18 Mar International Women’s Day Blog Series #2
TURNING POINTS – By Rae LaBerge
Wow, it feels super surreal standing up here today. It was only 8 years ago I was roaming these halls, and now I’m here to share my story.
When I first heard about this All Girls Day, my first reaction was Wow! I wish they had something like this when I was at St. Francis. Then my second thought instantly was…. Pfft no I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have gone, I would have totally used this day as an opportunity to skip and get day drunk with my pals. Or if I had to come, I would have been cruising my phone or spaced out in the back of the class. It’s funny how things change. It’s funny how we change.
And to be perfectly real with you, the person who you see in front of you today is not the person who once used to roam these school hallways. And that is the story I am going to share with you today. Some of the major turning points that shaped the course of my life, they all started here… at this very high school.
Let’s go back a few years….
High school wasn’t a walk in the park for me. On the exterior, I was a popular kid, I had the sick clothes, loads of friends, the confident swagger and rolled with the bad boys. We went to all the parties, and drank and smoked all the things. I carried myself with a sense of toughness. I later found out this left others at school fearful of me. Sadly, this “tough” person on the outside, felt much smaller on the inside. My self-confidence was in the toilet, I didn’t trust my friends, I had poor relationships with my teachers & family members. I got low grades and often ditched class to go drink beer in the park with the boys. On top of this I was holding onto a big secret about my sexuality that ate at me so much, that at times, I didn’t want to be in this world anymore.
I didn’t think much of myself. I truly believed that I was stupid, that nothing was out there for me, and that I didn’t have what it took to DO, have, and live a life I desired.
It was in grade 10 science class when an opportunity came my way. St. Francis was offering a SAIT program to become a pharmacy technician for students to take while finishing high school. This filled up option blocks. For some reason this fired me up. I got excited! Maybe I could do this! it would make for a good job outside of high school. I remember telling my parents and friends about this IDEA, this opportunity, and what their faces looked like, gob struck with sheer doubt. “Great opportunity!” “But you?” “You barely get 50’s now?” “You want to challenge a post-secondary program while completing grades 11 AND 12?” They thought I was crazy! And so did I! But for some reason their doubts only stoked the fire and my drive to achieve it and to prove them wrong. AND I DID! Adjustments were made. I started to attend my classes, actually do my homework, watched all the tutoring videos I could find on YouTube and even started to befriend some of the Asian nerds in my new pharmacy class. Some of which I actually used to bully or would never be caught dead sitting next to on the bus. My “bros” started to get upset with me, every time I’d skip out on a bong rip or cutting class. It was a scary time as I really didn’t want to lose the safety of being part of their group. In high school that shit is your identity and you’re insane to take any steps away from the social norm or your role in that kingdom.
But I did, and things changed. I changed. And so did my grades. I went from 50’s to 90’s and in 2011 I graduated from St. Francis and SAIT with a 4.0 GPA and certificate as a Pharmacy Technician. I left this school and that program with an indescribable sense of accomplishment and new-found confidence in myself and my abilities. I finally came out of the closet right before graduation, only to find out that everyone had ALREADY known that since grade 4. I guess I didn’t hide it well… I was very fortunate to have a safe and welcoming coming out. Many of us are not as lucky.
The summer after graduation, I went on to get a job at a pharmacy, one which I still work part time at today. Over the last 8 years I’ve continued on my pursuit to challenge myself and grow my life into everything I wished it to be. It didn’t happen fast. I kept a lot of my friends, I partied a lot.
And then slowly I started to want more for myself. I went back to school and blindly entered to study Holistic and Eastern Medicine, as science and health had now become a new-found interest of mine. I upgraded some courses, checked boxes and got that shit done. Over those years of continuously putting myself into unknown territory, challenging myself and stretching my comfort bubble I adopted a newfound sense of pride and confidence in all that I did. I started to hang out with new people from college, with different ideas of the world, who did different things for fun. They were happier, and I was happier around them. I liked who I was more and more, who I was morphing into. Choosing to be? Or maybe finally allowing myself to be. Regardless, it felt good and was so exciting that losing touch with a few of my high school buddies along the way didn’t stress me out like it would have in the past.
Don’t get me wrong there was a lot of rebellion from some of my closer of friends, who just didn’t understand why I was doing all this “non-sense”, why I wanted to change or stray from the life I had back in high school. This only actually lasted the 1st year after high school and from there on most of my peers either started to embark on their own personal journeys or faded out to continue to lead the same life they had led in high school. I’m actually sad to admit that in the last 3 years, 3 of my old close friends from JR high and high school are either in jail or dead. I find myself very thankful for taking that scary but lifesaving opportunity back in grade 10 and sticking with it. It has taken me far beyond my expectations.
I can whole heartedly say that my 16-year-old self would have never imagined the abundant life I now live at the mere age of 24. Last summer I successfully completed my schooling and graduated a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Holistic Nutritionist and Acupuncturist. I am now an active face in the Calgary’s free fitness community and free funky fitness group that meets every Wednesday morning at 6 am. It’s a place where people from all walks of life meet up and workout together, from fast to last, fit or fat, everyone is welcome. It was that group that I attended back when I was unfit and felt super un-qualified to work out with a group of fit strangers. This year I will run my first 60km ultra marathon, and I can thank those very first fearful burpees with that group as the catalyst in my fitness journey and the morphing of the athlete I am today. I have an abundance of great new friends who love me for who I am, support my ambitions, enjoy my uniqueness and laugh at my dumb jokes. In retrospect I probably have more friends, nicer clothes and definitely more love for myself, my life and the people in it.
To wrap this up….
I really was stuck on trying to find parts of my story that had the most value to share… so I tried to come up with a few messages I wish I could have told my 15-year-old self…
Firstly…. it gets better…. regardless of how hard things seem at times, things will sort themselves out. And the doors that open when you’re out in “the big world” are abundant…. KNOCK ON THEM! RELENTLESSLY! TAKE THOSE OPPORTUNITIES, FORGET THE NEIGH SAYERS and SILENCE THOSE LIMITING BELIEFS…. If it lights you up; if it makes you excited; even if it doesn’t seem in line with the person you are today, or you have no idea where to start, or don’t feel like you have what it takes… START. Sure, you will likely fall on your face the first few times, but if you tenaciously do what it takes to acquire that something, eventually it WILL be yours. For all you have ever wanted lies on the other side of fear. And anything in this world can be yours.
Lastly…. unapologetically LOVE & BE YOURSELF. There is only one of you. Love and embrace yourself to the fullest, and people will love you for it. There is no greater feeling then true, honest love for yourself and your own greatness.