When he leans forward and props his elbows on his knees.
When he gets that bright starry look in his eyes.
It means Sébastien’s going to talk about music.
“I’ve always really loved music.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve been into art.
Drawing, making stuff – you know.
But music was what really got me going.”
Sébastien knows his stuff.
“1998 – when I turned twelve – was the music industry’s most lucrative year ever.”
He lists off musical movements and bands like so many old friends.
“Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus.”
The soundtrack of his youth is a patchwork of influences.
“My mother was into ballroom dancing. She taught me to do the cha-cha-cha to ‘Ginette,’ the Beau Dommage song.
We had Michael Jackson albums.
But I was also getting into my own music. Harder stuff like Rage Against the Machine, Sonic Youth, Pantera.”
Sébastien isn’t tied down to any one genre. He likes a bit of everything.
As a kid, it made him a bit of a freak.
“I started making music that – sure, it had the punk rock sound of the day, but it would often erupt into a wall of noise. It was heavy, dark. Where I’m from, the South Shore opposite Quebec City, being into weird stuff wasn’t cool. People made fun of me.”
In his town on the South Shore, far from the city, people lived hard and made dubious life choices. But Sébastien followed his passion.
“I bought musical instruments instead of a car – bad move. That made life hard. I was sort of stuck out there. And in my town, Saint-Étienne, there’s no outlet for kids who are ‘different.’ No way to meet other people like you.”
“If you’re looking for something a little different, you’re only gonna find one thing. And that’s drugs.
Sébastien starts his story in high school. He was in the International Education Program at Rochebelle, a high school in Quebec City. He’d cross the bridge over from the South Shore every day. And he still has happy memories from those days, friends he’s kept in touch with. Some still play music with him.
But he never felt quite at home at that school.
“I was in the International Program, but I never fit in there because I came from a different background than everyone else.”
Everyone else wanted to be teachers, doctors, lawyers. Sébastien just wanted to make rock music.
“I turned 18. But I had no idea what it meant to be an adult.
It’s not that I didn’t want to grow up. It just wasn’t happening.
I didn’t have an ounce of ambition. No social skills. No sense of how to live with other people. Those things were like a foreign language to me.”
In high school, Sébastien was straightedge: no alcohol, no drugs, not even a cigarette. And he was adamant that his friends should do the same. This was a source of friction, since high school is a time of experimentation for many.
“I was unyielding. My friends joke about it now. About how I would psychologically torture them.
But I was so intense they started hiding things from me. It was an unhealthy obsession.
It might have been because I had so little control over the world around me. So I was trying to compensate by controlling the people around me.”
After high school, Sébastien took film studies at CEGEP. He was in a new environment, full of new experiences. He still tried to resist temptation, but eventually his barriers broke down.
“Before long, I started smoking weed.”
Music was still calling. He moved to Montreal with a friend to follow his passion.
“We ended up in Côte-Saint-Paul. A real fucking poor neighbourhood. You had people constantly breaking into our place to steal our stuff. Random people crashing at our house when they were in trouble.”
The difficulty of finding his place in the adult world; the challenge of being alone in a big city, of making ends meet: Sébastien increasingly struggled to stay in control. He could feel his life slipping from his grasp.
“In high school, you’ve got your crew.
And within that circle, you have an identity.
Then it’s gone.
You start trying to find something else.
I was searching all over, but I wasn’t finding many viable options.”
What he did find was a neighbour who dealt amphetamines.
“I can’t really say what set me off.
I didn’t have coping mechanisms.
Speed gave me energy.
I just wanted to make music. It let me make much more music.
That was all I cared about: focusing on music as much as I could.”
Even during Sébastien’s downward spiral, it was all about music.
“When I moved back in with my mom, seven or eight months later, I had a serious addiction. It took eight years to kick it.”
Looking back, Sébastien speaks of his experience with detachment. He lays out the various challenges he faced like so many objects on a table, ready to be dissected. He knows his struggles don’t define him.
“I mostly did pills, some crystal meth.
I never shot up.
Didn’t do coke, that was way too expensive.
You know, ‘poor people’s drugs’ – cheap pills with a long-lasting high.”
With his drug habit came conflicts, manipulative behaviours, and an inability to fit into mainstream society.
“I got fired from between 27 and 30 jobs.
