May10ThuWhen I was afraid to leave a toxic relationship, God sent people to help. May 10, 2018 by Shelly Mercredi
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In June 2017, I watched with pride as my son, Riley, was honoured with an eagle feather and blanket, given to all graduates of surrounding high schools and colleges, at the Peace River Pow Wow and Aboriginal Gathering in Alberta. It was a moment of victory—one that we weren’t sure would ever come. His last year of high school was a battle as he struggled with anxiety and PTSD. For many years, our lives were chaotic.
In 2007, after a yo-yo process of breaking up and reuniting, I moved back in with my children’s father, hopeful for the future. When I got a job at Walmart, I thought our financial problems were over. I was soon promoted to a department manager, and I also had two janitorial jobs. I was spending more time away from home, not realizing the stress I left my children in.
After volunteering for a community dinner at The Salvation Army’s Peace River Community Church, I started attending services. In 2012, I went to a women’s camp. Danielle Strickland was the speaker that weekend, and her words opened my heart to God.
Later that year, I lost my job. It sent me into a deep depression, not knowing what to do with my life. I relied on my husband to be there for me, but felt little support. This time also took a toll on my kids. Captains Kevin and Michelle Elsasser, then lieutenants and corps officers in Peace River, offered us food and connections to social services, showing me a community who cared.
I started counselling with my kids, and this is when I truly hit rock bottom. I had not known all my children endured when their father was intoxicated. I began to lose faith in myself as a mother. As a parent, I had chosen to ignore and hide away from the abuse. I knew we needed to leave, but how? My fear always took over. With no references, money or support, I didn’t know where to turn.
Then, during one family meeting, I was informed bluntly: you need to get your children out of there, or we will be forced to remove them from your custody. With the assistance of Captain Michelle and my therapist I was able to make a safe plan. That December, with the help of family, friends and members of the church, we moved into a new home and never looked back.
There were many weeks of sorrow and heartache, but I began to pray, asking God to enlighten that which was dark in me, and heal the hurt and pain in my life. He showed me he is always there, sending people to help me overcome my fears and the urge to hide from the world. As I began to work through my insecurities, I grew stronger, able to hold myself accountable and be a true woman of God.
We’ve had a few stumbling blocks along the way, but today, my daughter Katelyn is a wonderful mother to Sawyer. Brittany is an independent, courageous young woman who toured with Live Different, a youth empowerment program, to reach Indigenous communities with an inspiring message of hope.
In Riley’s last term of high school, we didn’t think he’d graduate. But with the help of the Sagitawa Friendship Centre, we found a tutor and he buckled down, fighting through the exhaustion and depression. And at the end of the year, he got the letter we’d been hoping for. There, in bright colours, were the words: “You have completed all requirements for graduation.”
At his graduation ceremony, they announced an award for the most-improved student since Grade 9. As they described the young person, I started to realize it was Riley. When they announced his name, I jumped out of my seat, screaming and cheering. As he crossed the platform, I ran to a close friend and mentor. Tears were streaming down my face as she whispered in my ear, “You did this. We did this.”
I see 2018 as the year of the woman. I am working on myself, as a proud Métis woman of God. In June, I will graduate with a certificate in business administration from Northern Lakes College in Alberta, and will receive my eagle feather and blanket at the Peace River Pow Wow.
My next goal is to obtain my addictions counselling diploma, to work with youth struggling with addiction or coming from a family affected by it. This would never have happened if I didn’t follow the path the Lord laid out for me and listen to his signs and whispers of guidance.