Humour is one way to deal with tough issues. Last Tuesday, while leading a memoir writing workshop at Alpha House, the participants taught me that jokes are allowed even in the deepest and darkest moments. They gave me permission to laugh with them when I might have otherwise cried for them.

Alpha House is a shelter in Calgary that gives those whose lives are affected by alcohol and other drug dependencies a safe and caring home. I conduct volunteer seminars there through a Calgary non-profit organization: This is My City (TMC). TMC brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status because art builds bridges and lessens differences.

Last week’s session was my third at Alpha House. I’m instructing a class called “Write YOUR own story.” Unlike other workshops, where the same people attend every time, the writers at Alpha House are different every time. This past week I had five participants, four women and one man, who used a lot of humour in their conversation and writing.

From writing about their passions such as being outdoors or cooking, to describing what certain emotions feel like to them, the students were engaged and did a lot of work writing about themselves. In between the confessions of heartbreak and heartache, they joked about their addictions. At first I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to do. But they told me it was OK to giggle at their sometimes dirty, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes shocking — but always funny — digs at themselves.

The issues they face are no laughing matter. They’re serious. But if we fail to see some humour in our personal tragedies, then what’s the point of remembering how we got to where we are now? Or thinking about how far we’ve come.