Ashley looks her age of 23 and is beginning to show her pregnancy. She paid very close attention to the script on her monitor and dictated her answers very precisely, often phrase by phrase. She is an only child who had a lonely life with working parents, became involved with the local drug dealer at 13 and soon spiraled into addiction and abusive relationships. She moved to Middletown to join her boyfriend, experienced difficulties on all fronts, and returned to live with her parents in order to help care for her father who is disabled with a stroke. She has a number of psychiatric diagnoses, including schizophrenia, and is hoping to go on ODSP. She has been on Methadone for two years. She feels she has made a solid recovery from addiction but continues to have difficulty with relationships with men. She has much to say about the lack of resources for teens and addicted people in small communities. She is looking forward to raising her child with the assistance of her mother, and hopes that they can move to a larger centre so that her child will have better opportunities.
FM: Start by telling me a bit about where you were raised, who was in the family, what they did for a living, etc.
Okay. I was raised in Hamilton, Ont. I moved to Baileyville when I was three years old. There was my father, mother and myself in the household. My dad worked for [a steel mill] in Hamilton for 34 years. He retired and he was unemployed for 6 years and finally ended up being a bus driver in Baileyville. Then my mother has always been a cook since she was 14 years old. She still continues to cook.
FM: Okay, maybe start with when you first began to think about whether to go or to stay.
I guess I would have been 17 years old and I just found that there was nothing in the area, no friends, there was no groups, no community centre, nothing for young people. And it finally got me thinking I’d be better off going to a bigger area such as Middletown or Littetown. I ended up moving to Middletown when I was 17years old and I lived there until I was 20. Then I ended up moving back to Baileyville due to my parents’ health issues – to help them. I’m 23 next week.
FM: Go back a bit. So you knew you wanted to leave Baileyville; how did you make the decision where to go, and when precisely?
Um, why I decided to leave was because I was in a relationship with a male and he lived in Middletown and it was just too hard to travel back and forth. So we both decided it would be better if we lived together. So I moved in with him when I just turned 18 – I lived on my own before then for a year. Then I met him and decided to move in with him.
FM: So if you were raised in Baileyville, you went to high school in [a nearby town]. Did you ever think you might just go [there]?
I really like [that town]. It is a very nice community. There’s not enough housing, and there’s not enough jobs and it’s just too small for what I was looking for, I guess. If it was bigger, for sure I’d move there. Because it is a nice area. Not too big, has everything you need. But not for working wise.
FM: Right, just checking. So how did you support yourself when you lived on your own?
I worked at Subway restaurant in Middletown and I was there for a year. It did not work out. I quit. I had problems finding another job so I ended up on assistance and have been on since. But I’m going to get Disability.
FM: On what basis?
Due to mental health issues. And substance abuse issues.
FM: Just go into a bit more detail about both.
I have been hospitalized due to my mental health four times, a total of two weeks each time, for observation and to try out new pills. I was then diagnosed with bipolar, severe depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.
FM: How old are you when this happened?
I was 17 years old when I was diagnosed.
FM: And was it the first hospitalization?
No, the first time I was hospitalized was when I was 13 years old. There was a year in between each visit.
FM: So talk a bit about the beginnings of this mental ill health becoming evident.
I was in a relationship with a man when I was 13, turning 14. He was very abusive in every way. He was controlling. I was not allowed to talk or associate with anyone. He had me scared for my safety. I ended up having him charged and I was going to hurt myself and my parents felt it was the best thing for me to do was to be hospitalized.
FM: So you were living at home when this happened.
I didn’t move out for the first time until I was 16.
FM: And were you at school?
Yes I was at school. I was in school until I was 17 and then I got expelled and never went back.
FM: And what got you expelled?
Drug use and skipping classes.
FM: And when did the drug use begin?
The drug use began when I was 13, again. I had a lot of depression and didn’t know how to deal with it. I decided to try some drugs. I loved how it made me feel. So by the time I wanted to quit, it was too late and I was addicted to drugs up until today. But I am currently now on Methadone and I’ve been clean a year and a half.
FM: So this wasn’t just weed, this was heavy duty stuff?
Yeah, Oxycontin, one of the worst drugs there is, also cocaine and acid, also PCP and I also had a problem with alcohol.
FM: At 13?
Yes. Because there was nothing around to take my mind off the drugs. If there was youth groups or something for the young people to do out there, it might keep them off of drugs and getting in trouble.
FM: Did you live in the village or outside?
Outside. In a house on [the highway].
