'I didn't have to do it alone': Short films document personal stories of addiction, mental health

Community members at the Alex Community Health Centre help Calgarians share their stories of resilience through filmmaking.

Calgarians share their stories of resilience through filmmaking

Mike Lang and Trish Little have been workshopping Little's film about her healing journey. (Susan Holzman/CBC)

A slide show of intimate family photos and portraits of Trish Little overlays her soft voice as she narrates her past.

The Calgary mom describes a childhood of abuse, ongoing challenges with addiction and mental health and a time when her three children were taken away from her. 

But hers is not a sad story. 

Helpers Fixers Healers, as its title suggests, is a short about Little's path to healing and a tribute to the people who have helped her become a proud mom, grandmother, wife and friend, who is 8½ years sober.

"About 10 years ago or so, I started to find these wonderful people living here in Calgary," she says. "They were magical healers; I love to call them my earth angels." 

The film is one of a collection of inspiring digital stories of resilience workshopped by community members at the Alex Community Health Centre, alongside storytellers like Little. 

The shorts, which document experiences with addiction, mental health and homelessness, will be screened in the Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall at the Central Library on Wednesday night. 

Mike Lang — one of Little's "magical healers" — facilitated the project at the Alex, a community hub that provides a range of support services to vulnerable Calgarians. 

"When we take the time to really listen deeply to the stories in our lives, there's incredible lessons to be learned," says Lang, a digital storyteller who works with patients in the health-care system to document their stories and use them to improve care. 

'I didn't have to do it alone'

The films aren't always easy to listen to, at times detailing pain and suffering, but he says they showcase how inspiring the storytellers nominated to be part of the project really are. 

"I did some real deep work and I didn't have to do it alone," Little says, reflecting on her recovery and the time spent turning her story into a film. 

Trish Little says she is honoured that the Alex Community Health Centre nominated her to be part of the digital stories of resilience project. (CBC)

In Helpers Fixers Healers, Little says she has been involved with agencies designed to help her since she was taken into the child welfare system due to neglect and abuse — a result of her mom's alcoholism and both her parents' struggles with mental health. 

Yet, she says wasn't able to get what she "so desperately needed" until recently. 

"It felt like doctors, police, social workers, all were looking down on me," she says in the film.

At 23, Little left a bad relationship and her hometown, a small fishing village in Nova Scotia, to move to Calgary with her three children. 

Moving wasn't easy and neither was quitting drinking, which took years after the move, but she says she has begun healing thanks to the supportive people she has met at the Alex and through producing the film. 

Tackling 'pity eyes' 

Once Little was accepted into the Alex, she met with a chronic health nurse and was later paired up with a doctor, who she says makes her feel like a peer. 

"I don't feel that she's higher than me or that I'm some charity case or a victim of my story," she says. "There's a very different [health-care] approach. She takes my lead, almost."

And Little says her new doctor has given her tools to work on her complex PTSD. 

Little now works as a mentor and support person. 

Creating Helpers Fixers Healers, she says, was also transformative, in that she was able to open up about parts of her story that she had rarely, if ever, shared. 

"There were tears attached to it, there was relief, there was hope, there was freedom from that secret, that shame that goes with keeping things to myself. I just got big, powerful goose bumps," she says.

Being nominated to tell her story is an honour that has empowered her and given her dignity, Little says. 

She says she hopes her film will inspire others to speak their truth when it's screened tonight. 

The event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Each film will be shown, followed by a discussion with the storyteller.

"We talked a lot in the workshop about the idea of 'pity eyes' and looking at people in a way that's pitying them and how everyone really dislikes that," Lang said. 

"It takes away somebody's ability, someone's agency to be part of their own healing."

With files from CBC's Homestretch.