AARC graduate praised as 'bringer of the dawn'

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 22, 2002

"I looked at my life for once with honesty and didn't like what I saw"

Imagine an auditorium full of people celebrating the graduation of just one person.

Now imagine that this one person is a talented and beautiful young woman who has just completed a rigorous program, not leading to some academic diploma or degree – as important as that may be – but to life itself.

That was the experience of Morley resident Chantelle Kootenay, 18, honored as the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre's 191st graduate in ceremonies held in Calgary on May 17.

"This past year has been a life-changing experience," Chantelle told the audience as she began recounting a journey that took her from honor student and classical violinist, to the despair of drug and alcohol addiction, and now into recovery.

Her fascination with drugs, alcohol and the party scene began as a pre-teen. "I thought I was pretty big and cool," she said. "Drugs were my solution to feel better, instantly."

"In Grade Nine I started skipping class to get high. By the end of the year my attendance was so low I gave up on myself and didn't even bother writing my finals."

Life started going downhill fast. She got into the harder drugs. She dropped out of school in Grade 10 and avoided going home.

"My mom would tell me that I had lost my spirit and that I was a lost soul. I was," Chantelle said.

"You know how they say the eyes are the windows to our soul? Well, my eyes were black and I would show no emotions whatsoever. I became bitter and cold-hearted. I had lost all morals and values.

"I lowered the bar for myself so low that it was OK to steal money from my baby brother to get high. When my grandma passed away, I couldn't deal with it, so I turned to drugs and alcohol, staying stoned through the whole funeral."

Chantelle described herself during that time as "angry, hurt, ashamed, frustrated and hopeless."

"I felt trapped within myself," she said. "I knew there was something wrong. I had hit bottom."

It was a bad mushroom trip that finally got her attention.

"It made me realize that I had wasted eight years of my life on drugs and alcohol and that all along my mom was right. I looked at my life for once with honesty and I didn't like what I saw."

With her mother's encouragement, Chantelle enrolled in the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC). The no-nonsense honesty-based program works with the whole family, and in Chantelle's case, this meant her mother and siblings would also be enrolled in the treatment process for the entire year.

Reflecting on her road to recovery, Chantelle continued:

"I realized I had really ravaged my life and now the time had come to take responsibility for my actions. I felt shame for hurting the people that meant the most to me: my family. Facing my shame of being wrong was very, very, very hard and humbling," she said.

"Today I feel better than I have ever felt before in my whole life," she concluded. "I have shed my old self and have found another – one that is full of spirit, principles and values. I know that today I don't need drugs to feel better.

"I'd rather work toward what I want in life and be proud and grateful for what I've got. I never thought I'd say it, but this program has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Today I'm proud to be a Native American in recovery."

Chantelle's sister Toshia, brothers Daryl and Cameron, and mother Myrna Kootenay were present on the platform throughout Chantelle's graduation talk, just as they had been throughout her treatment.

Standing before the entire audience, Myrna took the microphone and looked directly at Chantelle:

"Through your pain and hardship in addiction, I have recovered, too," she said. "You have brought me so much healing and willingness to change. You are the bringer of the dawn.... You have the freedom to be who God sent you to be.

"I am so privileged and honored to be your mother."

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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