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Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness is Alive and Well, Even in Our Own Families.


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In five days, my brother Brett will be 50 years old.  It should be a huge party with love, laughter, family, and friends. But there will be no party.

I can still hear it ringing in my ears, “Your brother was a junkie who deserved to die.”

Anyone who loves or has lost someone addicted to drugs or alcohol has heard this very statement in some form or another. Many times. It can often be ignored. Tolerated. Accepted. Maybe someone hasn’t said it to you directly, in those exact words, but you hear them loud and clear. And so does our loved one.

I don’t typically react, it’s not my style; after all it is a waste of valuable energy for me to scream and challenge every person with whom I come into contact. I am confident not only in who I am and my belief that addiction and mental illness are diseases, but also in who my brother was.

Everyone can be pushed past their limits. To where they have had enough. They’re hurt. Frustrated. And they need to stand up for what they believe is right, when someone else can’t find the courage to have a voice of their own. Not because I’m fighting my brother’s battles; after all we are no longer two- and six-years-old playing in the neighborhood sand box. But rather because I have walked this painful road, witnessed the judgment and because of that I see the world in a more empathetic way.

I remember vividly my mother and I sitting for about an hour, waiting for my brother to be seen in emergency. His leg rattled with anxiety until he was taken into a private room. We explained to the nurse that Brett was severely intoxicated and needed help to safely withdraw off the alcohol, not that we needed to as his situation was very clear from his scruffy appearance and glassy eyes. And she began to take his vitals.

It wasn’t the nurse’s cold, disassociated approach while taking my brother’s blood pressure, pricking his arm with a needle, or asking him how much he had had to drink that made my blood boil. It was the fact that it was obvious she absolutely loathed him. For the first time ever, like a bolt of electricity running through my veins, I felt judgment—exactly what my brother must have felt. Pure unadulterated judgment. As she left the room, I scampered quickly behind her, catching up in front of the nurse’s station.

“Excuse me,” I said. She didn’t hear me so I repeated myself. She turned around to look at me.

“Hi. Listen, I don’t mean to be rude. I completely understand and appreciate how hard your job is and how many different things you must see. I even get that on some level maybe to you my brother isn’t sick in the same way as most of the people here, and that you believe this may be purely self-induced. What I need to remind you is that he is a human being.”

She didn’t blink.

I continued, “Now I don’t care what you did yesterday or how you are tomorrow. All I care about is that for right now, when you come into that room, you show a little compassion as that is a person in there. A person! That is someone’s brother, someone’s son. And despite what you very obviously perceive as completely disgusting, someone loves him. Do you think you can do that?”

I didn’t give her time to answer.

“’Cause if you can’t, then what I suggest is that for the next hour or so you FAKE IT!”

I walked away, so I didn’t have to look at her stony expression for another second. Before stepping through the door to sit quietly in the corner of my brother’s room, I caught my breath as I was so overwhelmingly pissed off.

I understand and appreciate how hard nurses work—after all, our mother is a nurse—and I can imagine that they see all sorts of things. But that’s their job, a job that they choose. To treat someone very obviously, whatever their circumstance, like they are below dirt, I cannot take. As I looked at my brother at his worst, just as I had done so many times before, all I thought was he is in there.

The doctor arrived a short time later. I knew the drill; it seemed like I had heard this a thousand times before. They couldn’t keep Brett overnight as all the beds were full, although I appreciate the doctor did give him a shot of Valium. At least I think it was Valium, which by then I knew belongs to the class of medications called benzodiazepines. It is used for the short-term relief of symptoms of mild to moderate anxiety and for alcohol withdrawal. Mom and I knew that at least it would help Brett get through the night and the suggestion the doctor offered was for us to head back to the detox center in the morning.

What most people don’t know is that people with severe addiction can actually die from the effects of withdrawal. Whether you want to challenge your mind with that truth or not, the choice debate doesn’t work here: they cannot just stop. My brother needed medical supervision and help as he came off the booze. Normally it would take four to six days in which he would be given things like Valium to ease his way through the excruciating pain and suffering of the withdrawal process. Alcohol is actually one of the most dangerous substances to come off. People addicted to alcohol can experience symptoms like nightmares, vomiting, diarrhea, shivering, sweating, racing heart, fever, shaking, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing.

That is if things go well.

