Everyone has scars. Some people’s are just more visible than others. Cregg Jalbert wears his, on his skull, on his arms, maybe also on his soul. Some could tend to hide them in fear of judgement or questions. Cregg has decided to go all out, because like he puts it himself, “I don’t have anything to hide anymore.”
The first mark was left on his body when he was not two weeks old. Cregg suffered from Hydrocephalus at birth, a condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the brain and requiring the installation of a tube to drain the excess into other body cavities. The surgery was performed and deemed successful, but Cregg would have to live his life avoiding contact sports because the consequences of a head injury were too important. For an ADD poster child, that just made his childhood more difficult.
In school, Cregg was always treated different. He was the kind of kid that required more time to do things, more supervision. He would pass but never had great results. Things started to go downhill after his parents’ separation. He was 13 at the time. “I was exposed to a lot and I took it really hard.” Around grade 9, alcohol and drug consumption started as well, mostly alcohol.
“It’s part of the military culture and also I had young parents. They had me when they were 18. I saw people drink every day, drink to get messed up and not just the casual drinking to have a good time. It’s always been there, always part of my upbringing.”
Cregg was going through a rough time. With his parents’ splitting-up, his own consumption problems, it lead him to serious depression.
“I’m not super outgoing. I’m more of a reserved person, I’ll keep it in. I just kind of self-destructed.”
He turned his anger and anguish onto himself, leaving permanent marks on his arms. He also tried to end his life. Twice, he came quite close. The second attempt involved stealing his dad’s car and crashing it, a 40 ounces of rye and a bottle of anxiolytics, but that didn’t do it.
“I woke up the next day to the old man calling me a fucking coward. I was 16, depressed beyond any recognition, I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I was just really a messed up kids at that point. I blamed a lot of the stuff on my parents. They exposed me to this and that; I had to grow up fast. Maybe it’s true, but in the end, I could have handled it better and I’m not sure why I did not.”
After that attempt, Cregg was sent to the Royal Ottawa for 6 weeks in their youth unit. Being in there with these kids was hard for him to cope with, even if the support was great. After a bad day where he got into a fight with another teenager, he realized that he was the only one that could turn his life around. That was the last time Cregg slashed.
Thing got a little better after that. He moved with his dad to Owen Sound. His passion for music really picked up to the point where he was teaching guitar and was also part of a band. He almost graduated from high school but moved to BC before. Although things were good, Cregg’s alcohol consumption was still problematic. Drinking every day, more and more. After a period out West, he came back to Ontario.
“I went to school, got the job in Toronto, went to where the money is and did what the old men said. I was 24 at the time, still drinking every day. I just was not happy.”
One day, his stepbrother Kieran tells him about whitewater kayaking and how awesome it is.
“I was like, yeah sure, sounds great. I’m pretty sick of city living so it’d be cool to get on to something, something else than drinking, working, commuting, music and partying.”
The following weekend, Kieran had picked him up a full kit of kayaking gear and a kayak for dirt cheap down in Vermont.
Cregg had his first try at the Champlain wave in Ottawa. It was not safe; the water level was too low. There were ice sheets the size of a dancefloor coming down the river, the ice was just breaking. They went anyway and had a couple of surfs. Cregg remembers he could barely keep the boat straight. Regardless they decided to run the Petite Nation River the following day. After reading all the river wiki content available, they felt like they knew enough to run it. As you can imagine, it did not go over so well for the two newbies, but luckily no one got badly hurt. The following week end, the accomplices decided to attend M.A.C.K Fest in Marmora Ontario. Luckily, they meet up with KWP at the top of the river. They helped them go down the river safely and taught them some good base skills.
“From there, I bought all the gear, bought a new boat, picked up a $500 paddle. I was like I’m getting into this shit! From that point on I haven’t looked back.”
To be able to enjoy his passion, Cregg quit his job in Toronto and moved to the mecca of whitewater in Canada, Ottawa, where he found a job at the United Way.
“Working with these people who do nothing but help the community has helped me a lot. It’s a really kind environment it’s not something I ever experienced, not something I ever thought existed, a low stress IT environment that wanted to help me through my struggles. It’s a really good organization.”
He is now ending his third paddling season and doing much better on the personal level. He even managed to quit drinking.
“Up until earlier this year, I found myself waking up at 9am having literally a sea of cans at my feet and wanting to do nothing but slam three more cans before I can do anything because I got the shakes so bad because I have slept for 6 and a half hours and it’s been that long since I’ve had a drink. I’ve never know until a little while ago what it was like not to be pickled.”
“I’ve tried to stop obviously for even longer than I am probably willing to admit. It’s been a long road. I owe it to my family who’s been there to support me. Without them I would be nowhere, absolutely nowhere. They picked me up and dusted me off more times than I can count. And I also owe it to the whitewater for being the catalyst and the mental healing it seems to provide me.”
Right now, Cregg is using kayaking as his main coping mechanism, kayaking and the great family that has always been there for him. He knows it is not enough and that he will need to deal with his demons but for the moment, it provides him with physical exhaustion and a positive way to stay out of his head.
“Physical exertion is something kayaking gives me that music did not. I don’t stop until I’m toast. It feels really good to push myself. It’s just that whitewater, it’s just got me. I don’t know how else to explain it. I can’t believe how much it’s changed me.”
Cregg has made the choice and keeps on making the choice every day to stay clean and to love himself. He now just needs to love himself more than he loves the river. Let’s hope that the AA triangle and “One day at a time” tattoo he’s got on his back is the last scar he self-inflicts.
“I’m just content with how it is going at the moment. I can just paddle; I can finally live my life where I can remember some stuff, and be a little happier. It’s been a good road.”
“Scars show us where we have been, they do not dictate where we are going.” ― David Rossi
Follow Cregg’s adventures on Instagram, @creggjalbert
Note: If you are dealing with any kind of mental health issue, or know someone who is facing a crisis in their life, we encourage you to call 211 to find out about local resources that can provide support.
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