No more secrets: How young, gay northerner overcame trauma and addictions

Tanis Niditchie is celebrating a year of sobriety after a long journey, including coming out as gay, multiple sexual assaults, treatment for addictions and a suicide attempt.

Tanis Niditchie celebrating 1 year of sobriety, after sexual assaults and suicide attempt

'My mom is very loving and supportive. I knew that regardless of what I was doing she would be supportive,' says Tanis Niditchie, right, with her mother Cathie Menacho, left. (submitted by Tanis Niditchie)

Tanis Niditchie didn't quite fit in growing up in Tulita, Northwest Territories.

A self-described tomboy, Niditchie "didn't like girl things" and in the northern town of just 500 people, she stood out.

"Tulita is very small and it wasn't a very open place. You know, rumours are pretty bad," Niditchie says.

The 22-year-old is now celebrating a year of sobriety after a long journey, including coming out as gay, sexual assaults, treatment for addictions and a suicide attempt. She sees it as her life's purpose to share her story with other northerners going through similar plights.

Keeping secrets

Niditchie says she started drinking to help deal with secrets she was keeping about her sexual identity.

"Sometimes I would get teased and called names for being a tomboy. It just made me question who I was for a long time."

Drinking and drugs seemed to fill a hole, she says.

"Even though growing up I was sporty, I had good grades. I was this good kid. Once I started doing drugs, it really confused me about a lot of things in my life."

She says she lost interest in school and sports. She also lost who she was.

And there were more secrets.

Niditchie says the drinking put her in dangerous and vulnerable situations, and she was sexually assaulted multiple times.

"I used to blame myself a lot for that, it's like 'you know if I hadn't been drinking it wouldn't have happened.'"

Family support

'I’m a year sober. It’s amazing to see these things fall into place,' says Tanis Niditchie. (submitted by Tanis Niditchie)
Niditchie's mother, Cathie Menacho, noticed when her daughter was six years old that she wasn't into "girly" things.

"She played with trucks, she played with the boys, hockey, basketball," Menacho says. "I raised her and just let her be herself until she found out her own identity."

But then the drinking started.

"I knew something was different about her," Menacho says. "[I thought] maybe that's what's bugging her, maybe that's why she's drinking."

Niditchie tried to outrun her problems by getting away from Tulita.

"I tried moving, you know the geographical escape of moving, and tried going back to school, and it didn't work out," she says.

"Wherever I go I bring myself with me."

Eventually, with the support of her mom and her uncle, she entered a treatment program in Alberta. A cousin also encouraged her to make a statement to police about the sexual assaults, and Niditchie went through the court system.

"I had my mom walking with me throughout the whole process."

Relapse, hell... and a purpose

After returning to Tulita and relapsing, Niditchie says she was "in the pits of hell."

"I was completely hopeless. I just feel so isolated and done in Tulita," she says.

"I almost committed suicide. I was so close to dying. Just seconds away."

Niditchie posted these photos of herself on her Facebook page. The left image was taken after her suicide attempt. In the photo on the right she is one-year sober. (submitted by Tanis Niditchie)
She says friends on the bank of the river saved her life. So did her mother.

"She stuck by me through that," Niditchie says. "I had my mom there encouraging me every day."

During a five-month stint at a treatment centre in B.C., she realized her purpose in life is to tell others her story.

"Sometimes I will sit and I think about my life story and it's like, holy crap. I made it through all of that."

But Niditchie says she wouldn't change a minute of it.

"There's a lot of good that comes out of the bad."

with files from Loren McGinnis, Marc Winkler