Laura Gilbert, a new Keremeos resident, is using her personal story of addiction and abuse to give hope to others who are facing similar struggles.
Originally from Vancouver, Gilbert spent her childhood and adolescence under the abusive care of her drug-addicted mother, as they moved between Penticton and surrounding communities. As Gilbert aged, she began to go down a similar path of addiction and substance abuse, even attempting to take her own life.
Now a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and sober for 18 years, Gilbert has been telling her story with the help of Debbie Madigan in the biography A Little Girl Called Squeaks: A Story of Hope. This tell-all story dives deep into Gilbert’s life and revisits places and people from her past in order to detail her journey to sobriety and a healthy, fulfilling life.
“After doing something like this, it was more healing for me. The reason I did it, to begin with, is because my psychologist said my story would be good for others to give hope,” said Gilbert. “I call it God-shots, it ends up happening the way it’s supposed to. That’s one of the things they teach you in AA, to help others.”
Gilbert said without the help of AA, she doesn’t believe she’d be here today and credits the organization for giving her the strength and courage to carry on. She also noted that her children were the driving force behind her recovery.
“Being in the program you can see just how much these lifestyles impact people. What brought me in the doors was the fact that I tried to take my life. At the time, my thinking was I didn’t want to be a burden on my kids anymore because they were begging me to stop drinking and doing drugs,” said Gilbert, with tears in her eyes. “And I love them with everything inside of me, all of my heart. It makes me emotional to think about. Once I heard there was a place to go and get help, that’s what I did.”
“It’s worth it to me to want to be better, especially for my kids. When my mother was the way she was, I was on my own most of the time but I was looking after her in a lot of ways. And it ended up to be this full circle where my kids were looking after me. What a thing to put on them at a young age like that.”
Gilbert has been sharing her story for the past seven years since the book was first published, saying she could have never imagined the response and support she’d received from well-wishers and others who have faced similar circumstances. She said while other have faced much worse in their lifetime, she wanted to act as an example that help is within reach if you’re willing to try.
“You have to start with the bad to get to the good, right? Otherwise, you can’t see the miracle happen. At that time when you’re in it, you don’t see it anyway. So you go through all these experiences, and some people get so comfortable in the dysfunction that they don’t see that light at the end of the tunnel,” said Gilbert. “You’re drawn to the same, so you hang out with the same kind of crowd. Or you feel alone and don’t know who to go to.”
As a child, Gilbert had very few positive adult role models in her life and found there was nowhere she could turn to in times of need. She said her hopes now are to educate the public about the reality of abuse and neglect children can face even today, and ways to prevent it.
“I’m really partial to trying to impact kids,” said Gilbert. “I think there are more resources now for children. But it’s about having everyone on the same page when caring for a kid, it has to be structured and there needs to be an understanding.”
She was surprised by the number of people that read her book and reached out saying that she had given them new perspective about homelessness and addiction, two problems currently plaguing the Okanagan region and greater B.C. Gilbert said it’s important to understand that you can’t know someone’s story by looking at them, and you shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on appearances.
“Sometimes people will look at other people and judge, but they don’t know what someone has gone through – they’ve never walked in their steps. Some people have read my book and have had a good life – no addictions – but it made them look differently at the people that did have them,” said Gilbert. “I think with helping people on the street, people are afraid to go and reach out to that person, say ‘What can I do for you?’.”
“People will call them bums, people who are homeless. And no, they don’t understand that these people are just broken. They need encouragement and unconditional love and hope, and they’ve never had that chance. So when you have people that stick their nose up at them, what does that show them?”
A children’s book about her story, titled Hide and Squeaks, was also recently published by Lucy Brunie and Leslie Dueck. Gilbert said, despite what some may consider mature themes, it helps children connect with what an unhealthy home environment looks like.
“It’s different with kids than it is with adults. Once you’ve had that little bit of clean time as an adult, you know what to do and what not to do. But kids are different because they aren’t mature enough to get it all,” said Gilbert. “(When I was a kid) I knew I wasn’t in a healthy circumstance, but when you have that kind of a life you just kind of accept it. You don’t know anything else, and as you grow up in it, you get comfortable.”
Gilbert’s life today is very different than the one she started with, now engaged and spending her time with family and giving back to the community. She hopes that her honesty will compel others to seek help.
“For me it’s about the people, hearing their stories and knowing how hard it was to do this book, but it was worth it,” said Gilbert. “I thank God because now it’s like he’s using me as an instrument. You can’t have enough stories of hope, we need more of that today.”
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