My full name is Paula Jacobs-St. Germaine. I want to use my real name in this story because the more that I own it and recognize it for what it is, the better I can feel about the remorse and shame of the past.
I started drinking at the age of six. The mysterious confidence that wine gave me was like no other. It was the most enticing courage that I had ever experienced, and I would one day exchange this for my very own soul.
By the age of seven, a lot of damage had already been done to my little mind, body, and soul. My sisters and I were sexually abused as toddlers, which initiated something in our little bodies that seemed to attract other pedophiles from that point forward. No child should ever encounter the abuse that I went through. As a result, I carried much shame and feelings of unworthiness.
These feelings of inadequacy created a very angry young girl
who later turned into a raging, lethal woman.
At the age of eleven, my sister and I were finally apprehended by Social Services and put into separate foster homes. Our home wasn’t safe and seemed to always be filled with alcoholics and predators as far back as I can remember.
I learned that I had to be strong, and that I was on my own from there on out. Deep down, I knew I had already been on my own for years. I was a young girl with an inner volcano waiting to erupt. Yet at the same time … all I really wanted was to feel safe in the presence of adults, because I never had.
After a one-year stay at a foster home, I was returned to my mother. I could not stand being around her. I didn’t trust her, and she was still struggling with her own alcoholism. Today, I understand that she, herself, was emotionally unavailable and lost. She had also suffered neglect, abuse and alcoholism, and this was the only way she knew how to live.
At the age of thirteen, I began to experiment with prescription pills. Not long after this I started breaking into local businesses and stealing cars. I was known to the police and the judicial system as a juvenile delinquent. I was soon arrested and sent to Kilburn Hall, a juvenile detention centre, for six months.
For the first time in my life, I felt safe.
Sadly, I had to be locked up to feel this newfound sense of safety.
My spirit was exhausted, and this juvenile institution gave me the ability to rest. As weird and peculiar as this may seem, I never wanted to leave. There were staff who seemed to genuinely care about me, and I made friends with other teenagers very quickly. I had finally met my flock, and we could all relate to one another because we all came from similar backgrounds. Each one of us came from a place of fear, powerlessness, confusion, and anger. We all thought we were so tough, but looking back, we had no choice but to be that way because we were on our own.
For the next five years, I spent the majority of my time locked up in institutions across Western Canada, with many criminal charges. I was engulfed by the skid-row mentality and had a criminal mind. I travelled with other girls like me, hustling our way into and onto all the scariest areas throughout big cities. This high-risk lifestyle distracted me from much of my own emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wounds.
At the age of seventeen, I became a mother. I felt very conflicted about this, as I still had so much anger and confusion inside me. Having never been taught how to take care of a child, I soon found myself drinking and neglecting my daughter the very same way my mother had done to me. Without drugs and alcohol, I was unable to live in my own skin, and it seemed that the only time I could abstain from alcohol was when I was pregnant.
Over the next few years, I had two more children, but sadly, I also neglected their needs. The father of my daughters was a man that I had initially met in Kilburn Hall. Roy and I had grown up together, and if there was anyone I trusted to a certain extent, it was him. In a toxic, unhealthy, romantic way, we loved each other with every fibre of our being.
My addiction progressed, and I repeatedly found myself behind bars, facing more serious charges of violent offences. During this time, my children were apprehended by Social Services, as they rightfully should have been. Anger continued to consume my spirit. I couldn’t understand how alcohol had such a grip on my life, and how it was able to control all of my decisions.
Twenty years went by, and Roy and I found ourselves heavily involved in gang violence. Our addictions had taken us to a place where we were sticking needles in our arms to kill the pain of our own existence.
Eventually, the lifestyle of drugs and violence
can create the ability to shoot and kill.
One day, the only man I had ever trusted crossed an invisible line and shot four men. Roy was then killed by another gang in retaliation.
My only way to cope during this time was to stay high and do anything I could to get my next fix. For the next two-and-a-half years, I remained mostly in a drug-induced psychosis. Every day I hoped to die. My life was a constant cycle of overdosing, being hospitalized, going to detox, and then getting nourished enough to go right back to the street, looking for another fix.
Then one day, the drugs stopped working. The pain, trauma, and grief of many losses in my life started to override the drugs. The loss of my childhood, the loss of loved ones, and the loss of being able to provide love and safety to my three beautiful children tore me to absolute pieces. I had ruined everything and hurt so many people along the way.
The feelings were unbearable, and I knew that I could not go on. I filled syringes with bleach, and sat with razor blades and other sharp objects, crying out for the courage to take my own life. I wanted to cut myself deep enough so that I could bleed out the overwhelming and unbearable pain. But I couldn’t do it.
I screamed out to the Creator,
begging Him to either help me or let me die.
I became exhausted with emotion and fell asleep with a long-overdue tear-stained face.
When I awoke, I had thoughts that were actually somewhat clear for the first time in years. I began to hear little, weak whispers from my soul, telling me to ‘get out of this city and heal.’ I was exhausted and no longer trusted myself. Honouring my last little bit of insight, I traded my welfare check for a bus ticket to Vancouver to see my cousin. As the Greyhound bus entered Vancouver, I realized that I was actually making a change. I immediately started to cry from fear and excitement.
At the age of thirty-eight, I became committed to finding a new way to live. As I began my road to recovery, I went to countless twelve-step meetings, saw numerous counsellors and therapists, and shared the best I could—at first with shame, but later with humility.
It took almost an entire year for my head to clear, and for me to truly connect my thoughts. I recognized that I was continuously living in fear, always expecting the worst to happen. Naturally, this was due to the trauma I endured, first as a toddler and then straight through into my adult years.
Today, I look at my past and am so grateful
for the desperation that I experienced.
Without such a degree of despair, I don’t believe I would have changed or asked for help. Every day, I continue to pray for guidance to whatever governs this world with love and forgiveness. I then give thanks for the extra time I have been granted, as I truly understand that it isn’t up to us when we leave this life.
I have been provided with a second chance, and for that I am eternally grateful. As a result of this, I will always be growing and learning more about the service that I can provide.
I firmly believe that we each have the ability to overcome all forms of trauma. Having a little faith goes a long way. Having faith, to me, is what has created hope in my life.
Years have gone by, and I am now living the life of my dreams. I am continually making amends as a mother, and now a grandmother, and doing my best to be available for my children when they need me.
I went back to school and graduated with a diploma in Community Services and Addictions, which led to my current employment as a mental health and addictions counsellor. Here, I am able to challenge and help people who are living the life I once lived. I share my story with them and challenge their beliefs with spirituality, and the power of hope and resiliency. I believe that there is life ahead of us, more than we know ourselves today.
I realize now that I have been training my whole life
for the job that I now have.
I can help people from a place of empathy because I have seen their pain, and I have lived through their struggles.
I told the Creator how sorry I was for all of the mistakes that I made, and how badly I have screwed up my life.
He gently replied, ‘My dear, beautiful child … you are not that powerful.’
* Paula’s story is an excerpt
from Allan’s latest book:
Allan will be doing a book signing at Saskatoon’s McNally Robinson on Jan. 27, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.