Didn’t you love me enough not to drink?
She compared the relief she got from alcohol to the relief a person feels when they pour cold water on a burn.
When she drank, her pain disappeared instantaneously, at least for a time. Kimewon’s mother and grandmother were also alcoholics.
When she was a child, Kimewon became a Crown ward through the Children’s Aid Society because her mother was not equipped to care for her. She lived in a number of foster homes. Some families treated her well, but in other homes she said she was abused.
On top of her own personal hardships, she also had to face the historical repercussions of colonialism, the residential school system, and the impact it had on her people.
Kimewon said alcohol was never traditionally a part of First Nation culture, but after it was introduced, it’s caused immeasurable harm, tearing many families and communities apart.
Those larger societal issues helped create the stereotype of the neglectful and alcoholic First Nations mother.
“When everybody else around you has this view of you, it’s so easy to start believing that,” she said.
When Kimewon hit rock bottom, she lost custody of her children – Michael has an older sister – and they were placed in kinship care, where her family members cared for them.
It was when she learned she might lose her children until they turned 18 that Kimewon decided to turn her life around.
With help form the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre in Sudbury and Monarch Recovery Services she successfully quit drinking, and has remained sober for years.
She enrolled in Laurentian University’s Indigenous social work program, and is completing her fourth and final year.
She wants to support Aboriginal women and children who face challenges similar to her own. But even with all her progress, Kimewon said many people still view her as that neglectful mother.
“This degree isn’t going to change the way society views me,” she said.
While she said her son is empathetic, and has forgiven her for the mistakes she made as a young woman, her older daughter – who she asked not to identify – has found it more difficult to forgive her.
“She still holds a lot of anger,” Kimewon said.
Roberta Sago, a community support worker with the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre who works with families affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, said there are many other women like Kimewon who face prejudices every day.
“There is trauma in these women’s backgrounds,” she said.
Despite the challenges she and other women face, Kimewon said it’s possible to break free of addiction and find forgiveness.
“We as mothers, have a responsibility of breaking that cycle,” she said.