40 years of Toora Women’s Inc: Michelle’s Story | HerCanberra

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40 years of Toora Women’s Inc: Michelle’s Story

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To honour the work of Toora Women’s Inc in Canberra across the last 40 years, we’re sharing the stories of the women they have helped.

A woman is sitting on a colourful couch in a large, sunny room where open windows look onto mountains. Behind her, a kitchen table sits ready and waiting for group meals, and colourful posters adorn the walls. You might not think it, but this woman is here to change her life forever.

Some people don’t believe that life gives you second chances. But Michelle* knows that second chances are very real indeed. That’s because she’s seven weeks into one of Toora Women’s Inc’s 12-week alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs—and things are looking up.

After struggling in a traditional alcohol rehabilitation program, Michelle reached out to Toora and secured a place at one of their three alcohol and other drugs (AOD) rehabilitation houses.

Given her previous experience with other rehabilitation facilities, she was apprehensive at first—”I thought ‘Oh God, where am I going?’”—but soon realised this would be a very different journey.

“I was absolutely shocked at how homely it was. I got here and went, ‘Oh my God’,” laughs Michelle, falling back against the couch, relief palpable in her tone. “The staff were so nice and supportive. I was so relieved.”

For the first of the 12 weeks, Michelle explains, participants are encouraged to get settled, and in week two, they start Toora’s Day Program, which runs three days a week.

Hosted off-site, the day program blends a combination of group sessions on everything from conflict resolution, relapse prevention and eating and sleeping better, to drug refusal skills and training in how to properly administer the anti-opioid drug Naloxone. Michelle says the structure makes her feel trusted.

“We go into town, have our morning session and then we all go and have lunch together before the afternoon session. It feels like we’re back in life,” says Michelle.

Throughout the week, the house residents also have counselling sessions and are encouraged to get out and about on public transport to run errands. There is also scheduled time to see family and friends, depending on the participant’s individual circumstances.

Having first entered the house in February, Michelle immediately took to the 12-week program, but in week six she received some bad news.

“I was doing extremely well for six weeks…then I got the news from my husband that [separation] was going to start and I just derailed. I relapsed and obviously I couldn’t have alcohol in [the AOD house] so I just thought ‘This is it. What will I do?’”

“I honestly thought Toora would just say ‘bye’. I was beside myself that day.”

Toora was able to offer Michelle a room in crisis accommodation where she stayed for a week, but the staff from the rehabilitation house never gave up on her.

“Every day the staff were checking up on me. Every day,” Michelle says with emotion in her voice. Luckily, a path back to the house was open to her once she was able to detox, which she quickly completed.

Back in the house once more and now seven weeks into a fresh program, Michelle looks back on the last six months in awe.

“The last seven weeks have flown. My family is so astonished I was able to come back—it makes them so happy to know I’m happy here and being supported in a safe place.”

“I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I’m just so grateful.”

We asked Toora CEO Kellie Friend what she wants the community to know about substance use and dependence in Canberra.

“These issues are deep within our society and just because Canberra enjoys higher than average access to education and income, substance use, misuse and dependence does not discriminate and permeates all socio-economic groups of our community,” she says.

Kellie also seeks to remind the community that while the common image of a substance dependent person is dishevelled, unkept and on the streets, it is also, equally, in increased numbers of high functioning people in our community and both young and older people. It is important to look beyond the substance use and seek to understand the reason behind the use, often deep trauma, fear, loss and pain.

Toora’s success is premised on treating the person and the reason behind the use while minimising harm. Coping comes in many forms. 

Lastly, Kellie asks us to remind the community not to keep services like Toora a secret. Tell your family, your colleagues and your friends.

Meanwhile, due to uncertainty regarding Covid rates in the ACT, Toora has decided to postpone its planned celebratration of 40 years of Toora Women Inc which was scheduled for Friday 5 August at Canberra Labor Club Group in Belconnen. The event will be rescheduled for later in the year.

If Toora supports more than 500 women each year, it is very likely you know someone who could benefit from counselling or residential support.

To find out more about Toora’s services, to volunteer or donate go to Toora’s website at www.toora.org.au


*Not her real name. Please note the feature photo is a stock image.

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