Leanne is 26 years old, married to a man 11 years her senior, with a 4-year-old son who has severe disabilities. The family lives in a worn-looking town house in Littletown. She tells a story of familial drug and alcohol abuse and consequent domestic violence that catapulted her into transience and homelessness at age 15, couch surfing, hooking up to have a roof over her head, being dumped because she couldn’t pull her weight financially in spite of working several jobs simultaneously. She hints at sexual exploitation and describes one dramatic event that seems to have marked a turn-around. Her life changed significantly when she and her now-husband learned early in the pregnancy that their child had a life-threatening congenital condition; she describes in detail their experience with the medical system, up to and including negotiating an extensive suite of support services for him.
FM: Tell me a bit about where and how you were raised.
I was born in Toronto. My parents split when I was 10 months old and my mom left me with my dad. So we moved to [a small village in Lake County], and it was just my dad and I for a couple of years. And then my first step-mom came in with her two children.
FM: Can you say how old they were?
We were all very close to the same age. So my older sister was four months older than me, so she was three. I was just under three. And my younger sister was 14 months younger than me, so she was two, just under two.
That was a bad relationship. There was constant fighting. I would see my mom every other weekend if either her or my dad didn’t cancel the visit. Within that relationship there my brother was born.
FM: Clarify – the relationship between your dad and step-mom?
Yeah, that was bad. They fought constantly, police were always at our house. I remember many weekends when we would be hiding out in our bedrooms and hear screaming and throwing of objects, and then the police would be there and be sitting in our rooms keeping us distracted while they calmed the storm.
FM: Ok… how did your family pay the bills?
They both worked, actually. My dad was a mechanic and my step-mom worked at a factory.
FM: Would you say you had a fairly middle-class life, or did you think that you were poor?
No, it was middle class. We always had the bills paid. We always had clothes on our backs. We always had trips to the States for car shows for summer holidays.
FM: Okay, start with the first time you left your family home – this family home.
I tried to leave when I was 12. I had told my mom that I wanted to move in with her because I was tired of the fighting and she took me to a children’s lawyer. I had told the lawyer that I wanted to move in with my mom. My dad had to take me to the next children’s lawyer meeting to make sure that I wasn’t being influenced one way or the other. He had either overheard or been told that I wanted to move with my mom, and the entire way home was a constant guilt trip. My mom leaving me, me turning my back on him, and because my brother and I were really close – who at the time was 5 – he told my brother that I was planning on leaving and so my brother was upset and wondered why I was leaving him. So I didn’t leave. I reneged, told the lawyer I didn’t want to leave, just wanted to see more of my mom. And it became implemented that I had to see her half the summer and share the holidays also.
Then when I was 15… no, when I was about 11, my day and my first step-mom had split up and he had then met with a different woman who had three kids of her own, so now there were seven kids in the house, because my dad kept the first set also. And that relationship was no better, only now there were seven kids to fight. Not all of the kids got along and so it was really so noisy, so destructive that I again went to my mom at the age of 15 and told her I wanted to move in with her. She at this point had just remarried. She already had another daughter seven years younger than me, and her new husband had three kids of his own, so she was excited for me to want to come back and live with her. So she again took me to the children’s lawyer and I had explained that I wanted to live with her and this time we didn’t tell my dad. My dad asked me multiple times if I had spoken to a children’s lawyer and I denied it. He called the children’s lawyer – it was the same one we’d used the last time, conveniently – and the lawyer told him everything. I came home from school and in what was an extremely unusual occasion, my dad was home early – he never came home before 9:00. And he had my bag packed and told me to get in the car. So I got in the car and he drove to my mom’s new house, wouldn’t pull into the driveway, stopped on the side of the highway, opened the door and said “Get out. Here’s your new home.”
FM: Okay, so that’s #1, age 15, dad’s place to Mom’s place. And then?
Then, being 15, never living with my mom, it was different. We had really only seen each other twice a month for 15 years, if that, so we didn’t really know each other well. So there was constant, not so much fighting but little tiffs as we tried to blend and cohabitate. But I got along really well with her husband and the other kids too. I just turned 16, because I was able to get a job and so I had to work one day and they were going out of town, and I decided after work what’s the harm of going out with some friends, I’ll be home in good time. So I did. I got home about 2:00 in the morning and my parents were there. My mom and I didn’t really have to talk. She’d already called the police looking for me, and was on the phone with them when I walked in, so she stopped talking and threw the phone at me and was screaming at me how disappointed she was and how scared she was. And she threatened that if I ever did something like that again, I was out. I don’t like threats or ultimatums, so I returned with the response No point threatening me with next time, I’ll leave now. I went to bed and at 7:30 in the morning got up and moved to a friend’s place in Rapidsville.
