[Personal] A sort of uncomfortableness…

I have been struggling to put this into words here.

Today with this post, I will try to put these thoughts into words here.

I have written about restorative justice before and I have written about my experiences (somewhat) within the (in)justice system, and where I am today—in a much better place. What I have not written about are my experiences before arriving to that point in time.

When I was much younger, I was very much into my culture—my family travelled to powwows, we danced, and we participated in ceremony. I remember I was even apart of this dance troupe back home. Being a member of this dance troupe, we sometimes went to participate in mini powwows and cultural activities with inmates at the local remand centre. I remember dancing there and being able to share what dancing meant for me as young Indigenous woman.

I don’t know what happened but eventually I stopped doing these cultural activities and I distanced myself entirely from my culture. I can’t really tell you what happened or why it happened. It is just something I cannot remember. Perhaps this is a response to some of the trauma I experienced later on.

Then, by the time I was 17/18 years old, I was arrested. The last time I was arrested I was 23 years old. In both instances, it was for similar reasons, but I won’t go into details here. For the first instance, I received a conditional discharge. On the final and last time, I also received a conditional discharge. Conditional discharge means that discharge came with certain conditions that had to be fulfilled.

During the first instance, I was placed in remand at the same centre that I used to dance at in my traditional regalia—strange how that happened. I was placed on suicide watch. The courts also stated that they did not want me to live on my own and my family was too worried about my own safety if I returned home. I ended up being placed in a women’s shelter where I met other Indigenous women fleeing domestic violence situations. As part of my conditional discharge I had to participate in counselling, follow a curfew, and live at the women’s shelter (until after the three month mark where I was expected to find a permanent place to live). The crazy logic the court used to keep me in remand is the same logic that contributed to me no longer being able to move back home with my family or to move back to my old apartment—they said, “it was for my own safety.” I was displaced from my own home and my own family. I don’t know how that is considered safe. Then, the counselling was also meant to re-introduce me to my culture, and I don’t know if it succeeded or not.

When I moved to London ON, these same cycles continued—getting arrested, conditional discharges, displacement (but the more extreme of displacement, homelessness). It just sucked big time since I moved to London ON to get away from the problems I experienced back home. Yet, the same shit kept happening, except this time in London ON where I had no family and very few friends.

Then I met a counsellor who literally changed my life (one of the two who meant a lot to me in London ON). It really didn’t clue in the struggles I was going through until I was no longer receiving counselling (you know, because I fulfilled my conditional discharge). I had forgotten her name, much like I forgotten every other counsellor’s name I have previously seen. There are just some things you don’t want to remember, and when you are forced to see someone you don’t really want to see (because I sometimes didn’t want to see these counsellors but I literally had too or else… back to jail) you tend to forget about them. However, I went to a presentation on residential schools during my second year at Western University, which is the university I just recently completed my studies in criminology (funny how that happens, eh?) with a minor in women’s studies. I had no idea who the woman speaking was until she started to speak. It was the same woman who I had to see as part of my conditional discharge.

I will never forget the words when she described how residential schools took away Indigenous cultures, and her work as a counsellor in the justice system, that it was now a different institution that was giving it back. Specifically she said, “It’s funny how Aboriginal [men & women] now learn their culture in a Federal institution when it was an institution that took it away.”

And this is where my struggles with my culture come from today. I sometimes feel ashamed that, you know, I used to practice it but then lost it, and that it was an institution that insisted on saying that I had to plead guilty in order to access the supports (my culture) to help me overcome the situation(s) I was in. You would think that it would be the other way around, right? Maybe, you know, have Indigenous people access the supports they need to help them overcome situations instead of waiting until they are in the system. That’s why I am not too fond of the restorative justice approach especially for Indigenous women who have been victims of violence but are in turn arrested themselves. I struggle with my culture because I sometimes feel ashamed. I sometimes resist re-learning it so much that I avoid certain practices or situations. As I sit here today writing this post, I am struggling with this sort of uncomfortableness again. But it’s funny how this uncomfortableness works.

I am sitting here today, working towards law school in the fall and attending a pre-law program with a group of wonderful and amazing Indigenous students who I am learning from each day I am in class with them. It’s funny because like my friends joke, who would have thought I would have studied and then graduated university with a specialization in criminology!? Then when I think back to when I was younger, who would have thought I would have went back to that remand centre not as a visitor but as an inmate?! Albeit that situation is more ironic as opposed to funny… remand isn’t funny. Then, who would have thought I would be here studying law and working toward law school in the fall?! 

I am grateful for this experience and even the uncomfortableness that it brings. It can only go up from here. Life is great (and also entertaining, maybe?) that way!

One year later: friendships, suicide, grief, and acceptance

Exactly one year to the date, my best friend decided to end her journey here on earth. I received the text message two days after the fact, and I didn’t accept it until about 6 months later (and still only partial acceptance). 

One month after her passing, I had a beautiful dream of her. 

A note from my personal journal dated September 26, 2012 reads, 

Last night I had a dream of Alex…I cried a lot today. I cried because I missed her. In my dream, she was really happy and really beautiful. There were colors of blues and whites around. She was wearing all black but she was beautiful. Almost angelic.

Not long after I had this dream, I decided to see an elder about it. During this time, I also started a separate tumblr blog aside from my Kwe Today tumblr to help me write about my grief/loss/feelings. It was much easier to do than to write in a journal which I still do aside from all of this lol I just like writing okay! 😉  

I wrote about what the elder said to me and reading back on it has helped me to accept what has happened along the way. Here is part of that blog post: 

I also saw an elder today. He told me I would see her one more time and that she would tell me she was alright. He told me my dreams were telling me that she was alright. He also gave me some nice teachings on suicide. It is not the end of a journey; rather, it is the start of a new journey. Whatever she had to deal with in her life, it was too much for her too handle and we cannot judge her for her choices. We can only see to understand them as a friend. We must remember her life for who she was as a person. He said blatantly, “It is not suicide…it is the end of a journey.” That feels nice to say that and to have it said to me like that because it takes the hurt and the pain out of the action along with the violence associated with it. He also said I need to do my own memorial for her. (You can read the tumblr post here). 