FM: Okay, so 13 you got into drugs deeply and quickly, sounds like, and the bad relationship was part of that?
Definitely it was. It had a big part to do with all of it.
FM: You’re 13: was he older?
Yes, he was 19 at the time. He did not work. He did not go to school. He didn’t do anything but sell drugs. Any kind of drugs.
FM: Where were your parents on this issue?
My mom was there for me, always. Always trying to get me to stop, get me help. I just ignored her and I thought I knew what was best for me. And I was wrong. My father, I’ve never really been able to talk to my father. He’s very old-fashioned and doesn’t get the pressures young people have nowadays. He didn’t know about my drug issue until I was about 16. He was blind to it: didn’t want to admit it, I think.
FM: Okay, so very into the drug culture, probably not doing anything at school so school chucks you out, and then you head for the city?
Yes. That is correct. The school was not strict enough with me. I see now why, that it’s not their job. I just wish that I would have stayed in school and graduated to make my life easier now. Help me get a job.
FM: What do you think they might have done that would have won the competition with drugs? It’s a tough thing to compete with.
It is. They could have…
FM: Maybe there’s no answer to this. I was just processing that suggestion. So was the Subway job your first entre into working?
No it was not. When I was 11 years old, after school and on weekends, I helped my mom at her work with dishes, cleaning, taking orders and stocking shelves. It worked until they didn’t need me any more and had to let me go.
FM: Were they paying you?
My mom would just give me a little bit for helping her, just to get me out of the house.
FM: Because … did she work evenings?
She worked mornings and evenings, she worked both. She was manager and the main cook. So she’d be there alone and she’d give me stuff to do to make her job easier and keep me out of trouble.
FM: Why do you think they turfed you? Seems unlikely you were harming anything?
No I was not harming anything. They felt I was too young to be around people that were drinking and figured my mom could take of everything herself. My mom still continued to pay me though so I had money for my own stuff. Like for chores around the house.
FM: But it sounds very lonely.
It was. I had a very lonely childhood. I had no friends. I was not allowed out with friends until I was 12 years old. That’s even just to go to their house. I really just stayed home, played by myself with my cat. He was the only real friend I had at that age.
FM: Okay. So I can see you landing a job at Subway. And some stuff must have gone right if you were there for a year. Were you still using and drinking fairly heavily during this time and/or why did it come to a sad end?
Yes, I was using drugs and drinking heavily, but not during work. The reason why it came to an end: I fainted in the kitchen and when I came to, I asked my boss to call an ambulance for me and he told me to wait until my shift was done, which was another four hours when I could not see. I ended up going against his word and just took the ambulance because I felt that was the right thing to do for my health. The next couple days after I was better, I called to find out when I worked next and he told me I’d made a fool of him in his restaurant, that I was fired. I should have went to the labour board for unlawful dismissal but I felt I just wanted to move on.
FM: But the next job didn’t happen.
No it did not. My mental health has got a lot worse so I find it hard to work and find it hard for someone to hire me with a grade 10 education. So I don’t bother looking.
FM: So doing the arithmetic here, I have you 17 to Middletown, 18 when you lose your job and move in with the boyfriend – is this the abusive boyfriend? Or another ?
This is another abusive boyfriend. Every relationship I’ve had was abusive. To date.
FM: So a few more details about that transition, from working to being dependent and the relationship with relationships…
I guess when I lost my job I figured I was the only one that could take care of myself. I looked for a few jobs and had no luck so I went to Assistance and that is where I met my other boyfriend. I was with him a year. He was extremely abusive also, physically, mentally and verbally. I got sick of how I was treated. It was making me harm myself because I thought I didn’t deserve better. And one day I woke up, called the cops and left. And never saw him again.
FM: Did you get any help making that decision? It’s a hard move.
No I did not. I just looked in the mirror and saw what I became and wanted to be better than that. And I have not been in a relationship since. Due to being scared to get hurt again.
FM: But you’re pregnant, so -
That’s not a relationship, that was just a one-night thing. I was on birth control. My doctor says I must have forgotten to take a pill that month and now I am four months pregnant and I don’t know the father.
FM: But this is after your excess drug use – so help me understand that. How you can not know who the father is if you weren’t out of it?
I was drinking, not a lot but I was drinking. I met him. I know his name but I don’t know much about him. I don’t know where he’s from. I just know where I met him and it happened. I regret it but I’m happy that I am having a baby because my parents have been there 110% the whole time. And will always be.
FM: So is it a situation where becoming pregnant gives you new value in the eyes of others, parents but perhaps others as well?
