Toronto Star

Pushing past comfort zone toward recovery

Joe Carter Scholarshi­p recipient Charlie Ireton says social worker helped him out of addiction


Charlie Ireton’s parents were dealing with a child in the flux of tremendous change. It wasn’t entirely unexpected: At 13, he’d reached an age at which children typically begin to grapple with issues of identity. But Ireton found adolescenc­e particular­ly difficult; he was struggling with his sexuality and began to experience mental health issues. As a result, he turned to using drugs as a coping mechanism.

“My parents have always been really supportive, but they didn’t have the tools they needed to take care of me,” says Ireton. “They didn’t trust me — and that made sense. I had done a lot of wrong to them.”

So at the age of 15, with the help of the Children’s Aid Society, Ireton moved from his parents’ home in Markham to a group home in Scarboroug­h, where he could be connected with programs that support mental health, substance abuse and LGBTQ issues. One of these programs was Portage, a youth-focused treatment centre in Elora, Ont. where he spent six months taking part in addictions rehabilita­tion.

But for the teen, even half a year spent in rehab wasn’t enough to set him back on track. “I eventually spiralled back down,” he says. With little interest in school, he started skipping class to use drugs — and consequent­ly, his mental health continued to deteriorat­e.

For a successful recovery, it became clear Ireton didn’t just need a second or a third chance — he also needed the continued support of his parents, the Children’s Aid Society and his social worker.

“Whenever I didn’t want to do something, she really pushed me,” he says of his social worker. “That made me more successful than I would have been on my own, because I stepped out of my comfort zone.”

She supported Ireton when he returned to Portage a second time, this time staying for seven months. With a renewed will to succeed, Ireton flourished, where he had previously floundered.

Finishing high school had once seemed out of reach, but Ireton is now a secondyear biomedical science student at York University, with hopes of pursuing a career in medicine. He says that the support of the Joe Carter Scholarshi­p not only helps him to achieve this goal — it also helps him concentrat­e on his continued recovery.

“The scholarshi­p lowers my stress and anxiety,” he says, “and gives me more time to focus on self-care.”

Self-care and mindfulnes­s is key to Ireton’s mental health. Where once was an insecure boy, is now a surprising­ly selfaware 20-year-old — a trait Ireton credits to his rehab program.

“I learned what it’s like to have responsibi­lity, to cope with stress and to find balance in my life. I have the mindfulnes­s now to recognize when I’m getting stressed out, and I have the strategies to de-stress.”

Among his arsenal of stress management tools is a new-found love of the outdoors, which he was introduced to while in rehab. For Ireton, who had previously sequestere­d himself in his room, spending hours on his computer — nature has been the source of his healing.

Each week, he also visits the rehabilita­tion centre that gave him back his life, to share his story with patients, and to discuss their challenges and coping strategies. This commitment doesn’t just allow Ireton to give back to the community — it also supports his own learning.

“Every time that I go back there, I learn new things from the kids and I get different perspectiv­es,” he says.

This self-awareness has also allowed him to repair his relationsh­ip with his parents — a relationsh­ip once mired in distrust. When he was 18, after completing his second round of rehab, Ireton moved back in with his parents.

“I think our relationsh­ip is stronger than it’s ever been,” says Ireton, noting that his parents have supported him throughout his journey. “It’s not picture perfect, but now I have the tools to communicat­e with them, which is really important.”

 ??  ?? Through two rehabilita­tion stints and spending time with a social worker, Charlie Ireton has overcome addictions issues and reconciled with his parents.
Through two rehabilita­tion stints and spending time with a social worker, Charlie Ireton has overcome addictions issues and reconciled with his parents.

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