One rainy November night, while sitting on the side of the Highway of Tears by herself just outside of Quesnel, Val West heard her mother yelling at her.
“My mom, Lillian Squalian, had died of cancer seven years ago by then.”
West distinctly heard her mom tell her, “I raised you better than this.”
It was those six words that inspired the Williams Lake woman to get sober for her three children.
She was using drugs because she felt emotions about the loss of her mom and was not ready to go through those emotions, she said.
“My mom was my best friend, she was the rock of the family and the backbone. She was somebody I wanted to be. She was the matriarch. I carry her drum today.”
Since embracing sobriety, West has had more than her fair share of challenges.
“I lost my dad, [Richard Duncan Sr.], I lost my brother Sheldon Squalian, I lost my brother Rich who we called Savage,” she said, pointing to the words across her hoodie - Savage Love. “That it why I wore this shirt tonight. I lost my sister Crystal to an overdose. I lost many friends and family along the way to overdoses. That could have been me.”
West and dozens of others celebrated their sobriety at a feast and dance hosted by Williams Lake First Nation on Friday, Jan. 26 in the Elizabeth Grouse Gym at Sugarcane.
Before the dinner, West shared her sobriety story starting off by saying she was on day 1,890 of being clean.
“I am grateful to come up here and tell my story and I am grateful that I am open with my story because I have created such a support group in my life that I can call on any time.”
The first 21 days were the most difficult.
Her best friend, Sabrina Jeff, let her stay in her home for about eight weeks at the beginning.
“I sat there for days. I remember I was really scared. I was seeing really close shadow people because I was coming off some heavy, duty drugs. It was intense. We shouldn’t be seeing that - that is from the other side. In that realm of hungry ghosts they were sitting there waiting for me and I was like ‘I’m not ready yet. You guys can go away.’”
Recently, West was hired to work with the Williams Lake First Nation culture and language team.
“I live by that drum,” she said pointing to her mom’s drum on one of the tables in the gym. “In order to live by that drum, I need to practice what I preach.”
West does not let anyone to come into her home or her vehicle under the influence of substances because all it takes is one slip, she said.
“These children that I have in my care at home with me are the reason I stay clean and sober. I have to. I also have a bunch of children that I helped raise.”
During the celebration West announced there was a collective total of 513 years, nine months and 19 days of sobriety among people in attendance.
Kyleen Toyne, social development coordinator for WLFN, said the event was a way to get together and celebrate good things.
“I get really excited about these events. think it’s such a neat way for people to come together and celebrate. It’s important.”
Narcotics Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous chips were handed out to anyone who wanted to mark their clean time.
It was the first annual sobriety dance in the community, however, sometimes Sugarcane hosts welcoming home celebrations for people returning from treatment, Toyne said.
West said she lives her life day-by-day.
“All I have is right now. I don’t like to plan a whole lot ahead, unless it’s for work. In my personal life I’m pretty laid back. I stay home with my kids because there was a time when I was not there.”
After dinner Cariboo-band Cole Patenaude and the Screech Owls played two sets of originals and cover tunes, while people of all ages enjoyed dancing.
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