From Both Sides of the Syringe – Part III

Axelle (not her real name) still can recall the vicious look that the man who asked her to dance for the first time gave her. Proud of the attention it brought her and delighted to have him all for herself, she jiggled in the 100% cotton camisole, and in the little Fruit of the Loom panties that her mother had bought her in a package of three at Walmart.

By Catherine Caron

In her youthful openness, she also saw it as just another game when her father asked her to touch his penis in the shower and asked her what she thought it was. But the older she got, the more uncomfortable she got in this little household she couldn’t quite yet understand. At age 13, while on vacation in Florida with him over Christmas, Axelle was victim of a full-on rape. Traumatized and in tears, she swore that she would never see her father again. At her return to Montreal, she ran to her mother, who was waiting for her at the airport, and squeezed her with all her might, sharing that wish.

For Axelle it was the beginning of a time of great suffering: suffering that she would try to stamp out, in vain, over the course of a chaotic and unwittingly masochistic life’s journey.    

A Tough Trial with a Silver Lining

Her depressed state got even worse, and her boyfriend at the time decided to leave her. This breakup was a wakeup call. Axelle decided to take things into her own hands and quit her addictions cold turkey. As she says herself: “With me, it’s all or nothing.”

In 2011, she enrolled in the addictions diploma program at the Université de Montréal. She did it because she was interested in the subject matter, and she had a sincere desire to help people with the same sorts of problems she had suffered. It was difficult: her social phobia led her to systematically stay away from any class that demanded teamwork. This greatly lengthened the time it took for her to complete her course requirements. But she was fiercely motivated to succeed, and eventually she obtained her diploma.

Her anxiety and psychological instability resurfaced after she had completed her diploma program. She attended an alternative therapy centre (art therapy) where she was diagnosed as having a personality disorder. She had always had trouble integrating, and especially keeping a regular job. She stayed with her mother and her daughter and lived off of social assistance.  Her mother, a professional nurse who had always been there for Axelle, told her that this arrangement couldn’t last: if she wanted to continue living in the apartment, she would have to do something with her life.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Axelle enrolled in Accès-Cible SMT, an organization that helps people struggling with mental health issues reintegrate into the job market and stay there. Discouraged by her past efforts, which had borne little fruit, she didn’t expect much this time around either. She showed up with very little faith in her ability to one day become a social worker. It must be said that her lack of experience, her long period out of the job market, and her anxiety (which work seemed to make worse) did not play in her favor. But a glimmer of hope persisted, and Axelle put it in her head that she was going to “give myself a chance to do things differently.” She struggled to manage her anxiety and stuck with the program.

She ended up landing an internship at a shelter for AIDS sufferers in Montreal. It was a revelation for Axelle: this is exactly what she wanted to do with her life, social work with addicts and other marginalized folk. At the end of her 7 week internship her colleagues and supervisors had only positive things to say about her. They even offered her an on-call position that could eventually turn in to a permanent job with the organization.    

Holding back tears, her eyes moist, she concludes: “My life, yes, that hurt a lot; no, it was not easy; yes, I rushed things; but for me, the will to live was always stronger, so I always got up and tried again… Everything I went through made me the person that I am today… When people will come to talk to me, they will see in my eyes that I understand them.”

When I ask her what she got out of her life’s journey and what message she’d like to share, she says: “In life, when you need help, there will always be helping hands ready to reach out to you. You just have to be open enough to see them, and then welcome them.”

First seen in Reflet de Société, September 24th, 2019

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