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Counselling grad draws from personal experience to help others in recovery

December 12, 2014

Kyle Goertzen has been sober for three and half years. He attributes part of his recovery to helping others over come the disease of addiction.

“Working in addictions, being able to give back in that capacity is huge for my recovery,” says the 29-year-old. “Being in recovery, for me, is about helping other people get well and eradicate the stigma associated with the disease of alcoholism and addiction.”

A graduate of the Applied Counselling program at the School of Continuing Education at Red River College, Goertzen now works for three addictions recovery organizations: Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and Tamarack Recovery Centre, where he’s a residential care worker, and 210 Recovery, where he’s a peer support worker. His own experience getting sober is a big help in his work.

“I can put myself in others people’s shoes. I’ve been in that same situation, so I think in that sense it’s an asset. I have a solid understanding of what the illness is all about and am able to approach it with compassion [and] non-judgment.”

Addictions took over Goertzen’s life from ages 13 to 25.

“I was completely lost in all regards of life. It completely engulfed and drove every part of me,” he says.

He tried to get sober a number of times but it never stuck – until one life-changing experience.

“I ended up going to jail and going through withdrawals. I remember sitting there and having this experience all by myself on the floor of a jail cell in the Remand Centre, saying ‘If I get out of here, I will do whatever it takes to never pick up a drink again.’”

After that, he got help ­– and has been in recovery ever since.

“Recovery to me, is taking care of myself. I’m really involved in 12-Step Fellowship and 12-Step Recovery. I also have a really supportive family.”

Working in addictions also helps, but Goertzen didn’t immediately know that was what he wanted to do. In fact, he first studied plumbing before he heard about the Applied Counselling program from Tamarack Recovery Centre, the place he went to get sober.

“[Tamarack] saw how good I was doing and they asked me to come work for them,” Goertzen says. “That’s where I sat down with a colleague and they said, ‘You seem to have a bit of a knack for working with people in regards to addiction… You should take Applied Counselling just to see if this field would interest you.’”

So he did. And sure enough, it was a great fit. There were a number of things he enjoyed about the RRC program.

“The class size – our class was like 20 people. The instructors were really accessible – I could email my instructor and she would email me back that same day. I also developed some really good relationships with people in my class.”

Goertzen enjoys working in the addictions field. His favourite part?

“Just sitting down and literally I get to hang out with clients and have positive relationships and be a positive influence. I listen to clients, [I can] be there with clients and if possible share my own experience.”

“I’m just grateful that I’m able to do that as a job and enjoy it. For me it’s not like work at all. I’m able to promote healthy living, mental health and recovery.”

Goertzen enjoys the field so much he is currently furthering his education in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba.

He also shares his personal story as a speaker through the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Illness Literacy Education 5-day (MILE 5) program. He’s spoken to high school students about Substance Abuse Disorder with the goal of eradicating stigma.

“Coming from where I’ve been, you just never expect that you’re going to be doing that. Every time I do it’s bizarre and humbling and you really feel just amazing that you’ve made it this far.”

No matter how far he comes, Goertzen will always think of himself as being “in remission” rather than recovered.

“[The 12-Step Recovery] mantra is the mantra that I use and that’s, ‘I’m in recovery and I’ll always be in recovery.’ I don’t think I’ll say ‘I’m recovered,’ that’s just not something that works for me – but it might work for someone else.”

He also knows how easily someone can fall victim to the disease.

“I came from a good home. I had a loving family and every opportunity to succeed. I’m not typically someone you’d expect to have that issue, and it happened to me. So there are people from all walks of life that suffer from this problem. They’re someone’s son or someone’s daughter or a parent. They’re human beings.”

That’s why he’s so compelled to help others, and to share his own story.

“Before I had this issue I had the tendency to judge and develop contempt for something I didn’t understand. People tend to fear what they don’t understand.”

Read more about the Applied Counselling progam delivered through the School of Continuing Education at RRC.