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Climbing out of addiction: how Margo Talbot’s story of strength and resiliency provides an anchor during the COVID-19 pandemic

"The first step is to honour your process ... honour yourself and know that the blueprint for your own healing is inside of you," said Talbot. "People can help you, they can help you find your way points, they can help you find your own compass. But ultimately we all have to go inside of our hearts to find our way ... that is what the dark night of the soul is."

Margo Talbot calls is the reckoning.

The moment she came into the presence of the power of the universe and she was able to overcome the destructive patterns of addiction that had become part of her daily life.

"Nothing outside of you is stronger than what is inside of you and I realized that on the shores of Moose Lake that night when I pulled over to do more freebase and instead I quit, just like that," Talbot said. "That moment happened because I saw something larger than myself and I felt connected to a power larger than myself.

"It is the shift. Instead of thinking that cocaine ruled my life, it was like – boom – nope, the stars are going to rule my life. Whatever this power is in the universe that I feel when I am out in the mountains." 

While she is not religious, Talbot said there are kernels of sacred wisdom in scripture and the saying from the bible – as above, so below – resonated with her in that moment of reckoning. It was such a powerful moment, she never touched freebase again. 

"I knew that fundamental power I was feeling in the sky was inside of me and I could tap into, that is what I realized in that moment on the shores of Moose Lake," she said. "And the beauty of it is that every one can have those moments. I think they call it grace in Christian religion – it is a moment of grace.

"We all get these moments where we can make those decision. Because if you think about it, freebase takes all your pain away. It is like heroin, it just takes all your pain away the minute you inject or smoke the crack. We are not really trying to be drug addicts, we are trying to get out from under the pain. So we can do drugs, or we can start working on lessening the pain."

She describes these experiences in her book All That Glitters: A Climber's Journey Through Addiction and Depression, recently re-published by Rocky Mountain Books. 

These experiences, she said, are almost mythological. Like Dante's Inferno, St. John of the Cross going through the valley of death, or the dark night of the soul – this process of transforming or reinventing yourself in the face of what seems like insurmountable obstacles. 

Especially when those obstacles arise from within ourselves, like when we experience addiction to alcohol, drugs, or other problematic behaviours. 

Throughout her life, Talbot has overcome addictive behaviours with substances. She has found herself in jail, charged with trafficking drugs; in abusive relationships; and dealing with her mental health after coming to terms with abuse experienced in childhood. 

"It often coincides with a low point," she said. "Because it took that much for us to look at our lives. Like when I ended up in jail ... I was partying one day and in jail the next – how the f--k did that just happen?

"Well, anyone on the outside could see what was happening, but I couldn't." 

Climbing also became an addiction for Talbot, but it was one that she used to get away from her addiction to freebasing cocaine. 

"Many people climb to escape," she said. "And I define addiction as anything you do to escape from your responsibilities, or your adult life."

However, it wasn't just climbing that Talbot relied on to help her. Decades of therapy, a dedication to journaling throughout her journey, meditation, and extensive reading and research on the subject have supported her.

So when she sat down to write All That Glitters, she thought it would be easy. 

"Well, it wasn't," she said. "It was one of the hardest things I have done in my life, because I had to go back as a 47-year-old, when I wrote this ... and go into these places.

"But I would say that I healed through it, but it was a whole new level of owning my story and taking responsibility for what I did ... Once you have gone through the dark night and you are on the other side, you can tell your story from that place of power." 

Originally published in 2011, Talbot's story resonates now more than ever, especially with the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the kind of historic event that affects everyone, regardless of where you live, who you are, or what you do.

Mental health for many is being challenged under the weight of this public health and economic crisis. Many are turning to substances they may have used for fun in the past, to cope with or escape from the stress of the situation. 

Addictions counsellor with Bow Valley Addiction and Mental Health Fred Folliott said the current circumstances may present for many an opportunity to check-in with how they are doing, seek out supports and find new ways to cope. 

"What COVID has done, I think, has caused people to kind of look at their life in the frame of  'am I living my best and preferred self,' " Folliott said. "There are some things that may have been going on beforehand – we have work, we have kids, we have all kinds of things going on in life. But this kind of strips some of those things away, so then we are left with a real opportunity to look at our lives in a more specific way and more intentional way." 

He said counselling and therapy provide more than just an opportunity to look at what might not be working, but a way to also focus on what a person is doing well and the things they have in their life that support them. It is less about what are bad behaviours, and more about a wholistic exploration of where a person is at in their journey.