Um, I don’t look at it that way. I look at it that I needed something in my life that was positive, that would help me want to stay clean and give me the feeling of knowing that I have achieved something, with everything that I haven’t. I do think possibly that it would make me look differently to others but I don’t care what they think as long as I’m happy.
FM: So it’s changed how you value your life, not how others value it. Okay. Talk a bit more about how you got off drugs and on to Methadone.
A friend of mine that I used to get high with, she decided to get on the Methadone program and I saw a complete change in her that I wanted. So I told my mother I wanted to get on the Methadone program. I was sick of looking for drugs and never having money. So her friend drove me into the Methadone doctor and he put me on Methadone. I had to go every day until I started getting carries [i.e. get to take your Methadone home instead of drinking it in the pharmacy in front of the pharmacist]. Now that I have been on Methadone for almost two years, and clean, I have all six carries and only have to go in on Thursdays instead of every day.
FM: And where is the -
The Methadone doctor? It is in a city, Middletown.
FM: So did you come in from Baileyville every day?
Yes I did. Assistance paid the gas. My mom’s friend drove me. It was a pain, I tell you, it really was.
FM: A full-time job, basically. Would you also talk a bit about how Methadone changed your daily life, aside from the car rides?
It made me feel amazing. I didn’t crave drugs. I didn’t care if I ever saw them again. It helped me take care of myself and care for myself. Also, make me independent again with money. I can have money now for a whole month when before, I was pawning stuff to get drugs. Now I have a lot to show for it.
FM: I’ve heard some people say that the state of mind is not a lot different than when you were on street drugs, just that it’s not an all-day job getting drugs. Do you feel like your brain, your body, is ‘healthier’ ...
Yes. 110% it is. It is true that you have to have the right state of mind to want to get off drugs for the Methadone to work. There is people that are on Methadone for four years and still do drugs every day. Which is making the Methadone program a waste of time and effort, making it so that someone who could take it and use it can’t, due to the other person abusing it.
FM: I thought there were controls to ensure that didn’t happen, urine tests or something?
Yes there is. Every Thursday I go into Middletown and I have to leave a sample, on camera to make sure I’m not bringing someone else’s urine to get a negative reading. And as long as I’m clean, I get my carries. If you’re not clean, you lose a carry for a week, or until you test positive again.
FM: So then how can people cheat that system?
The only way I know of, hearing people do it, is they buy ways to cheat a urine sample off the internet – I’m not sure what it’s called but it’s something you drink and it will make any drugs in your system look positive. But to me they have to be pretty desperate. I’ve lost quite a few carries by making mistakes, but not any more.
FM: So when you test positive, does anybody talk to you about what made you screw up, or problem solve in any way?
No, they do not. The most my doctor will say is Why did you get high? You tell him and he says Oh Well, try better. And that’s about it. They don’t bring it up again. I think they should be harder on people.
FM: Well, I was thinking more helpful, rather than harder. Like starting with the assumption that the person does want to kick the drugs, and that it’s hard, and when they screw up, helping them figure out what the vulnerability was so that they could be better equipped to avoid or overcome it.
I completely agree, but unfortunately they do not do that. That’s why you go to [an addiction agency]. But you have to get referred from a family physician and you have to be there once a month or you get kicked out. They do help you but they don’t talk about drugs that often, which is what they’re supposed to. It’s more about you, what challenges you’re having. And they try to help you over come them.
FM: Okay, that fits my idea of counseling, and I guess I can see that the doc is assuming that any motivation is yours, and that in some way, it’s not his business. Show motivation, get the drug; goof up, have to be supervised. All very practical and natural consequences, not chit-chat.
Which I do agree. But it would be good if he had a nurse or someone there for people to talk to that can’t get to [the addiction agency]. That’s my opinion.
FM: Did Welfare pay for you to get to [the addiction agency]?
They would if it was on any other day than a Thursday, because I’m already in there, and they’re the days I make my appointments.
FM: But they’re supportive of [the addiction agency]?
Yes. I am with an addictions worker through Ontario Works and she is amazing. I like her a lot. I feel comfortable talking to her. She has helped me more than anyone in my whole life in two years. I’m upset because she’s leaving on maternity leave in January and she’s the only one that I really liked since I’ve been on assistance for a few years.
FM: Will the next worker also be an addictions worker as well as an assistance worker? Will they replace that role when she’s on mat leave?
