Shane Earle’s life in a broken home and his spiral into drug and alcohol abuse is a sadly familiar story among young people in his remote northern Canada community.
For many young people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, that spiral ends in suicide.
According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, suicide rates in Labrador were 14 to 20 times higher for indigenous people than for non-indigenous people in the region.
“There are no positives that I can think about when I think about my childhood,” Earle says.
When he was only 5, his 6-year-old brother—his best and only friend—was killed by a suspected drunk driver. Earle’s life spiraled into depression and, later, substance abuse.
“I saw them lift his little body into the ambulance,” Earle says. “When he was killed, it really took something away from me. When someone so important to you leaves, it changes you.”
Not long after his brother’s death, Earle’s parents separated, and his father—a severe alcoholic—moved to a community hours away. The family influences that remained in his life only accelerated his move toward substance abuse. When he was 6, his uncles and some family friends invited him to smoke marijuana with them as a joke.
Earle also struggled with weight issues and he was a target of relentless bullying. At 11, he was already drinking to numb his pain.
“I thought about taking my life so many times because of it,” he says. “I thought my life was worthless, pointless, and that I had no real reason to be here.”
By his late teens, he was drinking as much as 60 ounces of hard liquor a day.
After many close calls with death from alcohol poisoning, Earle realized he was becoming what he had feared the most: a replica of his father.
Earle’s mother eventually remarried and had more children. With no one else in the home to care for his young brother during the day when his mother was at work, Earle knew he had to step up and care for him. Although he was still drinking, the knowledge that he had to be responsible for his brother meant waking up each morning to care for him, whether he was sober or not.
Earle happened to be downtown one afternoon when a poster advertising a “men’s night” caught his eye. One of the organizers of the event—a man from a local church—noticed Earle gazing at the poster and invited him to the event.
What began as a fun night for a few men quickly grew into friendships for Earle, giving him a new sense of belonging.
The men invited Earle to church, and when he stepped inside the church building, he felt like he was “coming home.”
“The last time I felt anything like that was when my brother was still alive,” he says.
Earle’s relationship with his new friends led him to put his faith in Jesus Christ. Now sober, he spends much of his time telling other young people about Christ.
He was excited about the evangelistic possibilities when he learned that a Celebration of Hope with Will Graham was coming to Happy Valley-Goose Bay last November.
“By sharing my story and inviting people to church and to something like the Celebration of Hope, I can be one light in a place of darkness for other people who are where I was,”
Earle said at the time. “This Celebration is exactly the kind of spark we needed in this community … there is more and more drug and alcohol abuse taking young people away from the church.”
Earle saw firsthand the life-transforming power of the Gospel at the Celebration of Hope. A childhood friend who had spent many years in the grip of drug and alcohol addiction answered Will Graham’s invitation to accept Christ as Savior.