Manitoban Belinda Vandenbroeck says she started drinking when she was young to deal with the trauma of spending nine years in residential school.
It took years and multiple attempts before she finally found sobriety, Vandenbroeck says — a journey she thinks should be celebrated.
On Saturday night, Vandenbroeck's organization, Minaw-Yaa, is hosting the 11th annual Sobriety Social in Winnipeg, providing a chance for people to come together to celebrate those who are taking the path toward healing.
"Anyone that can give up addictions — drugs or alcohol — is a hero," Vandenbroeck said on CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show.
When Vandenbroeck left residential school in 1967, she already had a taste for alcohol but she said it became a serious problem in her 20s.
"I began to realize I wasn't drinking like a normal person. Normal people go home. Me, I wanted to keep drinking," she said.
She said she would have "ugly feelings" about herself and hated waking up with a hangover as she used alcohol to cover the trauma from her residential school experience.
"The root is totally trauma, the trauma of our history, our ancestors and ourselves — all the things that have happened," Vandenbroeck said.
"There are so many things that are just eating us inside that it's very, very difficult to know what to do with all of that. It wasn't until I quit drinking that I really paid attention to my feelings."
One day, a friend showed up at Vandenbroeck's house after she'd been drinking all night, Vandenbroeck said, and invited her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
The process was hard and took a long time, but Vandenbroeck said having support and sober people to talk with was essential.
That's part of why it's important to celebrate people's sobriety, she said.
"Many people are dying just because it is so hard to give up. Bringing people together for me later in my sobriety was really important for me," she said.
Vandenbroeck said her sister came up with the idea that sobriety should be celebrated every year, like a birthday.
They annual social's date also marks the anniversary of the death of Vandenbroeck's sister after a battle with cancer, so the social honours her, too.
The 11th annual Sobriety Social will be held Saturday night at Canada Inns Polo Park in Winnipeg. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and dinner is at 5:30 p.m.