“My name is Natasha Saddleback, I am a 34-year-old indigenous woman from Samson Cree Nation, a mother of 5, a 4th-year business degree student, an entrepreneur, a soon-to-be wife, and more amazingly, a recovering alcoholic. The first time I took a drink was in high school. Some girlfriends and I somehow got a single cheap 40 oz big bear beer and shared it behind some railroad tracks in a small town called Stony Plain.
We were just having fun and at that time I was living in a supported independent living home after living in a few foster homes and group homes. I didn’t drink a lot during those late teen years or even in my early adulthood, but when I did drink, it was always until a black-out. I would make a fool out of myself almost every single time in one way or another. I had discovered cocaine in my late 20s and that it would help keep me from acting a fool during a black-out, by ‘sobering me up,’ whatever that meant.
Like many indigenous people, I was raised within the foster care system. I am one of the younger Sixties Scoop survivors, the Sixties Scoop was a period in which a series of policies were enacted in Canada that enabled child welfare authorities to take or ‘scoop up,’ indigenous children from their families and communities for placement into white foster families. My mother, who had me at 16, also suffered from alcoholism and addiction. I recently received my foster care file and learned that she had given me up temporarily to child welfare because of the toxic volatile situation she was in with my father who was also an alcoholic. She tried to figure out her life and even got married, but in the end, she just didn’t have the right support systems and upbringing and was murdered at the age of 21.
My father was homeless for much of my years, I would have supervised visits with him, and he was always struggling just to live. He passed away as well from an overdose in my early 20s. I had a vision in a sweat lodge ceremony recently: I could see both of my parents in the sweat lodge with me. They had their arms around me. The vision then moved into the home I’m living in with my fiancé and our children, where my parents were laughing and chasing around the kids. I realized who I was seeing in the vision were their true beautiful natures. The people who I grew to learn and know were not who they were deep inside. That was one of the most powerful, life-changing moments I’ve ever experienced.
I grew up in a rural property in a small trailer. My foster mom at the time did the best job she could have done given how she was raised and what she knew. She taught me some quality values that I could hold on to. There is an article I read recently for one of my classes called ‘How to Promote Racial Equity in the Workplace’ by Robert Livingston. He stated, ‘Many white people deny the existence of racism against people of color because they assume that racism is defined by deliberate actions motivated by malice and hatred. However, racism can occur without conscious awareness or intent. When defined simply as differential evaluation or treatment based solely on race, regardless of intent, racism occurs far more frequently than most people White people suspect.’ This definition had confirmed so many of my assumptions that I wasn’t able to put into my own words, especially growing up in a home where there was constant denial of any racism.
The most prevalent abusive situations were mostly psychological. I was forced to think that there was something wrong with me emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally. Many times I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about when recalling things that occurred because I was mentally not acute. Gaslighting was a common theme, and I was the scapegoat child for most of the years I lived in that home. They would lock the doors when we drove by the reserve, and other foster children were encouraged to participate in the belittlement and abusive behavior of the scapegoat child. It wasn’t until I finally received all of my child welfare files this last year that I saw that people were trying to help me and that I was right about what had happened in the home. I was finally free from doubting my own thoughts and my feelings after being told for so long that I was wrong.
When I left the home at 14, I moved to a few short-lived foster homes, and then a couple of group homes. I went through much of life hating who I was and being ashamed of being indigenous. Unconscious racism is so prevalent within western colonization that I was and am still unlearning racism towards my own people. I met a man when I was 19, and I had my first child with him. He had gone through a lot of trauma as a child, but he was white, and 6 years older than me, so he felt more like someone who could take care of me. The relationship was unstable for 11 years after that. We both drank like ‘regular people,’ which to us meant only on weekends.
He did the things he thought he was supposed to do like purchase a house, work a steady job out of town, and domineer the household while I made his lunches. I strived to meet that picture-perfect ‘white picket fence’ life while underneath I was drowning in all my insecurities, shame, and fear. I was constantly waiting for someone to come tell me what I was supposed to do. During our relationship I would leave, start drinking excessively, and need to be saved, he would save me, and I would come back. It was a cycle. During the last year of our relationship, I had a great job with the government, I had great friends, and I was moving up the ladder. I still wasn’t happy though, I still wanted to just escape my life. I felt that I owed it to him to just stay even though I was so unhappy because I couldn’t do it on my own. In the end, there were some mistakes made, and I left with our two children. It was a downward spiral from there.
