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Resort repercussions The new year brings hope for most, but it can also be a dangerous time By Oona Woods Two years ago a couple of women from Vancouver set off for a weekend in Whistler. They thought they would catch some skiing and party in the apres ski scene. Two years later one woman is married and the other has a baby; a weekend can change your life. Living in a resort town can alter the way you spend your life. The resort town’s role is to provide a platform for people to get away from the everyday, take a break from their reality and behave the way people behave when they aren’t in their own backyard. Whistler provides the backdrop for a fairy tale weekend of fun. But for every party there is a hangover and this area’s hangover lies in the fact it has the highest rate of abortions in B.C., frequent alcohol and drug abuse and alarmingly high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. As well, within the Coast Garibaldi health region 23 people have contracted HIV. That last figure is way less than Vancouver but as public health nurse Marilyn McIvor points out, "We’re third in B.C." There were 10,000 positive HIV test results in B.C. last year. It’s hard to pin down how many people in this region have HIV because of double testing. The figure could be somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000. But it is out there. "So far in B.C. 23,000 people have been diagnosed with AIDS," says McIvor. "Of those people 2,142 had homosexual sex, bisexual sex, or intravenous drug use or both. It is a disease of high risk activities." Whistler is a home for high risk activities. People are aware of the potential for harm on the hills; everyone takes a calculated risk now and then. The trouble starts when you take the same attitude with the party scene. The recent Condomsense campaign in Whistler sought to encourage people to use condoms. Most people if you stopped them on the street would agree that is a sensible idea, although they would probably wonder why you were asking. As McIvor states it is when you add another ingredient at parties that people get careless. "The party-scene involves a lot of alcohol. The consequences of this can range from having unprotected sex to substance addiction." People can come up to Whistler and get loaded, party till dawn and drive away with nothing more than a sore head because that is all part of relaxing and releasing tension on a mad weekend. But as with everything (beware of the cliché) it is a matter of balance. There is the danger that locals and seasonal workers can hide at the party and no one will notice them going overboard because everyone is doing it. The stage is set for fun but if there is no scene change you may burn out. Sara of Al-anon, a support group for alcoholics, says it’s easy to hide a problem. She is raising a family here with a partner that often stays out drinking. "It’s not as noticeable here. People think ‘How could I have a problem, all my buddies are doing it’. Denial is a big word that goes with it. I see a lot of single people going nowhere with it. That’s fine if it is only affecting themselves but when other people have to suffer from it that’s not right." Sara says there is irony in the fact that there are so many other things people could be doing apart from drinking. "The outdoor activities that attract people to this place and the extra-curricular events provide so many other things to do — but it is an apres ski town. It is a question of evening alternatives. There is only one theatre and one movie playing. "It may be a resort town but the locals still have to work, they’re not on vacation." Sara says that it is a matter of taking things one day at a time and staying home to entertain. "I have a serious obligation to my children. I’m very turned off by all the excess here. There’s lots of money, lots of people abusing cocaine, pot everywhere. I’m trying not to let it affect me and get on with our lives. It’s a mater of focusing. But, I don’t know if this family will stay together." The amount of drug use and abuse in Whistler is apparent from the need to set up a Whistler branch of Narcotics Anonymous. They now meet every Friday at 8 p.m. at the Whistler Medical Centre on the second floor. The program, called Resort to Recovery, offers help to people who feel the need to stop using. Diane Anderson runs the Eating Disorders Support group. She says that living in Whistler can provide the catalyst to forming a dependence on all sorts of substances. "The party life in Whistler will never be a problem for some. They know balance, have limits and supports, someone they can trust who will recognize trouble. For others while they are here they are away from their support systems. This can increase stress." Anderson says that change in environment can produce stress but it is not always bad stress. Some people use certain behaviour to compensate for being out of balance and they will deal with it. Others have a history of difficulty that may include trouble with relationships, family and work. If the coping mechanisms are already stretched Anderson says they will be stretched even more. "Feelings come up and if the supports or the mechanisms are not in place to deal with them or dissolve them we stuff them away and instead turn to food, alcohol, sex, chemicals, even the chemicals you receive from physical exercise. "All things are fine when they are in balance. It’s just when they’re used to push feelings away that the danger comes up." Anderson says living in a resort like Whistler can trigger feelings of dissatisfaction with your life. "There is a huge involvement and a lot of money spent on being a world-class ski resort. You are presented with all these images, ‘be young, be healthy — make it a sexy affair.’ There are also messages of family togetherness promoted as well as the carefreeness and the escape message." Anderson says people may view these images and feel their own life doesn’t match up. "Then the party lifestyle seems like it is making other people happy. The shadow side is not talked about." At this time of year a lot of people are going on diets, full of the fresh hope that comes with a new year. Anderson says people should take care. "Diets turn normal people into people that are afraid of food. Every deprivation has an equal and opposite binge, whether it’s money, food or exercise. You should be gentle with yourself and think about balance rather than extremes. There are not a lot of models for that in this culture, we may need to get models for that." Anderson says that this time of year is prime for the depression that leads to substance abuse. "People do usually get distressed after the holidays. You are bound to feel depleted after all that spending, shopping, staying up late — but there is help out there. If you begin to talk about it you’ll see that everyone is going through some of this." Some numbers for support Eating Disorders Support Group 938-1006 Al-Anon 932-2856 Coast Garibaldi Health Unit 932 -3202 Narcotics Anonymous (604) 873-1018