It’ll still be the same. She will be an addictions worker but I will not be in the program because I’m going to graduate. Because I have been clean and done everything they wanted me to do. They say I have changed the most out of anyone they have seen in the years that they have done that.
FM: Would they graduate you if your worker wasn’t going on mat leave?
Yes, they were going to but my worker asked them not to because she wanted to work with me because I’ve done so well. And also now because I’m pregnant. My worker just feels I’ve done so well I should leave the program. I’d only have to go see them once every 6 months. Now, I see them once a month.
FM: So does this feel like a vote of confidence or that you’re being abandoned? Or somewhere in between?
To me, it is a vote of confidence because there’s only been three people graduate out of that program in 15 years. I will be number four. If I find I am not ready, I just tell them and they will keep me in the program. It’s all on my word. I would go back to a regular worker but I would not have to job search due to being a single parent with mental health issues. My doctor says I cannot work for the next 10 years.
FM: Okay, but if you get on ODSP, you’d change workers in any case, wouldn’t you?
Yes I would. But I would only have to go in once every 6 months and I have no problem working with someone if they’re there to help me. And it’s only that often. Plus I’ll get more money a month to help me live.
FM: It sounded like it was as easy as walking in the door to get on the Methadone program, but was it?
Getting on the Methadone program was extremely easy. Anyone can get on it as long as you have the willpower and you have dirty urine tests.
FM: So, you have to be using to quality?
FM: Does that seem odd to you?
No it does not, because it is for drug use but if you see your doctor and you have pain, they will also prescribe it to you for pain. I feel that it is good not everyone can get it, because everyone would be addicted to it. Because it is one of the most addicting narcotics there is.
FM: Okay, well thank you for that lengthy discussion. I don’t have this sort of data in the pack yet, so thank you for filling in that bit. Now, I just wanted to go back to explore a bit about how you decided to leave Middletown and return to Baileyville.
I did not want to leave. I love Middletown but I had no choice. I had to help my family out when they needed it the most. And they do everything for me, so at least I could give some back. And stop a nurse from having to come in.
FM: Could you just a bit more detail about your situation – you’d kicked out the abusive boyfriend and then, what, parents ask for you to come back, health emergency, what?
I got a phone call. My father had had a heart attack. At this time I was living alone and my dad was going to have to have a triple by-pass. Well, when he went and had the surgery, he was okay. We got him home and he had a severe stroke. He is completely paralyzed on his left side. He cannot get out of bed. He cannot feed himself. It left him completely vulnerable. My mother, at the time, had to work to pay bills. So I decided I would move in to take care of my father while she was at work. I know it didn’t give me much of a life at that time, but I didn’t care. It was my father. I’d do it again any time. And I am still currently there.
FM: And when was this, then?
When I was 16 it happened. I had left my boyfriend before and lived alone. I was very lonely so when they called, I was actually relieved I could go back.
FM: Okay, I’m confused now. I had the sequence being 17 left for Middletown -
But when I was 13 I met the guy and I was still with him when I was 16. We had broke up a few times but we were still together when I was 16. We got into a big fight and I finally said I couldn’t do it any more and left him. I lived alone for another five months and then I got the call and moved home.
FM: So you were still substance abusing at this time, and that continued for another two years, 18 to 20 or so, all the time you’re living in Baileyville, and you are still living in Baileyville when you go on Methadone, is that the right sequence of place and events?
Yes, it is all correct. And now I have been clean two years and I’m 23 on Saturday so since I was 20 I’ve been clean. And plan on being for the rest of my life.
FM: So you live now with your folks and your dad is still incapacitated?
Yes he is. I still help out. And will for a while. He doesn’t want to go to a nursing home. He wants to die in his house.
FM: So when the baby comes, that’s where you’ll live?
Yes. My parents have paid a contractor a long time ago to build another room on to the house off of mine for in case I had children or had a friend stay over, they had their own room. So that’s where we will be living together.
FM: So you’re literally bringing your child up where you were brought up.
Yes. Only until we can figure something out about what to do about my dad. So until then, I will be living in Baileyville. Unfortunately. Because there’s nothing for children there other than school.
FM: So if you had a magic wand, it would have you living elsewhere, in probably Middletown?
Yes. I would be living in Middletown and have my dad in good health. Because I miss when he was healthy.
FM: How would it be for you to not have the support / responsibility of your family? Would it be harder to keep clean?
No I do not think so. I don’t have a problem with drugs any more. I do not crave them. I stopped talking to everyone I knew that did drugs. They’ve changed the pills I was addicted to (Oxycontin) and now I wouldn’t do one if someone paid me. Because they are not the same.
