This article is free to read, thanks to support from the GNWT’s Department of Health and Social Services:
“Keep moving forward. If you stop, you’re going to run for the hills.”
Devin Hinchey, 19 years old, walked through the doors of Nanaimo’s Edgewood rehab centre with his hands in the air. Surrender.
A day earlier, his life of theft, lies and addiction had unravelled in front of his parents at the family’s Yellowknife home.
Now, a week before Christmas in 2014, he was preparing for an indefinite stay at Edgewood.
“I give up,” he thought to himself. “I want to do whatever I can to fix this.”
Devin’s mother, Kelli Hinchey, had seen everything. She just hadn’t known what she was seeing at the time.
“I saw my mom cry like I have never seen anyone cry before.”
Kelli had seen Devin appear increasingly emaciated on a squash court — the sport he grew up playing, reaching the Canadian national senior final. She had become suspicious at the rate he was spending money, despite his many excuses.
She had, eventually, stumbled across his theft of $3,000 from an ATM at Yellowknife’s Racquet Club. Only then had the full scale of Devin’s crisis started to become apparent, and that had been just 24 hours ago.
When she flew to BC with her son and brought him in to Edgewood, Kelli was nowhere close to fully processing what was happening. And then she was told to take five minutes to say goodbye. Then she would have to leave.
“I saw my mom cry like I have never seen anyone cry before,” remembers Devin, who by this point had been sober for a day — for the first time in months, if not years.
Devin had spent most of the past day crying too, but on walking through Edgewood’s doors his outlook had changed. He was ready to get started.
Back in the depths of his addiction, he had made a promise to himself which turned out to be the only promise he kept: when someone caught him stealing from the Racquet Club’s ATM, he would get help.
He had been caught, and here he was getting help.
It was a good feeling, and there had not been many of those for a long time. It’s horrible, the knowledge that you’re lying and stealing to get drugs. It’s so horrible that taking drugs can be the only thing to make that sensation go away. Getting out of that circle feels close to impossible when you’re in it. Edgewood presented a chance to escape.
Devin arrived at Edgewood on Thursday night, which is charades night. The residents being treated gather together: it’s probably the perfect night to arrive, because it’s designed to break down barriers between people in various stages of mental trauma. The senior peers — people who have spent more than a month in residence — take the lead.
While Kelli started back home to Yellowknife in all kinds of distress, Devin — who had thought of little else except cocaine for months — was now engrossed in the game, trying to mime the TV show CSI: Miami for an enthusiastic crowd.
Edgewood has been open since 1994, specializing in this kind of inpatient treatment: admitting recovering addicts for a stay of around two months on average. The program could be described as regimental. Devin remembers 12 hours of activities each day, with two short breaks for walks.
There are no comparable facilities anywhere in the Northwest Territories. Current territorial policy is to refer patients south for this kind of treatment. According to the Department of Health and Social Services, four southern centres have been approved to date: three are in Alberta and Edgewood is the fourth.
There is a significant up-front cost if you want to refer a family member immediately: Edgewood wants a $15,000 deposit on admission, with treatment costing $425 per day. However, those costs are covered by the Department of Health and Social Services because Edgewood is one of the approved facilities the Department uses.
Once inside Edgewood, treatment follows a 12-step recovery plan originally popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous. There is daily group therapy. Visiting hours are on Sundays only and, when you are first admitted, your family is asked not to contact you for a week.
His fellow residents included a Stanley Cup-winning hockey player, at least one billionaire, police officers, soldiers and a good number of oilsands workers.
Since Devin was admitted on December 18, 2014, his first chance to speak to his parents was a five-minute phone call on Christmas Day.
By the end of the following week, the perpetual tiredness that had been hounding Devin for the year was wearing off. He had entered Edgewood weighing 195 pounds; when he left, he would weigh 245 pounds. His physical recovery, he says, progressed far faster than that of some fellow residents around him. “I had friends in there withdrawing off heroin and oxycontin, and they looked like they were dying.”
Those friends spanned just about every social bracket imaginable, according to Devin. For obvious reasons, names are not shared. However, his fellow residents included a Stanley Cup-winning hockey player, at least one billionaire, police officers, soldiers and a good number of oilsands workers. (His father, Brent, characterized the prevalence of oilsands workers in the facility as amounting to a “standing contract” between Alberta’s oil companies and the clinic.)
“I met 60-year-olds who came off the street, as well as people off the street who were 19,” says Devin. “Billionaires who had a very good family with a huge home and a good life. People without that money, still living at home. Grandparents.
“That was the biggest thing that I learned: addiction doesn’t discriminate.”
Meanwhile, back at home, Devin’s departure did not mean all of his drug-related problems had vanished. His parents learned that there were debts to be settled.
“We had to pay some people,” says Brent. “He told us he owed some money. Some were friends but there were a couple of debts from drug dealers that, you know, you pay them or… I don’t know what the consequences are, exactly.”
