She came back from drug addiction: Former user now helps others find their way


Lora Johnston-Corbett has a vivid recollection of the moment when she stepped off the road of drug addiction and took the first steps down the path of recovery. During her 30th or so stay at detox she asked to be sent to a Nanaimo recovery house. That was 17 years ago. Now she is a drug counsellor with the Vancouver Island Health Authority and a happy woman. She will accept the Courage to Come Back Award in the chemical-dependency category at Vancouver's Hyatt Hotel on April 28.

What do you bring to your work as a drug counsellor?

"I had a real mix of experiences and all of them seem to be with me depending on who comes in the room. Lots of folks share some of the situations I've had."

Describe your life.

"Better than I could ever, ever have imagined. I have people in my life and I'm doing things in my life that I couldn't have done when I was 20. I was in liver failure, having seizures, I had abscesses over most of my arms and legs and my neck. It's like I've had a complete rewiring."

What led to your drug use?

"My home environment. In fact, that's one piece of my life that continues to be consistently really shitty -- the relationship I have with my family. I have a mother who . . . hasn't been very caring or respectful to me. My dad died of alcohol misuse five years ago."

How have you done all you've done without family support?

"I got a new family. It began with the people that had seen me go through Pemberton House (Victoria) detox umpteen times. The support came from all the other women in the house, the staff, the drug and alcohol counsellors, the friends who weren't using. They became my family."

You didn't finish Grade 8 and now you have a master's degree in social work. Why did you go on?

"I got a job at a support recovery house working with women and I really loved the idea of being hands-on, supporting and counselling, but I didn't know enough to do it properly. Once I had the undergrad degree, it got me into the ministry and got me a decent paying job. I couldn't believe that they were going to pay me this much money. I don't have to steal anything. The master of social work was about a personal goal."

Do you support the four pillars approach to treating drug addiction?

"Harm reduction is probably the only piece that really makes good sense. Safe-injection sites and needle exchanges are one aspect. It's also about how you intervene and support people."

What can be done to help treat addicts?

"What you end up putting together is going to be unique to you. Likewise with anyone wanting to make changes around drugs and alcohol. Everyone is in such a different place."
Colour Photo: Lance Sullivan, For The Province / Lora Johnston- Corbett draws on her experiences to help others overcome their drug addiction.