News & Events

Wellbriety at Alpha House

Shaundra Bruvall | June 10, 2020

On Tuesdays and Thursdays for over 2 years, Alpha House has hosted Wellbriety sessions for clients who are completing or have already completed our Detox Program. Clients return each week to keep a connection to this Indigenous program offering. (During Covid-19, we have limited numbers and incorporated social distancing and other health requirements).

Facilitated by our Cultural Reconnection Peer Support Worker, Michael Firingstoney, and co-founded with Wade Maude, our Indigenous Coordinator, this co-ed recovery program has become a mainstay for Detox and returning participants alike.

The Wellbriety Movement (also called the Wellbriety Path) uses culture to help individuals to heal from drug and alcohol use, as well as to heal from the systemic, inter-generational and historical trauma that is often related to substance addictions for Indigenous people. The program is robust and adaptable and it enriches the recovery path of all individuals who decide to participate. At its heart, it sees Indigenous culture as preventative and restorative.

 “The Wellbriety Movement was born in the early to mid-1990s and merged 12 Step AA/NA with the teachings of the Medicine Wheel. This approach uses any or all the various local tribal traditions in meetings and talking circles. The Wellbriety Movement also highlighted the need to go beyond sobriety to heal the wounds of inter-generational trauma carried by almost all Native Americans people (Coyhis, 2006). Native Americans people now understand that alcoholism is a symptom of more deeply embedded wounds. The most prevalent wound is the trauma of oppressive genocidal behaviors and policies arising from the dominant Euro-American society and passed down unabated from generation to generation. The most obvious outward causes of inter-generational trauma.”

Linda Anderson: The WellBriety Path to Treating Co-Occurring Disorders in Native Americans: An Adlerian Perspective An Experiential Project 2017

Alpha House employs over 300 people with diverse cultural backgrounds. Each year the Detox program alone welcomes nearly two thousand clients of diverse ethical and religious backgrounds. As Alpha House seeks to provide safe and caring environments for men and women with alcohol and substance use addictions, Wellbriety has become an inclusive environment for all.

Between 50 – 60% of Alpha House clients are Indigenous or of Metis descent.  The Indigenous program through Wellbriety connects participants to agency sponsored Sweat Lodge Ceremony, Drumming Circles, Sharing Circles, and access to Elders. All clients are offered these services as part of Alpha House’s continuum of care. Alpha House recognizes that trauma informed care for all helps to heal the wounds of addiction and of historical and ongoing systemic discrimination.

How does it work?

Every Wellbriety session at Alpha House attracts 8-10 people per session (3-4 during Covid-19) and each group of sessions is offered over a three month period. Given the nature of Detox, not everyone will complete the full set of modules offered in one go. However the door is open for those wanting to maintain their recovery by completing the Wellbriety steps. Each cycle is marked initially by welcoming returning clients and at the ending of the cycle by recognizing participants who have completed the Wellbriety program. The Wellbriety Path in this way welcomes continuous engagement. 

Comments from WellBriety participants at Alpha House:

A Wellbriety graduation in March 2020

“Wellbriety has helped inspire me to stay sober through connecting my sobriety through traditional teachings. Within the holistic framework Wellbriety uses I find myself more inclined to share about the suffering that goes along with addiction.” Matt

“It has given me a better outlook and a different approach to sobriety.” Alex

“Myself, I’ve been to numerous treatment centers and have found in Wellbriety the awareness surrounding oppression and spirituality as internal was beneficial. “ Jared

  Delaware Indians, Anxiety And Anger, Native American Beading, Thing 1 Thing 2, Recovery, The Creator, Finding Yourself, Healing, Positivity

There is a solution for us as Native people, and for some of us it is a return to the traditional ceremonies of our Nations. For some of us, it is to seek out an Elder and have him or her help us find the path to the Good Road or to the Red Road as we call it.

The Red Road to Wellbriety Study Guide page 19

Looking Forward

Over time we hope that as alumni mature and grow they will also become instrumental in supporting the Wellbriety program. We aren’t there yet but it looks promising. One alumni beginning has been the Sober Clan, as an offshoot of the Alpha House Wellbriety sessions this group of alumni now help with running of the meetings and assisting the facilitator and new group members with their stories of recovery. Several of the Sober Clan have reached their one year of recovery thanks to Wellbriety.

Text Box: Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear
In the wind
Whose breath gives life
To the world
Hear me 
I come to you
As one of your many children 
I am small and weak
I need your strength
And wisdom
May I walk
In beauty
The Wellbriety 30 day recovery medallion is engraved with these words that continue to inspire us to support this meaningful and healing program…
 
Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear
In the wind
Whose breath gives life
To the world
Hear me
I come to you
As one of your many children
I am small and weak
I need your strength
And wisdom
May I walk
In beauty

To date we have given out 50, 30-day medallions; for some, marking their longest period of sobriety. We are proud for all who have participated and all who have shown their best in this Alpha House Indigenous program offering.

Please note that Indigenous Programming at Alpha House is dependent on individual and community donations from people like you .

David is marking his 25th year of service at Alpha House with a series of blogs.


Recovery at Alpha House During COVID-19

Shaundra Bruvall | May 21, 2020

For many of those who know Alpha House, you know that recovery and harm reduction principles and practices are part of our work culture and go hand-in-hand…two sides of the same coin.

The shared principles that bridge the dichotomy between harm reduction and recovery include:

  • Respect
  • Dignity
  • Compassion
  • Building trust and relationship
  • Being non judgemental
  • Increasing our quality of response

Alpha House has developed wise practices that work for people and their willingness for change. From our understanding change is incremental and begins with small steps. As someone recently coined it …practicing harm recovery.