FM: #2, then. Can I just ask, where was your mom’s house?
She was in Littletown at the time.
FM: Okay: friend’s house.
I slept on the couch. She had three kids and had just had a set of twins, so five kids. So I was constantly watching the kids, helping out around the house. I had gotten a part-time job at the coffee shop and I was still in high school, but because I couldn’t travel from Rapidsville to Littletown for school, they [Littletown school] sent me with some assignments to do, and I was doing that and would drop them off at the Rapidsville high school. All of my classes allowed me to write my exam at the Rapidsville high school except for my math class. So I went into the exam period, starting out at 80% in grade 10 math and failed the course because I couldn’t write the exam. So I couldn’t stay in Rapidsville because I had essentially had enough of raising somebody else’s children.
#3: So after three months of being there, I moved in with my boyfriend of the time, in LIttletown, and his alcoholic mom. I wasn’t working full-time, I was doing more so banquet catering. And he was working at the same place that I did banquets. But it was part-time. And then not able to live with his mom because of her alcoholic ways and one of the many men that she had going on at the time, we got an apartment of our own.
FM: #4. How old were you at this time? And your boyfriend?
I was 16 and my boyfriend was 24. He had to [have] knee surgery so he wasn’t allowed to work, and I was still in high school, so I stopped the catering and got a job at a convenience store. I would go to school until 2, 2:30, and then I would work 3 to midnight, full time. Not being able to pay much of our bills, I got work babysitting on top of that. When I was 17, grade 11, I met with the school counselor and she asked me what was going on because my grades were slipping – I had failed another two courses at this time. So I told her and she looked at me and said “You have enough going on in your plate, you have enough responsibilities, why don’t you just quit and get a full-time job?”
That summer I continued working full-time and babysitting, my total hours in a week were around 80 hours and my boyfriend was still not working, by choice. I decided that I didn’t want to not finish school, so I went back in the spring and I completed the full year, failed one more course, so now I’m four courses shy of my grade 12. And I didn’t finish.
FM: Did you consider or were alternative education options available to finish those four courses?
At that time, I wasn’t told of any. I didn’t know of any.
FM: Are we on to move #5?
Yup. I don’t really know what happened or how it really ended between my boyfriend and I, but I know that he started to get more physical and I wasn’t having that, so I moved out, out on my own, and was couch surfing. I didn’t have enough money to live on my own. I was still working full-time and so I was primarily staying at my grandmother’s in a retirement condo.
FM: Clarification here: your mom’s mom or your dad’s mom?
My dad’s mom. So I was working full-time, babysitting and taking care of my grandmother. And so I was really stressed and decided to look for a different job that would maybe pay more so I wouldn’t have to keep babysitting. And I applied at a call centre that at the time everyone was getting hired at and it was good money for LIttletown. But I was too young – I was still 17. I continued what I was doing and the day I turned 18 I went and applied again. And I got my [driver’s] license when I was 18, saved up the money for it.
I got that job and continued to live with my grandmother. And I got a car. I paid for the driver’s training to get me my full license earlier. And the day I got that, I got a beat-up car for $500 and then was able to live out of town again. And by then, my mom had moved to [a small village in the other direction from Littletown]. So with the retirement condos giving me a hard time about me being there – because it was a retirement condo, not for young people – and I had a car, I was able to move back into my mom’s, out of town, and still retain my freedom.
FM: So #6, with your mom in [the village].
Yeah. I had met a guy at work and we began dating. After seven months, he decided he was going to school in [a larger town to the south] and I thought that was my opportunity to get out of Lake County and do something. I knew I couldn’t get OSAP. I wasn’t sure I could get into school because I didn’t have my grade 12, so I contacted a hair-dressing school and found out that I was accepted, based on the fact that I was a mature student.
FM: How old are you here?
I’m still 18. So I was a mature student because I was 18 and had been out of school for a year.
