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Sarah Fazackerley with her mother Fran. (Supplied)

Sarah Fazackerley with her mother Fran.

(Supplied)

A Special Information Feature brought to you by Sunnybrook

A Young Life Back in Tune Add to ...

A story of a daughter’s bravery in overcoming addiction is music to her mother’s ears 

Today, Sarah Fazackerley is focused, clean and rocking out.

Music and everything about it – creating, performing and teaching it – is the 19-year-old’s passion, replacing alcohol and drugs.

“Music is pretty much my new drug,” says Sarah, an Oshawa, Ont. resident who plays multiple instruments and plans to become a music therapist.

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As it is for so many battling addiction, Sarah’s path to sobriety was a torturous one. For years, she was in and out of treatment centres and hospitals, staying sober for brief periods but always relapsing. Her life was traumatic and uncertain. 

“She could have died, several times,” says Sarah’s mother, Fran Carnerie, a Whitby, Ont. resident. “Every time Sarah would walk out the door I would think, ‘Is this the last time I’m going to see her alive?’”

Through Fran and Sarah’s involvement in a Sunnybrook initiative called the Family Navigation Project, they hope other youth and families will be able to avoid the pain, frustration and trauma they experienced.

Once the pilot Family Navigation Project is established, its expert navigators – social workers, mental health nurses and others with an almost-encyclopedic knowledge of available treatment services – will fill a crucial gap in the youth mental health and addiction system by guiding families through the labyrinth of treatment options.

The navigators will become active partners in the journey to wellness. They will carefully assess the youth’s needs and put them in contact with the care they need, remaining in touch to ensure the treatment is working. If it’s not, they will reassess and navigate until the right care is received.

The Family Navigation Project is getting a big boost thanks to a new partnership between the Royal Bank of Canada and Sunnybrook.

This fall, the inaugural RBC Run for the Kids will take place in and around Sunnybrook. It’s a weekend of running to help families affected by youth mental health issues and includes a five-kilometre run/walk, a 15-kilometre Kids’ Challenge and a 25-kilometre run. (See full details at rbcrunforthekids.ca)

Proceeds from this event will help make Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project a reality.

“Addressing youth mental health is absolutely vital to the wellness of youth and their families,” says Jamie Anderson, deputy chair of RBC Capital Markets and executive champion of the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project. “That’s why we’re committed to assisting Sunnybrook on this terrific event and other programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase awareness about children’s mental health issues, all designed to help children and families.”

Sunnybrook’s Dr. Anthony Levitt, co-chair of the Family Navigation Project, says the initiative is long overdue.

“As many as two million youth in Canada are struggling with a mental health or addictions problem, and yet only one in five will get specialized treatment, in large part because families don’t know where to go,” Dr. Levitt says.

“Sunnybrook deeply appreciates the efforts of Sarah and Fran, and all the other parents who have been working hard to establish the Family Navigation Project,” he adds.

Fran says the project would have made a huge difference for her family. Instead of bouncing around between treatment centres ill-suited to Sarah’s needs, she might have found the right program earlier. 

Success was found at New Beginnings at Seven D’s Ranch, a no-nonsense home operated by a husband-and-wife team in Utah. Before going there, Sarah felt she just wasn’t getting the right care; she felt she had never been compelled to take a hard look in the mirror. In the full-time residential program, her behaviour was confronted and she came to understand that change was within reach.

“I needed the wake-up call, because my whole life people were just giving me the benefit of the doubt,” Sarah says.

Sarah did relapse twice after her time in Utah, but it laid the groundwork for self-realization and a future of clean living. Sarah has been sober for one year.

“I’ve gotten to the point where nobody knows my life better than me. Nobody knows how I can deal with things better than me,” she says.

Fran no longer worries that she’ll lose her daughter. “My life is filled with gratitude,” Fran says.

She is grateful Sarah is alive; grateful Sarah is passionate about life; grateful their future is bright.

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