Coming clean: With sobriety comes hard truths and isolation, but also triumphs, say Sask. parents
As Facebook fills with Sober September posts, many in Sask. are proudly sharing their recovery stories
The story of Chester Herman's first drink is a familiar one in the Prairies, where many consider a person's first sip of alcohol to be a rite of passage and an act of celebration.
He was 15. His sister-in-law had just graduated from high school. Someone handed him a glass of champagne.
"I started with a weekend thing, and then from a weekend thing it turned into an almost everyday thing," Herman told CBC.
Between the ages of 17 and 19, he drank alcohol almost daily.
Herman said drinking was seen by the people around his home community of La Loche, Sask., as "something to do," but was fuelled by anger and resentment many in the northern village felt after going through residential schools and the government-sanctioned breakup of Indigenous families.
"There was really no one to talk to because the people that were giving the services of treatment and stuff were white people. So there were trust issues," he said.
Herman and others across the province have taken to Facebook during September to share their sobriety stories.
Some call it Sober September, a call to put down the bottle for 30 days.
For Herman, it's Recovery Month — a chance to look back at the nine years since he used his son as inspiration to break free of the grip alcohol once held on his life.
'It felt like everyone abandoned me'
When Herman's son Edward Turner was born, he decided to get sober.
Away from La Loche, which Herman said some call "the town that never sleeps, because all hours of night you have people out," he stayed away from booze for four years.
When he returned home after his relationship with his son's mother dissolved, family members and old friends started coming around to drink and his sobriety fell apart.
In 2010, Herman took custody of Turner, and decided he wanted to fully commit to being a role model to his son.
This time, sobriety stuck but people who continued the drinking lifestyle didn't stick around.
"When I sobered up, it felt like everyone abandoned me," he said.
To deal with the isolation, Herman found healthier ways to spend his time.
He started mentoring young people whom he taught carpentry at the Gabriel Dumont Institute.
In 2012, he successfully ran for regional director with the local branch of the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan.
He's not the only one who has weathered isolation and the emotions that come with trying to get sober.
Addiction and trauma
Sara Daniels doesn't remember her first drink, but she knows that by 12 years old she preferred vodka.
The vodka, combined with pills, were a way for Daniels to hide.
She had been sexually abused as a child. Racked with shame and the feeling that she deserved it, she didn't tell her family.
Daniels didn't experience the innocent transition from childhood to adulthood she saw others in her home city of Prince Albert have: sports, high school dances, crushes.
"I went right into adulthood," she said.
She masked the emotions associated with the sexual trauma she'd experienced as a child with alcohol, cocaine and other drugs.
Daniels found herself in a cycle of being sexually traumatized and raped in her teens and drinking and doing more drugs in response.
She quit drinking and doing drugs cold turkey at 21 after finding out she was pregnant, but she never dealt with the root causes of her addiction. She went back to drinking and drugs after giving birth.
Over time, Daniels came to realize the environment she was raising her children in — loud fights, people passed out around the house, piles of bottles — was unhealthy. She decided to get sober.
It took years for her to fully break the cycle with drugs. Alcohol took even longer.
Anxiety and depression would sink in when she wasn't under the influence. Daniels talked to her family and made sure they were available for her to talk to while she got sober.
There were relapses. The urge to drink during stressful times is still "so strong," she said.
She found healing in talking about her childhood trauma and the way things spiralled.
"It wasn't until I was about 30 when I started getting sober and realizing I'm worth something and this is not how I'm supposed to be treated," she said.
"I didn't deserve this."
Like Herman, Daniels had to change her whole social setting to start fresh.
She stopped drinking while living in Saskatoon rather than Prince Albert.
Her advice for people whose friends are getting sober is to stop and think before they invite them out. Bars and parties are a no-no.
Comments like, "Oh come out and be my D.D. [designated driver] or come out and you don't have to drink" are not helpful, she said, because you're asking a sober person to go into an environment they have trouble with.
Daniels says an invite to the movies is a good alternative.
It's been six years since Daniels last drank, and, aside from a relapse involving one shot of hard liquor, nine years for Herman.
Herman said people in the community look up to him as a role model for how to be sober.
While comments like "this looks good on you" show him that people are proud of him, he said his success is being there to see his son's accomplishments, such as when Turner made the honour roll year after year and when he graduated from high school.
Daniels takes the most pride from what she has provided for her children.
"They're so happy. Their home, that's their safe place and they know it," she said. "If one of their friends is having trouble, they come over."