Gord Garner dedicates his professional life to breaking down the stigma associated with addiction, a stigma he faced daily before he successfully went into recovery from his own substance use disorder (SUD).
Having turned his life around, Gord is now making sure that others have the same opportunity. As Executive Director of Ottawa’s Community Addictions Peer Support Association and Chair of Recovery Day Ottawa, Gord organizes peer support initiatives and community engagement projects that help those living with SUD get the help they need and recognize that they’re not alone in their suffering.
“I see my job as helping to re-educate people about what addiction is, and about the importance of language,” says Gord. “Lots of people don’t talk to anyone about their substance use disorder because they hear how negatively others talk about people with addictions,” says Gord.
He also knows first-hand that one person’s addiction impacts many lives. “My family suffered a great deal from my addiction,” he explains, which is why Gord is such a champion of September’s annual Recovery Day Ottawa event, allowing families, friends and those in recovery to share information, challenge stigma and celebrate the fact that recovery is possible.
“Stigma not only stops people from asking for help for a substance use disorder, it also means they don’t always get the help they need if they do work up the courage to ask for it,” Gord notes.
“We tend to think of people with substance use disorders as being homeless, but the vast majority of them are living ‘indoors.’” says Gord. In fact, a national report on homelessness indicates that 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year, but Statistics Canada reveals that some 6 million people meet the criteria for SUD. That’s a lot of suffering happening behind closed doors to people of all ages, all backgrounds and all walks of life.
“I’m not asking people to be polite,” says Gord. “I’m asking them to simply stop and think about the words they’re using that hurt people in their homes, workplaces and communities.”
Gord hopes that by challenging our perceptions, we’ll start looking at SUD as an illness, not a failure, and begin treating those suffering from addictions with compassion and empathy rather than disdain. “My overall goal is simply to help people have better lives, whatever form that takes.”
For more information on substance-use disorders or on Recovery Day Ottawa, please visit www.capsa.ca