I didn’t know how I was going to get the money, so I went to the bank and asked what my options were, and I was told I’d need a co-signer for anything. I went and got my dad and my grandmother in the same room because I wanted to ask my grandmother for help but I knew it wouldn’t go over well if I didn’t have my dad there. He would accuse me of going behind his back because we still weren’t talking. I’d asked my grandma to co-sign and said what I wanted it for, and the fact that I wanted to go to school for hairdressing. And my dad lost it. His theory was that because my mom went to school for hairdressing before I was born, and she dropped out that I was going to follow in her footsteps. And that people shouldn’t start their lives out in debt. So when he left, I stayed to visit with my grandmother a little longer and she told me that she would sign for me and she didn’t care what my dad said, since when my dad was a kid starting out, she paid for his school, she paid for his license and his car, and she helped him with a down payment for his house.
So we went to the bank the next day and got everything figured out. Because I could only get a student loan for $10,000, that wasn’t going to be enough to cover books and bills and school and everything, so I got a student line of credit of an additional $8000 to get me through the year. I’m not sure that my dad knew at that time.
[#7] We moved to [the town where the school was located] and started school, got a bachelor apartment, and we were supposed to split everything in half to make everything even, since I clearly didn’t have money and his family were supporting him through school. So he was going to an actual college and not working. I was going to a private career college and needed to make extra money. So I found a job, started out part-time, and that wasn’t enough money, still, because I had the added expense of my car, which he wasn’t helping with at all. So I got an extra job and I continued to go to school full-time and work two part-time jobs on top of it. And then after six months of a 10-month course, my dad found out about the loans and cut the funding, as my grandmother was currently in testing for Alzheimer’s and my dad had told the bank that she was not of sound mind to sign for me and he had the Power of Attorney for her estate.
So I got a third job but it was too hard to schedule everything, so I quit one of my jobs, turned one into full-time, and kept school. Because my boyfriend couldn’t figure out how I was going to make money to pay my share of the bills, he decided it wasn’t wise for us to be together any more. And had his mom come while I was in school, and pack up all my things and when I came home to get changed to go to one of my jobs, all my stuff was in the front yard.
[#8] I called my school. I told them I had to quit. I had a 94% average, seven months into a 10-month course. I called both jobs, told them I couldn’t do it any more, had to quit. I called a friend from LIttletown and asked if he could help me, come pick me up and my stuff and move me back to my mom’s. And he charged me $100, so I called my mom and said I have a truck coming, all my stuff is packed up, I’m coming home. And I moved back into her place.
FM: You’re 18 still, or 19?
I was 19. I tried to go back to the call centre. His response was How do I know you’re not going to leave again for school? I applied at various other jobs. I had no money for my car so I gave it up. I was living out of town with no car, so - #9 - I moved back into town and slept on a friend’s couch with the understanding that I would babysit for him for $10 / day for spending money and a free couch to sleep on. I got a part-time job at a coffee shop and met Andrew (who now is my husband) who was in school and working at the bar. And I stayed at his place to try to save money and to get out of sleeping on the couch for babysitting and $10/day spending money. So #10.
His parents found out that I was staying there and since they owned the house, but him and his sister rented the house, demanded that I either pay rent or get out. They couldn’t stand me. They thought that I was using him for his money because he’s 11 years older than I am. So I went out looking for more jobs. I was able to get a part-time job at a pizza place and it still wasn’t enough.
So I went to Ontario Works, which I swore I would never do, and I applied for assistance. Which definitely didn’t make his parents happy. Because OW deducted dollar for dollar what I made, I had to quit my job, both jobs, because it wasn’t any benefit to me at all, and again not making his parents happy at all.
When school was over that year, he did not pass and the blame was put on me for being a distraction. But he already had a job lined up in Alberta as a conservation officer, that he had done the year before also. So I had to decide if I wanted to go with him or stay back and I thought, why not? I have nothing going on here, and I left.
#11: We got to Alberta and we had one week to find a place and get settled in because Andrew had to start work out of the city and we had no vehicle, so he was living at the park. And we decided that living in the city would be better for me because I could get a job and take care of some of the debt I had accumulated – student debt, credit card, phone bill. In two days we had found a place to live in the crack-head prostitute district of Edmonton and he was off to his job. I knew that I needed a job, first of all to pay bills and furnish our place – we had one camping chair and a blow-up mattress. So I courageously got on the LRT (light rail transit) and made my way to the West Edmonton Mall. It was an hour commute with a bus, the LRT, and two other busses, and handed out a bunch of applications and got hired at a lingerie store.
