Warning: This story deals with subject matter that may be triggering to some people. If you feel unwell, please call the Hope for Wellness Help Line. It offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous Peoples across Canada, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free number is 1-855-242-3310.
Twenty years ago this week, Roland Vandal hit his inevitable rock bottom.
He lost his business, his vehicle, and his house. He was homeless and living out of garbage bags.
On May 14, 2002, Vandal checked into a hotel room, wrote a letter to his son, and drank a bottle of methadone with the plan of dying by suicide.
Telling the story now, Vandal still gets emotional.
“I felt like I talked to my dad, and I promised my dad that I was going to make a difference in this world and I’m not going to die a drunk and a drug addict, an alcoholic and I’m going to get up and commit my life to helping people,” says Vandal on the latest episode of Face to Face.
Vandal, who is Métis, describes his father as a “pass-out drunk.” To avoid a similar path, Vandal started using cocaine to keep him awake.
Vandal says he was sexually and physically abused by six people, including his boxing coach, something he wrote about in his 2016 book Off The Ropes, My Story.
Still, Vandal says nobody would hurt him as much as he would harm himself.
During his years of addiction, Vandal says he overdosed many times, was hospitalized numerous times and survived a stabbing.
He has always been vocal about his experiences.
He believes it has helped other people dealing with abuse and addiction. He has been recognized with numerous awards over the years, including being named as one of the Top 100 Speakers and Community Leaders in Canada and the US.
He also works on the frontline helping those struggling with addiction, mental illness and homelessness in Winnipeg at the Red Road Lodge.
Vandal says he has met so many people that have changed his life and helped him with his own recovery.
“I have to be empathetic to the cause and what they’re going through,” says Vandal, who adds it’s best to talk to somebody about where they’re at and not where you think they should be.
“The biggest problem, especially in social services, is not necessarily people who haven’t been there before but even if you haven’t been there before, it doesn’t mean that you’re the smartest person in the room. The facts are, if you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably the loneliest person in the room just because you don’t understand what people are going through,” he says.
“I’ve sat with homeless people and they have two degrees. They’re brilliant people.”
Vandal also credits good doctors and a strong support system for helping him with his sobriety.
He believes sometimes you can help people by not trying to fix them, but just by being there for them.
“Support services and being there for each other is the best form of therapy you can do – and I think it’s important. People, especially teenagers, need to know that it’s OK to talk about trauma and it’s OK to talk about all of this stuff,” he says.
“Back in the day, being a man’s man, you don’t talk about your problems. That’s a really, bad message.”