Faces of Pine Lodge: former clients say it saved their lives

Several people who have struggled with addictions credit Pine Lodge Treatment Centre with saving their lives.

Author of the article: Heather Polischuk Publishing date: Mar 13, 2021/ Leader Post

Pine Lodge Treatment Centre’s Indian Head facility was badly damaged by fire in December, triggering both a search for a new site and debate over its proposed location.

The issue of allowing an addictions centre as a permitted use on the site of the former Prairie Christian Training Centre is slated to return to Fort San village council on Tuesday.

As the future of Pine Lodge hangs in the balance, they credit the program with not only changing their lives but saving them.

Peter Nokonechny

With nearly nine years of sobriety under his belt, Peter Nokonechny choked up for a moment as he talked about Pine Lodge. “It was the hardest time of my life and the best time of my life,” he said.

Nokonechny didn’t mince words about the state his life was in prior to treatment.

“On paper, I had all the things you’re supposed to have — a wife and two beautiful young daughters, a house and garage and cars and a good job and all that stuff,” he said. “But 30 years of drinking had taken its toll.”

Around the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death, he hit bottom. That was in 2012, the year he finally decided to ask for help. He entered the 28-day treatment program at Pine Lodge with trepidation but knowing he needed to confront his illness.

“Pine Lodge saved my life, for sure,” he said. “In the first couple of weeks it convinced me — they beat it into my head — that this was a disease, that I was not a bad person, I was just a sick person.”

Nokonechny said it gave him a basic set of tools he’s been able to use in his long-term recovery ever since. He sees his life now as a “miracle” compared to where he and his family once were.

He’s since joined the ranks of former clients who return to talk to new clients, to provide hope they too can get better. Nokonechny said Pine Lodge detractors don’t have a good understanding of the centre, its residents or its benefits, and he would like that to change. He noted clients were treated very well in Indian Head.

“There was no moment in time where I felt looked down upon or felt ashamed to be walking around in that community,” he said.

“Gary”

“Gary” — who requested anonymity — said some people continue to have misconceptions about what the disease of addiction looks like. “We have a misperception out there, a stigma that an alcoholic is a guy with a brown paper bag sitting on a bench with a two-dollar bottle of wine,” he said. “Well, that’s not the case.”

Gary calls his time at the centre “the hardest 28 days of my life.” He admits to being terrified and having his “butt kicked” by the program, but said it ultimately saved him.

Prior to entering Pine Lodge in 2016, his life was, in his words, “chaos.” Alcohol ran his life and hit his family as hard as it hit him, culminating in his wife of 40 years asking him to move out.

An addiction counsellor was eventually able to get him into Pine Lodge, where he learned about the disease and developed tools to cope.

He said staff were far from lenient. Rule-breaking got you kicked out. Like others, he buckled down and took in everything he could, enabling him to move forward with his life in a positive way.

Gary said the “not in my backyard” attitude some people show regarding treatment centres doesn’t come from a place of understanding of the people or issues.

“I was a sick person trying to get better,” he said.

Dave Kilbach

During his time at Pine Lodge 16 years ago and ever since, Dave Kilbach has met numerous others who shared his illness.

“I’ve met people that have gone through treatment facilities — they’re doctors, they’re lawyers, they’re dentists, they’re nurses, they’re police officers, there’s firemen,” said Kilbach, a contractor by trade. “I even met a pastor in the program. It’s not that we’re bad people. We’re people with a disease of alcoholism or drugism.”

Kilbach — who, tongue in cheek, said his new addictions are to fishing and hunting — said those attending programs like Pine Lodge aren’t what some believe. While some clients have criminal histories, many don’t. Different backgrounds, genders, races, economic situations, levels of employment and education — this is what Kilbach has observed of those attending treatment centres.

What they have in common is a desire to get better, he said.

“The people that go through Pine Lodge could be your brother, your sister, your mom, dad, your aunt, uncle, your niece, nephew, your daughter, son,” Kilbach said. “Those are the type of people that go through Pine Lodge … It’s just normal everyday people.”

Harvey F.

As a born and bred “farm boy,” Harvey F. — who did not wish to use his last name — said he grew up around alcoholism. It was a disease that eventually came to plague him until he found Pine Lodge.

A professional engineer, he was working for a Crown corporation when his employer confronted him about his problem. While his illness never resulted in job loss, missed mortgage payments or impaired driving charges, it did come close to costing him his marriage.

He began confronting his addiction and entered treatment at Pine Lodge in 1990. “It was absolutely scary, but it was absolutely liberating because for the first time ever, I really felt hope,” he said.

Harvey compared addictions treatment and ongoing recovery work to building and maintaining a house. Pine Lodge provided the foundation. Ongoing use of recovery tools and programming — which he still uses — provided the walls and roof that have continued to shelter him.

Pine Lodge was intensive because it needed to be, breaking through the barriers he — like others suffering from addiction — have built within and around themselves. But, he added, it then served to build them back up.

“I’ve been sober for over 30 years,” he said.

He would like people to understand those with this disease come from all walks of life and most are not the stereotypes some seem to think.

“These are really good people just trying to get better,” he said.

hpolischuk@postmedia.com