Wachiya! My name is Christopher Stephen. I am from Waskaganish. I am a Cree journalist. Most of you must know me from the airwaves of CBC North-Quebec. I am honoured and I am happy to bring you some stories here at The Nation. I will try to bring you the really important stories about our own Cree people. I will write about the real events that took place within our own Cree communities, especially about our own Crees who want to make a stand and heal themselves, the people who are walking the healing journey.

I know some people, I mean good people, and I have good friends who are on that healing journey and strongly support those who are on that path. I have a lot of respect for those who are on their healing journey. I am going to bring you stories you’ve never heard before and I want to interview people with serious issues who have gone through these situations in their own life-time.

I had a great chance to interview Alice (Wapachee) Desjarlais, from the Waskaganish Wellness Society at the Waskaganish Wellness Centre. Alice is a full-time counsellor at the centre. She is on the healing journey and will tell us what is a sober Christmas. Alice used to live in Moose Factory, Ontario. She’s originally from Waskaganish and she has come a long way to come home and help her own community.

ALICE: The only time I remember a sober Christmas was when I was a child up to about age 5. I remember a quiet and loving Christmas spent with my family in the trapline. We lived in the bush for a few years when I was a child. After age 6, I remember many occasions of drinking parties at Chrismas time. I did not see a sober Christmas for a long time. From there I grew up only knowing that Christmas was time to party as fast and as hard as you can for 10 days! I remember some people trying out-do each other as to who drank more and the longest at Christmas. What a sad way to spend Christmas! I did not know back then how sad the “scene” was… To me this seemed normal – the scene of drinking parties in different homes and dance halls.

Alcohol flowed freely and with no conscience of how much money was abused this way or how the children were hurting. At age 11, I remember baby-sitting four children all night in fear. We children laid awake for long hours, being afraid to sleep because the parents were not home – being afraid that a drunk would stagger into the house, and being afraid of violence or physical fights when people would come home to party. Back then, while I was young, I did not know that this was no way to spend Christmas! I did not know how unhealthy it was.

I remember those children who I babysat, growing up with fear, neglect and abandonment issues. I did not learn that all these issues would follow each of us throughout adulthood into our very own families. So those five little children who grew up in an alcoholic home grew up to be “adult children of alcoholics” (ACOA). When all these children grew up and had children of their own, the same pattern or cycle of addictions progressed drastically in their families.

Drugs and alcohol ran freely from the time I was 18 years of age. I never knew a sober Christmas until I was in my forties! The wheel went round and round, nonstop, until one year in adulthood I decided I had enough of this lifestyle. I started to sober up and I barely knew who I really was – who was the real Alice…

I woke up with a bunch of questions, who is the real Alice, why was I using so much drugs and drinking too much. I thought to myself how can I stop… Why I did I start… I did not realize I carried so much pain of sadness, unhappiness, shame, guilt due to growing up in an alcoholic home and (with alcoholism among) extended family members. Therefore, when I found alcohol and drugs I clung to them because they relieved the pain of shame, temporarily. I carried pain from early childhood as far as I can remember. What happened, way back, when I lived in traumatic life experiences in childhood caused me to live in the addictions style of abuse because I chose to cling to drugs and alcohol. I was unable to live differently.

When I sobered up, I had to look over my whole life, especially my childhood issues. I recalled many sad and painful memories. I had to accept and feel those painful feelings in order to heal my inner being today, one day at the time. I am able to choose to react and feel as I wish in a healthier way. I no longer need to depend on drugs and alcohol. I had to learn to live without them.

Today, in recovery, I choose to have a positive lifestyle. I am more aware of certain issues that I need to deal with and I deal with them positively. I am grateful for each day of my sobriety which holds many learning experiences. I experienced a sober Christmas seven times. I am able to enjoy a sober Christmas now. I can be happy, joyous and free at Christmas, as I choose to do what it takes to have a sober Christmas.

I had to do much healing from my childhood issues. My heart was changed from a bitter heart to a heart full of unconditional love of God. I first had to find forgiveness in my heart to those who hurt me and abandoned me as a child or a young person. I had to practise thinking and living a sober and clean lifestyle before I could sincerely enjoy a “sober Christmas”!!

I now practise my spirituality, which is coming to fully “accept those things or people” just as they are and to be non-judgemental. Spirituality is love, forgiveness, kindness, joy and peace and being dependent on your higher power, whom I know as God. Most of us know the real meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Jesus our saviour, but choose to neglect this and follow our selfish desires.

This Christmas, each of us need to think about the true meaning of Christmas, where you could and would find love and peace even in the midst of trouble. Christmas is a time to love and enjoy the company of your loved ones and your dearest friends. But let’s not forget the unfortunate ones. In sobriety, Christmas means to practise accepting and adopting those who are unfortunate and include them in your Christmas dinner or Christmas festivities even if they are not your relatives. If you can think of another person who is alone at Christmas, visit or invite them for a sober evening and make them feel welcome. Or make a special visit to an elderly person. To me, Christmas means a time to share the joy that I feel.

Since, living soberly at Christmas, I am able to remember all that is said and done. There was a time when I didn’t remember opening my gift from my beloved brother. The next morning, all hung over, I asked, “Who got this gift?” My daughter told me, “you!” Oh, I felt so embarrassed because I didn’t remember opening the gift, but she told me that I looked and acted sober as I opened the gift the day before. When I was told this episode, I knew then I had to stop my drinking and drugging. I still have that gift from six years ago and it’s a reminder of that Christmas day, when I decided and had a strong desire to stay sober!

I want to say to all my Native brothers and sisters, if you are drinking and drugging this Christmas and waking up and not remembering opening your gift or not remembering seeing your children open their gifts, it will be time to sober up and stay sober one day at a time and Christmas after Christmas!! This Christmas, I choose to stay sober and drug free!!

May God keep you all in this Christmas
of 1998.