Alana always knew she wanted something different for her life. But everyone she tried to rely on withdrew from her or made her suffer for their own misery. Alana’s mom was lost most days, fighting battles in her mind. She suffered from mental health challenges, so she was distant and unavailable, and she was incapable of mothering her three children. Running a busy sports bar in their small Ontario town kept her father away, but when everyone was home, yelling was a constant.
Mired in their own problems, Alana’s parents forgot her. By the time Alana was 15, she made ties with the wrong crowd and began escaping by drinking, smoking pot and cutting class. Chaos at home led to a late start in high school, and eventually she was expelled from two schools before quitting. As soon as her parents divorced, she thought moving out and living with her brother would give them both a fresh start. But the teens both struggled with addictions and soon fought over the grownup responsibilities of living independently that they were not yet equipped to take on.
When Alana was 20, she made her way to Toronto. But her troubles came with her. She traded cocaine for oxycodone, and then finally she moved on to heroin, one of the world’s deadliest and most addictive drugs.
Young and completely alone, she made the courageous decision to seek treatment. When she was ready, she stayed at a transitional house for women with addictions. She was staying focused and making progress. When she met a charming young man at her 12-step program who was also striving to stay clean, she was smitten and decided to move in with him.
Alana thought her new boyfriend wanted what she did, but he was controlling and abusive. They both fell back into drugs. Although she found a job, he would not let her keep or save her money. She was not allowed to have friends or visit her family. Then he started hitting her. She fled to a friend’s place who told her about Covenant House.
Alana was accepted into our longer-term residence, Rights of Passage. Here she met her youth worker Danny. “Danny was my backer,” she explains. “He believed in me when I didn’t think I had anybody who cared about me.”
While she was at Covenant House, Alana continued to struggle with her addiction, sometimes choosing to meet up with her dangerous ex-boyfriend in exchange for drugs. “All the staff were very concerned for me,” she remembers. But like we see with so many of our youth, even as Alana seemed to be going in circles, she was actually climbing up. She was getting support from Danny and our other workers, she was seeking counselling, and she was slowly learning that she was worth more than she had realized.
Staff explained to Alana that she needed to move to a program that would address her substance use more directly. The unconditional love, community and lessons on self-respect she gained at Covenant House stayed with her as she left for detox one more time. She kept in touch with a number of our staff who had grown fond of the warm, bright young woman they saw inside of her. A last brief relapse after her treatment convinced her to finally tackle her demons with all that she had. She continued counselling and went back to her 12-step program. This was her time. Today she has been clean and sober for nearly six years.
Alana applied as a mature student to a community college and enrolled in the Assaulted Women and Children Counsellor and Advocate Program. She has been working hard at restaurants to support herself through her schooling and she has done well in the program. She graduates this month. She has even been hired as a worker at the same transitional house that helped her when she first came to Toronto.
Alana is also enjoying spending time with a kind and caring boyfriend who develops software. “My boyfriend and I just have a nice, normal life,” she confides with a sense of quiet pride.
Alana’s lived experience has made her a passionate advocate for people struggling with addiction and for women who are victims of violence. She finds her work at the transitional house rewarding, but her hope is to study policy and governance at university. Her goal is to dedicate her life to fighting for better legislation around how people with addictions are treated and more support for women fleeing violence.
“I find politics really interesting—how legislation is passed, how things get done, how to change the system,” Alana shares. “The system is so broken. I want to help make changes at a policy level to make a difference to others who have been through the same thing I have.”