Vanisha Breault is founder and executive director of the Terminator Foundation.
What is the Terminator Foundation and what does it do?
Breault: The Terminator Foundation is a collaboration of integrated health-care systems that support youth and young adults in their effort to recover from addiction and mental health issues.
Our goal is to strengthen recovery through a continuum of care model that incorporates physical exercise in the sport of triathlon training, personal coaching and community engagement.
We are committed to bringing education, awareness and understanding to our communities, city and neighbouring provinces.
Terminator hosts an annual run: Terminator Run for Youth Addiction Awareness. It’s a five-km run/walk to raise awareness for youth and their families and to help eradicate the shame and indignity that impacts families all around us, every day.
We also just hosted our first annual conference on June 1, The Truth is You CAN Recover Conference! The conference focused on the complexities of navigating addiction and mental health through a continuity of care model. Our presenters were experts and champions in the field who facilitated interactive, educational and inspirational discussions. We designed the conference for all who are affected by addiction and mental health – for families, frontline workers, as well as those needing support and looking to offer support. It truly was, Addiction 101.
How and why was this founded?
Breault: Terminator found me, although I didn’t exactly see it that way in the beginning. Terminator wasn’t “Terminator” in the beginning, as it actually began with just a run, a five-km run to raise awareness for youth addiction.
Quite frankly, I didn’t even know what I was doing when I started it. I didn’t even know if I could pull it off, or had what it took to pull it off. I remember thinking, “What if no one even shows up?”
I started that first run for youth addiction awareness because at that time, I had a young daughter struggling with addiction. I simply did not want other families and young people to suffer through what my family and I suffered through.
The greatest adversary we came up against was shame and ignorance. It became my mission to push back on shame. Shame keeps people silent and in the dark. Silence and darkness allow addiction and mental health to literally strangle the life from someone.
I wanted to try to make a way for families and youth to know that they’re not alone, they have nothing to feel ashamed about and there is hope!
How extensive is the problem of drug and alcohol addiction in our society and why?
Breault: When I think about drug and alcohol addiction, it doesn’t just begin and end with only alcohol and drugs. I believe it’s important for Terminator that we do our part to raise awareness about the disease of addiction and to educate our communities. We need to come to the understanding that addiction is addiction. Drug and alcohol use are a manifestation or outward expression of an inward illness/disease.
There are many forms of addiction: drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, shopping, relationships, gambling, video gaming, social media. I believe it’s important to know that or to be aware of that. Addiction is a very complex and comprehensive issue.
All of these elements are also right at our fingertips. Every kid across North America has a cellphone. Pornography is a tap away, sexting is happening with our 10-year-old kids. Drugs are easily accessible either walking to the school bus in the morning or from our parents’ medicine cabinet. Liquor stores have cancelled out our convenience stores in every suburban area. The liquor store is the new ‘convenience,’ as we now have our groceries delivered to our doorstep.
I believe addiction in all forms is extensive and prevalent within our society today. I have even more recently come to believe and my perspective has shifted that we are truly faced with a pandemic.
The opioid crisis caught the world’s attention, because of the daily rising death toll across our nation. The opioid crisis tragically shone a big spotlight on the vast issue of addiction but addiction has been with us since the beginning of time.
I believe every individual who is impacted by addiction has their own ‘why.’ And it’s been my experience that every person struggling with addiction or who has struggled to overcome addiction never set out to become addicted.
Has the issue become more of a problem in Alberta in recent years considering the economic challenges we’ve faced?
Breault: With what I know about crisis and challenging times that it can put an incredible amount of pressure upon a person and depending on your reserve of resilience and emotional/mental skills; coping skills; crisis or a strenuous challenging situation will either break you or build you.
Going through an economic challenge can provide an environment of strain that could escalate or highlight someone’s addiction issues. Or they may not necessarily have an addiction but could be choosing to cope using one of these methods in an unhealthy way. This particular scenario (economic challenges) has likely escalated or contributed to an increase in addiction issues.
But I want to be clear that people do not become addicted solely based on outside environmental circumstances. Addiction is a disease of the brain. Genetics can also have a role and make you predisposed. Our exterior environment is not 100 per cent responsible for creating addicts or alcoholics or gamblers, etc., but it can provide the external triggers for people to further progress in their illness.
Life is full of challenges. Those of us with the disease of addiction and living in recovery have also been given the gift of recovery, which means that, come what may, we can learn to embrace the good with the bad. We can learn to cope without using any kind of substance or person, place or thing to numb out or check out. We can allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable, to recognize when we are fearful and unsure of how it will all pan out. Then we can learn to let go and to have complete acceptance that we’re exactly where we are supposed to be and in exactly the moment we’re supposed to be in, and all is right with the world, even when it isn’t, but we can learn to find our peace in it.
What’s your connection here about why you are involved?
Breault: Everything changed for me when I came to realize that my daughter, Eden, was unable to stop using drugs and I was powerless to stop her. What I experienced between the start of her using and the start of her recovery covers a five-year timespan.
Addiction changed for me when I came to see it affect my daughter. Addiction took a 14-year-old girl from smoking marijuana to homelessness and using fentanyl and heroin intravenously by the time she was 17.
Both my daughter and I were treated as if we were no longer human beings deserving of our health-care system or even being served at Tim Hortons. I watched as she was rejected and despised and then to becoming completely invisible. To society, she no longer mattered; she became like garbage blowing in the wind.
It was simply wrong to me. It was an injustice. It was inhumane and I began to see the sons and daughters of parents just like me everywhere on the streets. Eden today is over two and a half years into her recovery. There are many more like her – we do recover.
Going through this journey with my girl taught me some of the greatest life lessons I have ever learned and those are: love and hope. Selflessly loving her exactly where she was at, with no expectations from her to ease my own pain, fear or suffering. In those same moments, letting her know that I believed in her, that I was not ashamed of her or anything that she had done or become.
That I believed without a doubt that she could recover and become all that she was created to be.
Eden showed me that if they’re above ground, there truly is hope. It’s this same hope, this same awareness of the power of love and believing in someone that Terminator has been founded on.
It’s from this foundation that we stretch out our hands and pull others in because: The truth is you can recover!