Embracing a new life in sobriety

François Lemieux
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Ten teenagers from Portage drugs rehabilitation centre obtain high school diploma

Sixteen-year-old Michelle Rucci and 17-year-old Matthew Pascarella have both completed the drug rehabilitation program at the Portage Academy in Beaconsfield and are now looking forward to the future. Photo by Rob Amyot.

”Everything starts with a dream, a particle of our imagination that teases about what the future could be like as long as we fight for it” goes the saying by renowned American  businessman Gurbaksh Chahal who turned millionaire at 17 years of age.

Although the circumstances are different, the quote can easily be related to what the 10 teenagers from the Portage Beaconsfield drug rehabilitation centre for adolescents have accomplished this year. They celebrated their high school graduation last Tuesday night at the Portage Academy in Beaconsfield.

All crippled with drug or alcohol addiction, these kids who come from all over the Montreal region have made the voluntary decision to leave behind bad habits behind to come to Portage. They stayed the course and finished their high school education at the academy.

Issues with self-esteem, peer pressure and the availability of drugs and alcohol tend to be the main reason which leads kids who come at the Portage into falling into the trap of drug usage. The Portage Academy welcomes 32 students every year who spend the week at the facility while spending the weekend at their parents’ home. The program includes full academic takeover by the three teachers of the institution as well as a drug addiction therapy conducted by the program manager, the facility director and eight case workers.

“The kids that come into the Portage program tend to be smart for their own good. They find themselves bored in regular school. They don’t fit in the box in the regular school programs so they find other means of entertainment and their other means of entertainment have got them in a very deep hole,” said head teacher of Portage Academy Dave Walker.

The graduation ceremony was marked by a heart-warming speech by the valedictorian student of the 2012 graduating class, Luna del Buey from Kirkland. Emotion was in the air as parents, teachers and fellow students listened to del Buey speak of the difficult path to sobriety after four difficult years of drug usage that included acid, marijuana, crack, black tar heroin and various kinds of pills consumption.

“We’ve all suffered in our past, we were lost and had the slightest clue how to even be happy. It’s as though the events in our lives, were given to us as puzzle pieces to reach our goals. But none of the pieces ever fit together no matter how hard we tried. Our puzzle pieces may not have fit before but being here we have found that every one of us has a piece of that puzzle in him. And we’ve completed the first step to reaching our happiness,” said the 17-year-old will now be moving on to Cégep and university in the hopes of becoming an English teacher.

Matthew Pascarella from Anjou started using drugs when he was only 10 years old. Out of peer pressure, he developed a crack-cocaine addiction that led him to fail at school as he was constantly getting high during class hours.

“One day, I wasn’t able to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself I was a good person so I decided to come here. For the first couple of months it was very hard. Eventually, I became used to it, it became a new lifestyle and it made me be happy to remain sober. I’m almost five months sober now,” he said.

As for 16-year-old Michelle Rucci, she got into the Portage for an alcohol abuse problem although she touched on marijuana and crack. Her situation got really problematic at 15 years old.

“I didn’t even go to school at that point, I was very lazy. I would be escorted to hospital on stretchers and I would fall on sidewalks and just sit there because I was too high,” she said.

Thanks to the Portage, she has been sober for eight months and now makes plans to go to Cégep and open up her own day care one day. She feels confident, as all Portage graduates, that she will be able to remain sober in the future.

“I learned so much about myself that I don’t see the point in it anymore. I love myself and I respect myself enough now to not even want that anymore. I don’t need drinks anymore. I’ve drank enough in my lifetime,” she said.

Organizations: Portage Academy

Geographic location: Portage, Beaconsfield, Montreal Kirkland

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