On July 28th, the New View Society held its annual family BBQ at Lafarge Lake, in Coquitlam. A week before the event, New View’s Executive Director asked if I’d do a write-up of the event. The job seemed straightforward enough – attend and summarize my experience.
A couple days after I’d taken on the assignment, I began a taper schedule, weaning myself off (under Dr. supervision), one of my medications. I didn’t anticipate attending the BBQ with the weight of withdrawals on my shoulders.
I made my way over to Lafarge Lake around 1pm, in the sweltering heat, to see the staff set up for the day. I think, if I had to pinpoint what makes the New View experience so inviting, I’d say a lot of it has to do with the staff. In the beginning, before I developed connections with the other members, it was the staff that kept me coming back. Their energy, passion, and dedication to New View and its community made for a very fluid transition from hospital to clubhouse. And, I still see the staff as supports, despite forging friendships with members of New View’s Young Adults program.
Some of the staff knew I’d begun my taper schedule, and that I’d been experiencing withdrawals. But the staff greeted me as they’d always done. With warm and inviting smiles. A few handshakes. A fist pump or two.
Ultimately, I was only able to attend a couple hours of the BBQ as the withdrawals intensified towards late afternoon. However, this didn’t disrupt my positive experience at the event. The turnout was good, and despite the heat, the members and staff (and their families), seemed to enjoy spending time playing games, chatting, taking part in activities, listening to musical talent, and boldly having their faces painted.
I think, it is during times of distress, that community is most important. Prior to my first clubhouse dinner, I had no community. Many friends and confidantes had exited my life, and as my illness progressed, I had an increasingly difficult time building relationships. But, New View helped me develop my social skills, and rediscover my confidence. As a result, these days I’m much more socially engaged.
I imagine what people walking past the BBQ noticed was a weekend gathering of friends. But, there was much more to Saturday’s event than met the eye. What people didn’t see, was a celebration of strength, perseverance, compassion, unity, and recovery. Every laugh heard from the tents was a testament of our determination to overcome challenges. Every smile, a symbol of the beauty of our own individuality.
Many who live with mental illness and addiction suffer in silence, in part, because of the stigma of mental health challenges. But, what makes New View such a safe and welcoming place, is the absence of stigma. As people who live with mental health challenges, many of us have felt the sting of social rejection. But, as members, we’ve all felt the warmth of New View’s acceptance.
And so… while my experience on Saturday was short, it reinforced what I’ve come to understand since becoming a member:
That togetherness is empowering.
And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate togetherness than a BBQ.
– Andrew Woods