Walking towards a solution
My name is Lyle Fox and I am a member of Bearskin (Michikan) Lake First Nation.
I was born in Sioux Lookout on October 17, 1983. For the first few years of my life I lived on the reserve but sadly moved to Sioux Lookout and eventually to the city of Thunder Bay. I say sadly because I grew up not knowing my language and to this day I do not totally understand it.
However, growing up in the city taught me many valuable lessons; it created more opportunity for me to play hockey, soccer, football and all the other extracurricular activities that are offered in the city and not available in our communities. I grew up in Thunder Bay but eventually went away for high school and it was the best choice I ever made. I attended Pelican Falls High School in Sioux Lookout for 3 and a half years and then transferred to Dennis Franklin Cromarty in Thunder Bay.
Once at DFC, I struggled to focus on my academics due to my experimenting with alcohol and drugs. I had a lot of fun at both schools; the staff was always welcoming and encouraged students to move on and achieve greater things when we completed high school. I graduated and went on to college where I took Aboriginal Law for a year and was not successful.
After my first crack at college, I decided I wanted to work and that I didn’t need college; I was wrong. I eventually went back and enrolled in Business Accounting where I completed most of my program but again, did not finish. I am four credits short of graduating and I am currently working on finishing that with hopes of graduating in the summer. As of now, I work full time at Pelican Falls Centre as a House Counselor and will be doing my studies part-time through Confederation College starting in January.
I come from a supportive and loving family. Of course, it was not always like that but we grew together and learned to love and support each other eventually. There were four of us born with my mother and father, Clarissa being the first born, then Darryl, Derek and myself. I had the privilege of gaining three more younger siblings from my father, Cherilyn, Amelia and Keith.
My older siblings were subject to a lot of the effects of the residential schools that our parents encountered. The abuse that was inflicted on our parents was inevitably handed down to us. Growing up with that burden had an effect on all of us and we all handled it in our own way. We either shoved it away in hopes of it disappearing or faced it head on and fought it. Unfortunately, trying to cope with these feelings as a young person wasn’t easy and so I turned to substance abuse. I used drugs and alcohol to run away from these dark moments in my life and using substances only made things worse.
My oldest brother, Darryl, was one of the people who was always there for me. He encouraged me to move on and make the best of what we had, and we had each other. He was diagnosed with cancer, T-cell Lymphoma, in the summer of 2002 and lost his fight to cancer that fall on my 19th birthday.
Now, how to deal with the loss of someone who had such a huge impact and importance in my life? I did not know how to deal with it or even accept that he was gone. Every day was a struggle and not a day goes by where I don’t miss him or wish I could talk with him. He showed the characteristics of a true fighter; I admired his courage and strength to take on such a battle against a deadly disease. However, this did not help with the emptiness I felt since the day he left. I dealt with it the best way I knew how, alcohol and later turned to drugs to help accomplish that ‘numbness’. These choices I made did not help me one bit and eventually drove me into my darkest days. After a night of partying, the low I was feeling hit me like a tonne of bricks and drove me deeper and deeper into darkness.
That early morning I attempted suicide, and with good fortune I guess, my brother Derek was there. I was admitted into the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre because my blood sugar was high, my heart and pulse were racing. The medical staff could not bring my levels down so I was put on medication which had me bed ridden so I would not move. My body was on the verge of shutting down facing possible cardiac arrest, heart failure or falling into a coma.
Having this time to reflect on my life, I asked myself “what the hell am I doing?” I checked myself into a treatment centre as soon as I could and spent a month trying to find myself, trying to find forgiveness for the wrongs that were done to me and the wrongs I did to myself and to others. It was a long hard struggle but I completed the program and felt like I was ‘born again’. This treatment program worked wonders and I stayed sober for nearly 5 years. It wasn’t until something else came at me head on that I wanted to run and I ran straight into my old habits and relapsed to alcohol. I started to remember things as a child, things that all seemed ‘new’. They really weren’t new; I was just starting to remember certain things, and from what I’m told, it comes with age. It was the abuse I endured as a child, mainly the emotional abuse. The things that made me question myself and my ability to succeed in anything I did, it made me feel worthless and unworthy of being alive. These were very hard feelings to overcome. I struggled for years trying to find my place and to this day I still struggle with those very feelings that haunt me. I have found a better way of dealing with them, I found the teachings of our culture and traditions handed down from elders, a couple elders in particular.
