Starla's Story

Contributed by Anonymous

When I think of the year 2002, I can’t help but think of it as my own Wonder Year. It was the year I began a truly life altering journey and ended up in Charlford House, meeting some of the coolest chicks I had ever met; even if I did not know it at the time.  As I look back at that time in my life, I feel a sense of fondness for our time together; nostalgia and fondness deeply rooted in gratitude. Each of the women who played a part in saving my life that year has a unique story to tell- each story worthy of sharing.  As I will be their storyteller I figure I will start with my own from 2002.

The first major memories of 2002 begin in February- MCFD had investigated our home no less than 18 times in the previous 1.5 years but could never substantiate their concerns.  I was tired of beating their system so I opted  to put everything in storage, take my 2 year old son on a month long cross country excursion to Ottawa, Montreal, New York City, Baltimore and Washington DC using booze to detox myself off the dope.  I can gladly report I succeeded in the sense that although I was wasted on whiskey the entire trip, I was not using anything illegal.  I felt truly accomplished by my progress until the day we returned to the lower mainland; that very day I was using - as if my month long break had never even happened. 

When we got home, I thought it was a good idea to move my son and myself into the shack I was selling out of - to cut out any commute time and so I could “work” more hours.   MCFD did not see things my way and finally had what they needed for their removal order.  The depth of failure and magnitude of shame I felt the day I lost custody of my son is not easily conveyed in words - all I can say is:  if you don’t know what that feels like, I hope you never do; and if you do know what that is like - you are not alone and there is hope. 

The day after I lost custody of my son, I went to detox - it was my first exposure to a life without any mood/ mind altering substances.  I was less than eager for the change and was very confused about the concept that alcohol could also be a problem  but I began to hear messages of recovery.  From there I attended my first recovery house; it was all female.  I was kicked out within 30 days because my attitude was not suited for their program.  I spent a few days in a shelter, stayed clean; I was then placed in another recovery house, it was co-ed.  I stayed there for a few months, made some friends, completed a separate 28 day MCFD required treatment program, got a boyfriend, got a job, found a place to live and I had a return to care date for my son.  My 2 roommates (both have since passed away from the disease of addiction) and I talked about wanting to be in recovery but we were not really sure what that meant - we also really wanted to use without consequences so while we were figuring out how to do that, we kept going to meetings and were generally bored with what we thought were mundane existences - we missed the chaos of a drug fuelled day.  I made it to 6 months and 1 day clean before I relapsed - it was not planned and at the time, it was not even something I wanted to do.  After 6 months of abstinence, 2 recovery houses and 1 treatment centre, I still had not learned how to not use. 

I told my MCFD social worker that I was using again - she told me I had one more chance to get clean - that my son would be put up for adoption if I was not ready for a return to care plan by the 1 year anniversary of his removal.  I was given the names of 2 recovery houses that I could choose from - I had to successfully complete either program before return would be discussed again; one of the houses I could choose from was Charlford House.

During the previous 6.5 months I had heard a lot about Charlford House - it was THE “bootcamp” of recovery houses.  The rules were strict, no cable, stay in almost every Friday night, the women were never alone, there were no outside influences permitted and you had to keep your room in pristine condition, including hospital folded bedding.  I was warned you only get one opportunity to attend their program so make sure not to waste the opportunity; essentially it is where women go when they are ready for their addiction to be replaced with recovery.  I heard that many of the women who completed Charlford’s program stayed clean and each woman contributed to the legacy of spiritual warriors Charlford helps create.  I am not sure I was ready for that shift, however my desire to have my son back in my care motivated my decision to call Charlford House.

I will never forget calling the house and hearing Linda’s (the Program Director’s) voice - I had heard she was a genuine saviour - and to be honest, I felt it through the phone.  She reiterated the basic structure of the house rules and agreed to let me enter the house 2 days later; I had a bit more using to do.  As planned, I arrived 2 days later, somewhat ready for change.  I was picked up at the Sperling Skytrain Station by a car of super cheery women; it was overwhelming but also cool. 

To say I was angry, broken and all but hopeless would have been an understatement but for some reason I chose to put what little faith I did have into Charlford - It is a house that exudes love - it can be felt from the moment you approach that front door.  “We will love you until you can love yourself” rings so true for Charlford.  The house itself was unremarkable but the stories and women within the walls and woven from the fabric of Charlford’s history is life affirming.  Little by little, I opened up and finally started to learn how to live, really live, without getting loaded.  It became a choice and each day since October 30, 2002, I have made the choice not to use.

In the time since I left Charlford, I had my son returned to my care; he has remained with me and is now an adult.  I completed my BA (double major) in University; I have a career that I love. I quit smoking May 1, 2003 which is almost as miraculous as being off dope.  I was married last year, which I never thought would happen.  I maintain friendships and am active in my 12 step fellowship.  I kept the amends I made to my family all those years ago.  I love working with other women who want to be clean.  I have had struggles with finances, chronic pain, weight gain, mobility issues but with each adversity, I was able to apply the tools I learned at Charlford to stay solution focused.  I am not just happy with my life but most moments, I am truly content - not to say I don’t get angry, frustrated or have the occasional “why me” thoughts - but when I do, they are short lived and without damage.  In the past almost 16 years, I have created a life that is worth living and more important to me than using ever was - I never dreamed that could or would be my story.

Most of the women I was in the house with, like myself, are clean today. The groups, tears and laughter we shared together bonded us for life.  Like our own Breakfast Club but instead of one Saturday in a library, we spent months together in a house.  We don’t see each other often but our time together at Charlford, taking the bus everywhere, going to dances, writing steps, doing yoga, sharing crushes/ heart ache, discovering how to live day by day without using, how to be brave through vulnerability, to let go of the chips we had on our shoulders or to emerge from the invisible low/ no self-esteem lives we were living is not forgotten.  I want to celebrate our stories, including the role Charlford House played in each of our personal development.  My name is Starla (not her real name); I’m not only an addict, I am a Charlford Alumna and I am going to introduce the women who were pivotal in making my 2002 remarkable.