Written by Deena Douara
Stephen Wells’ career is one forged out of pain, struggle and ultimately, redemption. He is open about his own past alcohol abuse, which began after his father’s untimely death – a man who was also an alcoholic. Over the next nearly three decades, Wells would lose his job, his wife, his finances and his well-being, struggling with depression and mental health.
Today, he is a different man. He has been sober 12 years now and says he is not even tempted around alcohol. He has remarried. He’s launching a new business, Sober Elite. And he’s applying his own experience and his extensive training to help others emerge from substance abuse with hopeful, healthier outcomes.
Wells describes himself as a human systems interventionist (and has a Master’s degree in this discipline to prove it), meaning he approaches addictions issues in the context of family and relationships. That is not to suggest blame, and he is very clear on that. But he does examine what issues or hurts might be underlying substance abuse and what changes may aid long-term recovery.
His clients are typically affluent, who he says represent a “hidden vulnerable sector.” The sometimes-public fall from grace can be more problematic for the wealthy and Wells says that with private treatment centres starting at about $15,000, those who can afford it are often taken advantage of.
“Fast money is spent in addiction…. They need authentic advocates.” This is why Wells does not accept payment from treatment facilities and instead focuses on matching clients to the programs most likely to benefit them on a case-by-case basis.
Wells’ work really begins before that though – and long after, providing the “bookends” to treatment.
On the front side, he sets the stage for treatment options. While clients seeking treatment can contact Wells directly, he says most cases are actually family-initiated interventions — just not what you’ve seen on television.
“It’s not shame inducing. It’s trauma informed. I’m not going to do any more harm and there are no shame attacking conversations. You want to create safe environment.”
He adds that the conversations are not surprises either – the addicted member shows up because they have a lot to lose at that point, whether it’s the risk of being cut off financially, of charges being laid, or of losing access to home. “If they want a voice in what’s going to happen, they show up.”
Wells visits with the family for as long as it takes, then he helps match and deliver the individual to treatment. He also prepares the family and the home to support post-treatment recovery.
That is where the real tests occur. “Most people fall down when they leave,” he explains. That’s why Wells coaches individuals who have returned from treatment, to give them the supports they need to maintain momentum.
Wells says the triggers that lead to addiction are the same — “relational damage.”
“In my personal opinion, all addicts are struggling at some level with some kind of emotional pain,” he explains, like unresolved trauma around grief, loss or feelings of low self-worth. “The addiction is part of a mask, to deal with a challenge they don’t know how to deal with.”
Wells’ opinions stem from more than just his own experience with addiction. He credits his own recovery to his dedication to AA meetings — “200 meetings in 90 days,” and a private treatment program. Almost immediately, he recognized that he could apply his own background in facilitation towards addiction and began counseling soon after.
In the last 10 years he has worked in addiction counseling, headed a transitional living program, and has educated himself on fresh approaches and certifications, including professional coaching, and a Certified Addiction Counselor designation.
The only thing missing was business training, so he reached out to Enterprise Toronto to help set up the business entity, to plan, and to learn marketing and web design strategies.
Having someone I’m connected to, it’s like I’ve got a team behind me,” he says.
It is the support that bolsters the support Wells himself provides to families impacted by addiction across Canada.
“They gave me the shoes, and now I’m walking.”