A Stormy Childhood
From an early age Debbie learned not to trust adults. She was a victim of abuse and her home was plagued by alcoholism, rage and secrecy. “When my dad drank he became angry without a reason,” says Debbie. “There was screaming and threats of violence. I was always afraid.”
While home lacked care and protection, school was a safe place where Debbie excelled and developed some sense of pride. She eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology.
Meanwhile, at age 13, Debbie started drinking. It seemed normal—that’s what she grew up with. In her last year of undergraduate studies Debbie met her future husband. He was a heavy drinker, much like her father.
Becoming a Single Mother
In 1997 Debbie gave up the bar scene for motherhood. Months later, she secured employment at Millbrook, Ontario’s maximum security facility. Here she administered and scored psychological tests. When the centre closed in 2001, Debbie relocated to Lindsay’s Central East Correctional Centre. Here she met and became friends with Marilyn, a chaplain from The Salvation Army. “She was kind, supportive and a good listener,’ says Debbie.
But, her husband’s long-time alcohol abuse continued to intensify. In 2002, tired of his scheming, control and belittling, and in an attempt to protect her three children, she packed his bags and asked him to leave.
For the next several years Debbie worked full time, provided course instruction at the local college and was completing her PhD in Psychology. Meanwhile, she shuffled her kids back and forth to day care and school and, although she wasn’t comfortable with sending her children to their alcoholic father, she agreed to visits on alternate weekends.
Then, in early 2006, Debbie’s youngest son announced he had been sexually assaulted. “I was devastated,” says Debbie. Beaten down, helpless and alone, Debbie confided in a co-worker. An inmate overheard the conversation and promised to protect Debbie and her children after his release.
They met on the outside and it wasn’t long before he asked Debbie to smuggle tobacco into the prison. In an attempt to manipulate her, he told her that if it didn’t happen he would be killed. The action went against everything she believed in.
Debbie was arrested. “It was a demoralizing experience,” Debbie tearfully recalls.
Security guards handcuffed her and escorted her out of the building. She was charged with breach of trust and released from her job. Regretful and heart-broken over what she had done, Debbie was suicidal. She needed help and drove to her local hospital emergency department. When she realized that in her current state of mind she may lose her children, she walked out.
Then, one night after a court appearance, Debbie ingested all of her medications, slit her arms and drank excessively. She was unable to cope with everything and that evening her children were taken from her.
After a brief stay in hospital Debbie returned home. Another former inmate befriended her and Debbie welcomed his companionship. “He soon offered me something to make me feel better,” says Debbie. “It was crack cocaine. From the first time I tried it, my craving for the drug was extreme.”
Debbie couldn’t function physically, mentally or emotionally without crack. Finally her family managed to get her into hospital. A danger to herself and others, she was admitted to the psychiatric ward.
The Road to Recovery
Here she attended Narcotics Anonymous and confessed she needed help. Her life began to change and after 27 days in hospital Debbie was discharged to her sister’s home. Then she received unexpected news. “I was pregnant,” says Debbie. Although unplanned, she gathered her strength, focused on a new code of behaviour, and delivered a healthy baby girl.
Now, five years later, Debbie has her children back and works at Peterborough’s Salvation Army Community and Family Services. “Throughout my desperate journey, The Salvation Army provided me with practical and emotional support,” says Debbie. “Members became my friends. I felt I mattered to someone.
“The road to recovery hasn’t been easy,” continues Debbie. “The Salvation Army helped replace my unworthiness and shame with dignity and pride. I have purpose and peace. Something I’ve really never felt before.”