A Story Of Discovery
Tansi, my name is Tyler Craig and I am the Indigenous Cultural Coordinator at Together We Can. I am also an alcoholic who has been in recovery for 2 ½ years thanks to the support I have received at the All My Relations program. When I reflect on what I have incorporated into my recovery journey, I see how the development of my cultural identity has been closely tied to what has been effective in my sobriety. In the past couple years I have regained my self-confidence and am embracing sobriety one day at a time.
I was born in northern Alberta and am Metis, my natural father’s side being Metis and my natural mother’s side being Cree. I was adopted to a non-Aboriginal family at birth and therefore became disconnected from my culture. I had a challenging childhood as I was emotionally and sexually abused by my adoptive parents. Once I became of age and the abuse was made public, my adoptive family cut ties with me. At a relatively early age, I was left to fend the challenges of adulthood with very little support.
I coped by drinking alcohol. I found that alcohol provided me with instant relief from my emotional turmoil. It also came with heavy consequences. Despite this, my drinking escalated until I was drinking 40oz of hard alcohol daily and using sedatives to cope with the withdrawal during the night. As I look back at my 20s, it was a dark time for me in which I had nearly lost everything: jobs, relationships, self-respect and my health. I was isolating myself and slowly drinking myself to death- in fact, I felt that death would be a welcome escape for me.
In moments of clarity, I tried to seek help. I went to a couple of treatment centres and immediately drank after I completed their programs. I sought counselling and yet, my drinking continued. Finally, I was referred to an Aboriginal addiction counsellor who asked me what I knew of my culture. When I said I did not know, he recommended that I attend an Aboriginal treatment centre. Initially, I was scared because I did not know what to expect.
In 2009 I went to a treatment centre in Manitoba. This program was grounded in traditional culture and there was frequent attendance at ceremonies. Because I was in the north, there was still a strong connection with the land- I learned about the traditional ways and how to live off the land. I look back and have wonderful memories of that period of my life.
When I returned to Alberta, I felt at the time that I would be coming full circle and coming to terms with the estrangement with my natural family. For a while, I remained sober and was continuing with my involvement with traditional indigenous culture. However, a series of unfortunate events happened in which I relapsed on alcohol. When I relapsed, I felt that I had arrived and that I deserved a reward. That one drink ended up being a relapse that lasted for a year and a half. In that time, I managed to ruin all the progress I had made up to that point and damaged several relationships.
I ended up in Vancouver where I felt that I had nothing left to live for. I saw how I was a slave to alcohol and that if I continued to drink then that would be the end of me. I knew that I was going against the cultural teachings that I had received. Yet, I still drank. I was in a motel room where I had drunk several bottles of strong beer that day because I wanted it to be my last day. I had a large stockpile of sleeping pills that I was going to take to end my life. When I called a helpline and stated what I intended to do, they sent the police. When the police showed up they took me to the hospital where I was admitted into the psych ward.
While I was at the psych ward, the hospital staff asked one of the Native Courtworkers to come and see me. The person who visited me stated that they could get me into a new Aboriginal program that Together We Can had just started. At that moment, I felt that a door opened that I did not think was possible and that by accepting this offer I was going to get my life back. That same day I started treatment at TWC All My Relations.
My time at TWC All My Relations was transformational. I learned about the 12 step program and did my steps with a sponsor. I also learned about traditional Aboriginal culture and reconnected with the ceremonies. Most importantly, I gained a strong circle of support and knew that if I stayed close to Together We Can that I would never be alone in my recovery. The feeling of belonging has been very helpful to my recovery.
I am still with Together We Can but in an employment capacity. I do my best to support the men at TWC with what has worked for me. Because I had to regain my cultural identity and it has been effective in my recovery, I guide others to rediscover their cultural identities. I have been connected with excellent elders and knowledge keepers and have been given many gifts which I can use to help others. I cherish that I can share what I have learned with others. Yet, at the end of the day, I am still a guy that is trying to find his path in life.
Together We Can provides a welcoming and affirming environment for men to achieve sobriety. This has been most helpful in my sobriety and I am proud to say that I am part of the TWC family. For the past 2 ½ years TWC has walked with me in my recovery journey for which I am grateful.
Written for Together We Can by Tyler Craig, the Indigenous Cultural Coordinator for the All My Relations program.