When the phrase “inter-generational trauma” is used, there can be some confusion around what that means.
How is trauma experienced by one person passed down to someone else? To their children, or their grandchildren? How does hurt for one person become ongoing pain for many?
Unfortunately, Eddie knows very well how inter-generational trauma works. He’s lived it. And he can explain how the pain that residential school caused his grandparents was passed down to him.
But Eddie can do more than that. He’s hoping to help put an end to the cycle of suffering that is affecting so many to this day.
At 34 years old, Eddie lives at a sleeping cabin site in Duncan – a Cowichan Housing Association project supported by United Way British Columbia with funding from the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. His cabin, like the others, is 8 feet by 8 feet. It’s heated, it has a locking door, and he has access to support workers at the cabin site.
“I never thought I would be here,” says Eddie as we begin to chat. “I never thought I would be in a homeless shelter cabin, temporary housing, serving and living with the homeless, and doing drugs. I never thought of that.
“And by being a First Nation person, I can say it all started, and if it doesn’t change, it will always start from residential school.”
An only child, Eddie says he is the result of sexual assault. He describes how he wishes his mom was around more. “Just like every child – they want their mommy.”
“I was raised by my grandmother. My grandparents, they were both residential (school survivors). My mother, she wasn’t but she was, and I wasn’t in residential school, but I was,” he explains.
“My grandma drank, and every time she drank, she would cry for my grandfather.”
“I’ve never heard my grandmother say I love you. She never said it to anybody. And I would always ask her why. ‘How come you don’t you say it back, grandma?’ when I’m running out the door to go to school.”
“My mom drank all the time, and when she wasn’t drinking, she was in jail,” says Eddie. “Watching her as I grew up, I learned from her to run and hide from your emotions. [My mom and my grandmother] drowned their emotions with alcohol.”
“Yeah, I drank alcohol for a while, did the same thing. But now-a-days, the alcohol is fentanyl. The alcohol is the opiates, the heroine, the methamphetamines, the drugs.”
Eddie says an important revelation for him was that he didn’t have to run from his emotions, because he realized his feelings of pain would not last forever.
“Nobody has taught us how to live through emotions. How to understand and feel pain. And know that it’s only temporary,” says Eddie. “Nobody told me that growing up. I wish I would have known that.”
“Now I know. And now I say:
‘At the end of every pain is success, only if you can live through it.’ I still struggle with that today. but I’m working as hard as I can.”
Eddie recently reached a milestone he set for himself – he’s now accessing treatment to address his drug-use. By having a stable home and access to support workers, and through his own determination, Eddie is moving in the direction he wants to go.
And he’s helping others along the way.
Eddie leads an art group at another sleeping cabin site, teaching traditional Indigenous art, and sharing his message of working through emotion and reaching the other side of pain. That’s just one way he’s working to help others.
“I want to teach the kids now-a-days that it’s OK to feel pain … it’s OK to feel the emotions,” says Eddie. “I want to send that message to them. I feel like, by doing so, it will change the world. Not the entire world, but my world. And whoever is in my world.”