“It may be that traditional <office-based> substance abuse programs continue to operate according to the philosophy that people with addiction disorders need to ‘‘hit bottom’’ and seek help for treatment to be successful. There has been a challenge to this paradigm in the trans-theoretical model proposed by Prochaska and DiClemente which posits that behavior change involves a process that occurs in increments. Change is viewed as a progression from a pre-contemplation stage—where the person is not considering a change; to contemplation—where the person is carefully weighing the pros and cons of changing; to preparation—where planning and commitments for change efforts are secured; to action—to make the particular change; to maintenance—in which the person works to sustain long-term changes. Also, Motivational Enhancement Therapy is an evidence-based practice in addictions treatment that views ambivalence as a part of the recovery process, and employs strategies to reduce ambivalence by building motivation.” [1]

Alpha House staff are keen observers of the stage of change model and motivational interviewing and use these tools to support the recovery of the men and women they serve. Along with our understanding  of crisis management, trauma informed care, brain science, the complexity of alcohol and drug use, and the importance of fellowship and mentoring, Alpha House has created an extensive tool kit that help staff to build motivation with and for its clients. Alpha House’s commitment to those with alcoholic and substance abuse issues, often marginalized, homeless, and street engaged is to bring empowerment and inclusion while meeting them where they are at. In doing so, Alpha House responds daily to the chronic nature of addiction not just to its acute manifestations.          

“You don’t get over an addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it’s easier to not use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will catch up with you again.”

– Unknown

Alpha House, its staff and its clients are on the front line of COVID-19 and recovery. By building relationships, we are helping people to create new lives no matter what challenges precipitate. Many years ago in my first year at Alpha House a value statement emerged from the staff …simply put it stated that people we worked with were more than their addiction. How great is that…at the time 24 staff worked together to foster that value statement as part of its strategic plan for the agency. Now we have over 300 staff and that value statement still stands as we move forward with our clients every day. COVID-19 doesn’t preclude recovery…it provides an opportunity to re-frame a person’s belief that recovery isn’t possible. There is no good time for recovery except for the willingness to begin…one small step at a time.

The process begins anew every day. Stabilization and care are key as clients move through our programs of outreach, shelter, detox, and housing. Keeping people safe during COVID-19 is not different from reducing harm from their addiction and making space in people’s lives for recovery.

Given that clients don’t have access to treatment centres or to peer support step programs these days due COVID-19 it would seem that recovery has been pushed out of the picture. Crisis management however tells us otherwise…dialogue, active listening, and reframing as well as providing a safe and caring environment does foster change and can influence positive outcomes. Our work is more than planting seeds for change, it is observing and responding to what is already growing within each client. As we face this pandemic we do so together and we see clients as more than their addiction. We have been able to maintain detox scenarios throughout our pandemic response, though sometimes with reduced capacity. We have been able to encourage abstinence for those that want it by providing supportive touch and verbal and nonverbal communication as we move them from outreach, shelter to transitional beds and housing.

In our shelters in Calgary and Lethbridge, we educate and model for clients the importance of social distancing, hand washing, and continuous masking and we have increased access to nursing care including symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. The variables fluctuate but the path doesn’t, we don’t compromise on recovery because of COVID-19.

“The waveform that overwhelms a maturing human being from the inside is the inescapable nature of their own flaws and weaknesses, their self-deceptions and their attempts to create false names and stories to place themselves in the world; the felt need to control the narrative of the story around them with no regard to outside revelation. The immense wave on the outside is the invitation to give that self-up, to be borne off by the wave and renamed, revealed and re-ordered by the powerful flow. “ [2]

In our shelter and detox, stabilization and recovery includes offering things that make a difference:

  • Increase phone access for clients so as to contact those they are worried about and encouraging them to reach out to those who may be worried about them due to COVID-19.
  • Although in house services have been impacted that has meant an increase in staff time for each person with staff able to engage clients more deeply and frequently.
  • Recovery includes providing respite and nourishment when other sources have closed or limited access.
  • It also means making sure people have access to their medication and being able to address medical and mental health needs.
  • Encouraging clients to develop routines and check-ins with staff

The people we work with have given us many anecdotal statements over the years. Their voices continue today to counter the judgements of those that don’t often value or know the nature of our work…but even more their voices counter the narratives that have constrained them in the past… they deserve to have the last comments of this post…

This was a life lesson for me, thank you for the opportunity and hospitality

Alpha House acknowledges the potential anybody has and is willing to help. I think that is magical

Everyone who helped me are angels! Thank you for giving me the first step towards taking my life back.

Thank you everyone for all the tools to set me sober, I fell as if this is a huge step forward in the right direction for me and my family, thanks.

The staff have been extremely helpful, especially with helping to get me through my low moments and to help me stay focused on what I have accomplished and steps I’m taking.

From dry out to sober living, Alpha House has been instrumental in my recovery

COVID-19 has impacted and limited activities [in Detox] but  the positive influence of staff have helped me to stay sober.

David is marking his 25th year of service at Alpha House with a series of blogs. If you would like to share your story or comments with him you can reach him at david@alphahousecalgary.com


[1] Assertive Outreach: An Effective Strategy for Engaging Homeless Persons with Substance Use Disorders into Treatment Deborah Fisk, L.C.S.W.,1Jaak Rakfeldt, Ph.D.,2andErin McCormack, M.S.W.

[2] CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. 2014. David Whyte and Many Rivers Press