I recently had the good fortune to attend the first Women’s Wellness Conference hosted by the Pauquachin Nation here in Sidney, BC. There was a story telling session where I heard from a strong First Nation woman her amazing story of rising from a history of trauma and alcoholism into wellness.
In the beginning, she told a story that was familiar and stereotypical of First Nations people. Years ago, she drank a bottle or two everyday to drawn her sorrow and to numb herself from the abuse she took from her husband. In those years, she would go to work crying and feeling sorry for herself. However, before the story went on for too long, she said something so inspiring it perked me right up.
The story went like this:
He said “I used to make excuses for my drinking, too.” I was so mad at him for saying that. I thought how could he be so hard on me! Didn’t he understand .…………!? However, I realized that he’s right. It was my choice to drink. Yes, my husband was abusive, but he did not hold a gun against my head and force the bottle into my mouth. It was my choice to pick up the bottle.
It was so truthful it gave me the perspective I needed in order to work with First Nations people. Yes, there was generation after generations abuse directed at First Nations people. Yes, there was hardship and sorrow in her childhood and earlier life. And yes, her husband was abusive at that time. If there was a contest for people to find most reasons to drink, people with her story would probably win. Yet, she withdrew from the game of self-pity and took full responsibility for her choice. From there, she walked on a totally different path – a path of recovery and wellness.
So often, the helping professionals find reasons for people’s self-destructive behaviour. We want to be supportive and understanding especially when there is history of tremendous trauma. However, if we agree with the reasons, we lose sight of people’s own power and take away their choice in what they do. This brave woman just reminded me that it is empowering when we put the choice and responsibility back to the person.