Women in Recovery

Health, Wellness & Recreation

Women wait an average of four months for addictions treatment in Manitoba

The first time Mandipa Sy had a drink, she knew it was her favourite thing in the world. Just months shy of her eighteenth birthday, alcohol erased pervasive feelings of anxiety and depression, bolstered her confidence, and helped her fit in with peers.

Growing up as a Black Muslim girl in Winnipeg in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sy experienced bullying and racism throughout her teenage years: “Because of who I am and the life I’ve had, I always felt like I couldn’t connect or relate to other people. I’ve always felt like an outsider.”

When Sy left an abusive relationship in her early twenties, her drinking became more serious. She appeared functional, holding a nine to five job while helping her parents around the house, but was hiding her addiction, drinking alone in her bedroom at the end of each night. In February 2020, she attempted to end her life.

Mandipa Sy stands outside near a bike path on a sunny day wearing a green jacket.
Mandipa Sy

While she was hospitalized, Sy says “my mother cleaned out my bedroom and found all my bottles that had accumulated… she saw the truth for real.” Sy is grateful when recalling how her mother reached
out for advice and treatment options to a family friend who had who had gone through treatment a few years prior. Sy was accepted into a 28-day treatment program in March 2020, one week before the first
COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. After completing this initial period in treatment, she followed in the footsteps of her family friend, moving into Esther House to live alongside four other women in recovery.

Resources and support for women continuing their recovery are essential to creating a stable, healthy life filled with purpose. Due to a shortage of treatment spaces, women wait about 119 days for treatment, compared to a 44-day wait time for men. Women typically receive less support from their family or spouse than their male counterparts when it comes to entering treatment and continuing recovery.

Esther House provides a solid structure for women in recovery, explains Brenda Evans, a longtime board member. The house has two staff, one full-time position, and a part-time position supported through an Adapt Grant from The Winnipeg Foundation. Staff meet with residents daily to check in, provide guidance and feedback, and help residents develop skills that benefit their recovery.

Women staying at the house are bound to house rules, must not use drugs or alcohol, and must actively take part in an addiction recovery program. The house offers several benefits to women who choose to stay there, one of which is the community they build.

Mandipa Sy sits on a green couch working on a colourful jigsaw puzzle.

Because Sy began her stay at Esther House during the pandemic, she was part of the longest continuous cohort in Esther House history. Sy explains that her cohort was “really connected. Some of us formed friendships, others not friendship necessarily, but an almost familial bond.” During her time at Esther House, Sy focused on sobriety, rebuilding her life, and forming relationships, and began volunteering and attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings twice a day.

In addition to meetings, there are several other programs in Winnipeg that help women maintain their sobriety and stay connected to a recovery community. Vanessa Mernett is a rehabilitation counsellor in the Women’s Continuing Recovery Program at St. Raphael Wellness Centre (SRWC). The program, supported through Adapt and Community Building Grants from The Winnipeg Foundation, empowers women who have completed a 28-day treatment program to reconnect with life, remain sober, and achieve their goals.

A lot of what we talk about is boundaries – being assertive as women, learning how to be empowered. If you don’t feel like you deserve sobriety or feel like you’re worth it, you’re probably not going to stay sober.

Vanessa Mernett, Rehabilitation Counsellor, St. Raphael Wellness Centre

Women in the program participate in discussions about triggers, cravings, relapse prevention, and self-care. The program also offers women the opportunity to try new activities, celebrate their successes, and be part of a community. Mernett says, “We know that women need connection in terms of recovery, and a lot of them don’t have that from their families, a lot of their friends are no longer in the picture because they’re not using anymore. To be able to be part of this program that facilitates growth and support is incredible.”

Success in the program beyond continued recovery looks different for each woman, and experiences include developing friendships, being granted parole, and having their CFS files closed after being reunited with their children.

Colleen Allen, Executive Director of SRWC, explains “One of the problems [that comes with addiction] is you have short-term memory issues. Participants may have tried to go back to school but haven’t been able to concentrate. Now, further into their recovery, they’re thinking about going back to school, getting a job… having the confidence to say, ‘I can do this.’” Allen emphasizes that for participants to
be successful in recovery, there must be joy.

Sy says her recovery has been the most joyful time in her life. She now works as a crisis and addictions counsellor, lives in her own apartment, and is studying sociology with a minor in psychology at the University of Manitoba.

“I work in mental health now, and that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I had to get sober for it to finally happen for me,” says Sy. “For the first time, I’m succeeding, attending classes – it’s amazing. I just finished my first year of university.”

Learn more about Esther House at estherhousewinnipeg.ca, and St. Raphael Wellness Centre at srwc-mb.ca.

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