I remember the first time shortly after I left my ex where I thought, ‘You know Natasha, you have been through and survived so much, you deserve to just let loose.’ The next day would be the first time where I would wake up after being drunk and start drinking again. That was the first day of the most difficult days I would ever have to endure. I met my current spouse at that time, who was also an addict. We would spend the next two years in a co-dependent, toxic, volatile drug-induced, relationship.
I remember one time when we could barely even scrounge up enough change for a McDonald’s hamburger for us and my 2 kids. I remember screaming, ‘This isn’t who I am!’ I could not escape, though, I was addicted. I ended up getting pregnant, and I had to go to treatment. When I came out of treatment, my spouse was already strong in his drug-dealing career, however, he managed to stay sober with me. Once I had our son, we lived in this large house that had an outdoor pool, a 12-man hot tub, a sauna, everything. Things were crazy and like a scene out of ‘Blow’ for months.
My spouse ended up in a psychotic drug-induced episode and left our infant son to BC while he was high. I didn’t see or hear from them for weeks, and by that time I had called the police in BC. They had found them and reported no issues. I found out later that what happened was that they were sleeping off being up for days in a hotel, and that’s why I hadn’t heard from them. When they came back, I had called child services. They didn’t believe me though. They believed my spouse who was terrified of being found out, and he had a lot of support from his family, of course, I had no strong support.
I was just another indigenous woman to that social worker. I didn’t see my infant son for 3 months, not because I wasn’t allowed to see him but because my spouse was keeping him from me. I went through the courts and got 50/50 custody 4 months later. I was already 1 month sober at that time through Alcoholics Anonymous. My spouse was still dealing drugs and a bad addict though, and there wasn’t anyone who would believe me or do anything about it.
It wasn’t until a couple of months after I got custody that I received a call from him to come to get our son because he was in a psychotic episode again and called the cops on himself. He had put our infant son in a very dangerous situation, and he scared himself. The child services emergency team had asked me how this went on for so long, I explained that I was trying to tell the workers for months and they just wouldn’t believe me.
When I look back on the situation, which I consider to be one of the most significant and most difficult lessons I’ve ever had to learn in all my life, I can see how my Creator has been there holding me up through it all. I can see how his MIRACLES work in such profound, unexplainable, unpredictable ways. I encouraged my now fiancé to come to AA with me a month after. We have both been sober together for 3 years. We started going to indigenous ceremonies, predominantly sweat lodges, on a consistent basis. We had another son since then, and together we have 5 beautiful, HAPPY children. We are currently planning our wedding this year in Cancun, Mexico! Our lives are such a gift today and every day that we get to grow together. It has not been an easy 3 years, but we are so much stronger for everything that we overcome sober.
My spouse has been a business owner for the last year for a company called Sabre Publications as a business consultant where he helps business owners, struggling or looking for growth. I am in the last semester of my Bachelor of Business Degree; I will be the first in my family to get a degree. It brings me back to when I used to think I was stupid and mentally disabled and was labeled as such. I now know these things just simply aren’t true. These negative beliefs that we are taught about ourselves as individuals, as a culture, and as people collectively are JUST ARE NOT TRUE!
I am currently working on a business start-up called Project Unity Productions, an event production company. We create unique, innovative, and invigorating experiences to help reduce racism and promote diversity. This next generation is changing, they are becoming more open-minded and accepting of our differences, and I have so much faith in our future because of that. This business concept is to create a fun, safe place to show pride in the arts, our cultures and eliminate the fear of others also being able to experience it. I’m currently planning our first event called the Art’s and Culture Festival & Market. Keep an eye out for it.
I want people to know miracles happen every single day and it doesn’t matter where you come from, where you are right now, or who you think you are. You are amazing, you are enough, and you are worth every piece of goodness that this word has to offer. Never give up!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natasha Iris Saddleback from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter to our for our best stories.
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