A recovering alcohol and crystal meth addict, Charbonneau was a key member of a local Crystal Meth Task Force that visited students in schools from late elementary up to college and university.
The 53-year-old longtime Alcan employee and Terrace resident said despite her audience being a generation removed from her, their stories were the same as hers.
“They’re experiencing all the same things I did,” said Charbonneau. “They’re just experiencing them in a shorter period of time.”
Charbonneau first started drinking at the age of 12 and by 16, she was using a cocktail of illicit drugs including meth.
In an article she wrote for the Terrace Standard last year prior to her speaking engagements, she said, “I believe that this whole mess, which I call my life, could have been avoided, had someone informed me by the age of 12 that these drugs were out there and what effect they would have on me.”
So when she saw a news story on the Crystal Meth Society of BC, she sent an e-mail to its website that was answered by Maple Ridge Mayor, Gordy Robson.
Robson, says Charbonneau, encouraged her to meet with Mayor Jack Talstra and be part of a local meth task force.
And despite being nervous about sharing her and her family’s life story to strangers, she says her young audiences amazed her.
“The kids just absorb everything,” she said, adding they would often come up to her to hug and thank her.
Charbonneau admits to finding it more challenging to open up to the adults she talked to – those at Northwest Community College and UNBC’s Terrace campus.
“It seemed to be a different type of feeling. Maybe there was more shame because they were my own peers,” Charbonneau said.
Though the primary goal of speaking out was to inform, Charbonneau says the experience invoked emotions for her too.
“It made me feel... accomplished. It got me in touch with feelings that hadn’t been resolved and it brought things up to the surface.
“It was like a cleansing for me as I was going along,” continued Charbonneau.
Charbonneau says she was overtaken with emotion on several occasions, triggered by tough, personal questions from her audiences.
Though her work for the task force is over, Charbonneau continues to visit and speak with teens at an addiction treatment centre here once a month.
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The following is a letter of thanks from Carmen Charbonneau.
Thanks to Family, Friends and the Community
I would especially like to thank my beautiful daughter Rya, my loving husband Scotty and my ever-caring brother Neil for allowing me to go public about my addiction to crystal meth and alcohol abuse.
Their love and support has given me the opportunity to have another chance at living and having some happiness in my life.
I also had the privilege of meeting hundreds of wonderful young people that are just thirsting for information about drugs.
Some of the responses ranged from “I’ll never use“ to “I know people that have used crystal meth.“
The teachers and student counsellors in the schools should be commended for the efforts they are making to bring awareness to their students regarding this deadly drug.
The British Columbia Union of Municipalities provided $60,000 in grant money to five communities in the Northwest and those included: Kitimat-Stikine Regional District and Terrace: $20,000; the Hazeltons: $20,000; Kitimat: $10,000; and Stewart: $10,000.
Hats off to the government for recognizing the consequences that could result from epidemic use of crystal meth in our province.
A special thank-you to Alcan for providing speaker fees for the crystal meth project and its continued investment in the Northwest’s youth.
Many friends, especially those of Bill W. as well as, Pat, Jackie and Giselle have played an important part in my recovery.
For that I shall be eternally grateful.