THUNDER BAY -- Buffy Wabason is a remarkable person. Ten years sober, she has found contentment and a purpose in life, after years of substance abuse starting at a young age. Recently, she saved two people from overdosing, and feels compelled to tell her own story so that she can show people that it’s possible to overcome addiction.
Wabason left her home community of Whitesand First Nation when she was 14. She was in Thunder Bay attending high school, when an accident left her with chronic pain. Her aunt offered her “pain meds” to cope. “She gave me a quarter, but it came to the point that I wanted a full one at a time,” she recalls. “Then it kind of went downhill from there.”
She barely remembers how she got by. “I dropped out of school, I ended up becoming a drunk, smoking weed, and doing cocaine. Basically whatever I could do to fix myself up and make myself feel better. I didn’t want to be sick, I didn’t like the feeling, the aches and pains, and throwing up, and not being able to eat,” she recalls.
From Percocet she moved on to stronger drugs. Wabason hit bottom when she was arrested for assaulting a former boyfriend who was hitting her. “I saw red, and that’s all I remember. The next thing I know, I’m being pulled off him, and I’m drenched in his blood.”
From jail, she called her mother, who told her she would help her if she quit the drugs and alcohol and came home. So Wabason moved back to Armstrong, with just the clothes on her back. It was gruelling. For 16 months, she was on the Methadone program. She wasn’t able to work, because she spent so much time commuting every day to get her treatment, and she also had a curfew. A nurse helped her switch to the Suboxone program.
She went for treatment for two weeks in January. “I swear to God, that was the worst time of my life, switching over from Methadone to Suboxone. I could not function. I could not eat, I could not sleep. My body ached and I could not do anything,” she remembers.
She was ready to walk out. But then, her mother and sister called with an ultimatum. “It’s drugs or the kids,” they said. Wabason doted on her sister’s young kids and loved being their auntie. She would not be allowed to spend time with them anymore if she gave up.
“January 13, 2013 is when we got out of treatment. I got my welfare check, pulled out money, enough for a gram of coke, bought a gram, did it all and I was super sick.”
Wabason has been sober ever since.
She has been living in Thunder Bay for the last four or five years, and has been employed at Barb’s Laundromat for almost three. She convinced her boss to keep Naloxone at the workplace, and she was glad she did - a man overdosed nearby and she was able to administer Naloxone in time to save his life.
Wabason decided to tell her story at the Rockin’ Recovery event so that people will see that there is a life after addiction. “I honestly felt like I had nobody, nobody to talk to, to go to. I know what it’s like to be homeless. I know what it’s like to have nothing. I went through it all,” she says.
“Hopefully, telling my story can help people reconsider what they’re doing with their lives - there’s more to life than drugs,” she says. The quality of drugs on the streets have gone downhill so much that they are “killing people left, right, and centre,” she adds.
“It took me a long time to get myself to a content, happy place,” she admits. Working at a laundromat might not be everybody’s dream job, but she has found security and fulfillment. She has a car, a steady job, and a place to call home - all things she couldn’t imagine having 10 years ago.
“It’s still tough,” she acknowledges, “I’m not going to lie, there are times when I want to relapse. But then I think, ‘Is it really worth giving up everything I built for myself?’”
When Wabason’s cousin was killed in an accident, she thought she might relapse. “I thought I was going to lose myself, but I didn’t. Crystal was my rock. And she would always tell me, ‘I believe in you, you can do it. I see the potential in you,’” she says. “I always try to keep everything she said to me before she died, in my mind, even when I want to screw up.”