If things go badly, our loved ones can have a stroke, a heart attack, or a grand mal seizure. During withdrawal, long-term alcohol users can suffer psychosis that manifests as hallucinations and delusions, which is why they need to be monitored by a health care professional. Delirium tremors (DT’s) can sometimes be associated with severe, uncontrollable tremors of the extremities and secondary symptoms such as anxietypanic attacks, and paranoia. All these realities. And yet we are once again being sent on our way as all the beds were full.

It seemed like a completely different nurse came into the room, yet it wasn’t. She was kind, compassionate, and caring, and as we left, she said to my brother, “Take care of yourself, Brett.”

I whispered, “Thank you” to her as we walked out the door, and I hope she knew how much I meant it.

My magnificent, smart, witty, handsome, kind, soft-spoken, and much-loved brother took that first sip of alcohol in high school, as most of our own young children will do some day. Sadly, he lost his battle with severe substance use and mental health issues on March 18, 2012 when he took his own life. I remember very vividly a few months after he passed away, someone in our close family circle was standing in my office and he said directly to me, “Your brother was a junkie who deserved to die. He had more than enough chances.”

I could be rattled, offended, shocked; I could have screamed, yelled, and told him to get the hell out of my office. But I didn’t. Instead, I calmly took a sip of my coffee, said a little “hmmm” to myself and changed the topic. I assure you it was not because I am quiet, scared, or I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But rather the opposite as I am confident, bold, outspoken, and unapologetically honest.

I have no interest in getting into a war of words. I have grown and learned so much since that hospital room visit more than fifteen years ago. I have learned that stigma is alive and well, not only in the healthcare profession. In society. In the media. And even in our own families and circle of friends.

I am not shocked nor surprised that we live in a world where some believe this statement about my brother and others battling addiction. It surprises me that we live in a world where it is acceptable to say it out loud. That somehow, it is all right to inflict intentional pain on someone who has lost someone who they love very much.

My approach is choosing to dedicate my time and energy into calmly and confidently sharing my journey and experience, every uncomfortable piece of it, without shame. The truth is I have been surrounded by alcoholism my whole life; it is on many branches of my family tree. But what I experienced with my brother; most could not fathom. I feel that if people hear the whole story, beginning with us as innocent children, it might open their hearts, change their perceptions, and perhaps give understanding and compassion for people with addiction and mental health challenges in society—our mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.

For me, I am not going to spend my life arguing, debating, letting people break my spirit for what I know and believe with all my heart. What I remind myself when I share our story to enlighten others is that this way of thinking and speaking about Brett with hurtful, condemning statements is not at all about my brother’s character or who he was; it is about theirs.

Sending love, light and strength when you need it to everyone, on this Sat, September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day.

Author of the powerful memoir The Sun is Gone: A Sister Lost in Secrets, Shame and Addiction and How I Broke Free. Outspoken advocate to help eliminate the shame + stigma surrounding Addiction + Mental Health. Visit or follow on instagram @jodeeprouse

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Canada to repatriate six women, 13 children from Syrian detention, lawyer says

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Ottawa – The lawyer for six Canadian women and 13 children being held in Syrian camps says the federal government has agreed to help bring them home.

Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon says a “mutually acceptable” agreement was reached today with Ottawa to repatriate the 19 Canadians.

The Canadians are among the many foreign nationals in Syrian camps run by Kurdish forces that reclaimed the war-torn region from the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Family members of the women and children, as well as four men, have been arguing in Federal Court that the government must arrange for their return, saying that refusing to do so violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Greenspon says that as a result of the agreement, the application from the six women and 13 children is being discontinued, but the case of the four men remains before the court.

He says details of the newly reached agreement with the government are confidential.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2023.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

What Happens When The West Runs Out Of Ukrainians?

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Having Joe Biden play the Jimmy Kimmel card may not be great politics— whose vote will it change?— but it was certainly great comedy. And as the West lurches toward a very uncertain fate in Ukraine, comedy (and a teleprompter) may be all Biden has got.

You remember Ukraine? Very hot story for a while till Johnny Depp and Amber Heard slimed it from the headlines. The Snowflakes embraced the gutsy-nation-with-a-heart that was being ravaged by Russia. Kind hearts and coronets. Put its flag in their window, on their Facebook avatar, on their car bumper.