FM: Okay, just to review my little check list --- were you ever involved with the police?
Yes I was. I was charged with assault in ’09 I believe. It was my first and only charge. It was because I was drunk and a guy spit in my face so I punched him out, I guess. And ended up staying a night in jail. My family picked me up. I went to court and was told I had to take an anger management course. I did not take it because I am not an angry person. Ever since then, I have not drank. I still did drugs after that, but not drank. I do regret my charge. All’s I ended up with was a year’s restraining order but now, I always have that on my record. I wish I never got charged.
FM: There are ways to get pardoned, I think, after a while. Dunno the details, but you could check.
I am going to do that to get rid of it. Hopefully.
FM: Okay, is that pretty much the story? I have some finish-up questions – are we there?
FM: Alrighty…. In order that the people who read this story understand it in the way that you intend, would you say what you think is the Most Important Event in your narrative, could be something that happened or something that didn’t happen, a hole or an absence, that influenced how this story unfolds.
The most important event in my life to date is that I got off drugs and did it safely. I did not end up in jail or selling myself for drugs because I felt I was better than that. I do wish I did not have to experience it all but unfortunately I did. And I dealt with it the best way I could. All’s I can do is look to the future, stay strong, and hope everything works out for me and my child.
FM: So you are planning to single parent and it sounds like you think that is maybe even the preferred route for you?
Yes. I do agree. I am going to be a single parent and I’m going to raise my child properly, knowing what’s happened to me, what I’ve went through to teach them they are a lot better than that. Also to stay in school and just be yourself, don’t try to fit in.
FM: Do you think trying to fit in was the foundation of your difficulties?
Part of it. Everybody at school was getting high and if you don’t get high, you sit alone. It’s sad but true. And I didn’t want to live like that. Now that I’ve grown up, I wish I would have just hung out by myself. And maybe I would have a good education, own my own house, and not be scared to be with a man. I do not regret any of it. I just wish I would have realized it then.
FM: Okay – there’s a question coming up that this may the answer to, but we’ll see in a minute. Next Q: People who read this story will form an opinion of how it turns out, good or not so good. What do you think?
I think it will turn out good because I’m positive. I’ve grown up and I want the best for me and my child and the only way to do that is make my life the best I can and stay away from drugs. And abusive men.
FM: This just occurs to me, when you were abusing, did that happen in Baileyville or did you come to the city to indulge?
That happened in Baileyville and Middletown, but mainly Baileyville. You can get drugs anywhere in Baileyville if you know the people. It’s sad how many drug addicts and drunks there are in Baileyville. The cops do spot checks and don’t catch anyone; I don’t understand it. They make it easy for drunks and drug addicts.
FM: Okay, now two advice questions. This is the one you may already have answered, but we’ll see: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that would make this story unfold better or easier or smoother or whatever?
I would tell myself to stay in school. If I want to get high, do it after. I would also tell myself it doesn’t matter what people think of you. As long as you’re proud of yourself and your accomplishments, it doesn’t matter what they think. I would also, when I was asked to do drugs, I would also tell myself no, it’s not worth it, because I know how it turns out and what they do to you.
FM: There’s a second advice questions: What advice would you give to those of us who would hope to be helpful to young people like yourself, what is your advice to us?
My advice is be yourself no matter what anybody thinks, as long as you love yourself, that’s all that matters. Drugs do nothing but hurt you and the people around you. They hurt your health. They wreck the future because even if you are clean, there’ll always be people that think you’re still a drug addict and it’s not worth it. Get a good job, keep positive, and don’t let anyone try to change your mind. If you get with a man or woman and they aren’t treating you the way you feel you should be treated, it’s not worth it. Get out while you can. They will keep telling you they’re sorry after they screw up, or hurt you, but every time they do it again. And keep saying the same thing over and over again. So just get out while you can. I learned the hard way but it’s made me stronger and it made me know how I wanted to be treated and how a man should treat me.
FM: Okay. That’s it for me. Anything more?
I do think that they should offer counseling or groups in the Baileyville area for people that cannot get anywhere else.. There are a lot of people that do not drive in the Baileyville area and have no way to get the help they need. I know that it would be used and it would cut down on the drugs and the drinking. That is my personal opinion. I just think there needs to be more to help people that are struggling with drugs or abuse to have somewhere to go to get away. There should also be more groups for women and men, even to just go talk, meet new people, and learn new things. That’s about it.
FM: Okay. Thank you very much.