Then I went to the downtown area and applied for a job as a directory assistant, and I got that also. And on my first day going to work at the West Edmonton Mall, I got lost in the mall, missed my shift and got fired. (laughs) There were literally four La Senza’s in that mall.
So I resorted back to what I knew and was comfortable with, and applied at the convenience store, the 7-11 down at the corner, and because I had worked at one previously, I got hired on the spot. That was full-time and they wouldn’t work around my full-time schedule with the Directory Assistance, so I had a choice to make. So I chose the 10-minute walk rather than the 45-minute bus and LRT ride.
I worked at 7-11 for three months, full time, over 60 hours / wk, burying myself in my work, to sort of compensate for the depression that I was going through, not knowing anything or anybody around me. I had seen Andrew once in that period. I was offered the chance to do training for assistant manager and I took it. So my hours went up to over 70 hours a week.
I met one of our regular customers who told me that he was a car salesman of some form and said that he could get me a good deal on a car. And said that he would pick me up after work and take me to go see one. I was excited because I needed a car and he had this really nice truck that I really wanted to ride in. He picked me up from work and ended up taking me to his house in Fort Saskatchewan – it’s only a 15-minute drive but it’s in the country, nothing around. And it was a huge house, huge garage, and said that the car was in the garage. The car was not in the garage. He ended up coming on to me and would get me to say that I wanted him to smack me and if I didn’t say it in the way he wanted me to, he would smack me harder and say he wanted me to do it again. And he ended up forcing himself on me.
And I said nothing. I had already told Andrew about the car so I acted like nothing happened and completed the car deal with this guy. I took two straight pay checks and handed them over to him and got the car that day. I would see him at work but would make myself busy doing other stuff.
And then about two weeks later, the job at the conservation park was over, so Andrew came home and took about a month off and then applied for a security job and got hired. And that was full-time overnights and I was working full-time evenings and overnights.
I had to call in sick twice because I had broken my foot at work, but not changing my health card from Ontario to Alberta, I just went to the clinic and got an air cast, hoping to go back to work with just the cast. But my boss wasn’t happy that I’d taken two days off and he put me on pure day shifts and took some of my responsibility away so my hours went down and I wasn’t happy. Then I got the flu and had to call in sick again, and came in to work the next day to look at my schedule, because I hadn’t received it yet. And I was off the schedule.
I knew that the security company was hiring for dispatch. I had never done dispatch but was happy to get away from the store. So I applied and got hired on the spot and worked there full-time, 12-hour overnights, and because Andrew’s shift started two hours before me and ended two hours before me, we ended up being in the office 16 hours out of the day. Stress had deteriorated our mental stability, and I decided that I didn’t think the relationship should last. We had agreed to continue to live together for financial reasons and if he wanted to get back together, I told him he had to win me over. I wanted to be courted. I wanted the dating experience that I had never received in my whole life. So he set up a couple of date nights. One of those date nights was a steak dinner and I would have a bite and be sick. I felt fine, so I’d have another bite and be sick. So I sent him to the drugstore and he picked up a few pregnancy tests and we took all of them and they were all positive.
So we decided we’re not doing the courting thing any more. And that for the sake of our child, we would be together. Which wasn’t a hardship because we had a really good relationship. So we told our parents. There was pressure to move home and I wanted to move home because I was never close with my family and he has a very tight knit family and I wanted that for our child. I wanted to give our child a chance to have his family.
#12: So we quit our jobs and we tried to get back into Ontario. He was able to get a job in London at a conservation area. So we moved back and I had my first appointment with the doctor, for an ultrasound. And they found too much liquid on the baby’s brain. So they sent me to Middletown – my doctor was still in LIttletown – and Middletown said that there was too much dark area which usually meant fluid but they couldn’t be certain, so they sent me to Mt. Sinai Hospital [in Toronto]. Mt Sinai said that there was definitely excess fluid on the brain and they couldn’t see the brain dividing properly because of the fluid so they couldn’t determine the right and left hemisphere. So we knew that there were complications. I was not permitted to work – I was put on bed rest and we had to go for ultrasounds every month to track the size of the head and make sure that everything else was growing okay.
