Phoenix’s Story: “I Died for a Few Minutes”

Transformative learning & the road to  adult literacy/adult basic education


French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, once wrote: “Reality is not an absolute. It differs with the group to which one belongs.”

These past three months have given us a glimpse into the lived-realities of three literacy/basic education students. Their stories have shown how a single “disorienting dilemma” or several disorienting events changed their lives. We have also seen how such transformative learning has led them to literacy and basic education.

This month’s story is perhaps the most powerful story so far. Our  student this month shares how, “I … found out that I had died for a few minutes, went blue, and stopped breathing.” She has chosen the fictitious name, “Phoenix.” It is an amazing story.

Reflecting for just a moment on the stories thus far, I think about the struggles and transformative learning that has lead these adults to literacy and basic education and can’t help but contrast their realities with those of so many of the grade 12 graduates who take a “career pathway” to post-secondary programs. And, I think about how vital it is to have empathetic tutors, counsellors and instructors—not to mention supportive programs and policies—that can recognize and accommodate such difference and diversity.  We will be seeing stories with this focus in the months ahead. So please stay tuned

Meanwhile, Phoenix, we thank you for sharing your remarkable story. Every success in your program and every success in the future.  

 Dr. Allan Quigley & the SARN Team.


All my life I swear it’s always been a constant struggle. There are very few times I remember when I was young that my mom, my little sister and I were completely content. No matter how hard we struggled, though, our mom always showed us and told us how much she loved us. We were rich on love.

As I grew older and older our mom kind of lost herself along the way. My sister and I would get sent to foster homes when she went off and did her own thing. We were used to it. To us it was normal. By the time you knew it, my sister and I were old enough to take care of ourselves. We knew what to say if social services came for us. We became good liars so they wouldn’t take us.

It is many years later and we each have kids of our own and we’re expected to raise these little people, to teach them how to grow, how to live. This is the part where our mom went wrong. It wasn’t her fault, though. It is a cycle. It needs to be broken.

I noticed myself starting to do the things she did when I was younger. I started drinking more and more. I experimented with all kinds of drugs. I started to neglect my children. I was hurting everyone, especially my very own babies. I knew I needed to change.

I usually overcame all my obstacles but the hardest one that I think is going to bother me forever is losing my mom. She passed on June 19, 2013. I fell into a depression and didn’t really care anymore. I knew she had a rough life and she was very tired. She is at peace and I know that now.

I slipped a few times, but the number one thing that made me want a better life was in the summer of 2014. It was July 16th, just before my two sons’ birthdays. My best friend was just getting back from Florida and I missed her so we hung out, took my kids to the beach and had a few drinks. It was a good day.

Day turned to night and I woke up the next morning in the hospital with a broken chest bone. I was so lost. I didn’t know it right away, but I later found out that I had died for a few minutes, went blue, and stopped breathing. I had overdosed on a mixture of drugs and hard liquor. I thank God my Bestie’s mom was there. CPR saved my life.

Just four days before my kids’ birthdays, they would have had to put me in the ground. I’ll never forgive myself for that, for hurting everyone, all my family, and all my friends. I am so sorry. It was this awful thing that changed me.

I want better for my kids. They deserve the best life. I know I need to give that to them. So now it is a little over a year later and I have a clearer outlook on life. I know what I want. I know what I have to do to get it. Not only being accepted into school but all the positive that came from such a negative experience made me think. I make better decisions. I am thankful that I was given a second chance. It was a wakeup call for sure.

I love my life. I’m grateful. I’m definitely blessed. I think about that day and I think to myself, “I bet my angel up above was watching over me and said, ‘She’s not done her job yet.’” This is why I’m alive today: to be the best mom for my kids. I’m giving it my all. It’s a promise I made to myself and my children.

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