Left to right: Mardean Neuman, Rocker Brady, Twiin Thomas
In a breakout session at the First Nations Health & Wellness Summit, the room was full of raw, emotional energy. Twiin Thomas (they/them), a peer worker with the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, cheerfully introduced themselves, working the crowd with jokes. They then proudly announced they had been clean for seven days. Thomas said their previous record was 156 days.
The packed room gave Twiin its full and earnest support. Without any stigma or shame, Twiin spoke about how despite everything in their life going well, they still felt tempted to “self-destruct" by using substances because they did not feel like they deserved all the good things that were happening in their life.
The other presenters in this breakout session included Mardean Neuman, Addictions and Mental Wellness Counsellor for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and Rocker Brady, a peer worker with St'át'imc Outreach Health Services. Peer workers like Twiin and Rocker provide support to others who are dealing with substance use issues, such as counselling and advice on how to navigate programs. They are also uniquely able to support and empathize with their clients, who are more likely to trust them, because they share lived and living experiences. In essence, they have “street cred."
After Twiin finished their introduction, it was Rocker's turn. He spoke about the racism and unstable home life he experienced while growing up. To numb the pain, he turned to using substances. He said he finally reached rock bottom when he nearly died from toxic drug poisoning, underneath a bridge and alone. Thomas said that for him, trauma was his “gateway drug."
When they decided it was time, both Twiin and Rocker were able to get the support they needed to begin their healing journey. Now that they are feeling healthier, they said they want to be guides for their peers, sharing their ups and downs in recovery.
Despite the challenges they face, they both wanted to share an important message for First Nations youth: that they are not alone and are supported and loved.
“I went into treatment thinking I was alone and I went through everything I went through, only to realize half the people in the recovery house went through what I went through," said Rocker. “Being in the audience and listening to others people's stories helps me relate to them and see if there are ways we can help each other."
That is also the sentiment the audience showed the two presenters as many stood and spoke of their own personal experiences with substance use or those of a loved one. A feeling of unconditional love, support and appreciation for their sharing was felt throughout the room.
The First Nations Health & Wellness Summit was a three-day event from April 4-6 to share knowledge and wisdom on community driven practices for wholistic wellness.