Don Emslie, 66, has spent years staring at life through the bottom of a glass. He went through five treatment programs but nothing could permanently pry the bottle out of his hand. But then he came to The Salvation Army’s Hope Acres addictions treatment facility.
This beautiful, rural location tucked in the countryside near Barrie, Ont., is a little piece of Eden. Over the years, Hope Acres has helped thousands find peace, grace and sobriety. The 35-bed facility is also conveniently far away from liquor stores, bars and drinking buddies who might tempt someone away from a new life of abstinence.
By the time Emslie came north to Hope Acres from St. Catharine’s, he already had a feel for rural living. In fact he’d been sleeping in a tent in the woods because he had hit the bottom: homelessness. Although he had worked for 27 years in the social service field, and had been manager of a children’s mental health facility, the addiction took it all away.
“Hope Acres saved my life,” he says. “It was the only way to extricate myself from my situation.” The other programs didn’t work because most are just 28 days long and, according to Emslie, were not long enough to “re-establish my thinking.”
Why does he think Hope Acres is different from other programs? “The most obvious difference is the attention to the spiritual part of the program. It is in such a beautiful setting. People can take long walks in nature and meditate. The relaxed, fun atmosphere allows you to de-stress.
“The emphasis on responsibility and accountability is important. We’re responsible for the upkeep of the place and the chores. It reminds us that there’s someone paying for this and it’s not free.
“I got a lot out of the group therapy, and the instructional part of the program was very helpful. We studied things like what the disease is about and had group participation in anger management. I really liked the spiritual nature of the program. I was always quite moved by morning service. It allowed me to think about that part of my life. I’ve joined the local United Church since leaving Hope Acres.
“An important part of program is reintegration into the community at the end of treatment. So many people trip up at that point. The Salvation Army helped me get re-centred, re-stabilized. I was able to learn about my disease and do some life planning. It made me aware of what I’ll do after the program to prevent habits from creeping back. I used to use alcohol as an aid to function, but now I’ve learned a different way.
“It’s important that the Army is involved in this kind of work because The Salvation Army has a unique perspective with the spiritual part of recovery. I would hate to see the social service system become one-size-fits-all.”
Emslie graduated from Hope Acres in January 2005. He is currently the supervisor for the re-integration program, a halfway house for recovering alcoholics in Barrie, Ont., run by St. Vincent de Paul. He is planning to take some courses in addictions from McMaster University.