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A beautiful connection


I lost my father at a young age. I was very close to him and he was one of my only connections to my Passamaquoddy heritage. The trauma of my dad’s death, of being assaulted multiple times and of being in an abusive relationship led me to start using drugs and alcohol to cope.

I dropped out of school in Grade 9 and entered rehab. I found the whole experience traumatizing. Rehab wasn’t the right place for me. I was brought there against my will. I wasn’t ready to incorporate the therapeutic practices and strategies I was being taught. When I got out, I went right back to doing drugs and drinking—the same lifestyle I had before. I was having a really hard time, and I would tell my mom ‘if you don't give me money for drugs, I'll jump off the balcony right now.’ How awful is that to say to your own mother?

Luckily, she never gave up on me. It was my mom who got me into the rehab program that finally made a difference. It was my third attempt at rehab, and it worked. When I was finishing that program, I came across a posting for a job at a United Way-supported social enterprise. It’s a place that helps connect Indigenous youth with on-the-job skills training and experience that prepares them for the labour market. I applied for the job, and I got an interview at the agency. I felt comfortable enough to disclose to my interviewer that I’d reconnected with my Indigenous heritage in rehab. It turned out he had struggled with the same things. I instantly felt connected and supported.

I was so happy when I got the job. I got to sell First Nations, Métis and Inuit handcrafts and art. Life was still really hard—at points I was even suicidal—but somehow I still made it to work every morning.

My job at the social enterprise was one of the things that really helped me. It gave me a reason to wake up every day. It gave me a purpose. It also taught me important skills like handling finances, public speaking and how to run an e-commerce site. I also had the chance to connect with some of the agency’s young people and to see their struggles. Every sale I made felt so meaningful because I got to see the difference that money was making in the lives of these youth.

Today, I know exactly what I want to do. I want to help people, whether that means being a child and youth worker, a social worker, or a therapist. I've met all these important people along my journey. I honestly don't know where I’d be without them. I’d been using drugs to fill a void in myself, and these people encouraged me to fill that void by reconnecting with my native heritage. Traditional practices like smudging have become coping strategies for me. I recently attended my first pow-wow, and it was the first time in my life that I felt comfortable in a crowded room. It was beautiful.

Now I want to be that same important person for someone else’s journey. Because I've been through so much, I think I’m the perfect person to help others.

- Lyla
United Way program participant