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Virtual walk for sobriety helps Canadian women face alcohol addiction

A woman who found her own path to sobriety is now taking that motivation and turning it into a nationwide movement -- both figuratively and physically.

Lindsay Sutherland Boal is the founder of She Walks Canada, an organization helping women struggling with alcohol addiction to find support one step at a time.

“[It’s] to engage and empower women in and seeking recovery from alcohol use disorder,” Boal told CTV National News. “For women who are looking for alcohol-reduced, or alcohol-free lives in an alcohol-drenched world.”

She Walks Canada isn’t just metaphorical as a big part of the movement is the act of moving itself. The goal is for participants to walk, collectively, the distance across Canada by the end of July, a quest that started in late January.

Women can sign up online to be part of the movement and log the kilometres they’ve walked on their journey in order to contribute to the 7,315-kilometre goal.

“A lot of us find that just being outside is helpful,” Boal said.

The original seven-month span of the virtual walk was intended to mirror Boal’s original journey, she said, explaining that when she was on her way to sobriety, it wasn’t until six months had passed that she felt settled in.

“She Walks Canada is a reflection of what worked for me in my recovery,” she said.

Boal said she knew she was “drinking too much for about a decade,” but her wakeup call wasn’t the rock bottom that many alcoholics describe hitting.

“I had a ‘rock enough,’” she said. “I had enough of under-performing in every avenue of my life. I was no longer living the life I wanted for myself and I knew that it was because of alcohol.”

She Walks Canada isn’t just an event promoting exercise. They are aiming to serve as a virtual hub to connect women and inspire them in their fight.

Their website explains that they hold virtual meetings facilitated by licensed professionals in order to connect women.

It’s important to have a space to speak to others who have gone through the same thing in order to be able to share without feeling hampered by a need to over-explain yourself, Boal said.

“We release ourselves from the shame that we carry,” she added. “So the support groups are a place to find other sober people who are weathering the same storm.”

The number of women who are addicted to alcohol across Canada is unknown, since many suffer in silence. According to a 2019 report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, around 15 per cent of Canadians who drink alcohol are consuming above Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines, and alcohol use among women has increased since 2013.

Dr. Suzanne Stewart, director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health and an associate professor at the University of Toronto, said that support is essential, and can lead to broader benefits for mental health.

“Having a safe place that women can reach out to get support around one thing can lead them to get support around another thing,” she told CTV National News.

“The other power of a movement like this is that [it] allows people to meet on a human level, and not on a level that emphasizes on the dysfunction or illness aspect of alcoholism.”

With COVID-19, many people say they’ve become more dependent on alcohol. According to Statistics Canada, between April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, more than $25.5 billion was spent on alcohol across the country.

“I know for a fact that I would be drunk by noon every day during this pandemic had I still been drinking,” Boal said.

Boal said that for her, one delay in starting the recovery process was feeling that the only options for help were a 12-step program or a more serious form of rehab that would require taking time off work and not seeing her children for a period of time.

“There are a boatload of women that can get a lot out of just support,” she said.

She also believes that some rethinking of our general “alcohol-drenched” culture is needed.

So many moments of celebration in our lives are often marked with alcoholic drinks or gatherings in which drinking is an expectation, making it harder for some people to move away from alcohol due to fears of being estranged from others around them, she explained.

She Walks Canada is seeing support across the country.

“A lot of the girls that I know through the sobriety here are joining in. They’re starting to log their steps and getting out there,” Julie Kirschke, a recovery coach who works with She Walks Canada out of Kelowna, B.C., told CTV National News.

Already, the program has collectively walked 6,442 kilometres -- 88 per cent of the July goal.

Reaching that goal isn’t the end, however. The ultimate goal is for this to be an annual process, Boal said, and for a movement that runs on donations and volunteers to keep expanding as more women lace up their shoes and join the trek. Top Stories

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