Imagine Justin Trudeau’s infamous teddy-bear hug in the graveyard. Then multiply it by infinity on the empathy curve. That’s how the guilty liberal left saw Ukraine’s torment. They weren’t too fussy about the blood-soaked history of the region. Which is just as well. It’s not something to put on your fridge door.

In case you forgot, Russia dared the West to stop Putin going into Ukraine. Biden double-dog-dared him to try. Putin said, “Hold my vodka” and threw his army at its neighbour. Depending on whom you read this assault has either been a disaster for Russia or a disaster for Ukraine. We only know it’s continuing to chew up men and materiel  at a prodigious rate.

One person it has been a boon for, however, is Ukrainian president Volodmyr Zelenskyy. While his countrymen die, the former comic actor has used the attack on his nation to become— in Western eyes— equal measures of George Patton/ Winston Churchill/ Tony Soprano. Sporting his fatigues and guilting Western governments into helping repulse the Russians, he’s become famous and very rich. So have his pals.

That’s because, while the war has been hell for everyday Ukrainians, anyone in on the money-laundering aspect of this conflict is doing swell. America— which refuses to spend on sealing its own border– has promised north of $50 B in aid/ weapons/ technical assistance to repel the Russian invasion of Zelenskyy’s border.

The rest of the West has ponied up sizeable chunks, too. During his various photo-op fly-ins, Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau promised $98 M. in ammo plus an extra $1 million to “help investigate sex crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine”.

Anyone believe this money will ever benefit an ordinary Ukrainian huddled in his collapsed apartment building? The money will pass through Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchy like consommé through a strainer, leaving only a faint whiff of its presence behind. The cash will make its way back to the U.S. in contracts while the weapons the U.S. supplies will likely wind up with Ukraine’s notorious Azov Brigade or being sold (along with U.S, military surplus from Afghanistan) in the black market to bad actors with evil intentions.

If this is news to you then you weren’t paying attention when the DC Swamp impeached Donald Trump for asking Zelenskyy how much money the Biden crime family was making in his country. “Calling Col. Vindman! Clean-up in aisle three!” It was panic.y

When the war didn’t end as soon as Putin or shell-shocked Ukrainians wanted, it morphed into something else. Biden’s “crippling” economic sanctions against Russia having failed as the the price of oil skyrocketed, a new strategy was called for. Because the Ukrainians said they were determined to fight to the last man, the U.S. decided to take them at their word: as a proxy force to unseat Putin at home.

Voilá. The New Biden Plan. Keep Putin’s army in the field, keep the payola pipeline flowing and pray that someone assassinates or deposes Putin before the U.S. mid-term elections. The entire fiasco is now as open-ended as the Stones Farewell Tour.

Which is fine if the Ukrainians are, as advertised, willing to fight till the last man. America and the West can keep their hands clean. The media can play Plucky Little Belgium stories for their gullible viewers/ readers. “Experts” can war-game till the cows come home.

The fly in this ointment is that, with American prestige and profit invested so deeply now, what happens if they run out of Ukrainian patriots to throw into the fire against a seemingly unrepentant Putin? If the proxies are pushing up daisies what is Plan B? No one in the Western elites is sending their boys to die in Kiev or the Donbas region.

Further, Putin has nuclear weapons, and he’s convinced everyone that he’s just crazy enough to use them. Having impertinent Ukrainians shoot Russians is one thing, Having American or NATO soldiers on the move near the border of the Russian Motherland is another. A desperate Putin could do what generations of Soviet leaders would not. Go full Doctor Strangelove.

To say nothing of what a mentally declining Joe Biden might try if it looked like Donald Trump could take back the White House in 2024. His cognitive decline is alarming. His sudden policy shifts are unsettling. No one knows what he’ll say next. Least of all Biden.

The best outcome has always been a negotiated settlement. But Biden’s escalation— trading Ukrainian lives for destabilizing Putin— has made that a non-starter.  Worse, the same public that bought government lockdown propaganda on Covid has’t figured out they’re being gamed again. They’re still sentimentalizing Ukrainians’ distress rather than demanding an endgame in Biden’s reckless foreign policy.

If all this eventually reminds them of Afghanistan they might be on to something. But at least they’ll always have Jimmy Kimmel.


Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster ( The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on

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