You know, screaming at people on my way out the door.
Life got really, really weird.
My friends had a lot of compassion.
But the point comes where they figure they’ve done all they can. And they’re fed up with being constantly asked for favours.
I was lucky, though. When it came down to it, they stayed.”
Money was short. Basic self-care – healthy eating, sleeping – went out the window. Sébastien’s health started giving out.
“It got so when I’d get out of bed, I’d go blind for 10 or 15 seconds because my blood pressure would drop suddenly. I had to get my four front teeth pulled because I’d ground them down to the root. I was constantly on the verge of psychosis. More than once I’d wake up at the hospital with no idea how I got there.”
Throughout his addiction, Sébastien was never blind to the paradox. He understood that he was addicted.
“I never wanted to be addicted. I always wanted to quit.
I never romanticized it.
I just couldn’t find the strength in myself to stop using.
So I started feeling terrible about myself.”
As his life spun out of control, Sébastien remained lucid. Not even the thick fog of stimulants could totally obscure his intelligence. He looked for help.
And he found it.
“I stopped using the day I saw Trainspotting.”
He checks himself, adds a qualification.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. Drug addiction has deep roots. You can’t beat it just by going to a play. There’s a process.”
At the time, Sébastien was living in assisted housing run by PECH, an organization that supports people in complex situations due to mental health issues. Sébastien will forever be grateful for the help he got from PECH, and other community resources, to rebuild his life.
“You get there and they start asking you all kinds of questions. What do you want? What are your qualities? What skills do you have? What do you love doing? It’s just – positive. It’s like they’re being paid to be good friends. You go there, and you get rewired.”
Despite the organization’s best efforts, Sébastien was going through a very dark period. And that made supporting him difficult, almost impossible.
“For three weeks I’d been using every week, then going back to the group home.
And the social workers were like ‘Seb, we get it: you’re trying. But now you’ve got to understand that if you don’t stop using, you’re not welcome here.’”
It was one of the social workers who took me to see Trainspotting.
“It was inspiring to see people making theatre. People my age. Up on stage, so full of life.
The play’s message really hit home for me.
It was touching, it was well done.
But above all, I thought: ‘I want to do something like that.’
Not sleep on the floor of my dealer’s storage space.”
This life-changing experience at the theatre gave Sébastien the strength he needed to pursue the healing journey he had already started on. To see it through.
“I’ve had a lot of help to get here.
Spent 12 years in different therapeutic practices.
Eight rounds of therapy.
Lived in a group home for five years.
Worked with dozens of social workers.
Two years ago, I put an end to this process.”
Change came slowly but surely, reshaping Sébastien to the core.
“For years, I had recurring nightmares. Really horrible, oppressive nightmares.
With the help of PECH, I have slowly grown able to defeat my own demons. Even in my dreams.
I’m not new-agey or anything. But I believe our dreams are part of our bodies.
My dreams were showing me that positive things were happening. I was taking back control of my subconscious.”
“My imagination also needed a positive transformation.”
Today, Sébastien’s doing great. He is in good physical and mental health, and able to maintain relationships. He’s a new person. He works out and meditates. He is strong, and so is his desire to accomplish more in the world.
“Soon, I’ll be starting a career orientation process. I’d like to work in mental health, but part time, so I still have time to make music.
I’m writing a book on rehabilitation, on rebuilding your personality.
I also work with Centraide, sharing my story with others. I have no problem doing that – in fact, I like it.”
Sébastien knows that his journey is special. He knows he can help others.
“If I can give back like that, I’m happy to. It’s inspiring to think that my story could help others. That my experience can contribute to the conversation our society is having. Because when you’re alone out there, you’re really fucking alone!”
Sébastien is proud of his accomplishments, but he knows he still has a ways to go.
“More and more, people see me in a positive light.
But that’s not enough: I have to see myself that way too.”
Sébastien says he’s working on it.
And there he goes: he’s leaning forward. He’s propping his elbows on his knees.
He’s getting starry-eyed again.
“One of my last albums, with one of my bands, got a full-page write-up inLe Soleil.
It was reviewed in Le Devoir too.
We played at the Quebec City Summer Festival!
I also made music with Catherine Dorion during the 2018 provincial election campaign.
For sure, things like that boost my self-esteem.”
It’s still all about the music.Back to the mural