Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the long road to recovery

The last time former Surrey city councillor Gary Robinson was in the public eye, he was addicted to crack cocaine and recovering in hospital from second- and third-degree burns on 25 per cent of his body after he was doused in rubbing alcohol and lit on fire in an apparent drug-related attack.

It was a devastating low for a man who spent 12 years on municipal council with ambitions of becoming mayor, only to fade off the radar in 1999 shortly after going public with his cocaine and alcohol abuse problems.

Now he's clawing his way out of seven years lost to drugs, and is trying to bring others along with him.

Robinson, 51, has been in recovery for over a year, and earlier this month officially opened Trilogy House, a Newton recovery home for men.

The centre, which has been running since February and now houses 10 men, is the result of Robinson's frustration with a lack of treatment facilities in Surrey.

"There are a lot of people in positions of making decisions that don't understand the problem, because people do want help," Robinson said in a cellphone interview from a U-Haul truck packed with furniture and blankets donated to Trilogy House.

"It's just amazing the number of people who want to get help but can't," Robinson said, adding he's turning away two or three people a day from the centre.

Trilogy House is funded through a combination of private donations and the provincial assistance that clients receive.

Robinson -- who said the worst part of addiction was "not being with my kids and not being with my family and not seeing any way out" -- tried treatment three times before he finally stayed clean.

He is using his experience to shape the recovery program, which he says is unusual because it doesn't force residents to follow a schedule.

When men first come off the street, all but the most serious cases undergo an initial detox at Trilogy House. After that, Robinson said, they are encouraged to just hang out at the centre for "TV and DVD recovery," before they move on to counselling to address the underlying problems behind their substance abuse. The process can last from three months to a year, Robinson said.

The Fraser Health Authority, which stretches from Burnaby to Hope, has 40 detox beds with an average occupancy of 95 per cent.

"Certainly we need more," said Lois Dixon, executive director for mental health and addiction with the health authority, adding that longer-term housing and support is also "hugely missing, because it's often one of the factors that leads people to relapse."

Trilogy House was founded with the help of Robinson's wife, Susan Sanderson, president of the local NDP riding association.

Robinson is currently rebuilding relationships with his family, including his sons, Derek, 19, and Trevor, 17.

"It's wonderful," said Sanderson, saying that Gary took Trevor to the recent Roger Waters concert and helped Derek fix his car.

Although he says he's still recovering, Robinson is already thinking of running for council in the next election.

Coun. Marvin Hunt, who once served with Robinson, said he'd be open to working with him again, saying when his former colleague slid into drug addiction it was a tragedy for the city of Surrey.

Hunt said ultimately it will be up to voters to decide whether Robinson is ready for the job again, adding he thinks his current work might be more important that politics. "I think his greatest story will be his recovery," Hunt said.

source: The Vancouver Sun
author: Catherine Rolfsen,

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