In 1991, Billy and Kim Weselowski embarked on the journey to help addicts find a new way of life. The dream they had was to provide a safe place where addicts could find the hope to save their own lives. Having been given the gift of recovery themselves, Billy and Kim simply wanted to pass on the message that was so freely given to them.
The message? There is another solid, concrete, action-driven way to live, other than a life of horror, degradation and loneliness that they're currently experiencing due to the disease of addiction to alcohol and drugs.
The vision was, and still is, that Billy, with the help of others, has created a safe and nurturing community that men and women, suffering from addiction can go to learn a new way of life free from alcohol and drugs. Today, InnerVisions is a major part of a comprehensive, sobriety driven continuum that has helped thousands of people get, and stay sober. It was started with the humble beginnings taking shape in one half of a duplex. Even despite many hardships and adversities, Billy has never given up on the belief that dreams do come true, for InnerVisions and you.
Today the vision and dream that is InnerVisions has become a nationally respected and recognized non-profit recovery society. Our program has received the highest accreditation possible.
For the last several years, InnerVisions has been awarded Finalist Status for Excellence in the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse by The Donner Foundation. The Donner Foundation recognizes Canadian non-profit organizations every year for exemplifying excellence in the delivery of community-based programs. The broad national scope of the awards makes them Canada's largest and most prestigious non-profit recognition program. For more on The Donner Foundation: www.donnerawards.org. One of our core values that has been fearlessly adhered to in our organization, is our continued commitment to quality and excellence with helping people help themselves in a very safe and structured environment.
Our staff and former clients have appeared on public & network television, radio, print media and speaking events to candidly discuss and educate professionals and the public about addiction. In addition, we have provided training support to students and staff at several school districts in our community, the RCMP, and also various Aboriginal groups.
Our organization has been recognized locally, provincially, nationally and internationally with awards to both individuals within the organization and the organization itself. Our staff continues to support other dedicated community organizations, sitting on Boards and Committees including: The Canadian Counsellors Certification Federation, The Alcohol and Drug Information Council, The Salvation Army Community Council, The Psychiatric Nurses Association, The Aboriginal Homeless Steering Committee and The Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness; our staff are respected and trusted as a voice for awareness, treatment and prevention of one of the deadliest issues to plague our communities.
Billy and Kim are very proud of the people involved with InnerVisions and the work that is done here. They truly believe in helping to make a difference in the lives of those who need it.
Twelve years after the following magazine article, Billy continues to drive hard at helping those affected by addiction. His most recent accomplishments include the Golden Jubilee Medal from Her Majesty The Queen, multiple recognitions from the Addictive Drug Information Council for his contributions, and a one-year appointment to the board of the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of British Columbia. Billy has earned his Master's Degree in Organizational Leadership from Royal Roads University in 2004, as well as attending Stanford University for leadership in the non-profit sector, and even after that was invited to Harvard for learning how to measure a non-profit society at all levels! Needless to say, the unique abilities Billy brings to the table is that he is himself from Skid Row for twenty years, and has now been sober for over twenty years and has put a serious effort into obtaining a very strategic education in the field of addiction.
His sons Max and Sam now have company with the birth of their sister Hannah and Billy continues to watch his children play, learn and thrive. Though he does still love playing golf, they have become quite the active and passionate lacrosse family. While the boys play at the most competitive levels and truly love the game of lacrosse. Billy has become fully accredited in coaching lacrosse, as well as playing in the Master's Lacrosse League for two seasons "Just so I could yell at my kids!" He has also has picked up yet another unlikely hobby, the violin. One thing that remains constant in his professional and personal life, Billy, and his family, always suit up, show up and never give up.
By the time he peered through his window at a mother hurrying her child through Vancouver's Skid Road in Christmas of 1988, Billy Weselowski exemplified human corruption. He had been on the path to ruin for 20 years, starting with his first bender at 13, then graduating to heroin, getting kicked out of school, and fleeing home.
||A former Skid Road addict helps thousands turn their own lives around.
Written by: Robin Brunet
First appeared in BC Report -- December 16, 1996. BC Report is a weekly newsmagazine about British Columbia.
Reprinted by permission.
At 33, his biggest achievement was inflicting misery on others. A hardened criminal, he thought nothing of stabbing men who insulted him on the street, or pimping women.
