HEADSTRONG Summit delivers inspiring message for southern Alberta students

By Garrett Simmons

Lethbridge School District No. 51

Communications Officer

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s HEADSTRONG Youth Anti-Stigma Initiative event delivered a very important message for southern Alberta students.

Keynote speakers Eden Lal and Sam Towns spoke to students gathered at Lethbridge Lodge about overcoming struggles.

Lal, 19, now works as a relief workers at a family homeless shelter in Calgary, as she told students she has just celebrated nine months of recovery.

Her journey to recovery was a turbulent one, she told students, as her downward spiral began when she was 10 years old, and her parents separated. Her mother drank heavily, and the family moved around a lot. It came to a head for Lal when she was only 13, as she began experimenting with marijuana.

“I was looking for an escape, and I got it,” she said.

Marijuana use progressed to LSD, cocaine and ecstasy when she was 14.

“I didn’t like the way my life was going, but I couldn’t stop.”

Frequent attempts at detoxification resulted in quick relapses, and at age 15, Lal entered nine months of long-term drug rehab. She graduated and experienced four months of sobriety, before another bout of relapses.

By the age of 16, she was using chrystal meth every day. At age 17, heroin and fentanyl were Lal’s drugs of choice. She even experienced a near-fatal heroin overdose in 2015.

“I remember thinking after this overdose, wanting this to be enough to get me sober. I hated who I was, but I slowly gave up on myself.”

A day after being discharged, she was using again, living on the street and desperate to get high. She was physically dependent on opiates at the age of 18.

“I shocked me how much I didn’t care,” said Lal, who added she felt alone, experienced feelings of self-hate and suicidal thoughts. “I didn’t know who I was anymore and I was overwhelmed with shame thinking about everything I had done.”

That shame kept her from seeking help, until a fateful evening on New Year’s Eve of that year, when Lal finally called her mother.

“For me, I was just sick and tired of living the way I was living, and I wanted out. I was either going to kill myself or get sober.”

She moved in with her mother, went back into treatment for three months and emerged on the other side of her addictions.

“After treatment and doing the work I had to do in there, which was intense and hard, I finally dealt with years of pain,” said Lal, who continues to live with her mother.

Aside from a fulfilling job, Lal has dreams of traveling and doing missionary work, as she has developed a passion for helping people.

“For me, I had to reach a point in life where I wanted something better for myself. It wasn’t until I was done putting myself through all that pain that I was able to get sober and stay with it. I now feel like I can succeed, and I don’t feel like just because I was an addict I have to take a different path than anyone else.”

For Towns, his path also included a downward spiral, which began after his second year of university, and a drunken suicide attempt.

He experienced a psychotic break, as his perception of reality was skewed, as he eventually turned himself into police.

“I thought the police were looking for me,” said Towns, who spent two weeks in hospital as a result.

His mental-health symptoms erupted, he added, as he denied the impacts drugs and alcohol were having on his psyche.

He attempted suicide a few more times, until he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, as Towns could no longer moderate his emotions.

“It explained a lot of my behaviours.”

Treatment for drug and alcohol addictions followed, and after a few relapses, Towns also came to an important realization.

“I experienced a big value shift,” he said, and added he came to understand the importance of personal growth and mental health.

Towns also began training for a triathlon, which gave him the motivation to continue on the path of personal improvement.

“It’s taken a lot of tries to get the right formula for treating myself.”

His training, and the benefit of a sober living environment, where he is surrounded by people he can speak to, has been coupled by frequent visits with his doctor, along with group and individual therapy.

“Now, I hope I can be an example and a tool for others.”

Lal and Towns were just part of the day long HEADSTRONG Summit, which included group sessions, a speakers’ panel and action planning, which involved student discussion on action items they can take back to their schools and communities.

“The kids will now leave here and do a few anti-stigma projects at their schools,” said Cayley King, the Counselling Co-ordinator for Lethbridge School District No. 51.

Schools from throughout southern Alberta attended the event, which included District participation from Chinook High School, Immanuel Christian Secondary School, Lethbridge Collegiate Institute and Winston Churchill High School.

Date posted: Oct. 25, 2017