To give you an idea of the sums involved, one might be $400. Another might be $600. Brent gave Devin’s two brothers, Chad and Garrett, the money they needed to clear those debts and let them handle making the payments.
“I don’t know what else you’d do at that point. I don’t know what we would have done if it was thousands,” Brent admits.
“Are they going to come to the house?” Kelli worried. “Are they going to come to my business? Are they going to hurt Garrett or Chad?”
Kelli had not waited to return to work as owner of the Racquet Club. One day after saying goodbye to Devin, she taught a class of 30 people. Asked to describe how that felt, she says: “My heart was ripped out.”
Some rehab patients will die.
According to Devin’s father, at least nine of the residents Devin met at Edgewood have passed away in the year since Devin left the facility.
“I stay in touch with the people I met,” says Devin, “but a lot of them have relapsed. A lot of them have died — from overdoses or from suicide. Few of them are still sober.”
Finding your way into rehab can be a long, terrifying and lonely path, but heading back out again presents equally tough challenges. Not the least of them is choosing when to leave.
Initially, Devin had wanted to leave as soon as his two-month residency expired. But Edgewood’s counsellors told his parents that they recommended an extended stay: Devin was not ready to go.
Listening to that advice in Yellowknife, Brent and Kelli wondered if it was essentially a money-grab — a chance to keep Devin in treatment and keep payments flowing. But family friends pointed out that, with the volume of patients that facilities like Edgewood receive, there is little shortage of income.
On a phone call with Devin, joined by his counsellors and friends at the facility, they faced one of the hardest tasks a parent can face: telling their son there would be no support, no money, and no plane ticket home to the NWT if he chose to leave Edgewood.
“The week I left, I got a phone call about the first guy I was close to, He went home and he overdosed.”
“You’re on your own,” they told him. “You have to stay.”
An hour later, Devin signed on to stay. This meant moving into what is called extended care, a kind of transition between rehab and the outside world that gradually reintroduces residents into the community.
A week after that, he told his parents: “Thank God you made me do that. I don’t know that I would have made it.”
Two months later, everyone agreed that Devin had made enough progress to leave. That would mean spending some time in Nanaimo but also coming back to Yellowknife — first in 10-day “test runs” and later for longer periods.
“The week I left, I got a phone call about the first guy I was close to,” Devin recalls. “He went home and he overdosed.”
That worry played on the minds of his parents when Devin returned. When he drove, he drove past all the places that reminded him just how easily you could find drugs in Yellowknife. Many of the people in his old social circle were still there.
Now, in 2016, Brent says: “I don’t worry that he’s falling back in.” He quickly adds: “You worry a little. But I don’t worry much.
“I don’t worry what he’s doing when he goes out at night any more. I did for several months.”
Devin needed to make sure he maintained the motivation to stay clean. That was one reason he decided to start talking about his life in Yellowknife’s schools. Students at two Yellowknife high schools and in Ndilo have heard him talk.
“The more I own it by speaking about it, the easier it is to move forward,” he says.
“I need to fully embrace it. Doing stuff like that helps me, it’s a good driving factor for me to stay sober and clean. If I’m not, then I can’t help anyone.”
“I can tell them: ‘I was sitting where you guys are sitting. I wrote exams in this gym. And I had to go to rehab two years after I left this high school.’”
Talking is one thing, but are the kids listening? Devin thinks so: they’re more familiar with the subject matter than you might expect — and it helps that he’s local.
“People come up to talk about it but it bores the living shit out of them,” he says. “It’s some guy who grew up in Alberta or Ontario, then went up to Yellowknife to say ‘these are the facts and stats.’
“With me, I can tell them: ‘I was sitting where you guys are sitting. I wrote exams in this gym. And I had to go to rehab two years after I left this high school.’
“Their eyes light up like a deer in the headlights. They shuffle around because they’re uncomfortable, and if they’re uncomfortable then they’re hearing the message. I thought I was invincible and I almost died multiple times. I’ve been their age. You are not invincible. If you think you’re struggling tell anyone: a friend, a parent, a teacher, a counsellor. Here’s my email, tell me.
“To see them soak the message up and ask me elaborate questions proves that they’re listening, they’re thinking about what I’m saying or relating to it somehow. If I can help one kid I’m even, that was my mindset. Any kid after that, and I’m ahead.”
Devin’s father says his son has come out of addiction an adult, in a way unthinkable 18 months ago. Devin is planning to become a social worker, completing four years of study in Nanaimo before helping people who find themselves in the situation he was in. As he talks about that, Brent marvels at the “depth of conversation you can have now, the insights he has, the things he has seen and done.”
Devin marvels at the same thing.
“I’m able to sit here now, talk to you, pronounce all my words and not have to go to the bathroom every five minutes,” he says as we finish talking.
“And in the morning I’ll remember I had a really good conversation. Because I wasn’t blackout drunk.”
Read Part 1 of Player Down here. In part three, EDGE looks at the effect of Devin’s addiction on his parents.
If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction, please visit this Department of Health and Social Services resource page for NWT residents.