I started working at Pelican Falls in November of last year and after some time I was inspired by the youth I worked with everyday. I was inspired because you get to see firsthand the beauty and potential of our young people, their talent and what they can achieve when they put their minds to it. Unfortunately, you see all the bad along with the good. By ‘bad’ I mean the addictions or the things they wander off to, geared by curiosity or coping with their daily lives, an escape so to speak. Of course by that I mean prescription drug abuse. It’s not only prescription drugs that our people and our youth suffer from but it is a contributing factor to the negativity in our communities. Substance abuse results in families losing their values, being torn apart, and our young people trying to live a life without guidance. One day, I was driving to work and looking at the highway thinking “I can walk this highway” and that is when the whole concept of walking started. I knew I wanted to walk for the common struggles we face, but I lacked the identification of what to walk for. It came one day when I decided I want to walk to raise awareness for the epidemic that is sweeping through our people at such a rapid rate that we don’t even know how to deal with it; Prescription Drugs.
When I first made up my mind about the walk I sent messages to my family late at night and didn’t really get any responses; I got a couple “oh yeah’s” and “oh’s”. I think maybe no one really believed I would do it, even I didn’t believe it myself. That was the biggest hump to get over, getting over the doubt that I created in my own mind. But once I started to pursue it more and got the support of my family, things started to fall into place. The name we came up with was “Penasi Walk for Prescription Drug Abuse”. Penasi was the spirit name of my late brother Darryl, so we used his name because we wanted to honour his memory, strength, and his spirit. It was midsummer and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority was interested in supporting the walk because they were running a prescription drug abuse campaign. Everything was starting to come together but in my own mind I was telling myself “I can’t do it”. There was a lot of pressure and only the doubt in my mind held me back. I had a dream of my brother exactly one week before I was to start walking, I won’t go into details but in the dream he hugged me as I knelt on the ground crying for him. The message was clear, he was there for me and I had his support.
On August 22nd, we left the front of Pelican Falls First Nations High School and I didn’t look back. I was determined and focused to complete the 400 km trek to Dennis Franklin in Thunder Bay. I set out a schedule for myself, completing 40km’s a day and reaching Thunder Bay in 10 days. First day, I completed 28 km’s and I felt good about that because it was a lot harder than expected. Going up and down the hills in the heat wasn’t exactly easy. There was a lot of pressure on my knees and joints, most of all my feet. But I pushed through all the pain and told myself it was all mental from now on. If I told myself I was beat then I was beat, so I had to stay positive, that wasn’t easy. But with the support of family, friends, communities and complete strangers, it made it a little easier to keep pushing forward to that next kilometer. The second day was rough. The night before I suffered from dehydration, I was up all night cramping and had very little sleep. As a result, I started late that day and only covered 18 km’s. I felt a little disappointed but at the same time I felt proud because I knew how hard it was to get to that point. By the end of the second day, I was 30km short of my goal and suffered from a huge blister which I knew was only going to get worse. After walking all day in 40 degree weather, my feet were sore and wet from sweat. There was no stability in my shoes and it caused friction, resulting in blisters swelling up. The third day, I walked the furthest distance yet, 38 km’s. My goal for that day was to reach the Dinorwic turn off and I made it with the support of my family who had joined me. That night I received the worst news as I was advised by Jim Morris to have my leg looked at by a doctor. The doctor’s orders were to cease walking and if I didn’t follow through I would lose my foot. At that moment, my stubbornness dictated my actions and I was ready to lose my foot for the awareness to take place. After discussions with my family, I accepted the advice from the doctor and switched to a relay format where I planned on doing a kilometer in crutches with family filling in for the kilometers in between. It wasn’t easy to accept and for a couple days after I wanted to crawl into a hole because I felt failure, shame and guilt. I felt these feelings because I didn’t complete what I set out to do, I felt like I let people down.
That next day I started off the walk in my crutches and my cousin John took over. I went and had breakfast with my father in Dryden and met Arnold Gardner there where he shared some encouraging words with me, his words were, “There will be times when you wake up asking yourself ‘why am I doing this?’, ‘why am I putting myself through this pain when no one is hearing my message?’ truth is, you are impacting someone in a positive way, whether or not you know that, you are an inspiration”. It took time to get over those feelings and with all the encouragement I received, I kept going. It was a lesson of humility and respect.
We made it to Thunder Bay on time and were greeted with many supporters as we neared our destination. It was a positive learning experience even with the setbacks I encountered. In the end, I would not change anything in terms of the way it turned out because that is exactly the way it was meant to be. Norma Kejick said it best, “we need to stand together to take on such a challenge, one person cannot fight this on their own, together we can make miracles happen”. I needed that help and I had to put aside all of my own feelings to accomplish such a huge task.
We all need help to accomplish whatever goals we have set out for ourselves. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, put aside any shame, doubt, fear or guilt and reach out. Sometimes we need a little support, remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all have the ability to achieve great things in life. If I can overcome my addictions and problems, anyone can do it. I am not perfect, I still struggle every day with new obstacles to overcome but I once heard, “It isn’t how many times we fall, it’s how we get up from each time that we do”. If you strive for a goal and feel like you have failed or fell short, get up and try again. Don’t let your past hold you back, look back only to let it motivate you to move forward. We all deserve that happiness that is waiting for us; we just have to fight for it.