready to light up the world. 

It is this power that we will harness in the coming years as we strive towards a new and different challenge: finding another set of four walls for Charlford House. After 50 years, this well-loved and well-loving house is showing its wear, and it's time to relocate to a new, 'forever home'. It will take more than magic to reach our capital campaign's target. Hard work and unrelenting commitment to the vision lie ahead. It may seem like a daunting pursuit, but as long as the people of Charlford House are the driving force, we can achieve yet another miracle. 


Fully Alive

Fully Alive
Contributed by Miranda Vecchio

I’m never short of inspired by the courage the women of Charlford House demonstrate each and every day and I doubt I will ever cease to marvel at their miracle of change.

I often tell people that I’m not on the frontlines or in the trenches with the Program staff. I couldn’t do what they do. I’m responsible for the nuts ‘n bolts of the operation - fundraising, public awareness, administration – that sort of thing. I’m only on the sidelines – on the periphery.

What is amazing to me though, is that even from this vantage point, I have the privilege of witnessing the magic of Charlford House - the gradual revealing of each woman’s spirit and soul, her very identity being discovered, exposed and strengthened. I see her transition from frail and fragile to “standing up straight” empowered with a whole lot of gutsy emotion in between.

I suppose the process could be described as time-lapse recovery, each woman gradually emerging until the moment she becomes fully alive. That’s a sight to behold and I am blessed to be able to do so on a daily basis.

Thank you to these women who enrich and amaze me every day and to the staff who, with tender patience, lovingly nurture and guide these women home to themselves.

We are all the better for it.

Read More

Circle of Women

Circle of Women
Contributed by Linda Shaw

There’s nothing more powerful than a Circle of Women.

When I join the circle every day, I feel each woman becomes part of me, and I them. It’s as if we become as one, in a place so safe anything can be said, discussed, and even debated. I had often wondered how that worked, walking into the circle as a human doing, immediately turning in to a human being as I cross that invisible line. I suppose it could be contributed to DNA, the ancient circles of the first women, the warmth of the fire, suckling babes and the first blush of verbal communication. Perhaps it’s changed in content but not context. It’s still life and death, and the need for safety has not changed since that far off ancient time.

Living in solitary addiction is not the natural way of women. We are nurturers, we are bearers of new life, and our sisters are there in empathy with us and for us. The Circle is the place we recover together; the women becoming sisters forged by the fire of change. The support and love will follow us throughout each woman’s journey.


Do you know a real live warrior?

Welcome to Charlford's new monthly feature!
Do you know a real live warrior?
Contributed by Laura Johnson

I've been lucky enough to meet more than a few warriors. They are women who are in recovery, and they are some of the bravest women I know. Since joiningCharlford House's Board last June, I have been repeatedly inspired by the stories the women have shared about their recovery. I am moved by their accounts of overcoming adversity to change their lives from deep lows to highs of joy and fulfillment. Recovery begins at Charlford House, where the women are encouraged to confront the their histories of struggle and tribulation. They deserve our utmost respect for revisiting their personal battlefields and defeating them. But their victory is not won in just one day - just as addiction is not a single-headed monster defeated in one battle royale - it is a continuous process of introspection throughout their lives. The women learn to face the disappointments and tragedies of life head on, in full consciousness of their emotions and reactions. A commitment to staying clean and sober requires a constant and vigilant attendance to life's pitfalls and seeking ways to manage the ensuing pain without turning to the numbing effects of substances. Many of us try to achieve this kind of self-awareness. We may strive to practice mindfulness, journal to make peace with our feelings, or go to the gym to work out our frustrations. But for some the following options remain: a glass of wine to smooth the edges after an argument with a spouse, or a “restorative” night of cocktails with the girls after a stressful week. Or we might simply choose to ignore a conflict while it bubbles away, unexamined and wreaking psychological havoc from below the surface. That avoidance could be a hazard to someone in recovery: their success necessitates that issues be dealt with before they become triggers for relapse. The women of Charlford House show us that recovery is a continuous journey requiring the discipline and courage of a warrior. It is pure bravery and I am in awe of them.