Last week was National Addictions Awareness Week and Wendy Dennis, a 25-year-old Nanaimo resident, had reason to celebrate. Thanks to a United Way funded program, she has been sober 18 months.
Until a year and a half ago, addiction controlled Dennis’s life. Growing up surrounded by alcohol, she started drinking at 10 years old. High school was tough, and she was suicidal. She drank every day and eventually dropped out. At age 16, she got into an abusive relationship with an older man and started using heavy drugs.
The next eight years were a struggle of moving around with no stable home or job. She used drugs during her pregnancy and her son was born with severe jaundice, but came home from the hospital healthy. Dennis realized she needed help, but she couldn’t stay sober.
“It was such a challenge, and I didn’t have the strength or support to overcome my addiction,” said Dennis.
Her life took a turn for the worse when the Ministry of Children and Family Development took custody of her two children while they were waiting for the bus. Dennis watched helplessly and spent the rest of the day crying. She started drinking every day.
“I was allowed visiting rights to my kids but I stopped going because I didn’t want them to see me drunk. I started calling them instead.”
Finally, Dennis joined the Tsow-Tun Le Lum Treatment Centre program again and moved into the Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre’s Young Mothers transition house, a program that receives funding from United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island and other sources. She also started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
After a year with support and a stable place to live, Dennis got her kids back from foster care and moved into her own place. With the help of her social worker and support network, she enrolled her children into daycare so she could continue taking classes at Vancouver Island University. Dennis is now gaining credits for a bachelor degree in child youth care.
The Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy provided funding for the Young Mothers program through the United Way. Donations help fund programs that address addictions, mental health and homelessness.