Over the past few years, I’ve utilized numerous services to help me stay alive. My addiction to alcohol took me to dark places—devoured me, haunted me, stalked me—to a point where I no longer recognized myself. Stumbling through Parkdale trying to survive on a few dollars, I discovered just how vast the network of support is when you need it most. 

I became familiar with the Crisis + Trauma Unit (a division of the Toronto Police, who took me to the ER and also followed up with me and made an in-person visit to my sister who had called 911). I checked into St. Joe’s Hospital ER multiple times, and stayed overnight at both the St. Joe’s Psych Ward and St. Joe’s mental health ward. I spend a lot of time at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), where I have had an addictions specialist doctor for 5 years, a dentist, and a brilliant spiritual adviser. On three occasions, I’ve been an inpatient at CAMH at CAITS (Concurrent Addiction Inpatient Treatment Service), which provides medically managed, intensive treatment to inpatients needing stabilization of addiction and concurrent mental health disorders.I was impressed by the programming schedule (daily walks, swimming, therapy dogs, badminton, yoga, etc., as well as the professionals who were on hand daily, including a personalized nurse, psychiatrist, social worker, doctor, and pharmacist. CAMH additionally has a self-referral ER (250 College Street)  and I also discovered the Gerstein Crisis Centre. As far as day-to-day recovery support, I use AA (including Agnostic/Atheist meetings held at OISE), Smart Recovery and CBT programs offered at CAMH. 

As this time of year is particularly hard for many, I wanted to share a bit about how these various services operate, and how you can connect to them, when in crisis.

The Crisis + Trauma Unit is a division of the Toronto Police Services and is a tag-team of a police officer and a nurse. They will come to your house in moments of despair and either take you to the nearest ER or talk you down. Mine always brought me coffee 🙂 They are reached via 911. Ask to be transferred.

Gerstein Crisis Centre (http://gersteincentre.org/) is a 24-hour community-based mental health crisis service. They do over the phone counseling and in-person home visits. This is offered by their mobile crisis team. Call 416-929-5200.  

The Central Bed Registry offers short-term crisis beds and can be reached at 416-248-4174. These are allocated for women who are experiencing homelessness and are in dire mental health.

Meal programs throughout the city. I eat two meals a day at PARC (Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre, which also offers writing classes, jam sessions, art workshops, a lawyer, a nurse, a social worker, and a very generous food bank (got my first frozen turkey today! plus a lot of organic produce) which runs Wed – Saturday. They are located at 1499 Queen St W, and can be reached at 416-537-2262 or online at http://parc.on.ca/.

The central CAMH services (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) are located at Queen and Ossington at 101 Stokes Way. The newly renovated buildings are warm, bright, and welcoming. It can be a circuitous process getting in to be a patient, but once you have a doctor (I’ve see mine weekly for 5+ years), you are exposed to all sorts of supportive programming including CPT group therapy, spiritual advisory, an olympic-sized swimming pool, an in-house pharmacy and lab, and a full-function reduced-cost dental clinic. They offer both inpatient and medical withdrawal services in addition to day detox. Highly recommended via personal experience. https://www.camh.ca/en/your-care/programs-and-services/compass

CAMH ER at Spadina and College is for severe emergencies related to mental health and substance abuse. It’s not lollipops and rainbows – you are in lockdown until discharged by a doctor, and this can take 24 hours – but they will support you, provide you with medications if necessary, and discuss alternative options for when you leave. You can simply show up 24/7 365 days a year and self refer. https://www.camh.ca/en/your-care/programs-and-services/emergency-department

RAAM clinics. These are barrier-free Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine offered on a walk-in basis at several participating hospitals throughout the city of Toronto. You can find a list here: http://www.wrha.mb.ca/prog/mentalhealth/raam.php

Out of the Cold Shelters. Nobody wants to spend a night in a sleeping bag under a bridge in -30 degree temps. But shelters can be scary places too. The Out of the Cold Shelters are different in that they offer temporary housing in a place of worship. They provide food and clothing, and are considered much safer than the large city-run shelters throughout the GTA. https://outofthecold.org/

And lastly, nobody wants to go hungry while battling frigid temperatures. Community, a hot bowl of soup, a hot meal, goes along way. Here are just a few places that offer meals (in addition to PARC mentioned above): https://www.streethealth.ca/street-resources/meal-programs#.Xf6EqWdYaUl. Several local churches offer community meals on a weekly basis as well. (I ate at the United Church on Roncesvalles Sunday night and in addition to a raucous, hip-slapping swing band on stage there were 200 happy-go-lucky people eating a delicious hot meal.) 

These are local public health services available, but if possible also fill your nest with the kindness of strangers, family, and friends. Reach out to your local community. You are definitely not alone in feeling anxious, regretful, and lonely during the holidays. 

The season is not always joyous, but it can be memorable and sparked by moments of beauty: the crunch of the snow in the woods, the new moon approaching, the twinkling of lights, the smell of pine and cedar, hot cocoa and marshmallows…this is my focus over the next week. Simplicity. Self care. Connection. 

Stay safe, friends. Lend a hand when you can. And may the blessings of the holiday season provide you with both compassion and an inner fire.

Daphne is a local writer who is in early recovery for alcohol addiction. She’s sharing her struggles and successes in a six-part series. Part 1: Out Of The Ashes was published last week