July 18, 2018

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'I must get my life back'

Longtime Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt announces he's seeking treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, but says he hasn't ruled out running for re-election

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>City of Winnipeg Coun. Russ Wyatt announced Thursday that he has entered rehab for alcoholism and drug abuse.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

City of Winnipeg Coun. Russ Wyatt announced Thursday that he has entered rehab for alcoholism and drug abuse.

Two months after Coun. Russ Wyatt mysteriously disappeared from Winnipeg city hall on an extended leave of absence, the longtime Transcona representative has broken his silence, announcing he’s in rehab for alcoholism and drug abuse.

In an exclusive letter to the Free Press, Wyatt said he’s been battling depression for a number of years, which more recently led him down a path of “addiction to alcohol and a substance use disorder.”

The veteran councillor said his struggles with alcohol and drugs spiralled to the point it began negatively affecting his family, leading him to realize he needed to seek help in order to take back control of his life.

“With a family and as a father, I knew I couldn’t go on and I had to make a change in my life. I want to live life to the fullest and to be the best father I can be. Because of that, at this time, I must focus on my recovery,” Wyatt wrote in the letter, which the Free Press is printing in full, at his request.

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Two months after Coun. Russ Wyatt mysteriously disappeared from Winnipeg city hall on an extended leave of absence, the longtime Transcona representative has broken his silence, announcing he’s in rehab for alcoholism and drug abuse.

In an exclusive letter to the Free Press, Wyatt said he’s been battling depression for a number of years, which more recently led him down a path of "addiction to alcohol and a substance use disorder."

The veteran councillor said his struggles with alcohol and drugs spiralled to the point it began negatively affecting his family, leading him to realize he needed to seek help in order to take back control of his life.

"With a family and as a father, I knew I couldn’t go on and I had to make a change in my life. I want to live life to the fullest and to be the best father I can be. Because of that, at this time, I must focus on my recovery," Wyatt wrote in the letter, which the Free Press is printing in full, at his request.

"For over 15 years I have been pouring my heart and soul into the work of building a better community and a better city. But now I must get my life back and that means being personally healthy first."

On Jan. 19, Wyatt requested a medical leave of absence from the city clerk, and checked himself into the Aurora Recovery Centre near Gimli, 90 kilometres north of Winnipeg, where he remains. While a leave of this nature would normally be a personal matter, Wyatt said he feels, as an elected official, he owes the public an explanation for his prolonged absence.

'Challenging, humbling' process

It remains unclear when, or if, Wyatt plans to return to work as a city councillor.

In a follow-up email to the Free Press, Wyatt said he has yet to make up his mind about whether he’ll run in the October civic election.

"It is difficult for me to express this but I have been suffering from depression for a number of years. And more recently it led to an addiction to alcohol and a substance use disorder." -Russ Wyatt

Located on the shore of Lake Winnipeg, Aurora Recovery Centre — where Wyatt has been for the past 63 days — prides itself on being one of the only facilities in the country to offer a continuum of care from detox to recovery.

In 2016, a spokesman for the facility said the cost of treatment was $17,000 for a 10-day detox and a 30-day stay in one of the facility’s residential recovery wings. In an email to the Free Press, Wyatt said his family was covering the cost of his treatment.

"There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. By reaching out and asking for help, I began a process of healing which has been emotionally challenging and very, very humbling. It has placed me on a journey of self-discovery," Wyatt said.

"Working with counsellors, therapists and other individuals also in recovery, I have been learning about my depression and have been developing tools to deal with my addiction. These tools give me a real hope for a happy and healthy life."

'We really miss him'

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said city hall has been lacking Wyatt’s presence.

"We really miss him. I really miss him. I know he’s missed, even by the people who he drives a bit over the edge sometimes. We’re here to support him for sure. It’s a brave, very hard thing he’s doing. It’s really hard to take that step, but I’m really grateful that he’s seeking treatment," Lukes said.

"It’s a brave, very hard thing he’s doing. It’s really hard to take that step, but I’m really grateful that he’s seeking treatment." -Janice Lukes

"This is a job that no one teaches you and no one trains you for. To be able to look around the room and draw on the knowledge from (Wyatt) is important, because he really brings a lot of wisdom. There are not many people who have the same experience as him."

Wyatt was first elected to city council for the Transcona ward in 2002, at the age of 32. During his time as a Winnipeg politician, which has spanned the administrations of three mayors, Wyatt has earned the reputation of being an outspoken council member. In the past, he’s characterized his political perspective as fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

His father, Reg Wyatt, was a Winnipeg city councillor from 1983 to 1986.

City of Winnipeg administration was unable to provide clarification Thursday on whether any rules are in place governing what is to be done during a prolonged leave of absence by a city councillor.

In his letter, Wyatt expressed hope that by speaking candidly about his struggle, he may help others dealing with mental health and addiction issues.

He closed out the note by thanking his constituents and friends for respecting his family’s privacy, as well as the public for their understanding during this difficult time, adding: "Please know I love my community."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Friday, March 23, 2018 at 6:49 AM CDT: Removes reference to executive policy committee

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