Finding Recovery in the Garden: Melahat Paul Grows Towards a Career in Addictions Counselling
“I had to teach myself discipline. I wasn't raised with it,” recalls Melahat Paul. She grew up in Winnipeg, but is originally from Treaty 3 territory near Kenora. She describes herself as an urban Native and has lived in the city her whole life. Paul is the oldest of six siblings and dropped out of high school to work.
She struggled in school due to anxiety and her ADHD and she was eager to start making money. Her first job was as a cashier, a role that helped her come out of her shell, as someone who was always a quiet kid. Over the years she’s worked in hospitality, customer service and she decided to go back to school, feeling as if she’d outgrown those jobs.
Addiction is a challenge she and her family have had challenges with and that’s why she’s taking an applied counselling course. Paul is interested in addictions counselling and learning the science behind addictions. “I've always wanted to help people,” she explains, but at the same time, she’s struggled with imposter syndrome, wondering who she is to help others when she has had issues with addiction herself. Ultimately, she’s enjoying the autonomy of adult education and the less restrictive learning environment.
Beyond addictions, some of the other challenges she faced in life have been conflicts with other people but she tends not to engage and would prefer to just walk away. Through the obstacles she’s dealt with she’s learned important lessons. "Not everyone's going to like you. Not everything's for you, too. It's okay to start over. It's okay to go elsewhere,” she relays. If she could go back in time and give her younger self advice it would be, “Don't drop out of school, maybe just switch schools….stop being so obsessed about the wrong things. Focus."
Paul realized she had a problem with addiction at the age of 19, and in connecting with an elder, she started gardening in the community garden. She still has a plot there, helps out in the summer and recently applied for a gardening assistant job. Gardening is something she’s found to be therapeutic. “It really helped me with depression. It's nice to watch it grow from seed to sow and taking care of these plants, and they're little beings, right? I don't know, it's just beautiful,” she smiles.
Outside of the garden, Paul likes to stay fit. She loves cycling and spending time on her longboard. Being on her board is an activity that helps her when she feels anxious and keeps her in a more level headspace. Between fitness and gardening, she’s found ways to balance her mental, physical and spiritual health.
She’s inspired when she sees other people succeed, especially people she grew up with or who grew up in poverty. Paul knows that if she works hard she will succeed too. “They had all these obstacles and they're shining now. It's beautiful to see that. It's very inspiring, I'd say,” she muses.
Her message for youth is a lesson she learned from a friend’s grandmother,“You're either a blessing or a lesson, nothing happens for no reason.” Finding meaning when things don’t work out provides comfort. She hopes that youth will learn to take care of the earth and take personal responsibility for the environment through composting and recycling, even recognizing that corporations have a much larger impact on pollution.
Doing the right thing to take care of Mother Earth is part of having discipline, something she had to teach herself because she wasn’t raised with it. She’s found the lessons and the blessings and as an aspiring addictions counsellor, she hopes to share those with others the way her elder shared with her. After dropping out of school, she’s found her way back to the classroom, and like the plants she cares for in the community garden, she’s now rooted in the soil of a learning environment that will help her thrive.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.