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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

To sobriety

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Aug 30, 2022

Against all odds, I celebrated four years of sobriety at the end of July. 

I am still in awe of my healing journey, because I initially went down that road with very little guidance and support. After learning to love the person I have become, I needed to learn how to love the broken little girl I used to be until the age of 23. This year of recovery was dedicated to her.

There’s a lot of shame and guilt associated with substance use. I think a lot of that shame stems from the war on drugs that started in the 1970s and the policies and narratives that came out of it. The only thing the war on drugs achieved is further criminalization of Black, Indigenous and other people of colour.

Unfortunately, our communities internalized that shame. I remember non-Natives telling me I was an alcoholic because my people have the “alcoholism gene”, which is fallacious. Statements like these are only spread to dehumanize marginalized communities like ours. 

For years, however, I was doomed because of such lies. I was trying to prove I was not the “stereotype” instead of addressing this internalized shame of mine. The war on drugs conditioned me and so many others to believe we were less worthy of anything good because of addictions.

I did sketchy stuff in active addiction, stuff that I don’t dare to think about because of the wave of anxiety that it would cause me. I hurt people, went against my moral compass and made my mother cry more times than I would like to admit. I tried to bury those memories deep within myself under the cover of recovery, but I couldn’t run away from them forever. This year, I felt solid enough to process them.

I found profound love and empathy in this part of my healing journey. I have become very protective of the girl I used to be. Sometimes, people hold my past against me to break my self-esteem, but I’m no longer ashamed of the person I was. 

The girl I used to be coped with poverty and neglect with drugs and alcohol because she didn’t know any better. But the socio-economic context I found myself in is the result of centuries of colonization and state violence. The girl I used to be was still full of potential, knowledge and talents; all she needed was a sense of safety and people rooting for her. The girl I used to be gave me the gift of empathy and the experience needed to advocate for a better world.

Addictions don’t define you and the girl I used to be still deserved safety, love and dignity. 

This radical love and acceptance I show to my past self, I now show to my fellow community members and relatives. No statistic will ever make me ashamed of being a Waswanipi ishkwesh, because I choose to see my life through the scope of resilience.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.