Sober(er) for October: Honouring Our Healing Journeys


​A message from the FNHA Four Directions Team.


When it comes to healing and recovery, each of us must walk our own unique healing journey. We cannot compare our journey to others', because there is no one definition of “healing" or what that looks like.

For example, this month, for our Sober for October Challenge, we are focusing on self-reflection about substance use as this is an important piece in some people's healing journeys. However, as not all substance use is problematic, and as healing is about far more than substance use, this focus will not be relevant to everyone.

A healing journey is about wellness in all aspects: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. Healing journeys look different for everyone. Some might look to health care providers for support, while others might not. That's okay. Some might look to culture, or the land, or Elders for guidance and healing. That's okay, too!

Elder Rosie White Elk shares a story about thinking of yourself as an eagle feather covered by a cloth. The cloth is whatever substance we may use in an effort to cope with experiences of trauma, racism, stigma and pain (whether mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual). Elder Rosie says that we have to feel safe in our healing in order to come out of the cloth.

To read Elder Rose White Elk's full teaching you can download and share or print this resource​.

Some people may never come out of the cloth; there is no “success" or “failure," there is only the journey and only the individual can walk it.

An Indigenous harm-reduction approach means not putting shame on those who use substances. Meeting people wherever they are, whether they are using substances or not, is respecting their individual healing journey. It means nobody is left behind. It is an approach that includes holding people up, welcoming all people in community events, and ensuring that everyone is fed, cared for, and accepted – no matter where they are in their wellness journey.

Substance use may be a reflection of the amount of pain someone is in. We all have different ways of trying to cope with pain, or of “covering ourselves in cloth." We begin to heal when we look within and do the work to release whatever does not serve us, including ways that may be causing harm instead of helping. Healing is moving to a place where one walks without anger, judgement and shame. Healing is an act of bravery.

Asking for and accepting help is a sign of strength. If a person wants to make changes in their relationship with substance use, there are many different services that can potentially help in healing. Some examples include:

  • Using harm-reduction approaches in hopes of ensuring safer use and/or reducing/tapering off use. Remember, abstinence is not the only goal!
  • Working with an Elder, counsellor, or a program to identify the underlying trauma and pain and find safer ways to treat it.
  • Making a plan with a trusted health care provider and considering how medications or a program might support our goals. 

Culture saves lives. Having access to traditional supports is essential for many Indigenous people, and treatment supports can be helpful – excellent options include counselling, medication, and land-based healing / treatment centres with an emphasis on traditional healing, traditional medicines and traditional ceremonies. Wellness is 100 percent based each person's own goals, whatever they may be. Abstinence may not be the wellness goal for every person.  We are each in charge of our own healing journey and must choose what helps or doesn't help us.

We are here to support you in your journey. The FNHA's Four Directions Team is an interdisciplinary team that includes an Indigenous Wellness Educator, Nursing Practice Consultants, Pharmacists, and others who support wise practices in mental health, substance use, harm-reduction practice and programming, informed by our commitment to reconciliation.  To contact us, please email:

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