Winnipeg continues to succumb to the overwhelming grasp of methamphetamine, but stories are emerging of hope as those who were once within its grasp step forward into the light with their stories of addiction and overcoming.
A traumatic start
At eight months gestation, Russell "Junior" Abraham was born into the world drunk.
His mother had been drinking on Main Street in Winnipeg when she was attacked, causing rapid deterioration of her health.
"She got (sic) bottled, her eye gouged out, went into a coma, went to the hospital, had an emergency c-section with me," Abraham recounts, a story he has clearly told many times before.
His abrupt and tumultuous entry into the world turned into a childhood Abraham simply calls "crazy." Fighting brain problems and the side effects of detox from his first day, he was quickly placed into the custody of Winnipeg's Child and Family Services (CFS). There, he watched his sister and brother, while also in CFS care, die.
Abraham moved to Edmonton soon after his father gained custody of him.
"I didn't really get time to be a kid."
As a child, Abraham says he struggled to find a way to belong, not having known his mother and lacking a sense of identity.
"If I was right, then I was White; if I was wrong, I was Native," explained Abraham. "I was kind of ashamed of being who I was, didn't know who I was."
While living with his dad, Abraham says he was blessed with another brother and sister, who he vowed to always care for. "I was like, 'never again will I lose another brother or sister.'"
Abraham says his father worked constantly to pay for rent and food, leaving him to take care of his siblings. Abraham remembers his dad not being home often: "I didn't really get time to be a kid."
When he wasn't at home with his siblings or taking them to school or daycare, Abraham was out trying to gain respect on the streets.
"I never smoked, I fought instead. There was no time to be cool because I wanted respect by fighting everybody," he shared.
"If I was right, then I was White; if I was wrong, I was Native."
But by 16, Abraham was drinking and doing drugs, he says. He finished school at 18 and left home when his brother and sister had reached the age where they could take care of themselves.
The cycle continues
Abraham worked as a bartender for a while, living in downtown Winnipeg and adopting its lifestyle.
"Wherever cheap housing was, that's where we lived... you always had to battle everybody."
That mentality, one of violence alongside his abuse of drugs and alcohol, led Abraham in and out of prison over the next number of years. "When I got out... [I would] come back into the drugs, the harder drugs again; crack, cocaine... drinking every day."
"I was a legend in my own mind, I was a giant, I was a hero."
Leaving prison always led to a harder turn down a darker road for the former addict, with harder drugs and greater alcohol abuse. He started his own business, but an incident at a party sent Abraham to Stony Mountain Institution for attempted murder.
"I don't know what it is, I got (sic) a drive that when I know I can do something I can do it, but I'm easily influenced," says Abraham.
Chance to change
The birth of his daughter gave Abraham a temporary improvement for his circumstances at the time.
"They say daughters change your life, and it kind of did at first, [I was] kind of, like, [an] at-home dad but still drinking and doing drugs, dealing drugs."
Methamphetamine soon "hit the scene," and became the drug Abraham was dependent upon. "You don't know what you're doing," he recalls, "you're just so paranoid you start thinking your good homies are against you after a while.
"I remember I was dealing right across from an elementary [school], man, and this is daytime; our kids are outside playing sports, doing recess."
Through all this time, Abraham says he never had a spiritual encounter, though several of his friends claimed to during near-death experiences. It wasn't until he reconnected with an old friend, who had gone from street-tough to working at Union Gospel Mission (UGM), that Abraham considered there could be something more to life than his current circumstances.
"Out on the street I'm making $30 an hour but I'm living under a bridge... because it feels safe. I'm all high, all drunk; I have a great job and three sets of clothes. I thought I was making life."
Instead of condemning Abraham like others in authority had throughout his life, his friend told him about how he himself had gotten out of the life Abraham was currently living and had completed the addictions programming at UGM.
"I was a legend in my own mind, I was a giant, I was a hero... then one night I was sitting under the bridge after talking with him."
It was at that point that Abraham says he truly saw himself, as an addicted person living under a bridge. "I thought, how about I give it a try, if it can't do anything, I'll just come back to where I am."
Sign of heaven
Abraham hasn't looked back since starting the program at UGM six months ago, but a few days before he started, he almost walked away from his chance at redemption.
On that night of doubt, the former addict sought help from his friend at UGM who encouraged him to keep going. That night, Abraham sat down to play a game of Scrabble.
"My first set of letters that came up, didn't have to set it up or nothing (sic), spelled 'heaven,'" he said.
Blown away, Abraham went to bed that night and woke up the next day to a call from UGM, telling him he could start the program with them that week.
"I want to quit it, I don't want to just replace one habit with another."
The change of pace that came with entering UGM programming for Abraham proved a push beyond just detox; it required a total change in mentality. He cut off contact with all friends and family when he first entered the program; the next step was approaching the others in the program as fellow humans rather than threats.
"I sat at the back table and just ate by myself with my back to the wall. I watched everyone, just pivoting all the time."
The paranoia was a key sign of detox from the methamphetamine that Abraham was addicted to. Two months of severe pain served as his introduction to living sober, but despite the intensity of his detox symptoms, Abraham decided to quit his addiction without the help of medication.
"I was like, I need to just take this dry. I want to quit it, I don't want to just replace one habit with another," Abraham remembers.
Six months ago, he walked into UGM, completely addicted to meth and a lifestyle that was slowly killing him, with only a pair of pants, shoes, a shirt, and tools. Now, Abraham is six months sober with no plans of returning to the situation that first brought him to UGM.
"December 3, I sat in [a] room with Carl... and he led me in prayer, I followed a prayer and opened up my heart, let Jesus into my heart."
His faith has given him new hope, new purpose, and helped him with his sense of identity.
Abraham now works at Red Road Lodge, a transitional housing facility that offers support to individuals recovering from addictions and suffering from mental illness. His own story has become his greatest testament as a resident support and recovery coach with the organization.
"That drive... inside you, you can get it, you just have to find it and just dig for it."
He is incredibly grateful for the help UGM provided in supporting him from addiction to sobriety and encourages others who may be trapped in a life of addiction to look inside themselves and find the drive to change.
"We as alcoholics, drug addicts, are the most resourceful people in the world; we will find a way to get what we want. That drive... inside you, you can get it, you just have to find it and just dig for it. That's what I did... I just kept on going."