Lost and Found
When Jennifer Gagne reflects on her life, she is amazed at where she is today. She can clearly remember there being a time when she felt completely unmoored.
“I remember that feeling of being lost and hurt and having no sense of security,” she says.
Jennifer’s life didn’t start that way. She grew up as part of a big family. Her father was a creative person who built both a golf course and a sailboat, so Jennifer learned to golf and sail and enjoyed spending time with her dad. But when her father decided to fulfill his dream of sailing around the world and was lost at sea, her family was devastated.
“That was when our family spiraled into chaos,” she says.
Her mom was devastated and began to make lifestyle choices that made Jennifer feel unsafe at home. She decided to take control of her own life and so, at the age of 14, she left home and lived on the streets. She’d hitch hike, meet people on the way and stay with them. She remembers doing drugs and drinking but never considered herself an addict, rather more of a “social user.” She would visit her mom and siblings but she never returned home to live.
“I can’t quite believe that I lived such a risky life for two years, she says. “At the time, I felt safe because I felt in control of what I was doing but now, I can’t imagine my grandkids living like that!”
Eventually she graduated from high school, married young and had two children. The marriage didn’t last. It wasn’t until she met Richard, her current husband, that her life took a turn for the better. Richard was a new Christian and as their relationship grew, Jennifer’s relationship with Jesus also grew. When she gave her life to Christ, she was transformed.
My life was completely turned around. Before I was so lost, I had no sense of security. My relationship with God gave me the security I was looking for and enabled me to move forward with my life. – Jennifer, Peer Support manager
Another transforming experience for Jennifer came through her work. Jennifer works at Communitas Supportive Care Society, serving as the manager in one of its mental health programs. She started in 2006 and says it was one of the best decisions she ever made. For Jennifer, Communitas is a place where she has made a deep, heart-connection and has experienced personal healing.
“I remember there being times when I would drive by places where I had done drugs or lived on the streets and I had all these shameful memories,” she says. “It felt like the ‘old’ Jennifer was trying to make her way back.”
At the time, Jennifer was taking part in a program offered by Communitas called WRAP (Wellness Action Recovery Plan). It was through WRAP that Jennifer had the opportunity to tell her story, which turned out to be a release.
“I felt like I was coming clean in a way. I was like this nice church lady with a hidden past but through WRAP I could bring it out in the open and be honest with myself. It was so healing.”
Jennifer is grateful every day for her work with Communitas. She identifies strongly with Communitas’ mission statement that Communitas “will be a place of belonging, growth and contribution.”
“It’s so true! You feel like you belong, you build close relationships and because of that you feel safe,” she explains. “You have opportunity to grow through workshop opportunities, meeting other people and seeing their growth. And through my work, I have a chance to give back and contribute.”
Still, her work has challenges. There is great need and too few resources. As Jennifer approaches retirement age, she sometimes feels like she is running out of time.
“I don’t really want to retire, I love my job so much,” she says. “It’s so exciting to see change in people. Their stories inspire me as we experience recovery together.”