Player Down, Part Three: Lessons Learned

This article is free to read, thanks to support from the GNWT’s Department of Health and Social Services:

With no residential treatment centres in the NWT (the territorial government says referring patients to southern clinics makes more sense), Devin Hinchey’s rehab took place at the Edgewood facility in Nanaimo, BC. Devin has been sober for more than a year and now plans to become a social worker. However, his parents — Kelli and Brent — say they remain concerned about the lack of help for northern addicts.

They feel drug use in the city is underestimated by many families, and believe recovering addicts who return to Yellowknife face all manner of pressures with little support.

“I drive through the city and the whole of Yellowknife is a reminder of my addiction.” 

“We need a program here. One of the big things missing in the North is a decent treatment centre,” says Brent Hinchey.

“Drug use is everywhere. I really don’t think this is just a Yellowknife problem. That said, I don’t think it helped him being here. Once he got into recovery, coming back was hard because pretty-much his entire peer group up here either drinks, smokes dope or whatever.”

Kelli Hinchey adds: “I’m really happy he’s in Nanaimo and going to school there because there’s such a happy, young, sober-living community and he has so much support.

“That’s a very different demographic to here. Here he’s an anomaly. That support system is not the same here.”

“I drive through the city and the whole of Yellowknife is a reminder of my addiction,” admits Devin himself. “It’s a reminder that I was doing cocaine the whole time. Knowing where to go adds to the discomfort, for sure.”

While it’s natural for anyone recovering from drug addiction to feel uncomfortable in old surroundings, the Hincheys believe more northerners will suffer as drugs become easier to access at a younger age.

When Devin opened up to his parents about his addiction, they say they were stunned to discover how prevalent drug use in Yellowknife is — no matter your background or age.

“There is a lot of money in Yellowknife and, honestly, I was absolutely shocked at how much drug use is in this city and what goes on. That terrified me,” says Kelli.

“High school now is a lot different to what it was when I was there. There are kids in grades nine and 10 into hard drugs already and they don’t know what to do.”

She says she has been told “it’s common, at a high school party, for there to be cocaine — it’s the drug of choice for young people. Cocaine? At a high school party?”

“I think it has changed rapidly in society,” says Brent. “The stories we would hear from Garrett [Devin’s older brother by five years] down to Devin, were different.

“The things Devin was seeing at high school parties, Garrett would say he never saw at the same age. It’s getting younger. That’s hearsay, but that’s my gut.”

Since returning to Yellowknife, Devin — now 20 — has spoken in the city’s high schools on a number of occasions. He says teenagers living in the city know exactly what he is talking about when he recounts how his addiction worsened.

“There are 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds asking me questions afterwards,” he says. “These kids are going through some crap right now. They’re seeing it right in front of their faces.

“High school now is a lot different to what it was when I was there. There are kids in grades nine and 10 into hard drugs already and they don’t know what to do.”

“How did we miss this? Where did we fail? I felt so incredibly responsible”

Meanwhile, since Devin entered treatment, his parents have been trying to figure out why their son became an addict. What was the trigger? What signs did they miss? What should they have done differently?

“How did we miss this? Where did we fail? I felt so incredibly responsible,” admits Kelli. She says treating Devin “like a 12-year-old” by dragging him out of bed in the mornings, while never really probing him about his tiredness or ill health, simply enabled his addiction rather than helping to confront the issue.

Both parents look back with mixed feelings on their decision to keep Devin at an Ontario private school — where his alcohol and drug problems grew — despite his pleas to come home.

The three would talk through the issue each time and, when it became apparent that coming home meant an additional year of high school in Yellowknife, Devin would reluctantly elect to stay.

“Maybe we never should have sent him there,” says Kelli. “If he had been home, would it have been different? Should we have pulled him out of the residence? It wasn’t great.”

“There were so many things about the school that felt wrong,” concurs Brent. “That’s one of the things I feel worst about, from the standpoint of leaving your kid in that situation. We should have pushed harder or made a change.”

However, Devin’s parents stop short of blaming themselves. They, in particular Kelli, have been working with the Edgewood rehab centre to receive their own education since Devin was first admitted. From that, they say, they have a new understanding of how Devin became an addict.

“I don’t love the decisions we made but I don’t feel a degree of, I guess, guilt, maybe?” Brent says. “From what I understand, probably this was going to happen: it would have been really hard to completely avoid this in his life.”

The Hincheys, including Devin, believe his personality and genes meant his addiction would have become a problem sooner or later no matter where he went to school or what decisions were made. In some respects, they say they’re happy it happened sooner rather than later — as younger addicts stand more chance of turning around their lives, according to Edgewood.

“Sports make him who he is, but there have been some pretty disappointing things over the years — and maybe that’s one of the things that triggered it.”

“There’s a strong genetic component,” explains Kelli. “We understand that. Addiction is in both of our families. We get it, but I never got it to that level. We’re a hell of a lot more educated about it now.”

“The one thing I wonder,” adds Brent, “is if there was a trauma related to something that happened in sport. Sports make him who he is, but there have been some pretty disappointing things over the years — and maybe that’s one of the things that triggered it.”

There would certainly be a range of incidents to choose from. Devin played a wide variety of sports from a young age, most notably squash at international level. However, he and his father think one moment in particular stands out.

“The first one I can remember would be getting cut from the Arctic Winter Games hockey team,” says Devin. “I would have been 14 or 15 at the time. That was the last competitive hockey I played and I called you, crying, from the rink.”

Did that contribute to Devin’s addiction? If it did, that’s a scary thought for other parents and coaches.

“I’m grateful for his addiction. This is who Devin is, who he is meant to be: sober Devin,” 

At first, Kelli and Brent relied on other families in Yellowknife for help once Devin went in for treatment. Now, Devin’s mom and dad say he is their greatest support.

“I’m grateful for his addiction. This is who Devin is, who he is meant to be: sober Devin,” says Kelli.

“We are both speaking the same language now. There’s no bullshitting him. He’s so honest. And he won’t let you bullshit yourself, he’ll call you on your stuff. He’s a huge support to me.

“I think he has already effected positive change in so many people’s lives, 17 months into sobriety, walking the walk and doing the work he needs to do. Being so open and honest about it. I’m so proud of him for that. I could care less if he ever picked up a squash racquet again — this is what’s important.”

So what is their advice to other families? If you have suspicions about your child, what should you do? What would they have changed?

“Trust your instincts,” is the best way Brent can phrase his advice. He admits he doesn’t really have a solution to that problem.

“If they’re burning through cash, big red flag. Be very suspicious,” he adds — no matter the excuses you hear.

“But the only problem is: even if you know, if your kid or loved one is not ready, they’re going to fight you.

“And you can’t fight them into addictions treatment.”

Read Part One of Player Down here. 

Read Part Two here.

If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction, please visit this Department of Health and Social Services resource page for NWT residents.

Series sponsored by GNWT HSS

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