Christine Yanke is a mom, a wife, an accomplished author, and Canada’s first certified YogaFit for Warriors instructor – a therapeutic practice aimed at relieving symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She is also a former client of St. Joe’s Womankind Addiction Service and knows firsthand how using alcohol and drugs to cope with stress, grief, and trauma can spiral into a full-blown battle with substance abuse.
This summer, Yanke is participating in the Run for Women to raise funds for women’s mental health services at St. Joe’s, which she credits for getting her life back after struggling with addiction.
“I feel so honoured to be supporting women’s mental health in our community,” says Yanke, an Ancaster, Ont., resident.
In 2001, Yanke’s world fell apart when her husband was arrested, and subsequently trialed, found guilty, and incarcerated, for his involvement with the Hells Angels.
As a result, the stay-at-home mother was left to provide for her three young boys, and risked losing her home. “Everything was coming at me from so many directions. I was left with everything to take care of, and I just couldn’t do it,” Yanke says. “I reached out to alcohol and drugs to deal with my pain, and my loss.”
As concerned friends and family watched her decline into addiction, Yanke was dealt another blow when her mother passed away suddenly.
“When my mom died, it was like a piece of my heart left. I didn’t know how to heal it, so I tried to cover it up and numb it. Then, one night, I was listening to all her favourite songs, and there was a feeling she was there saying, ‘You need to take care of yourself, you’re going to lose your boys – they’re all you have left.’”
With the wake-up call she needed, Yanke turned to Womankind 17 years ago to help her make positive changes to her life. In addition to a safe space for withdrawal management, Womankind provides day and residential addictions treatment, an emergency shelter for women in crises, aftercare aimed at preventing relapse, and writing workshops, among other programs.
“We use a trauma-informed approach to care as substance use often begins as a way to cope with depression, anxiety, or a tragic event,” says Kari Whitelaw, Clinical Supervisor at Womankind. “It’s part of caring for, and healing, the whole person—mind, body and spirit.”
After completing treatment, Yanke committed herself to sobriety. Her world was sent into turmoil once again, however, when her father committed suicide. Instead of turning to substances, Yanke used the strategies she learned at Womankind to find healthier coping mechanisms.
“You have to go through trauma – not around it – to get to the other side,” Yanke says. “I used the tools and techniques I learned at Womankind to recognize triggers. I found new activities I wanted to do, such as running, a community of people who supported my sobriety, and engaged with my kids.”
In so doing, Yanke also trained to become a yoga instructor, and combined physical activity and mindfulness to come to terms with emotions she had been suppressing. This led to her diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD, and the next phase in her healing journey.
As the Run for Women community champion, Yanke is asking others to join her in supporting mental health programs at St. Joe’s by participating in the event, or donating to the cause.
Last year’s event saw about 950 people register for a route of their choice, raising more than $100,000 for women’s mental health services.
This year, the hope is to match, or exceed, that figure to ensure women in the community have access to the very best mental health care when they need it.
To participate in the Run for Women, or donate to women’s mental health programs, visit St. Joe’s Foundation’s website.