Some of Carol-Ann Tanoush’s earliest memories of growing up in northern Quebec revolve around alcohol.
“[It was] loud music, screaming drunks. Arguing. And I was feeling scared,” said Tanoush, sharing memories of life as a five- or six-year-old in the small Cree community of Nemaska, about 1,100 kilometres north of Montreal.
On Jan. 7, to mark the 10th anniversary of her own sobriety, the 27-year-old mother of two posted an emotional video to social media.
Tanoush shared the impacts of alcohol on her childhood and how she chose a better life for her children — her son Sebastien, six, and daughter Ava, one and a half.
“It left a deep cut in my heart,” Tanoush writes in her video. “I cried a lot when no one was there. [I] felt alone. Always abandoned.”
In an interview, Tanoush describes a chaotic scene growing up where she and her older sister would often have strangers coming into their bedroom during parties. She says they felt alone and scared of what might happen.
She learned years later, when she was 14 years old, that her mom, like so many other Indigenous parents, was a residential school survivor and managing her own trauma from sexual abuse that started when her mother was six.
“That was the hardest part of listening to my mother share her story with me,” said Tanoush. “But at the same time I was grateful to finally understand why things were the way they were at home.”
Tanoush says she started drinking herself when she was in her early teens, but also knew she wanted to break free. A few years after that conversation with her mother Doris, Tanoush decided to stop drinking.
“I had that beer in my hand and I said to myself ‘I don’t want to live this life or what I see in the community,’ and that was it. This year marks 10 years that I haven’t touched alcohol,” said Tanoush, who says it’s been her husband, children and her faith that have helped her stay sober.
“My son is six years old and he’s never seen drunken parties,” Tanoush wrote in her video. “My children don’t know what a broken home feels like.”
The video has been viewed 19,000 times and shared widely on social media. Tanoush says people have reached out to her from all over the Cree communities and beyond. She says she is overwhelmed by the response, but not surprised.
“Because I’m them and they’re me. They know what it feels like,” said Tanoush, adding she hopes sharing her story will inspire others to choose to break the cycle of alcohol and drugs that are still so present in the North.
She says people need to open up about their pain and listen to each other.
“That’s all I knew growing up and now I get to say that it’s possible for our people to be healed,” said Tanoush.
Tanoush says one of her greatest joys is that her parents are on a healing journey and they are still together as a family.
“I love them so much and what happened to her, to us, could have really broken us to the point that we shouldn’t even be a family today,” said Tanoush. “But we are.”
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: To sell or not to sell? The penultimate question about alcohol in Northern Canada, Radio-Canada
Finland: Finland’s alcohol consumption declines by 15%, Yle News
United States: Alaska: When stepping back into prison is a jump forward on the road to recovery, Alaska Public Media