To my dad: Thank you for passing on to me all the original and endearing qualities that made up your incredible being. I carry your childlike creativity that I remember so fondly, present in times like when we had a water gun fight in the backyard, our guns filled with sweet and sticky chocolate milk. I’ve been told that I can be pretty charming sometimes, so thanks a lot for that one—it comes in handy. I adopted your deep love of nature, and it is there I go when seeking answers and craving a deeper connection to myself.
See you on the other side,
Your little wolf xx
It was a late night in November of 2011.
While November is technically considered fall, this month is known in Montreal for the murky winter feelings that hang in the frigid air. My mental health was always challenged in those times and required me to partake in daily self-care.
It would appear that I was not alone in my struggles with the damp iciness of November, as sadly, this time of year is notorious in Canada for recording the highest number of suicides.
Midnight was fast approaching, and I was lounging awake in my shoebox-sized studio bed, working on my sexology mid-semester papers, when my phone buzzed. The odds of me answering calls are pretty close to nonexistent, but when I saw “Dad” flashing on the screen I was intrigued, as he hardly ever called me. Puzzled, I picked up.
“Hello, Dad?” I asked in an uncertain voice, like my cell phone was playing a trick on me and was lying with the name on its screen.
“Hi, my little wolf. How are you? You never call me—why don’t you ever call me? Do you love me? You never tell me that you love me.” He spat it all out in one breath.
A breath that I knew was loaded with alcohol.
This is why I rarely called him. My dad was an intelligent, creative, and highly charismatic man. He was also an alcoholic, enslaved by the destructiveness of his addiction.
Avoidance and surface-level communication had been our strategy to keep a pretend peace in our damaged relationship of untold truths, guilt, shame, and unpredictable outbursts. Both my dad and I were clueless about how to recognize and express our honest feelings to each other.
That night, I was physically drained by my consuming late-night waitressing job and stressed by daunting university project deadlines. The tiny amount of patience and sanity left in me was just moments away from running out.
Cutting him short, I semi-yelled something that went like this: “I don’t call you because I don’t know in which state you will answer the phone—and also, I don’t have time to call you. I’m working my ass off trying to do something positive with my life. I don’t want to be your age and be fired from a job I hate, to another I hate, even more, just drinking my life away. I barely sleep and I’m always stressed with money and school. I’m burnt out, but it’s worth it, ’cause I really don’t want to end up like you. I’m gonna go now. Bye.” I hung up feeling enraged.
I know that what I said was fucking harsh. Ten years later, I still deal with the guilt of those words, which—little I know then—would be the last I ever spoke to him.
Before dawn on November 11th, the ringing of my cell phone woke me up. I had this instant knowing that there was terrible news coming my way. Hesitantly, I picked up.
“Emilie, I don’t know how to say that…” began my mom. “It’s your dad. Emilie, I’m so sorry. He committed suicide yesterday. He was found in his car in the woods behind his house. He poisoned himself with carbon monoxide, but the car was really old and an electrical problem caused it to catch fire,” she explained.
She offered to come to see me right away, but I told her I was fine, hung up, and collapsed on the floor in a state of confused haziness.
I sat there for a while, feeling like the cord that connected me to life had been cut. The woods—that was our happy spot. It’s where we went to gather boundless jars of blackberries and hazelnuts, which we would later turn into homemade pies. It was our adventure land. We would take Pirate, my loyal, mixed-breed dog, and stroll through the forest trails that lead to my grandpa’s cottage where we would stop for a swim at the lake and feed crusty pieces of bread to sassy ducks.
At that moment, my body entered autopilot out of shock. I went on with my day as if nothing devastating had just happened. First to school. Then to work. I arrived early at work, as usual, sat at the most remote table, and ordered a smoked meat sandwich. A copy of Le Journal de Montréal was lying on the booth. This “journal” is known for its controversial, dramatic content; so, in a subconscious effort to distract myself, I flipped absent-mindedly through the pages while nibbling on my food.
On one of the pages, I stopped in my tracks. In bold, aggressive letters, a few words were printed: “A man commits suicide in his car by self-immolation.” My heart sank and a huge upheaval of emotion came bursting through. I knew exactly who was the main character of the article. I read a few lines, lines filled with sensational lies, while tears cascaded down my face.
I stood up with my insides burning, my outside shaken and pale. I had just woken up from the dissociative haze I had been floating in all day. I collected my things and walked through the door, providing no explanation. Even though the evening was glacial, I walked the full two hours back to my apartment. The cold was a physical reminder of finally being in touch with reality. Once home, I opened my computer and wrote an outraged email to the scummy journal—an email I would never receive a reply to—calling them out on their bullshit, false reporting and complete lack of sensitivity.
I spent the night crying and thinking about the suicide curse that cast a shadow over my family. Not only did my dad take his own life, but so did my grandmother (she jumped in front of a subway) and my grandfather (also choosing to die in his car) years before.