That fateful day, he had begun as always, forcing alcohol into his empty stomach until it kicked in and he could move onto hard drugs - a $300-a-day habit that had rendered him too sick to do much but gaze out the window. As the woman whisked her child away, Mr. Weselowski - 50 pounds underweight, his teeth rotted away, and his mind scrambled by cocaine - was suddenly overwhelmed by shame. "I realized my biggest crime was blaming everyone for my problems except me," he says.
Today, the society Mr. Weselowski once preyed upon is in even greater chaos. Provincial coroners fear that B.C.'s drug deaths for 1996 may exceed 1993's record high of 320. Burglaries are also on the rise, a phenomenon police blame largely on cash-hungry junkies; Greater Vancouver leads Canada in property crimes, with 10,773 incidents per 100,000 people last year.
But as gloomy as this may seem, the efforts of an individual who has been there himself can still have a profound positive effect. Meet the new Billy Weselowski, a Coquitlam-based counselor who dispenses tough love to junkies in his recovery centres; the newest addition was a 14 bed Women?s Facility in 2001
Sobriety may not have altered his barking street voice or gutter vocabulary, but people who have come to know him wouldn't have it any other way. "Billy shines in a field cluttered with ineffectual counselors and lax rehab programs," says Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Grant Goodall, "He knows why people turn bad, and uses this to get offenders straight and off welfare."
Cpl. Goodall adds that Mr. Weselowski's secondary school workshops "are just as powerful. His descriptions of drug use are ugly, but he leaves a lasting impression."
It is impossible to say how many people have been moved by Mr. Weselowski. The success of his InnerVisions Recovery, Centre, which is composed of three non-descript Coquitlam houses, and a 14 bed women?s center in Maple Ridge. Of the 5000 people who have completed his boot-camp-style program, 50-75% remain sober, productive citizens. Some higher profile rehab facilities, in contrast, suffer a recidivism rate as great as 80%.
Mr. Weselowski, whose tree-trunk arms and in-your-face demeanor compel strangers to cross the street rather than pass him on the sidewalk, has been in all out combat since 1991. "Drugs and violence are destroying communities," he says. "They're diseases with causes that can't be quashed with the 'easy does it' mentality prevailing today."
Before his remarkable rehabilitation, Mr. Weselowski seemed destined to die in the gutter. One of 11 children born to Irene Weselowski in Vancouver's poverty-stricken downtown east side, young Billy didn't know the father who skipped town before his birth in 1955. "I never found out who he was, but he was followed by a string of abusive surrogates."
Mr. Weselowski's early years were punctuated by "police and ambulance sirens. We had a violent home. Mom was always being abandoned, and she was dependent on welfare." And although he detests blaming others for personal shortcomings, he concedes that "an over-whelming mount of problem kids come from broken homes." Consequently, he is especially dismayed by "normal" parents "who are too lazy to look after their kids. My mom had everything going against her, including alcoholism, but she still tried to raise us properly."
Irene's love notwithstanding, Mr. Weselowski concluded early that he was "a mistake." To compensate, he indulged in childhood mischief. Then at 13 he downed a bottle of lemon gin: "1 blacked out thinking I'd found the elixir of life."
It would take two decades before Mr. Weselowski learned he was allergic to alcohol. "I'm missing enzymes which enable other people to process booze normally," he explains. "Every drink I took intensified my craving for more. The same went for drugs. It's wrong to dismiss all addicts as weak-minded. We're talking about a disease,"
Young Billy's liquor binges increased, and he gained more false confidence by stealing classmates' belongings and selling pot. In 1970, he and his best friend sampled heroin. "I was scared of needles, so I snorted it. It felt great and I immediately needed more, so I stole more." Mr. Weselowski is cryptic about his friend's subsequent fate: "He hung himself on his second go-round in the pen."
Billy's downfall accelerated when his high school principal informed him he "would be better pursuing outside interests." He left home soon after, and promptly earned his first stint behind bars, serving several months in the Haney Correctional Centre for theft.
Thus commenced a cycle of getting high, stealing to buy more drugs, going to jail, being released, and getting high again. "Jail was pretty good in the beginning - you pumped iron and ate well," he remarks. "You learned aggression, manipulation, and the easy ways to get by in life.
By 1971 Billy was injecting $400 worth of heroin daily. Welfare could support only a fraction of his habit, so he regularly pillaged upscale houses and pawned the booty. "I remember feeling like s---one time while lugging some guy's TV because I figured he had worked hard to buy it. That was my single glimmer of conscience."
