“My name is Rachel and Im an alcoholic.”

I have used that line many times in jest, to break the ice during presentations. It always gets a laugh, as well as a few “Hello Rachels.” There was a time, though, when it was no laughing matter.

My battle with alcohol is not unlike that of many in my generation, with roots in residential schools, the uprooting of Inuit culture, dysfunctional family, a low sense of overall worth. From the inside, looking out, I somehow felt alone and different in my problems.

I was leaden with Monday mornings of sleep deprivation and hangovers, hidden under cosmetics, streamlined by cigarettes and caffeine.

People in recovery often talk about “hitting the bottom,” or words to that effect. It just never happened to me. Mine was a no-mans-land of lukewarm life. Nothing great ever happened, nor were there any disasters. Just day-in day-out of the same old grey: go to work, pick up kid, pay bill, get food, go drink with work friend. A nice little self-perpetuating cycle. In between bouts of depression, throw in a few pills to go up, down, whatever — the exact direction didnt matter.

There were a few rage moments in there, taxi drivers, waitresses, and telephone operators getting the brunt of it. And it all eventually spiralled up into one exceptionally bad night, which finally led me to someone who pointed out the path I was treading.

I was visited by a pastor (Lutheran, I think, but it was the man who mattered, not the religion). He kindly visited my apartment, holding up a mirror, showing me a not-so-flattering image of myself.

I tried to be as offensive and harsh as possible, throwing in a few “F” words, chain-smoking, lying on the floor. I think I was even still a little drunk from the night before. I tried to impress him with how unfair life had been to me.

(But, inside, I was glad he had come over, that someone was listening.)

I had a disease, he claimed, no less a disease than diabetes or cancer. “But the curse is the gift, and the gift is the curse,” he said. “Someday, youll understand that.”

What a flake, I thought. What a waste of time&.

The encounter nevertheless drove me to seek help. Now, there were two things I was aware of about myself. First, I knew that a “typical” approach to healing would not work, since I did not trust non-native institutions. Second, I instinctively knew that a non-spiritual path would fail — the problem was so deeply rooted that only a healer could touch it.

To make a long (and, I hope, not predictable) story short, I ended up going for alcohol treatment at Poundmakers, a native treatment center in St. Albert, Alberta. And, next to having my children, next to my current marriage of nine years (which came afterward), it was the best thing Ive ever done in my life.

The spiritual aspect of it was mind-boggling — the ultimate self-confrontation, sitting on the grass, literally relearning how to pray. One of the treatment steps went, “Come to believe in a power greater than yourself.”

At the time, I had no higher power. My power was false success, false egotism, false self. There, I became resigned to letting the creator be the maker, myself be the made. There, I learned of the cunning, baffling, powerful nature of addiction.

I unwove the web of crap I had spun around my being, examining the things that I felt were ugly about my life — and beautiful. And I wish I could say that light illuminated me from within, that I was cured! But that wasnt the case. Instead, it began the long, rewarding, painful repatching of my life. My new path.

One day, I opened my eyes, looked around, saw some tiny brown birds flying about me. It seemed that I had dreamt of those birds upon that hill, overlooking the fields of Poundmaker.

Now, after a dozen years or so, Ive begun to understand the gift side of the curse.

I try not to judge those I see staggering about. I even buy drinks for those not afflicted by the disease. I have no problem with those who like a bit of alcohol. Yet I can never again mistake its nature — cunning, baffling, powerful.