This horrific trilogy was deeply troubling to me. I questioned my roots and genes and wondered if this curse could be stored and passed on to my DNA. For the next few weeks, days felt endless and nights were sleepless. I spent a lot of my time asking myself, “Why?” There was no note left, or maybe there was, and it turned into ashes on the passenger seat that tragic night.
I knew that my dad had always been struggling with himself. On one binge drinking evening of his younger years, he had tried ending his life by jumping over a bridge but woke up alive in a hospital bed with a solid hangover, a broken leg, and a shattered spirit. The most heartbreaking part is that at one point, I discovered that he did seek professional help for his struggles.
However, mental health and addiction were still taboo back in 2011, especially if you were a man. When my dad went to his doctor, he was sent home with half-hearted advice: to get his shit together, get a job, and exercise more. It kills me to know he reached out in a last attempt to get better and was left with no support.
At that time, I think part of me was afraid that if I didn’t make changes to my own life, I would meet the same fate as my father and grandparents. Spending most of my time secluded in my apartment, I began asking myself the important questions I had never dared to ask before: “Is the life I’m building the one I truly want to live? Am I happy? What does happiness look like? If I could do anything in the world without fear of disappointing anyone or failing, what would that be? What excites me? How do I want to feel?”
To no surprise at all, it turned out that I was hurting and quite unsatisfied with my lifestyle. I dealt with seasonal depression every winter, and the cold season in Quebec is tortuous and never-ending. I was disconnected from my emotions, which manifested as a long, vicious eating disorder. I lived in a loud, fast-paced city when all I truly craved was slow living surrounded by peaceful nature. I was hanging out in bars, trying to belong, and uncomfortable in crowds of intoxicated people. In true city life fashion, I was a busy gal that prided herself on her business: juggling work, social life, hobbies, and university.
Behind the illusion of doing it all was me popping speed pills like candy to keep me hustling, then drinking NyQuil straight from the bottle just to get some sleep. My body was weak; I was irritable and hurtful to people around me. I thought that this torture was a necessary passage to secure a good future. A good future. What did that even mean? Financial success?
Recognition? Comfort? Safety?
These words all left an empty feeling in my stomach. What was the point of this destructive life I did not enjoy living, to secure a future that I was not excited about? What is the point of anything if your mind is a toxic place to live in, and you abuse your body on a daily just to keep up the impossible pace? The nonsense of it all hit me swiftly and hard. It did not take long for what I was truly longing to come and find me.
Some of my fondest memories were of my grandmother, Claire. She was a lover of travel. She would go to faraway lands, bringing back captivating stories and precious gifts I would treasure above anything else. She passed her passion to me early on in life. I fantasized about travelling the world since childhood but quickly stored the dream in a box, convincing myself that later was the appropriate time to unpack it.
When I rekindled the idea of travelling, I felt excitement, aliveness, curiosity, joy, and just the right amount of fear. These were things I wanted to be feeling. This was what good felt like to me. I listened to my then weak inner voice—weak, only because it had been tamed, ignored, and suppressed for years—and booked a trip to Europe.
I landed in the wonderous highlands of Scotland and was smitten right away by the local fables and charms; a jolly ginger man in a kilt, eating crispy fish and chips in old-fashioned, fireplace-lit pubs, and possibly a semi-dinosaur creature lurking in the shallow waters of the Loch Ness lake. One evening, while exploring the haunted underground catacombs of Edinburgh, I reflected on how much healing had occurred in only a few weeks away from home.
Here, I had time and space to feel it all—to work on myself, instead of working at achieving goals. To focus on my health and do things that brought me joy. It was refreshing, and I knew this was what I needed to create my version of happiness. I thought about where to go next. Sunshine and nature were all I craved, so I trusted that desire and bought a one-way ticket to Australia, the land of the never-ending summer. I quit school without regret, got rid of everything except what I was willing to carry on my back, and began my search.
It’s been nine years since I left Montreal. I’ve lived in many countries, sometimes coming back to my roots for a sweet visit. I’ve encountered shamans and alternative healers, and countless other inspiring and challenging humans. I collected tender memories and life-changing experiences, facing hardships and deception along the way.
All of the above were equally important parts of my journey of self-discovery and healing.
I learned how to trust my heart and never let myself down again. How to follow my intuition above anything and anyone else, and to never silence that wise little voice, as she knows, beyond all logic and understanding, what I always need, every step of the way.
But most importantly, I finally came up with my own definition of happiness. Here’s how I define “happy": Living a healthy, aligned, purposeful, simple, and authentic life. A life where connections matter above anything else, where I spend time in communion with nature every day, where the opportunity for growth flows in abundance, and a hoodie and fluffy pair of socks is the only piece of clothing I will ever need to keep warm.