In 1972, he was sent to the now defunct Oakalla prison in Burnaby, where he served two years for robbery, assault, and possession of a weapon. Upon his release, he moved to Saskatoon, where his propensity for violence escalated. In 1976, he commenced a six-year sentence in a federal penitentiary for robbing a convenience store at knifepoint.
He re-entered the federal pen for two more years in 1979 - just 18 days after making parole - for stabbing a man in the neck outside a bar. Mr. Weselowski explains. "My lawyer tried to convince the judge I stumbled across the guy with a knife sticking out of his neck and was merely trying to remove it."
The seasoned felon returned to Vancouver in 1985. Cocaine had replaced heroin as his drug of choice, and he committed more thefts and burglaries. He also "ran" women--street parlance for pimping. "Whatever it took to get money, I did. I went through the motions like an animal." He served three separate sentences for breaking and entering and assault in provincial prisons, and was released for the last time in 1987.
Apart from the misery his crimes caused others, Mr. Weselowski is most ashamed of letting down his mother. "She sent me cards in jail, and whenever I was really down on the street she fed me. But I always returned to Skid Road as fast as I could. God, I was so stupid."
A sister, Marge Murphy, was another spurned benefactor. "At one point I found an apartment for him and furnished it, but within a week he was back on the street," she says. "We knew then he was a goner."
Mr. Weselowski bottomed out in 1988 in Skid Road's Ivanhoe Hotel. Sobriety by now was a memory, withdrawal from drugs an excruciating reality. Every morning, he entered 'the bathroom and forced beer down his throat; his empty stomach regurgitated the alcohol. "The trick was to keep puking and drinking until there was enough alcohol in my belly to kick in. Then I would put down the beer and move onto cocaine. I was snorting $300 worth per day."
By Christmas, Mr. Weselowski hadn't bathed in a week. His teeth had rotted away, and he was 50 pounds underweight Friends and family had long since fled. Piercing his mind was the notion he couldn't endure another jail term, which meant no more committing crime. And so, his cocaine laced heart pounding so hard he feared it would burst, he contemplated dying.
It was then he gazed out at the woman and her child. "I don't know what it was about her, but I never felt so lonely in my entire life," he says. "I wished I had someone to tell me to eat, wash, get straight. It also struck me then and there that I had nobody to blame for my situation other than myself. I started crying like a baby."
Mr. Weselowski found himself with his hands clasped together in prayer: "I said, 'God, I don't know if you exist, but I sure could use a friend right now.' Then I curled into a ball and fell asleep."
The following morning his neighbor paid a visit, took one look, and ordered him to go to a nearby detox centre. Mr. Weselowski was flabbergasted: he had assumed the building, fortified with metal bars and gates, was some kind of jail. "I had no idea it was really Disneyland."
Mr. Weselowski pleaded with the clerk to admit him on the promise he wouldn't assault anyone. He was reluctantly let in, and spent a week "sick as a dog withdrawing, but also eating like a dog. The motivation not to die was incredible."
He was referred to a Vancouver recovery centre, where he met Skid Road counterparts who had long since rehabilitated. "It was a revelation, being told by ex-junkies you didn't need to be this way."
When Irene Weselowski saw her son during his early weeks of sobriety, she told him that "I've been praying for you for years. You're going to be a healer, Billy. You'll open a place and be a teacher." Remarks Mr. Weselowski: "I thought she was nuts! My only goal was to take everything a day at a time and not screw up again. That took every bit of energy."
Marge Murphy remembers her brother visiting her during recovery. "He came over, specifically to make amends, and you could have knocked me over with a feather." She subsequently learned that instead of chugging beer in the bathroom, he commenced every day by praying to God for strength.
Mr. Weselowski is typically blunt about his faith. "Of course I believe in God. I may have a foul mouth and a sick sense of humour, but I believe in Him totally. There are two key things you need to do to get out of the gutter," he adds. "You have to take responsibility for your actions. And you have to trust someone. It took me 20 years to do so."
He was still learning about addiction and recovery when he met his future wife in a recovery centre in 1989.
"I was in treatment too, and women were making a big deal over Billy getting false teeth," Kim Weselowski, 35, recalls, "I was more impressed by the fact that every time I looked at him, I knew beyond a doubt he was in this for the long haul."
For his part, Mr. Weselowski says that Kim is "the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me. And she's smart enough to make me think I'm doing to the driving."
As Mr. Weselowski 's understanding of his past behaviour evolved, so did the realization his mother's prediction was accurate. "Once I knew I was going to remain sober, there was no question I would spend my life helping others like me. I also wanted to persuade kids not to make the same mistakes I did."
