Health & Lifestyle

Christmas inside Canberra addiction treatment centre

A leafy Canberra rehab centre where Aaron will spend Christmas is a far cry from the bustling Sydney CBD he called home weeks ago.

It will be the first festive period the 35-year-old has spent away from family and friends.

“I went from a high-flying corporate lawyer with successful relationships and very large amounts of material wealth, to very low points,” he said.

“It fractured all of my relationships in a family sense to the real depths of contemplating suicide and all the terrible things that can come with addiction.”

Aaron’s destructive path began with an addiction to work.

He self-medicated the stress with alcohol and cocaine and before long was hooked onto the substances.

When his family watched the behaviour destroy his tirelessly built success and a 10-year relationship, they pleaded for him to get help.

But when they learned the most appropriate and immediately available treatment was at the Salvation Army’s Canberra Recovery Services, not all were supportive of the timing.

“There was a great deal of external pressure from family and friends urging me to delay admission until after Christmas,” he said.

“Of course [there were also] my own personal motives.

“One doesn’t want to be away from loved ones during Christmas time, but addiction needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.”

He said resisting that pressure and checking into rehab in November saved his life.

The Salvation Army’s Canberra Recovery Services Centre provides residence, community-based treatment and withdrawal management for those struggling with drug, alcohol, gambling and other addictions.

Residents are discouraged to leave during early stages of treatment, when the risk of relapse is high.

But Aaron will take a few days’ break to visit his terminally ill father in Sydney after Christmas.

Despite his tough situation, he remained hopeful about his recovery.

Aaron sitting at the table of the Salvation Army's drug treatment centre

He thanked the Salvation Army’s hardworking staff and volunteers for ensuring he still looks forward to Christmas.

“We’ll have a big feast with all the usual prawns and hams… a number of organisations have donate food and allow us to have those luxuries,” he said.

“Some people here never really had the opportunity to enjoy Christmas due to their family circumstances. And it’s really great to actually see them have that support to let them enjoy the day.”

He said missing out on the commercialisation of Christmas was a bonus.

“I haven’t visited a shopping centre through this period and I’m quite thankful for that.”

Centre braces for post-festive demand

Rehabilitation shelters addicts from the outside temptations of overindulgence and excessive drinking this time of year.

But manager of the Salvation Army’s Canberra Recovery Services, Jacquie Warrington, said it was not uncommon for people to delay seeking help as Aaron was pressured to do.

“Around Christmas time people find it more difficult to separate from family,” Ms Warrington said.

“So Christmas time is a very difficult time for many people [with addictions].”

She said sometimes people turn to drugs and alcohol during the holiday season in an effort to forget their problems, and later hit rock bottom.

Ms Warrington urged people not fall into this trap.

“I’d like to encourage people to stay safe over this period and contact us as soon as they need,” she said.

The centre is bracing for a spike in demand in January, a trend she sees most years.

For now, she is focused on making sure Christmas inside the centre is not too dissimilar to the outside world.

Residents are allowed to visit families on Christmas Day, and loved ones can join in on the service’s lunch.

Staff have also organised trips to the movies, go-karting and bowling, thanks to money raised from barbeques run by residents.

Ms Warrington found joy in making the day special.

“We let people know it’s possible not to have drugs and alcohol to celebrate,” she said.

“I’ve seen people go through it [addiction] and come out the other end, learn to love themselves and reconnect with their families.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see.”