Two days after our wedding, we went back to Mt. Sinai and we were told just how bad it was. We were told that he could be born with added limbs, missing limbs, a central eye, that he is essentially missing parts of his brain. That they would have to eventually insert a shunt to take the excess fluid from his brain to his abdomen. And that he could be born not breathing. He may not be able to eat on his own, talk on his own. We had to decide whether we wanted to continue through with the pregnancy or abort. Without even looking at my husband, I said No, we’re going to have him. Then I decided I should probably ask my husband how he feels, and he was on the same page as me. Our theory was, if he makes it, it’s his choice. If he doesn’t, again, his choice. And as long as we see him smile at least once a day, then we know that it’s at least worthwhile.
So we talked about it and decided that if resuscitation was needed, we would resuscitate and keep him on life support 24 hours, thus giving him the stepping stones and the push to say We want you, and giving him a helping hand. After that 24 hours, they were to take away the life support and see if he made it on his own. If he did, then that was his decision to make. As long as we gave him one fighting chance.
We had to go for a doctor’s appointment every two weeks and that’s when they realized that we lived in London, so why not send us to London. And we got the best doctor that the London Children’s Hospital has, and we also got head of neurology and umpteen other doctors. And luckily we were able to toss out our requests for resuscitation.
Lee was born healthy, breathing on his own, but they still needed to keep him in the paediatric intensive care because they weren’t sure what to expect. One of his conditions is rather common, another one of his conditions is really rare and to have them both together is unheard of.
After four days they released me from the hospital but he was still there. So we would go for the day and then spend the night at home – they wouldn’t let me stay. They wouldn’t release him from the hospital until he could feed on his own. He had a feeding tube in. He wouldn’t eat on his own; they had attempted to put him on a routine, and evidently my child is stubborn. So the paediatric intensive care said that if he could go two feedings eating a whole bottle, then they would release him to the Neonatal intensive Care Nursery. And so he did after a week. And then the NICU wouldn’t let him leave until he could go 24 hours without his feeding tube. So I convinced them to let him go on demand [feeding] and I stayed at the hospital with him. And we proved to them that he could do it. And after 13 days in the hospital, he was able to come home.
FM: Just a bit of clarification. Could you say what his conditions or his symptoms were – you said ‘born healthy’ but clearly not.
No, he has hydrocephalus and he has holoprocencephaly. Hydrocephalus is the blockage of a ventricle in his brain so he doesn’t drain the spinal fluid properly and it just accumulates which adds pressure on his brain and makes his skull balloon out. Holoprocencephaly is the mal-division of the brain, so his left and right hemisphere are touching and because of one or the other, he’s missing parts of his brain. But because it’s an infant brain, nobody really knows what part is affected, so it’s more so just a wait-and-see guessing game. I would literally walk into the doctors’ meetings with the exact same information as them and I would pull that off of the Internet.
FM: So, just to paint the picture, you’re how old when he is born? And the other question I wanted to ask was where Andrew’s family lives, near London or ?
I was 22 and Andrew was 33 and all of our families live in Lake County.
FM: So when did move #13 that brought you back here take place?
Not for another six months after five brain surgeries. He was two months old and we went for a paediatric appointment, just a check up, and he measured his head and realized it was the size of an 11-month-old, but seeing him every day we didn’t realize this. So sent him to the hospital for x-rays and multiple scans and he was admitted and he had to have a shunt. So we stayed in the hospital for two weeks. It was our first Christmas together, spent in the hospital. And that shunt broke down, it came through the surface because his head was so large and his skin was so pliable. So he was in for another surgery. But before they could do that one, they had to give him an external drain which means that he has to stay perfectly level at all times, otherwise it would drain too much or not enough. So we weren’t permitted to pick him up. So I stayed there the entire time. And I couldn’t leave because he was still on demand feeding and the nurses wouldn’t do that. So after a week on the external drain, they made sure that all of his cultures came back clean, he was able to go into another surgery to have the shunt reinserted. Then we were released after an additional week and we came for a visit so that our family could meet our son.
