Lisa Cowan

Health, Wellness & Recreation

Essay submitted by Lisa Cowan
Executive Director, Tamarack Recovery
At Tamarack, we have the privilege to go beyond simply trusting that our actions make a difference and instead get to witness day after day the impact our work has in the lives of clients, past and present.

These experiences illustrate so much more than a high completion statistic can; they shatter myths around addictions, change, and hope.

When Andy* came to treatment, Tamarack was his last hope. He had already been to four treatment centres in his short 25 years and had run the gamut of substance use from alcohol and marijuana to heroine and crystal meth. This impacted his mental health with frequent hospital admissions due to psychosis, and his wellbeing, as he lived on and off the streets.

Andy worked hard in our program and he stayed in close contact through our aftercare services. In 2018 Andy was accepted back into his chosen field of study to become a front-line worker. He is achieving high marks and is excited to be on the path to giving back to his community.

“Coming to Tamarack opened up a different world to me,” Andy says. “It was a healthy, safe environment where people were caring and supportive. I had not lived like that in a long time…they saved my life.”

Sam* was an active, outgoing young woman who loved playing sports and being outside. She started using alcohol and drugs in her teens to cope with the pain of childhood sexual abuse and was quickly swallowed up by drug culture. Her safety and mental health were compromised through her work in the sex trade.

When she came to Tamarack, she was pregnant and wanted to create a fresh start for herself and her baby. After treatment and maintaining her hard-won sobriety, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. She now works with women in recovery who are exiting the sex trade.

“Tamarack has not only given me the tools to go forward, they have also helped me love myself for the first time in my life,” Sam says.

These stories are not the exception. With the right support, all individuals have the capacity to create a meaningful life in recovery, free from addiction.

Work in the mental health and addictions sector can be overwhelming. There’s no shortage of people who need the help of agencies like Tamarack Recovery Centre and it can feel daunting when demand only seems to increase.

It brings to mind a story by Loren Eiseley about a person who spent their days picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. When asked by an observer why they did this, the starfish thrower replied that the rising sun and subsiding tide would kill the starfish if they weren’t thrown back. The observer responded that since there were miles of beach and countless starfish, the starfish thrower could not possibly make a difference. At this, the starfish thrower picked up yet another starfish, and tossed it into the ocean. As it met the water, the starfish thrower said to the observer, “It made a difference for that one.”

My deepest wish is for Andy and Sam’s stories of hope, recovery, and joy to become the expectation for the treatment and recovery process, rather than the exception. It is my hope these publicly acknowledged and celebrated stories will empower others to seek the help they need. And this ultimately inspires many others to support the philanthropic efforts taking place “in their backyard.” In this way, one day perhaps we can build a team of starfish throwers.

*names and identifying details have been changed to protect individuals’ confidentiality.


Lisa Cowan has served as Tamarack’s Executive Director since May 2010. She is an experienced clinical practitioner and organizational leader with strong communication and relationship building skills, and an ability to positively influence and inspire clients to achieve results. Experienced in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), group therapy, drama therapy and the provision of clinical and administrative supervision, Lisa has more than 15 years of clinical experience with PTSD, sexual abuse, addictions, anxiety, depression, grief, attachment issues and disordered eating treatment.

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