I think that Creator gives you a lot of teachings in life. Whether or not you choose to listen and learn from them is your own decision. I have been given teachings that I haven’t understood or even grasped the meaning of for years and years. Creator also chooses when and why you are given teachings, all of which help you in your journey in life. Sometimes a teaching can come in the worst possible way.

Two years ago, I was working as a chef at Southeast Personal Care Home. I had only gotten the job after getting a culinary arts diploma in cooking one and two. I thought that this was my best route in life, since I had never finished high school and believed that I had a learning disability. I was drinking heavily back then, as were most of the staff at Southeast Personal Care Home. My days were spent being a functional drunk, even arriving and driving to work still half in the bag. On Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2013, I drank three 26’s of vodka with my friends from work. While we were at the fireworks at The Forks, I became overwhelmed with stomach pain under my rib cage. My friends drove me to Emergency and I was admitted and had blood work and an ultrasound done. I spent two days in Concordia Hospital with an IV stuck in my arm to replenish my dehydration. It turned out that I had an enlarged pancreas and liver. The doctors told me that I could have died from alcohol poisoning.

It was time to smarten up and get some help, I thought to myself. I decided to put myself into the Peguis Treatment Center. They had elders named Toog and Petite. They were a married couple who did the traditional teachings at the treatment center. We were required to attend the Sweat Lodge Ceremony as part of our healing and to sweat out a lot of the alcohol or drugs that were still in our system. Once in the Sweat Lodge, Toog spoke about how the spirit of Old Sweet Grass Woman, who used to be a very respected and loved elder on the reserve, came into the Sweat Lodge. When she entered she brought with her a boy, also a spirit, named Little White Bear. I was told that it was my son and that he was receiving his Spirit Name. I broke down instantly and started to cry. After all the years I had spent lying about his death, I knew then that it was time to tell the truth.

I was fifteen when I was in St. John’s group home. I was raped by one guy, but held down by ten of the Triad gang members in a basement apartment across from the KFC on Sherbrook St. There were five other girls from the other Marymount Group homes. We were easy prey. It was one of my friends Tammy who encouraged me to go to the party with the promise of McDonald’s, a pack of smokes, and getting drunk. I was fifteen at the time and had nothing, so I thought it was a pretty good idea. After the rape we were all thrown out naked and we ran into the KFC to call the police and ask for help. Later, I found out that I was pregnant from the rape. Even though I was traumatized by the rape, I still wanted to have the baby because I figured that this would be the first person who would love me. Finally, I would have love in my life. I wanted to give this child all of the love from my heart that I had to give.

I was nine months pregnant when my social worker arrived at the group home and asked me if I wanted to live in a foster home. There was this nice couple named the Golds who had one other foster daughter and two of their own sons. They wanted to look after a pregnant teen and have her live in their house with the baby until she turned eighteen. I met with the couple and figured that this would be the best plan for me and my child. I had my baby on July 7, 1989, a couple of days before my own birthday – so I called my baby boy my birthday present. I named him Tommy Lee Strong after the drummer from Mötley Crüe, since I was crazy over him at the time. I was happy at the Golds’ house and loved my son Tommy so much. He meant everything to me and I was always kissing and hugging my baby. I was so happy and so proud of my boy. While I was there, I started seeing this electric guitarist named Brad who lived across the back lane. I was in love, everything was beautiful, and life seemed to be going great.

It was November 21, 1989, and Diane Gold, my foster mother, suggested we attend an al-anon meeting,  a meeting for people who live or have lived with alcohol abuse within their family. After we got back, without thinking, I put my boy down with his snowsuit on to answer my boyfriend’s phone call. We spoke for half an hour, and then I went upstairs to get ready for bed. I found Tommy face down. He must have rolled over and his lips had turned blue. I screamed and tried to wake him up. I was screaming and crying, holding my son and begging him not to leave me. Diane rushed in, and the next thing I knew I was being pushed aside by paramedics and firefighters who rushed him to the children’s hospital, where he was pronounced dead. They sent a priest in to talk to me and give my son his last rites while I held my son wrapped in a blanket for the last time. I was broken-hearted and tried to commit suicide a week later. I tried a couple more times after that, as I did not ever want to face the truth of what had really happened. For years and years, I lied to everyone and blamed it on S.I.D.S., Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

I think that when my son Tommy came into the Sweat Lodge with Old Sweet Grass Woman, he was telling me to let go of what happened and not feel guilty anymore. Finally admitting what had really happened to myself and others is helping me with my healing. I was happy my son was given his Spirit Name and that Creator wanted to share it with me as a gift, just as my son was a gift of true happiness, even if it was for a short time. His name was Little White Bear.

After I completed the treatment program, I wanted to make a change in my life. I decided to go back and get my education. This time, I used a different kind of muscle in body: my brain. I had always relied on my body throughout my life, and it was time to rely on my mental capacity. I know that I am a strong person, and I figured that if I could get through some of the things that I have experienced without going crazy, then I was sure that I could get my high school diploma. I went to Urban Circle and was amazed when I excelled and received good grades. While I was there, I had a dream about attending University, so I kept my grades up. I was super proud of my accomplishment when I received my diploma on Graduation day. Shortly after that, I began studies at the University of Winnipeg, and my dream of going to University had come true.

This teaching that I had received held many different meanings that I had to learn from. The first was that Creator gives us all gifts, and even if it is for only a short time, we should always cherish them. The second was that we can receive healing in the most unusual ways, and we have to face it and let ourselves heal, even if it hurts. The third was that you should never give up on yourself. Even when life is hard, you can find the strength to pull through and keep being a survivor. Teachings can be difficult, but we are given them to heal, to learn, and to recognize what we need to do in order to move forward in our lives. In time you will understand the teachings you are given, even if it takes years and years.

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