Finding Hope in Adult Play

“Play is the royal road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance” – Joseph Chilton Pearce

“This feels like high school camp!” said a bewildered client while our group panted from the excitement of sliding down Mt. Seymour for the past hour. I knew I was experiencing something special, a side of our clients I will never see if we remained in the Downtown Eastside.

Every month, our clients can choose to sign up for a fun outing organized by our spiritual care program. I had the privilege of joining them for the first time. Slightly apprehensive faces with curious eyes greeted me as I jump into the van while I introduce myself, as one would expect when a newbie comes along, but I was surprised at how quickly the clients warmed up to me. The whole ride was filled with a mixture of laughter, inquisitive questions and comfortable silence. I can feel that the clients getting ready to have fun and be rejuvenated by frankly… relaxing.

When we finally got off the van, any lingering tension our faces were washed away by the beautiful scenery. It was cold, which sparked a conversation between a client who lived in the same city as me in another province where the weather can go down to -40C. He described how he set up his tent on the streets, gave us tips in dressing warm, shared a few of his life stories and how he found it easier to stay on his recovery journey because of the community he has built in Vancouver Harbour Light.

And I can see that as we played. We rallied and shouted encouragements to each other as our inner child raced down tubing lanes with wide, toothy grins. Many of our clients come from difficult childhoods, and it hit me that they have created a special safe play space here by upholding a mutual trust for each other. As we warmed our fingers with hot chocolate and share more stories in our huddle circle, it really does feel like a high school camp. I saw how their faces brighten up as the day went by and how much these outings means to them. Several indigenous clients shared how to make red cedar tea and the meaning surrounding it as we chattered away. No matter whom we are and where we have been, we all have a need to enjoy our surroundings, ourselves and each other.

“Play is the royal road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance” – Joseph Chilton Pearce. Adult play helps us stay healthy. None of us can be effective if all we engage in work 24/7! Outings may not be the obvious “answer” in getting people off the streets but they are an integral part of building a healthy and holistic lifestyle to support sustainable recovery and reintegration.

Addiction is unforgiving and recovery is tough. The fight for abstinence remains much beyond graduation from recovery programs. What do you do when you had a bad shift and feel the urge to use again? How do you manage your time during non-work hours? To support holistic recovery and reintegration to society, our clients need to learn to unwind after hard work in their programs as we do on Friday nights. While we all know that putting on Netflix with popcorn bits on your jammies doesn’t push back looming deadlines, nor does a nature hike or dinner date with friends, these experiences give our minds a break to re-wire our mental headspace to approach problems with fresh perspectives. An important skill to have for maintaining abstinence.

It is amazing to see how play loosens up people. As we make our way back “home” (Harbour Light), I began to start hearing more of our clients’ hearts. “It’s so nice to not hear sirens every few mins”. Tall buildings replace snow-covered evergreens. We passed Hastings St., a densely populated area by the street community, “I know every single person here” said a client with a distant gaze. I moved my sight from him to the individuals on our van and the streets, reminding myself that they each have their own story and there is still so much I can learn from them.

Our van halted at our destination. Bodies stretched to the sound of an opening van door. “Well, back to reality now”, a client expressed with a hint of sadness as we filed out of the van. They truly do treasure being away from DTES even for a short moment. They face many hurdles ahead, but I know our clients are going back to a reality where they can find hope in community and professional support, and a reality where they can find hope and strength in play.

— Cindy Cheung, Community Engagement Coordinator

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