"One of the key things about therapy and counselling is taking the lead from that person, because they are really the expert in their own life," Folliott said. "Counselling and therapy is a way to strip that back and say, 'wait a second, there are probably some things that are going really well in your life.' " 

Program facilitator Ella-Jean Schatzmann said everyone's journey and what they may be struggling with is unique and now we all have this added layer of COVID. 

"I think people overall are quite resilient," Schtazmann said. "And I think we saw that at the beginning of the pandemic an increased sense of community and connection, albeit differently with a lot of it happening online or in doorways. 

"But over time, the accumulated stress can start to wear on people. So we hear people talking about fatigue and uncertainty, and having to deal with so many changes that those added layers of stress are starting to build for people." 

Folliott said mental health and addiction supports have evolved over time and that he has also noticed that people in general have been reaching out for support and help before "the wheels fall off." However, with COVID, it is important for the community to know there are dedicated resources to help them through whatever they are experiencing as a result of their circumstances.

"As COVID moves along, it is a grind," he said. "This is a marathon that does not actually have a finish line, so we have to stop at those aid stations and that doesn't always mean therapy. It can mean finding a different way to spend time with the people you love and care about, and who care about you." 

The abrupt interruption of normalcy in our lives that resulted from the pandemic has changed the personal circumstances for many. Whether it was being laid off, having to close a business, increased debt or losing your home – when these things happen they can also affect our mental health. 

With that in mind, Canmore's Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) recently released a card that details supports available in the community. From addictions and mental health services, the Family Resource Network, food supports, housing and employment – to name a few – the list offers a glimpse into the different ways the pandemic has affected people. 

Family and community worker Laura Wellmann said FCSS also provides a hub for those looking for more information about what is available for supports. 

"We are so resource rich in the Bow Valley and it is such a blessing for us, but it is really challenging to navigate it and to be able to recognize where the access points are," Wellmann said. "We want people to know that FCSS is here and we take appointments, walk-ins and calls. If someone is in doubt, they should know the FCSS office has the ability and capacity to sit down with residents and assess various needs." 

She said when it comes to COVID, we are not yet in the recovery phase, but still dealing with the crisis. With cases increasing in Alberta exponentially, valley residents may find themselves in need of support again. 

"Having this card go out, we are hoping people will hear about and know there are supports available," Wellmann said. "But despite where we are at with COVID, we still need to ensure we are putting an emphasis on how we are connecting in a meaningful way for our mental health and well-being." 

Talbot spends a lot of time helping others deal with the after effects of trauma, and with COVID, she said many people are dealing with mass-trauma as a result. She said for those who have spent time processing trauma and healing from painful experiences, they already have the tools they need to get through this. 

For those who haven't, stories like Talbot's show us how to find grace and support to cope with what COVID is throwing at us. She said it may even provide the impetus for society to collectively begin to address some of the systemic problems that exist and work to undermine our mental health. 

"I am finding an interesting tie in with COVID because people are losing their connections, losing their sense of identity ... people are moving towards substances," she said. "How many people are waiting for things to go back to normal, versus how many people are willing to move into this and see this big picture? This is the fragile life we have been [messing] with for decades and now it is on the brink of collapse. 

"The bottom line is, we are now seeing that trauma is not just over here, it is everywhere." 

She said many people minimize their trauma, especially men, who are taught that they are supposed to be strong. 

"The first step is to honour your process ... honour yourself and know that the blueprint for your own healing is inside of you," Talbot said. "People can help you, they can help you find your way points, they can help you find your own compass.

"But ultimately we all have to go inside of our hearts to find our way ... that is what the dark night of the soul is. You go alone, somebody can hold your hand until you get to the abyss, but you walk through that alone.

"It doesn't mean you can't have support ... but I can't reckon with your soul. That is for you, and the power of the universe reckons with your soul." 

Mental Health Supports

Mental Health Helpline – 1-877-303-2642

Addiction Helpline – 1-866-332-2322

The Kids Help Phone – text CONNECT to 686868

HealthLink – 811

The Help in Tough Times Alberta Health Services website

Urgent mental health walk-in services are available at the Canmore General Hospital and Banff Mineral Springs Hospital seven days a week 2-9 p.m.

211 Alberta

Bow Valley Addition and Mental Health 403-678-4696

FCSS – 403-609-3743 or 


Tanya Foubert

About the Author: Tanya Foubert

Tanya Foubert started as a news reporter at the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2006. She won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best news story for her coverage of the 2013 flood. In December 2018, she became editor of the Outlook.
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