When Cindy was in 7th or 8th grade her life went downhill. Her dad left her mom and took everything. “That is when I gave up”, she said.
We’re sitting with Cindy at the Tim Horton’s across the street from the Drop-In. She said she just needed to get away today and so we asked her if she wanted to have a coffee and tell us a bit about her life. Sitting there in a booth she said “I don’t know man, I don’t know what I can tell you about my life”. So we took out a sheet of paper and drew a straight line through the middle. “Start at the beginning” we said.
Cindy was born in 1986 at Toronto General Hospital. After her dad left, her mom tried her best. But her mom was hard on her. She said, “this is not what a mom and daughter should be”. She left school in grade 8. “School wasn’t really my thing”.
By age 18 Cindy already had 2 kids. She was still living with her mom when got pregnant with her 3rd, that’s when she started getting caught up in alcohol. “It’s around then that I started drinking homemade wine”. Her mother kicked her out of the house because of her drinking. Cindy’s two regrets from that period in her life are not finishing school, and not spending much time with her kids.
Now, age 33, she has 7 kids. All her kids were taken away by child protection at birth. Her mother has several of the younger ones in her care but she says the older ones “have their own lives now”.
Since leaving her mom’s house Cindy has been on the streets, in shelters, sleeping outside, sleeping in her ex’s mom’s car in Richmond hill.
She says she would like more contact with her kids, but it’s hard. Her older kids are now grown and don’t want much to do with her. Also, she says of herself “I’m kinda like Tom Cruise right now. Once you’ve been away so long… it’s hard to get back. It’s a different lifestyle.”
Cindy now lives in an apartment building off of Queen West. She’s been there 5 years – the longest time she’s ever lived anywhere. But she doesn’t feel very safe there. Only recently has she started sleeping okay. “I dunno, this apartment is full of bad memories… people have died in this apartment and stuff”.
Cindy has been going to the drop-in centre since the 1990s. She went there once because she needed a coffee. Now she goes for the people. She pauses, reflecting on what she has just said. “Well, actually I don’t really go there for friends. Normally, I would go there for the drugs and alcohol”.
Cindy has been sober since April 30th – when she found out she was pregnant, again. This will be baby number 8. “It’s now only when I’m pregnant that I stop. Drinking is fun.”
When I ask her about her dreams she talks about kicking drinking and staying sober, getting healthy and finishing her grade 12. She showed me a George Brown Catalogue – “they have a mental health program I’d be interested in taking. But there isn’t much information on their website. I called them but they said that their enrolment is full and I would have to wait until the next year.”
“It’s tough hanging out at the drop-in centre” she says. “Especially when you want to stay sober. It’s easy to get sucked right in”.
I went to visit Cindy at her house a few days after her baby was born. Child services had taken the baby. Cindy was busy and didn’t have much time to talk. She was on her way to a group meeting and pizza lunch in her building. “It’s very hard right now. I’m trying not to drink. I just want to focus on getting my baby back”.
It made me wonder what supports Cindy had in her life AND if these supports came in at the right time or sequence.
Instead of struggling to build a life for herself outside of the drop-in centre now, in a time of heightened vulnerability and depression, what if she had accessed a world of informal interactions, experiences and support outside the drop-in centre, before finding herself alone, without her baby, and fighting to build a life and home that child protection services could work with? Would it have made her time now, and her abstinence from drinking easier and with less risk of seeking comfort in her familiar surroundings at the drop-in centre and being sucked back into having one more drink?