On any given day, you can find Dayna Mastre on the streets of Prince Rupert helping the vulnerable and those in need.
The homeless and vulnerable person advocate does this because she knows what it’s like to be in need. She has struggled to overcome alcoholism and addiction in her own life.
Her journey began in Smithers, born into a Cree family. She lived with both parents and a younger brother until her early teens. Her father struggled with alcoholism resulting in when she was 13 years old, her parents separated.
As with any emotional experience, Dayna took the split hard and unfairly blamed her mother, she said.
“I was daddy’s little girl … in my eyes, he could do no wrong,” she said.
“Even though it’s not good for your mom, you still want your dad, right,” Dayna said.”So, I went wild.”
At that moment being “a troubled teenager” was thrust upon her when she was introduced to alcohol. Soon she started dabbling in drugs.
“It was bad,” she said.
Bad for her meant black-out drunk. Getting into a car crash on the back roads of Telkwa kind of bad, she said.
However, her mother’s love and hope persevered. Her mom never gave up and always believed in her even though she “put her through hell for many, many years.”
Feeling the need for a new start, at 18, Dayna left Smithers and moved to Prince Rupert after her mother married a fisherman.
After settling in town, she began to jump from job to job but sank deeper into alcoholism. The pattern of alcoholism perpetuated.
“I would party all night, go to work and then say I’m not doing it again – and then that night I’d do it again,” she said.
The behaviours would come in waves, she said. Sometimes she would slow down with her drinking, but then drinking would increase with falling into a new bottle nightly.
She couldn’t stay still and would move back and forth between the coastal city and Smithers. At 22, she became pregnant with her son. Wanting to start a new life she moved to Merritt with her boyfriend.
“I was excited and scared … because I was young and dumb,” Dayna said, adding she didn’t feel ready to have a baby, but she already loved him with all her heart. To show this she quit drinking.
When little Dakota, was born Dayna’s mother would come and help with her new grandson.
The young family moved briefly to Hazelton, where soon the couple decided the best road forward was separately. Dayna again moved back to Prince Rupert, this time with her six-month-old baby.
Dayna’s mother continued to help and support her. However, the pattern of old habits soon replayed themselves but his time with greater effect. Dayna said she fell deep into drugs.
The struggle would come like a roller coaster with ups and downs. Sometimes it would be a day or two before needing a fix. At other times she could stop herself entirely.
During those years, Dayna tried to stay close to her son despite the fact she would sometimes disappear.
“It was terrible. I still feel guilty,” she admits.
Falling down the spiral staircase of addiction, each step-down hurt and bruised more than the previous one. Dana hit the final rung in 2000 when her dad took his own life.
Up until then, Dayna said she felt she still had some control, but when her father died, that control was taken away from her. She started to use heavier drugs including opioids.
“I kind of lost my mind for a while,” she said. “I wanted to be numb and not feel.”
“I got bad into drugs. One day you’re controlling it, and then one day, it’s controlling you,” she said.
Eventually, the numbness gave way to feelings of guilt.
“You end up hating your life, the people in it, the drug — every part of it. I needed to get better for my son,” she said.
She accepted she was ill and knew the time had come to find treatment. Still believing in Dayna, her mom drove her to the Wilp Si’Satxw Community Healing Centre in Kitwanga.
After spending six weeks in the healing centre, Dana felt so much better.
“It felt amazing,” she recalled.
Dayna made connections with other people battling some of the same demons. The program consisted of an array of strategies for rehabilitation. She started the 12 step process of reaching sobriety, went on wilderness outings, spent time in sweat lodges and participated in ceremonies.
On the last day after graduation, her mother and son greeted her with open arms to celebrate her success.
“Everybody cried,” she said. “They were just really happy that I was finally clean.”
Dayna returned to Prince Rupert with everything going well. She found a secure job and started forming strong relationships with her son and mother again.
Six months in — she relapsed.
It was really disappointing for her family, she said, adding that though she stumbled, she quickly returned for another two months.
Completing her second stay, the moment of accomplishment felt different. The guilt of her behaviour, the guilt of hurt and the guilt of usage continued to follow her .
“I relapsed almost right away,” she said. “… you just keep going harder because it numbs you, so you don’t have to feel the guilt or feel anything — because you’re numb from the drugs.”
“It’s a self-feeding cycle, and you have to change your whole life to beat addiction. I honestly didn’t think I would get a day clean.”
One day she met her light at the end of the tunnel. A pastor who helped others like her who were stuck in a dark place, sat on the front steps of the church and just listened to her.
“I cried. I told him what I was going through in my life, about the addiction and feeling hopeless,” she said.
With the church’s help, Dayna found a new program that was a right fit for her. After detoxing in Prince George for two weeks, she enrolled in the Cornerstone to Recovery program.
This time she went to help herself rather than to do it for others
“It was different this time. It felt like my addiction was lifted,” she said. “I was on top of the world — like the most amazing feeling.”
Dayna learned coping mechanisms and how to deal with the challenges.
“Balancing life is huge,” she said. “If you can keep your life balanced, life is a whole lot better.”
Fear of falling into old habits with old friends prevented Dayna from returning to Prince Rupert. She couldn’t come home until she felt safe.
She grew stronger inside herself by involving herself in recovery programs and speaking to her son every day. Her family noticed the change too.
“It’s nice to have my mom back,” her son told her on one of their daily calls.
Months later, the day came when Dayna moved back home.
“It was amazing,” she said. “You just feel on top of the world that something is not controlling you anymore.”
She took time to settle back into her life, joining a support group as a youth mentor at Fellowship Baptist Church.
Unknowingly she had just taken her first step toward helping those in need.
She started to hand out sandwiches to people who were homeless and living on the street.
“They were people that I knew, and that grabbed hold of my heart,” Dayna said, adding she knew the despair of being in a similar place once.
Ten years later, 10 years sober, Dayna continues to help those who are struggling. She collects, distributes clothing and food. She helps those in need fill out documents and obtain identifications. She advocates for the vulnerable while offering kindness.
“Sometimes people say ‘oh they’re lucky to have you,’ but actually, I’m lucky to have them too because they’re pretty amazing,’ she said, wishing people could hear their stories because they’re funny, kind and loving.
“People have trauma. It takes you to places you would never think of,” she said. “Once the addiction sets in, it is not a choice. People don’t want to be living on the street in addiction.”
She said they need someone to stick by them like her mother did for her.
“To me, even if somebody doesn’t get sober, at least they knew somebody loved them exactly where they’re at.”