Profiles in Recovery

Jeff Wilbee

Wilbee was a patient in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital when doctors gave him the news: he did not have much longer to live if he continued drinking and abusing drugs. Wilbee’s first reaction was denial – and then, he thought he’d just go out with a bang and drink himself to death.

That was 42 years ago. Wilbee was released from the psychiatric facility and had a rebirth during a seven-month stay at a recovery home. He’s been committed to sobriety ever since.

Today, Wilbee is recently retired from a distinguished career of lifesaving work. He led several prominent recovery organizations, serving as director of a Canadian agency that helps prison inmates overcome addiction, and as Executive Director of Addictions Ontario and Executive Director of the Canadian Addictions Counsellors Certification Federation. He also led the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC), a respected standards and credentialing organization that represents 40,000 addiction recovery professionals worldwide.

Day Job:
Retired Executive Director of the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation (30+ years). Former volunteer President of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium. National consultant with The Wilbee Group, with particular interest in substance abuse in the workplace.

What I lost to addiction:
I lost everything . . . family and friends wanted nothing to do with me. They were waiting for the knock on the door with a police officer telling them I was gone. Frankly, the first emotion they would have felt would have been relief. I do not blame them, given the trouble that was caused to them. All material possessions were gone. I was unemployed and unemployable. However, the greatest loss was the loss of my self-esteem. I could not stand myself.

My rock bottom moment:
Suicide was constantly on my mind – with a few feeble attempts. After I was told I did not have much time, I could not stand the thought that my three boys would have to live their lives knowing their father had died a drunk.

What worked for me:
First, learning to become a little humble and listen to those who had gained recovery. I slowly started to believe that I too could recover. I surrounded myself with recovering people, took a deep personal inventory of my attitudes and behaviors and became open to growing along spiritual lines.

What I learned about myself:
While I was out there using I was full of anxiety, suffered from low self-esteem, emotional immaturity and was narcissistic. On the other hand, underneath all that was a decent, compassionate man. The more I reflected on my life and attitudes and was willing to change, that man came forward.

Thoughts on reducing stigma:
Get involved with the Recovery Awareness Month, September, through Faces and Voices of Recovery and the Silver Ribbon campaign. Inform leaders in your community of this profile site and that recovery is indeed a reality and that those in recovery can become very productive members of society.

Be prepared to stand up and be counted by letting people know you are in recovery. Encourage people you know to also identify. If you are concerned about anonymity, you do not need to say how you reached sobriety –just that you have. The point is, the more people who are aware of those of us in recovery, the less stigma there will be.

When cravings come:
Be prepared knowing that cravings can and do occur. Make sure you have telephone numbers of others in recovery. Call them for support, whenever you have cravings or any emotional upset. Above all, be honest with yourself and them. This can be life and death stuff.

What I value most in recovery:
I value being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. One of the basic messages my mentors gave to me was Jeff, “you have to give it away to keep it’. I have attempted to do so. I will be eternally grateful that relationships have been healed, material possessions have been abundant and that I have contributed to society. Most importantly, I have regained my self-respect and the respect of others.

Proudest moment:
When having a man-to-man talk with my grandson, he informed me that his teacher asked him to write an essay on his hero. He said, “I wrote about you, you are my hero”. That is recovery!

If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your
insights, please contact us at [email protected].