Squamish centre treats addiction, depression with Dr. Deepak Chopra’s unique approach

Addiction

Support worker Baljit Binning outside Chopra Addiction & Wellness Centre in Squamish, BC, March 12, 2014. Arlen Redekop / PNG staff photo

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

For nearly five years, Barbara — a mother and wife based in the Kootenays — “couldn’t see a way out” of her debilitating depression.

“I was just getting worse and worse,” Barbara, who asked not to use her last name, told Vancouver Desi. “My whole outlook on life was just black. I couldn’t see a way out.”

Fortunately, she heard about the Chopra Addiction & Wellness Center in Squamish — one of B.C.’s few residential treatment centres.

The Chopra Addiction & Wellness Center gives those suffering from addiction and/or underlying issues the opportunity to heal with a unique approach through its partnership with Dr. Deepak Chopra.

It employs the curriculum from his book, Freedom from Addiction, and combines both western and eastern philosophies, like Ayurveda, so the guests — who stay at the facility for up to six weeks — practise yoga and meditation every day, eat a vegetarian diet and don’t smoke or consume coffee or sugar.

While Barbara found the daily yoga and meditation “calming and centering,” her six-week stay in March 2011 was still difficult.

“There was nothing easy about it because what happens is you’re … digging into what’s causing you to be depressed,” she said. “(But) the support and the caring and the love that was there was amazing, and it helped me a lot to get through the hard things I had to dig up and face and get rid of.

“It’s made such a difference to my life.”

Barbara, now 65, is just one of several hundred people struggling with depression or addiction who has gone through the program.

“I believe that the people who come into the door really are struggling with their emotions,” said Nirmala Raniga, the centre’s founder and director. “If you can provide appropriate support with compassion, those people can change.”

addiction

Nirmala Raniga at Chopra Addiction & Wellness Centre in Squamish, BC, March 12, 2014. Arlen Redekop / PNG

Raniga opened the centre in 2010 because she believed B.C. needed “some resources and places to send people” struggling with addiction.

While traditional treatment centres exist, Raniga’s ayurvedic approach offers something different as it focuses on “healing the body — not just stopping use.”

“That’s what was missing (in B.C.),” she said.

While addicts may quit their addiction, they often replace it with more coffee, sugar or cigarettes — so the centre cuts those things out altogether. It also has an after-care program that connects clients with a therapist following their stay.

Raniga’s been working in addictions for more than 25 years — before she opened the centre in Squamish she was running five outpatient clinics across the Lower Mainland, which serve more than 2,000 B.C. patients.

“(It was) very, very tough to get rolling,” Raniga said of when she first started operating outpatient clinics in the late 1980s.

Most clinics and centres she opened ran into issues with the community. According to Raniga, her clinic in Chilliwack was threatened with eviction because neighbours believed she was “causing grief,” and even The Chopra Addiction & Wellness Center took years to establish.

“I was at the mercy of the District of Squamish to give me a licence,” she said.

Once she finally purchased the property it took three years to rezone, which involved countless hearings and public processes.

“Most neighbourhoods don’t want a treatment facility because they think it’s going to bring criminals in,” she said.

But addiction isn’t understood by the general public, said Raniga.

“The average person who suffers … is your average person who has a house, who has a job, who has a family — and their addiction, it’s easier to hide because they’re not living on the street,” she said. “If you have a house, you have a job and your addiction goes out of control, you’ll lose everything.”

Once Raniga organized an open house with the Squamish community — which more than 60 people attended — her centre was finally accepted. Raniga assured the community the centre wouldn’t accept any court-mandated clients, and also committed a no-charge service for those along the Sea-to-Sky, meaning she always has one free bed — valued at $18,000 for a full six-week stay — available for a community member.

“I don’t give up,” Raniga said matter-of-factly about her commitment to her work. “If you take away the addiction, what is the person holding on to? Ninety-nine per cent is just pain.

“We want to be able to empower them to make healthy choices, to be conscious of the choices they’re making.”

You can follow Raniga’s Chopra Addiction and Wellness Blog on vancouverdesi.com.

lcahute@vancouverdesi.com

twitter.com/larissacahute

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