On our visit, we had another shunt failure and had to go back up to London. This time it had pierced a hole through his bowel so they had to remove it, give him another external drain because the bacteria from his pierced bowel caused meningitis. So we were back to not being able to hold him. After the cultures came back clean again, he was able to have the shunt reinserted. This time we had a different neurosurgeon and we were told that part of the reason the other ones were failing so much was because the first one had used an adult-sized shunt on an infant. He was in the hospital that time for close to a month and [then] we were able to go home. After two weeks [at home], he began throwing up and crying, so we took him back to the hospital: another blockage. So he had another shunt revision, making this three. And again we repeated the process one more time.
By the time he was six months old, he had five shunt revisions, a bowel surgery. We were told he also had four heart conditions, none of them serious enough to operate until he’s older, and a kidney that does not work. Urinary reflux, which may need operated on if he ever gets an infection. That’s it.
FM: The decision to move back to LIttletown?
We wanted to be with family for support. I wasn’t going to allow our lives to be governed by where the hospitals are located. Or Lee’s condition. So we packed up and moved back to LIttletown- # 13. Lee was seven months old.
FM: And are your respective families supportive?
My husband’s side was not overly supportive. They liked the idea that we were close by, but they thought that being closer to a hospital that could help him would be better. My side, they didn’t really pay attention. My mom was the one who said that she was happy that we were closer, but nobody else voiced their input.
FM: So not really supportive.
No. When he was 11 months old, my husband and I decided we were going to go back to school and we met with councilors from the Career Services Centre and were advised of the Second Career program. I technically didn’t qualify for it, but because when I was pregnant I wasn’t allowed to work, they used that as a loophole to get me into it for the Career Development Program. So my husband went back to school for a biotech forensics course, and I went back for community social service worker.
FM: At [the local college]?
His was. Mine I had to go through a private career college because I was only eligible for one year, so I did the advanced program. I finished my program with honours. And kept the job that I had had throughout school, working at a youth group home. And at the time my husband was still in school for another year and not working. We did have resources: we had been in therapy with [the agency that serves children with special needs].
FM: For Lee, right?
Yes. They also set us up with Community Living because my mom was babysitting for me to go back to school, and after a month decided that she no longer had the time to babysit for half a day every day of the week, and that she needed money for it. So we needed to find a day care that would be able to take him being so young and with his needs, and one that was supported by the Community Living enhanced staffing. And subsidy. Because we couldn’t afford day care. So we were able to get him into a day care in [a small town nearby] and we were able to get subsidy assistance and we were able to get Community Living to provide resources for one-to-one care.
FM: So Lee is now four, you’re finished school, and Andrew is also finished?
He finished last year, also with honours. In that period, I had incurred a work-place injury that doesn’t permit me to work in group homes any more. And because I don’t have my bachelor’s or my master’s, I can’t go where I want to go, which is the Children’s Hospitals. So I’m currently working at a call centre. But it’s good money, full time with benefits. My husband was working at various factories because having four diplomas means nothing when no place is hiring or there’s nowhere nearby in those fields. And recently he just got hired as a part-time pharmacy assistant so is focusing on that.
FM: And none of his four diplomas is in pharmacy?
No, but biotech forensics is close enough.
FM: Looking back at this whole story, what would you say is the most important event that will influence your housing security in years to come?
Obviously my child.
FM: And will his needs make it more or less likely that you and Andrew will experience housing instability? It could go either way – his special needs.
I think that when we look for a place to live, and we’ve lived in some really horrible places until this one, we don’t necessarily look at what he needs for his needs, because although he can’t do stairs, we living in a multi-level house and we carry him and we work toward him learning how to do them. He does stairs now with help. So we don’t necessarily look for something that suits his needs but more so how much strain it will put on the family.
FM: Is this townhouse affordable housing or just market housing?
It is so not affordable housing. We applied for housing assistance and were denied because we only have one child and we have a dog and we’re married.
FM: But you’re able to manage the rent on a fairly predictable basis?
I don’t know whether it’s because of my upbringing or what it is, but my first priority is rent. And food. My other bills it doesn’t much matter to me if we’re late on those. So even if we were paying a lot more for rent than we are, it would still get paid one way or the other.
FM: The people who read this story will want to know what happens – and of course they can’t. But how do you think your story is going to turn out? Are you optimistic that you’ll manage okay, whatever okay means to you, or not?
