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North Okanagan men share how they kicked their addictions

Jacob Philp and Tony Butschler are celebrating their recovery from drug and alcohol addictions.
September 18, 2017 - 8:00 PM


VERNON - Jacob Philp knows far too many people who have overdosed on fentanyl and died.

In early 2017, the Okanagan man lost 13 friends in just two months. He almost overdosed and died himself a few times, revived by the efforts of first responders.

“I would wake up in the hospital with my parents standing over me and the medics telling me I had just died,” Philp says.

Instead of becoming one more casualty in B.C.’s overdose crisis, the 29-year-old made a decision that not only changed, but probably saved, his life. He admitted himself to Bill’s Place, a recovery centre in Vernon. Seven-and-a-half months later, he can hardly believe the difference.

“When I was using heroin and speed and fentanyl, when I woke up, the first thing I would do is use drugs, or get drugs through whatever means necessary, even if it was stealing. Today, I wake up and I feel peaceful. I’m clear-minded, happy and healthy. I’m excited to get out of bed and see what the day has in store,” Philp says.

A good high school student who played the violin and was trained as a lifeguard, Philp eventually progressed from smoking weed to using harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. He says he had a great upbringing, but never really felt like he fit in. 

“I never felt comfortable in my own skin as a kid. I always wanted to be someone else. When I started drinking and smoking weed, I fit in with the stoners. I felt comfortable being me when I started using,” he says.

Last year, he started using fentanyl instead of heroin because it was cheaper and stronger.

“It was way more dangerous, but at that point I didn’t care about the danger,” he says.

Meanwhile, he was also getting into trouble with thefts and breaching court conditions, all related to his drug addiction.

“Finally one day I just came to the realization that I needed help. I was out there dying on the streets of Kelowna,” he says.

When he first called Bill’s Place, which was recommended by a family friend, he didn’t get in right away.

“I had to call every day for two months until a spot was available,” Philp says. “My parents reminded me every day, ‘Did you call Bill’s Place?’ And I would go and do it.”

Eventually, one of the 19 spaces at the recovery centre opened up. Philp hasn’t looked back.

“It’s a lot of work, but if you want it, it’s not that hard,” he says. “As long as you’re willing and you want that change.”

Now that he’s clean and sober, he’s rebuilding relationships with family members and thinking about what he wants to do next.

“I was really good at first aid. I might look into instructing it,” he says.

Tony Butschler, 60, arrived at Bill’s Place around the same time as Philp. Originally from Richmond, he’s lived in Vernon since 2005.

“I guess I’ve been working at getting here all my life,” Butschler says of Bill’s Place. “I’m what you’d call a purebred alcoholic.”

For the past few years, he’s been living at Howard House, a men’s shelter. He had his own room there and worked in the kitchen. But up until Bill's Place, he was still battling his addiction to alcohol. 

“In my final bit of drinking, I was asked to leave Howard House and ended up at Gateway Shelter. One of the managers got me in touch with (Bill’s Place). I’d known about it a couple years but was never really ready.”

He says it wasn’t until he’d hit rock bottom that he decided to give recovery a shot.

“I was dead inside,” he says.

Bill’s Place not only taught him how to live without alcohol, but also how to trust others, speak honestly and open up. Now, he’s in contact with his kids again and hopes to reconnect with his mom and dad.

“I pray one day I’ll be able to talk to my mom and dad again. Not that I can ever ask them to forgive me, but I just want to say I’m sorry,” he says, fighting back tears. “I want to let them know I’m good, I’m safe and in a better place.”

He says he can’t thank the John Howard Society enough, and wants to give his time back to the organization in some way. He’s a Red Seal chef and would love to teach others how to cook on a budget.

While you’re never too old to go into treatment, Butschler says you do have to be ready.

“An earlier version of myself would’ve said go suck an egg,” he says.

Having been at Bill's Place for over half a year, Butschler has seen many new guys come through the doors. 

"One of the neatest things is you see a new fellow, and at some point it's like a light bulb goes off and their eyes just start to shine," he says. 

For more information about Bill’s Place, click here.

The centre recently announced it is accepting women into the program as well.

On Sept. 23, the Okanagan celebrates Recovery Day in Vernon’s Polson Park. The event runs from noon to 4 p.m. and features guest speakers, live music, and food by donation.

In advance of Recovery Day, residents are also invited to a screening of The Anonymous People at Trinity United Church from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. this Tuesday, Sept .19.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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