Never Too Late to Unpack

Life is good. I have two great kids, I have been married to the man of my dreams for almost twenty years and I have a lot of happiness and laughter in my life. Life wasn’t always so peachy and I often feel that I have lived two completely different lives.

I was the black sheep in my family, but not because I was causing trouble or getting into things I shouldn’t have. When I was growing up, I woke up and went to bed to the smell of beer. I use to hide anything valuable and worried that things would be taken from me when I was asleep or not at home. Sometimes I would be woken up by the sounds of people yelling and fighting in a drunken state and in the morning seeing beer bottles all over the place was not unusual. I remember kids in grade school making fun of me because I only had one pair of pants and had to wear them every day. I would lie about where I lived and never stayed with a boyfriend too long because I never wanted to bring anyone home. By high school, I had mastered hiding my chaotic home life; one day I even managed to go to school with no sleep because the night before, my mom had made a homemade bomb and told my sister and I that she was going to ‘take care of us’. No one knew what I was going through and I was determined to keep it that way. Despite all the chaos and unpredictability around me, I graduated from high school all alone at the ceremony.

In university, I met Marc, whom I later married. That story is a fairy tale, but it’s not what this story is about. One night Marc drove me home from a date and, being a gentleman, walked me to the door. We were met at the door by my mother who was drunk and insisting I go to the store to get her a pack of smokes before I could come in. She called me all kinds of names; most notably her favourite line was ‘you think you are better than us but you are no good for nothing’. Marc couldn’t believe I was living like this and asked that I come live with him. Knowing a good thing when I saw it, I soon packed my bags, moved out and never looked back.

Shortly after graduating from University, I landed a job in an Adult Drop-in Centre doing life skills training and working with a variety of “interesting” people. I felt I was making a difference in people’s lives. One day, a client came in “high as a kite” and within minutes a horrible scene unfolded and I ended up with a broken arm and a badly damaged knee. It is something I will never forget. Once I got my cast off, I tried to go back to my job but lived in constant fear that one of the clients would attack me again. When a full time position opened up at the Canadian Bar Association, I applied and was hired. I never looked back.

For many years, everything was going great and life had certainly turned around for me. I no longer woke up to the smell of Molson Golden and didn’t have to worry about being attacked at work. But, and there is always a ‘but’ in these stories, I had one of those ‘nothing is going right days’. I was driving home from work when for no apparent reason I just started crying and could not stop. I had to call my husband to come and pick me up in a parking lot. I had an Academy Award winning meltdown and I couldn’t figure out why this ‘nothing is going right day’ had upset me so much. The next morning, I called a helpline. I spoke to someone, for a long while, and realized that I had been keeping everything I went through packed up for years. I had never spoken about it or dealt with it. Having someone else acknowledge that the things that had happened to me were awful changed my life and took away the shame and insecurity I had lived with for much too long.

Many people who know me now would be surprised to learn that life was not always so rosy for me. I am not a big sharer when it comes to my past, but I decided to share my experience to encourage others to get help. Sometimes just talking to someone makes all the difference in the world….even if it is many years later.

My mother and older siblings did eventually enter drug and alcohol programs and have changed their lives. I don’t have much of a relationship with my older siblings but I did manage to enjoy a good relationship with my mother before she passed away. I probably would not have had any relationship with her had I not received help, and I am very thankful that I had the chance to do so.

In the long run, packing up my emotions and traumatic experiences, never took them away. Today, I have a greater appreciation for all the everyday privileges and opportunities that most people take for granted. I can honestly say that once I started to talk about things and “unpack” my emotions, it changed my life for the better. It is never too late to unpack.

by Robyn Lalonde

Robyn is the Project Officer for the Legal Profession Assistance Conference and has worked for the Canadian Bar Association for over 19 years.


  1. What a wonderful essay, Robyn. Your CBA friends daily appreciate your energy and grace as you juggle many competing demands, and all of the unique skills you bring to bear to meet those demands. It is a gift to us that you have “unpacked” some of your profound memories, to encourage others to stay in touch with their painful feelings and unsettling emotions.

    So often in the legal community we say,”it’s not relevant”, or, “it happened too long ago”. If “it” was ever hard on us – if we ever had to cross one of life’s “graduation stages” all alone, as you did – “it” is still relevant to our health today as we live our lives. I hope that the many readers who see this essay with take time to ask themselves, “do I need to get some counsel about how I have dealt with past injuries or betrayals, or with past acts of my own which don’t sit comfortably with me now?”

    I’m so glad that your own “unpacking” has let energy, your creativity and a great sense of humour fill the spaces where the strain and worry used to be.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story Robyn. It is definitely good to ask for help. You are an inspiration to all of us.

  3. I admire your bravery in posting something so personal on such a public forum. No matter who we may be, or where we are in your life/career, it’s important to remember our humanity, our strengths and our weaknesses… and to inspire others to do the same. Take Care