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LETTER: Program in Orillia plants seed for addiction recovery

CrossFit Orillia owner shares story of man's recovery journey, which includes taking part in gym's addiction recovery program
When COVID hit, Spencer quickly found an innovative way to support and build the business by embracing digital solutions, growin
Matt Spencer is the owner of CrossFit Orillia.

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And with a thumbs-up and a genuine smile, Steve turned around and headed into the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) detox facility.

I had asked him to confirm he was able to get in before I drove off.

I don’t know if relief was the right emotion I was feeling. Upon reflection, I still don’t think that was it. It almost was a sense of surrealism to think we got to this point, from where he started in his journey with us through our addiction recovery program at CrossFit Orillia.

To better explain, I’ll backtrack to the beginning.

When I saw Steve sitting on the bench waiting for me by our front door, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He initially reached out to me by email, so I couldn’t have guessed his age, having not heard his voice. He had a backpack with him, so I knew he walked to our meeting that day. I greeted him with a smile, extended my hand and he reciprocated. We shook hands and I guided him over to a spot in the back of the facility where we could chat.

It was there he shared his struggles with alcohol, and how he wanted to beat them. This time for good.

The smell of stale booze coming from him only confirmed his statement. But most importantly, he said he needed some help.

I said, “You’re in the right place,” and we got to chatting more.

He shared he was a well-educated man, well travelled across our country, and that he’s held jobs before of different work, but more importantly, he has a passion for writing. “I want to write a memoir,” he said as he opened up more.

“Very cool,” I responded. “Your sobriety isn’t the goal, then; your memoir is. We just have to figure out the ending.” He smiled and agreed — and I believe he felt heard.

After explaining to him what our program is about, he said it sounded good, and that he would be in on Monday. (This was a Wednesday).

As we walked to the door, he asked, “How’s Stacey doing? It was her letter that motivated me to reach out to you.”

He was referring to the previous letter I wrote to OrilliaMatters sharing that Stacey had read the story Tyler Evans wrote about our program, and it hit her at the right time, and she said now is the time for her to try something new.

“She’s going great. She’ll be in tomorrow,” I replied.

It was true. She was in the following day, and as you’re reading this, she’s still doing amazing on her journey of active recovery.

“I’m no longer an addict; I’m a CrossFitter,” she shared with me a few weeks back.

That power of connection is what makes Orillia unique. For someone to feel connected to another through this website is truly remarkable. Many people who aren’t connected personally feel a connection in this town. When you’re in Orillia, you’re a part of Orillia. But you also know Orillia has its struggles.

I’ve learned there are many many people struggling with addiction of some sort in Orillia, but also they’ve lost that connection.

As Steve left that day, we connected.

Monday rolled around. He didn’t show.

I didn’t pass judgment, however. I’ve learned quickly since launching this program back in September of 2023 that people will come when they’re ready.

We deal with change every day at CrossFit Orillia and one thing is for certain — you have to meet people where they’re at. You can’t push them. And I knew when Steve was ready, he’d show.

It was only a week later, but Steve did show. I knew that day when he was waiting for the session to begin that he didn’t know what to expect. He got introduced to the others in the program and they were happy having met him. He worked his butt off that day (literally, we did squats and he said his butt was sore for a week), but something special happened.

He didn’t know when he was supposed to stop — so he didn’t. He kept going. He pushed himself well past the moment he wanted to quit. The seed had been planted.

On the drive to Barrie to drop him off, I wanted to know, maybe selfishly, had our program helped inspire him to make this big step?

“Yes, absolutely,” he continued. “I’m a self-defeatist. I never see things through. Sobriety is one of them. But the program taught me to see things through to the end, and the power of pushing past the moment when I want to give up.”

My hypothesis is that empowerment precedes hope. Steve didn’t have hope yet, but he felt empowered again.

He could have given up many times. From the time we met to our drive to Barrie, there had been many bumps in the road for him. There were highs and lows — some days his motivation was high; other times he wouldn’t show for weeks — but that seed was still in the ground, waiting to bloom.

His struggle with addiction could be considered a war — a series of strifes he had with his desire to shake it and his years of habitual behaviour. Some battles he won; some he lost. But he always was ready to fight again.

“Hey Matt, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he’d send.

Some days he’d show; others he wouldn’t.

Sometimes he’d show, but he physically knew he wasn’t up for the task.

But he was always welcomed, always invited to participate.

Because of his continued struggles with alcohol, I don’t ever think he felt comfortable in the group — but I knew he wanted to be in it.

He saw the power of inspiration his peers provided for him. While many of the folks were further along in their journey, I knew he identified them as peers. And he could see himself in their spot one day. That’s the power of groups — being able to see our future through others.

This was true one particular day when one of the participants shared they spent a week at the RVH detox facility. This was the water that Steve’s seed needed.

Then, one day, that seed blossomed.

“Matt, can you drive me to detox? They have a bed for me. Then they’re going to help me get into treatment.”

“Giddy up,” I responded.

So, when he gave the thumbs-up and turned into the facility, I knew this wasn’t the end of his memoir that he was about to write. It was a new chapter. One of many more to come. Because we all have the power to write our own stories, and Steve’s is still in progress.

Maybe you know someone whose story is similar.

Know that there’s still more to be written. And if they need some help, there is some available. Just get them to email me [email protected] and we’ll see what we can do.

Matt Spencer
Owner, CrossFit Orillia