Liberia and Liberation
An Interview with Tong Liech – Support Worker, Fresh Start Recovery Centre
Scott Douglas Jacobsen *This interview has been edited.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: To begin, was there a family background with addiction or recovery?
Tong Liech: Yes, my father was a bit of a heavy drinker in my younger years, but not anymore.
Jacobsen: How was growing up in terms of observations of a culture of substance use, at least in this country?
Liech: I grew up in Liberia and I didn’t get into drugs or alcohol until I came to this country. It all started when I was in high school. I was trying to fit in with the new crowd. It started there. Then it grew into an addiction.
Jacobsen: Do you think that is a common story among those that end up using early on?
Liech: I think so. It plays a part because, for me, I really wanted to fit in, and the only way I could fit in was to start drinking and smoking weed, and cigarettes, just to fit in with the crowd.
Jacobsen: Having some time growing up in Liberia then Canada, do you note this as a consistent thing across cultures?
Liech: I was young in Liberia. So, I wasn’t paying attention really. I only know my father and uncle. They used to drink. I actually had my first taste of beer from my father. Substance misuse, I wasn’t really aware.
I would hear about people smoking opium, but I was a kid. Right? So, I wasn’t really registering. I wasn’t really focusing on what that was. There is a big difference there between Liberia and Canada. I moved to Canada when I was 15 turning 16. When I came here, that is when I started drinking. I started drinking and then drugs came later on. I started smoking marijuana when I was 17. Then in my early 20s, I got introduced to cocaine and the addiction sped up.
Jacobsen: When did you find Fresh Star Recovery Centre?
Liech: I found them in 2007. I was on the wait list for about a month or a month and a half. Before that, I had attended treatment twice. I relapsed from that program and need a long term treatment program which is where I found Fresh Start.
Jacobsen: What was the experience like for you going there? What were some key moments of realization and awakening for you?
Liech: First, most of the staff working there were in recovery. They understood the addiction first hand because they had all been there. That played a big part. They understood where I had been and what I was going through. That was a big part for me.
I mean, that was the main part. There were other parts like what they were teaching me in group and my daily routine. Things like attending AA and NA meetings a few times a week. It was helpful to me. The counsellors there are all good people.
Jacobsen: You are a support worker for them as well. What are some of the more moving experiences for you?
Liech: They staff really care about every resident. I have seen men come in and try their best to get sober but then they relapse, and they were brought back in – again and again. That’s one of the big things that I see there. These guys running the facility really care. They never give up on anyone.
If a man relapses, he’s still welcome back to treatment. No shame. No judgement. They still have faith and won’t give up on the guy. Other people would have given up on these guys. Fresh Start staff did not give up on them. They went out of their way to help the guys out with whatever they need. They have great love there. That’s what I see.
Jacobsen: For those that starting to sense for themselves that they have problems with substances, and that they likely need help, what would be your message to them? How can they get in contact with Fresh Start Recovery?
Liech: For anyone struggling with addiction and want to turn it around, they can call us at 403-387-6266. We are staffed 24/7 so we will always take your call. You can also find us online www.freshstartrecovery.ca as well as social media sites. Reach out…we are here to help. We can give you the information that you need to know to get started.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Tong.