My husband and I have a pretty weird outlook on life. We don’t stress. Regardless of everything that has happened in my life and our life together, it’s never been stressful. I have wanted to scream. I’ve wanted to pull my hair out in frustration, but it’s not something that will matter a week later. I think that every time something gets hard, or things don’t go the way that your dream diary says you want it to go, there’s a reason for it. And although I’m not religious in any way, you’re never given more than you can handle. And it’s how you take your life lessons – and everything is a life lesson – it’s how you take those and use it to your advantage.
FM: Okay. I think people are the experts in their own lives. So to you, the expert in your life, I have two questions. Actually, I want you to give two pieces of advice. One piece to your younger self, if that younger self would listen: What single piece of advice would you give your younger self?
It’s more a question I would ask myself. I would ask if it truly matters. Will it matter tomorrow? Will it matter next month or in a couple of years? Because it may suck today, it may hurt, it may be overwhelming. But once tomorrow comes, is it really going to matter? Is it going to ruin your day for the rest of your life? If it doesn’t, don’t stress about it, don’t worry about it. Do the best you can and move on.
FM: And the second request is for advice to us who would be helpful. What would you advise that we do for someone in your situation?
FM: Not necessarily. It could be relationships, could be something that was useful for whatever reason, or something that wasn’t, or something that was missing. I’m thinking about the younger you, living in fairly continuous domestic turmoil, no really safe and secure home. Might we have been more helpful to youngsters like you in that situation?
I think that’s a really hard question. For me, especially, because I don’t hold grudges or resentment or ‘if only’s’. I think that a home is what you make it.
FM: Is it … What doesn’t break you makes you strong? That sort of thing?
Absolutely. I don’t regret my past, I don’t resent anything that I’ve gone through. I am who I am, and I’m as strong as I am because I’ve lived through what I’ve lived through. As I’m sitting here I’m thinking of more stories, more instances that would crumble somebody if they didn’t have - I want to say the proper upbringing. But my upbringing wasn’t proper, it was how I used it, say the stepping stones or the life lessons.
FM: So resilience, learned through adversity?
FM: Okay, are we at an end?
Yes. Well actually, no. I just thinking about how we get to where we are and how our background forms us, I think that it’s important for people to understand that its not the way you were raised that governs you one way or the other, or your family history. My mom is an alcoholic. My dad passed away a few years ago from cancer caused by alcohol and drugs. My sisters and my brothers - 6 out of 11 siblings are drug users of some form, alcoholics of some form. One of my step-moms is an alcoholic and repeated addictee. And yet I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I know my limit and I know that with my history, my family history, my genetics, if I drink or get into drugs it would harm me and I would quite easily be addicted. And I think that’s a strong message to get across. I grew up in it, every single day of my life, and I don’t do it. You make your own decision.
FM: Why do you think you were able to rise above this trouble, and so many of your sibs weren’t?
To be honest, I think that it was my husband and my child. I don’t know the path that I would have taken if it weren’t for them. I guarantee that I wouldn’t be an addict because I don’t have that urge, I’ve seen what it does to you and your relationships and I always wanted something better than that.
FM: Do you think the fact that you were the oldest child, and there’s this repeated theme of you caring for other children, is that a factor?
I’m not the eldest. I have 2 siblings that are older than me, both of which are drug users, one of which is also an alcohol abuser. But I see myself and I see them at my age and I see a vast different in responsibility levels and maturity levels. But I still don’t know if that’s the reason why I stayed away from substance abuse.
FM: What about Andrew? What’s his history/relationship with drugs & alcohol?
He has no history. His family is completely clean. He himself has never touched a single drug, never touched even a cigarette. Alcohol, he will drink occasionally with me, we’ll have a couple of drinks. But also he’s diabetic so he has to watch out for his blood sugar levels.
[Note: The interview apparently ended at the ‘yes’ above, but as I was packing up, she continued to explore the theme of addiction, indicating she thought she had had periods of being addicted to work, ‘losing herself’ in it. She asked if she could add something, and added from ‘Well, actually no’. She seemed to have more to say, but since her husband, who had texted her a couple of times in the prior half-hour and was by this time sitting in the car outside the house, was fairly evidently anxious to come in, she indicated she was finished. She quite emphatically did not want a copy of her narrative, which made me wonder if her husband was not aware of some of the story she told, perhaps the rape scene she describes so vividly.]