He spent 1990 earning a degree from the Counselor Training Institute, then worked in a New Westminister recovery house. "Being employed and earning money was in itself a huge inducement to stay clean."
As Mr. Weselowski rehabilitated, he developed a special disgust for provincial social services, "The welfare system is f'--d, the bureaucrats behind it are f----d; it's the same f---ing bureaucrats who recently replaced the term drug abuse with 'drug misuse,"' he hollers. "Don't get me started on this topic."
Mr. Weselowski was offered a management position in a recovery house, but he was determined to open his own facility. "I wanted to enforce the standard 12 step recovery program, which many places don't do," he explains. "This means running a tight ship instead of a flophouse, hammering home the notion you are responsible for your own actions, and maintaining a strong bond with clients after they re-enter society."
He honed his counseling skills at the Justice Institute of B.C., earning five certificates in youth counseling, substance abuse and conflict resolution. He also bought a pickup truck for part-time work moving furniture, placing his earnings in an account for what would become the Innervisions Recovery Centre. "It wasn't as big a gamble as it seemed," remarks Kim. "Billy had never done anything in his life, so there was nothing to lose."
Mr. Weselowski 's hard work started paying off in 1991. He married Kim, and later that year their son Max was born (little brother Sam arrived two years later). In April, he rented a two-storey house in a middle-class Coquitlam neighborhood. Beds were installed, and three staff members were hired via a Canadian Job Strategies grant. Through referrals from agencies, social workers and doctors who knew Billy, the house was soon filled to capacity with 15 clients.
Mr. Weselowski opened a second house in Port Coquitlam in November 1991, followed by another PoCo house for clients who are re-entering society. During their stay, which generally lasts four months, Innervisions residents must strictly adhere to a roster of guidelines and activities that would tax Marine Corps recruits. This includes no food in rooms, no loud talk, and scrupulous daily maintenance of the facility.
Daily 12-step meetings are mandatory, as are medical appointments and rehabilitation video viewing. To this end, Mr. Weselowski has produced three tapes summarizing his beliefs. In volume one dealing with addiction, he points out that "nobody was born on Skid Road; they did very definite actions to get there." He charts addiction from its roots in experimentation, to recreation, behavioral phenomena, then to full-blown dependency. "I don't care what the substance is. If it affects your work, your relationships or anything else in your life, it is a problem."
Volume two addresses anger management. Mr. Weselowski defines anger as an intense reaction to an unfulfilled need, and warns that "we say and do things in the heat of anger that can be very costly." The angrier one gets, he adds, the costlier the consequence. "Anger covers up fear, insecurity, loneliness. The better you manage it, the better you manage the world around you."
In the final volume, solutions to addiction, he emphasizes taking responsibility for one's actions and trusting others: "Trust that others are suffering, and that some people genuinely want to help you."
He also offers some fundamental truths about sobriety. "It isn't hokey or boring. I've been to more places, felt more beautiful things, and developed greater relationships than I would have ever dreamed. It's a King's Ransom I have."
Dr. Roy Morton, who heads an addiction consulting service in New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital, says hospital-housed addicts cost taxpayers $1,200 a night. "Billy's whole approach to recovery is phenomenal. He has one of the very best programs in B.C. by far. The others are way down the road."
Everyone from Skid Road refugees (from whom Mr. Weselowski has been known to accept IOUs) to lawyers, doctors, and CFL and NHL players have gone through Innervisions. Other residents are unanimous in their praise. "Billy is intimidating in a good sense," remarks Peter, a 31-year-old former forestry worker from Prince George who enrolled earlier this year and kicked cocaine and heroin. Adds Rakan, an 18 year-old who five months ago was feeding a $400-a-day heroin habit: "Following Billy's rules was easy, once I realized how important discipline is." Rakan is planning a career in hotel management.
As Innervisions approaches its 14th year of operation, Mr. Weselowski is proud of his accolades-but only because they attract more addicts and troubled people to his doorstep. "I don't hang my head for the bad things I've done because I've paid for them. But I never forget the nightmare my former life was either."
He sleeps peacefully at night; the power builder's physique he acquired in prison is softening comfortably; and he has taken up an unlikely hobby--golf. But his greatest pleasure is watching his sons play lacrosse. "Sometimes I think, 'Gee, life's so different for them,"' he says. "It comforts me to know I'll always love them and be there for them. I wish it could be this way for everybody."