"Institutions, jails or death.” Those were the choices facing Barbie after a decade-long struggle with addiction.
“I did not want that anymore,” she says. “I was sick of being in that dark place.”
Today, Barbie has been clean for five years, thanks to her own hard work and The Salvation Army’s New Choices program.
A Dark Path
When Barbie was 13, she began abusing drugs and alcohol, and at 15, she discovered she was pregnant with her first child, Shyanne.
Barbie tried to overcome her addiction during her first pregnancy. She stopped using cocaine and drinking alcohol, found a job and distanced herself from negative influences. She had two more children, Jordyn and Stephen, but when their father was released from prison after six years, he dragged Barbie back into a life of substance abuse. At 23, Barbie was arrested for drug possession after police raided her home.
“I was gone for 10 years,” says Barbie. “I was lost. I was a victim of human trafficking, I was sexually assaulted, I was stabbed. I’ve been through a lot.”
Barbie gave birth to two more children, Faith and Nation, in 2012 and 2015. Both babies were born while Barbie was in active addiction and they were adopted out together. “It’s heartbreaking, but I know they have each other,” says Barbie.
Making the Choice
Losing two of her children to Children’s Aid was the push Barbie needed to make a tough decision about her future. In 2016, she began addiction treatment.
“I was ready to make a change,” she says.
Barbie moved in with her grandparents to take care of them in their old age. There, she was able to escape from drugs and detox properly through treatment with the Children’s Aid Society. “After a long decade, I reconnected with my family and my children, Jordyn and Stephen. That’s what kept me going to detox.”
Barbie graduated after five weeks of treatment. “It was intense, but it kept me on track,” she says.
After giving birth to her youngest daughter, Rhythim, in 2017, Barbie came to The Salvation Army’s New Choices program through her counsellor, Jill McLeod, whom she had known from her addiction recovery programs.
Based in Hamilton, Ont., New Choices is a program for pregnant or mothering women who struggle with substance abuse and are at any stage of recovery. The objective of New Choices is to break down barriers for at-risk women who may face difficulty receiving the support and resources they need to overcome their addiction. New Choices offers programs and services for both mothers and children, with the goal of always meeting the client where they’re at.
“The client identifies their needs and struggles from their perspective, and we advocate for them,” says Kristin Baughan, program manager. “Whether it be Children’s Aid, probation or doctor’s appointments, we’re there for the mom and the child to help advocate for them through these barriers.”
At New Choices, Barbie receives counselling, learns parenting and life skills, and maintains her sobriety. Barbie brings Rhythim to the New Choices day program, participates in activities with her daughter and receives the individual help she needs. “I’ve gotten to enjoy every piece of Rhythim’s life,” says Barbie. “The women at New Choices help you with everything. If you’re having a housing crisis, if you need a lawyer, there’s nothing those women don’t do. They supply you with grocery cards and diapers. Without being embarrassed, you can go to them. They help you in so many ways, not just recovery.”
New Choices operates on a harm-reduction philosophy that strives to reduce the effects of substance use, promote prenatal care, teach mothering skills and provide women with positive role modelling, counselling and mental-health services.
“Recent studies show that the support system in recovery is key,” says Andrea Restauri, addiction counsellor supervisor. “A lot of our women don’t have family support, and their friend support system is usually an unhealthy one. We give them long-term individualized care. Our clients feel supported and encouraged because we’re a close-knit group.”
A Brighter Future
Barbie says that New Choices taught her everything: “Compassion, empathy, how to be courageous and how to cope. The staff showed me how to love myself again because I hated the version of who I was before.”
Today, Barbie maintains a good relationship with her adult children and custody of her four-year-old daughter, Rhythim, and she recently took kinship of six-month-old Dylan, the child of a family friend who is in active addiction and unable to care for him.
The kinship approval process requires extensive screening by Children’s Aid. After a criminal record check and visits with Dylan to determine Barbie’s fitness, Children’s Aid approved her application.
“It was an overwhelming feeling of pride, love and accomplishment,” says Barbie. “I’m so happy Dylan is in my life and God gifted him to me.
“New Choices made a huge impact in my life. I took every program offered, not because someone told me to, but because I wanted to,” she continues. “I got rid of people, places and substances, and made so many changes. My life is full and amazing today.”
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On Wednesday, January 26, 2022, COREY Major said:
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