A lot has happened since I began to slowly accept my friend’s passing. It took me a long and hard time to get here. One of the things that has happened was the local anti-human trafficking coalition was exploiting her suicide as a way to advance their own political, anti-sex work agenda. It was a total disrespect towards her family and her son, since she was not trafficked. I wrote about that BS in this blog post entitled “Caught in human traffic lies.” She was a local dancer, and I worked with her. We met each other in the industry and that is how we became good friends. I remember the day I first met her. It was after a few days when people told me to be careful of Alex and I kept thinking, “Who is this Alex girl?” Then when I needed a locker to place all my things she also happened to be working that day and she said I could use her locker. I said to her, “but it has no lock on it.” Yet, the locker did have her name in big bold, graffiti-like letters that read “Alex.” She pointed to her locker and said, “But it has my name on it and nobody touches my shit.” She was correct because both my stuff and her stuff were never touched when we left our stuff in the unlocked locker. 

When I first received the news of her passing, I was driving to my sister’s house on Manitoulin Island. Today, I am sitting in my sister’s house on the same island and I am at a different place in my life. It has a lot to do with I had done over the past four months. 

This summer I was living and working in a northwestern Alberta community. I had an amazing partner, an amazing community contact, and also made some amazing friends! Oh did I mention they are all amazing 😉 

At the end of the program, I had to share with them that this time last year I was grieving the loss of my friend. This time, however, I will be honoring the memories of my friend’s life and celebrating the lives of all my 20+ friends from the summer. It took me a long time to get to the point of acceptance of her passing and to the acceptance of new friends in my life but all these stupendously awesome people I met over the past four months have help to make it easier. I am grateful for all that I have experienced in this past year and I am excited for the next coming months! 

Remembering my best friend

Lately, I have been thinking of my girlfriend a lot. I think it may be because I will be attending a workshop on suicide and trauma next week. My girlfriend (Michelle) committed suicide last August. So, the one-year memorial of her passing is also coming up. It’s been a hard year for so I can’t even imagine what life is like for her parents and child. With her passing, it has been sort of a wake up call for me and also a learning experience on how I grieve and deal with loss, which has been a huge life lesson for me. When I was younger, I tended to repress my feelings associated grief and loss. These feelings were most often anger and denial. Coincidentally, the stage where individuals experience anger during grief and loss, from what I learned, is where individuals often get stuck, so to speak. I found that this was the case for me. I would get angry with myself, the situation, the person, etc. and then feel guilty about the anger, then feel angry about feeling guilty, and so on. I didn’t think this was normal until someone taught me about the grieving cycle, and realized it is what a lot of people go through with grief and loss. Some people experience it longer than others and some people get over it quicker than others. Whatever pace you take, it’s all normal. I eventually became aware of this pattern and in that awareness made the connection to one of the teachings I received from my mother. Part of that teaching was realizing that depression is unresolved anger.

When I was younger, I had overcome some significant personal challenges that were linked to my suicide attempts. The first time I attempted was when the first time I ended up in the ICU and being monitored 24/7. When I think back to that time, I am thankful that I survived. However, immediately following that attempt and many more, I was angry with myself. I had to work very hard to get over this inner-anger. Counselling, at the time, didn’t seem to help me but today, I have come to terms that counselling is, in fact, very useful. Just accepting that took a long time.

What took even a longer time for me to realize was the pain I was causing my family and friends. Sadly, it took the lost of my best friend this past year to realize how much pain I was causing. The last time I attempted was when I was in my first year of college and I realized that I was experiencing a similar cycle of traumatic events in southern Ontario as to when I lived in Northern Ontario. I knew I had to change and I knew that it had to have been right then and there or continue this cycle over and over again. That evening I decided to change was also the evening I saw another friend in the emergency room for a suicide attempt, and then the news came 3 days later that she had died. It was a shock for me and one of my many wake up calls. That could have been me.

From then on out, I found a good counsellor, even one who could just comfort me if I needed a day to just cry. If there is one thing I was taught about crying and tears (again from my mother), it is even when the tears blur your vision, after all the tears are I cried, you begin to see everything more clearly. Some people are bothered by when others people cry. Some people are uncomfortable when others people cry, and even some people like to bug others when they see them cry. I say, fuck it! Crying is normal and crying is healthy. Most importantly, crying is like an emotional cleanse. Realizing this also took me some time to accept on my own, and what also took some time from when I was younger was realizing that experiencing feelings was normal, and trying to be “normal” is abnormal. Personally, when it comes to suicide, depression, or even mental health, we need to learn to embrace these feelings and learn to grow more comfortable with the uneasiness of some these feelings. Supressing feelings isn’t healthy or good for anyone, child, youth, or adult. Understanding that crying or tears is part of experiencing emotions is especially important for the whole concept of masculinity and femininity but that is a whole other blog post in itself!

And in terms of what was normal or what everyone else thought, this is what I remember most about my girlfriend, she just didn’t give a fuck what everyone else thought of her or if her life didn’t coincide with what was considered “normal.” She was in a league of her own. While we were very close, I only ever saw or heard cry a few times but in those times, I knew it was important for her to do. She was the strong one. Yet, this time she grew tired of being strong. If there is one thing I do know for sure, it’s that I miss her dearly.

Baby gurl.