It’s not easy to get the attention of forty Grade 8 students, but this morning, at Esterhazy High School, you could have heard a pin drop as every young person was giving the speakers one hundred percent of their attention. Mind you, these were not your average run of the mill speakers either. Some were former bikers, members of gangs where drugs, sex, alcohol and violence were the normality. Others were victims of sexual abuse at an early age, others were people who’d been drawn into life on the streets after drugs or booze had already taken away everything they loved.
One man shared how he had only known hate in his life, he spoke openly about his life as a biker, he told of the anger that seethed inside him, he said he’d been dead many times and wondered why he was still alive. He talked about the joy he once got from punching people who were already on the ground, of having their bloodied teeth sticking into his skin and getting infections from them.
One woman spoke about getting into a life of booze and sex when she was barely a teenager, admitting that she thought sex was the way to get a boyfriend and to keep a boyfriend. Another woman admitted to stabbing her husband because anger, fear and hatred was all she knew. One man told of being raped when he was a teenager, and the way in which that act of violence had put him on a downward spiral of addiction for years.
Not one teenager in the audience thought these stories unworthy of their attention, there were even some sounds of sniffs and maybe a hint of sobbing coming from the audience.
Yet, for all the “in your face” testimonies from the visitors, there was one undeniable truth, a truth that was responsible for grabbing the attention of the teenagers. The truth was love. These speakers were sharing their hearts out because they genuinely did not want even one young listener to make the same choices. It was love, genuine love that was being felt and experienced in that classroom this morning, and it was touching every soul, whether student, teacher or even journalist.
The visiting speakers had traveled from Vancouver to be part of the Our House roll-a-thon tomorrow. Each of these people have been blessed with new hope and new possibilities because of their association with the Our House addictions recovery program. They are sharing their story not to scare the hell out of the kids, but to help those kids steer clear of the hell that life became for them through addiction to drugs and alcohol.
And love is not just the motivation behind these speakers, it’s also their message. Society might look at an alcoholic or drug addict and see what they think to be “a loser.” Society might avoid them, think of them as something low and unclean, but the reality is that not one of these people woke up one day and decided to be an addict. These are good people who made bad choices, and those bad choices escalated out of control until their life was a mess and more bad choices became their normality.
So why did they make those choices? In almost every case they turned to drink and drugs for one of two reasons, either peer pressure, or as an escape mechanism when they were trying to deal with something that was going on in their young life at around age 12 or 13.
Whether it was sexual abuse, an alcoholic parent, anger and violence between their parents, or low self esteem, in almost every case there was something serious going on in the minds of these people when they were just formulating their self-image. They believed they had to keep it to themselves, and the pressure pushed them to wrong choice and to addiction, and to a life that went off the rails.
The message of love to the students today was clear. You are a special human being, you are a person, you are loved. If something is going on you have to talk about it. If you don’t, the thoughts will either spiral out of control, or you will try to ease the pain in booze, drugs, sex, or the wrong companions. In some cases kids turn to suicide to stop the pain. One speaker admitted trying that more than once.
It takes guts to admit your mistakes, real courage to stand up and speak about being raped at 13, or being scared because your parents fought, or feeling that you did not know who you were. It takes courage to admit you’ve been addicted to heroin for decades, or that you’ve almost killed people because of your hatred and self loathing. And these speakers had guts today, an abundance of courage, motivated by the inner-driven mission to help young people before those young people are helpless.
Tomorrow, the annual Our House roll-a-thon takes place. Whether on cycles or roller blades, the participants will leave Esterhazy Museum at around 8:00 in the morning. They will make their way to Stockholm, rest, and then make their way back. Why are they doing this every year? It’s because we need an Our House here in Esterhazy.
Make no mistake about it, this is a great town, but we have people here who are (or have been) addicted to drugs. Over the years more than a few young people have lost their lives to drugs or alcohol, and a lot more have lost their dignity, their sense of identity, and their love for life. We can pretend it does not exist, we can say it is wrong to talk about it and sweep it under the rug, but in the end we better waken up and tell it like it is, because in doing so we might save a life.
Gerry Oake has been raising money for an Our House location in the Esterhazy area for years. He and his wife are diligent when it comes to fund raising, and keeping the roll-a-thon going. It’s not because it is easy, it’s not because they get a kick out of it, it’s because they are motivated by a selfless sense of love. Gerry has been there, he knows what addiction can do, and he is determined to get the property and the building that is needed to set up a permanent Our House facility in this area, somewhere that people can be given a message of hope, healing and possibility.
So, when you see those people on the road tomorrow, whether they are the speakers who shared their very souls with the teenagers today, or the various folks of all ages who join the roll-a-thon to help bring awareness to the need, please take time to stop and give some money to the cause.
How many more years will it be before the Our House in the Esterhazy area is a reality? How many more young people must feel they are left without a hope when pressures of life too secret to talk about come their way? How many more young people must die, or be sucked into a life of depravity before Our House can shine as a lighthouse of hope across the prairie?
It’s up to us isn’t it? It really is. How much are we willing to pony up to help them? How much are we willing to lend a hand? How much are we willing to tell others about the need, and become part of the solution?
I salute the speakers this morning, maybe they wondered why they went though their experiences, but surely they found a reason today as they spoke from the heart to the young people before them. I also salute the school for allowing and encouraging such a program, every school should do this, and by the way they are in Stockholm this afternoon at the Macdonald School. And I especially salute the young people who listened, and this I say to them…
Teenagers, you are beautiful, an expression of love in this expansion of life we call humanity. You are a human being, but you are also a soul, something incredibly special and real and precious. You are loved and you are worthy of love. You have life ahead of you, with all its possibilities. When problems happen, and they always will, let your love of yourself motivate you to make good choices. Don’t bottle up your fears, your hurts and your challenges. Find someone to talk them over with. The solution does not lie in a bottle, pill, needle or condom. It lies in you having courage to open your mouth and talk it over, because you know you are worth it.
Folks… Please give generously when you see the roll-a-thon tomorrow.
Later information.. If people want to donate to Our House, but will not be anywhere near the roll-a-thon, they can make a cheque out to “Our House” and mail it to Gerry Oake, (Our House), Box 613, Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, S0A 0X0.