'I can't do this on my own': Returning from rehab in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

Nellie Hogaluk says she was one step away from ending up in jail or even dead.

The quiet 27-year-old from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, says when alcohol touches her lips she turns violent and angry. She describes a recent assault she committed on her sister, which she doesn’t even remember.

“It got to the point I made my sister’s face unrecognizable,” said Hogaluk quietly. “When I saw it the next day, when I woke up from being drunk, I couldn’t help myself but cry.”

Nellie Hogaluk

Nellie Hogaluk, a quiet 27-year-old, says when alcohol touches her lips she turns violent and angry. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Instead of continuing the cycle of binge drinking and blackouts, Hogaluk entered a unique 28-day addictions treatment program to get to the root of her problems. She’s one of six women from Cambridge Bay to complete the “home-grown” residential treatment program, held at a camp eight kilometres out of town. 

“Without this program, I probably wouldn’t be around here today,” says Hogaluk.

For nearly two decades Nunavut has been without a residential treatment facility. Last year dozens of Nunavummiut travelled south for addictions treatment, while others opted for counselling and other healing programs in their communities.

But whether people are sent down south or get help closer to home, getting back to day-to-day living can be complicated.

Cambridge Bay addictions camp

The mobile treatment program is held at a camp 8 kilometres from Cambridge Bay. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

‘The first time I thought about me’

“The 28-day program was the first time I thought about me, not anybody else,” says Linda Kavanna, 34.

This was her first time getting help for her addictions. Adjusting to life back in Cambridge Bay has been tough.

“It was hard and scary. Walking into your house you see so many things and you remember so many things you used to do,” she said.

“I literally had to change my whole house … just so I could focus on being sober. I changed my furniture. I changed everything.”

But what Kavanna couldn’t change is pressure from her old drinking circle.

“I just got tired of people texting me, even odd hours of the night. ‘Come drink, come have a shot,'” said Kavanna.

She eventually changed her phone number and went to the police. She says being home is a lot harder than she thought it would be.

“Even family members are just like, ‘Come have a shot.'”

Linda Kavanna

‘The 28-day program was the first time I thought about me, not anybody else,’ reflects Linda Kavanna, 34. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

That pressure, Kavanna said, led to a slip-up since she’s been out of treatment.

“I got so tired and so frustrated I just gave in,” she said. “The only reason I did drink was just so people could leave me alone.”

But Kavanna said getting back on track was actually easier than she expected.

“I woke up, my house was a mess. I had stuff broken. I was like, ‘This is not me. This is not who I am anymore,'” she said.

“The biggest thing with that is I broke my daughter’s heart … Losing a five-year-old’s trust is worse than anything else.”

Now, she’s relying more on the support from the women who went through treatment with her. Kavanna says there are some benefits of recovering in a small community — her support network is close by.

“All of us came out as friends. We’re family.”

Strategies learned put to use

Nellie Hogaluk’s first move out of rehab was going into isolation.

“I just insulated myself in this home with my mother and sisters. I couldn’t bear to be out of this house. I was afraid and ashamed of myself,” she said.

The calls to come drinking poured in, but she has refused and explained why — a strategy she learned in treatment. And, to Hogaluk’s surprise, people have listened to her.

“I say no. Alcohol will either kill me or I will kill somebody real bad or really hurt them,” she said, which she adds is scary to admit.

Linda Kavanna, Kathleen Hogaluk, Nellie Hogaluk.

From left, Linda Kavanna, Kathleen Hogaluk and Nellie Hogaluk. The women support each other since leaving rehab. Kathleen Hogaluk is organizing weekly gatherings with the women. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

She still experiences triggers and smells alcohol when it’s not there.

“The more I talk about it the more it gets easier, and the whiff isn’t as bad as it used to be.”

Hogaluk continues to attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and lean on her mother and grandparents. They encourage her to take it day-by-day.

“They say leave yesterday, don’t worry about yesterday. Don’t worry about tomorrow, it can wait. Just live for today.”

People are also telling Hogaluk how proud they are of her.

“That wasn’t the feedback I was expecting.”

Grief a trigger

For Nellie Hogaluk’s aunt, 36-year-old Kathleen Hogaluk, family has been her main support and reason to stay sober.

The single mom of seven children entered the 28-day program to help with the loss of her 16-year-old son, who died by suicide earlier this year.

“I learned how ugly I can get with my spirit with drinking and doing drugs. I learned how I can cope being sober. I used to never listen to my heart or use my gut feelings.”

Kathleen Hogaluk

Kathleen Hogaluk is single mom of seven. She entered the 28-day program to help with the loss of her 16-year-old son, Sebastian, who died by suicide earlier this year. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Kathleen Hogaluk had one relapse the first week, triggered by a bad relationship and her grief.

She says simply going grocery shopping can be nerve wracking.

“I was so out of my comfort zone. Being in the treatment program, I miss that. It’s a security blanket,” she said.

‘I know I can’t do this on my own’

Now she’s also relying on the other women — something Kathleen Hogaluk says wouldn’t have been possible if she had gone down south for treatment.

“Knowing the ladies that went through the exact same thing I went through at the treatment, that means a lot to me because we are all at the same level as each other,” she said. 

“I know I can’t do this on my own.”

Kathleen Hogaluk has doubled her weekly counselling sessions and is organizing weekly gatherings with the women.

“I don’t come home smelling like booze or drugs. My kids are trusting me now,” she said.

“I do have a lot of support. It’s just, am I willing to go the lengths to be sober? It’s up to me.”

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