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My family regarded me as a worthless and dangerous person in need of being chained up. In my country, mental health is not understood as it is in Canada. It is considered dangerous and weak. My family began to speak out against me and I knew that I had to flee my country in order to be safe.
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It can be an especially challenging time of year when you are not in contact with your family. I spent most of my youth estranged from my family, feeling isolated and living in poverty. Christmastime can serve as a painful reminder of what is missing from your life.
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To everyone around me, it looked like our family had it all. The truth was that I lived in a house that was filthy and piled high with debris and animal waste. I was 11years old when my father began to sexually abuse me. I had become accustomed to keeping so many secrets by then that I just added this one to the list. I hoped the abuse would stop. I was terrified and lonely. I am living proof that it takes a community to lift a person up. The day I left my abusive family home was the day I stepped into uncertainty and poverty.
I'm one of those alcoholics who became an alcoholic from my first drink. My life truly went downhill from there. I made bad decisions, made myself a bad reputation and drank more to ease my depression. Having alienated myself from people to stop them from witnessing this mess I was, I started to drink alone. I would binge for days at a time. Enough drinks in me would get me into the beds of complete strangers. It would not be considered consensual in a legal sense with my state of intoxication, thinking back to it now. The guilt and shame overwhelmed me. I had to keep myself intoxicated to keep my depression and anxiety at bay.
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As we prepare to go to the polls for the federal election this October, it is relevant to note that each party has a different approach for combating homelessness and providing relief for chronic poverty. While we cannot tell you who to vote for, we can ask that you include housing policy as one of the areas you compare when researching the various party platforms.
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When women are then forced to face homelessness and poverty after fleeing abuse, desperate behaviours are often the result. Suicide attempts, devaluation of self-worth and comparisons to others cause untold pain and suffering, and serve to continue the cycle of struggle with mental health.
How does a woman who was abused by her father and addicted to drugs by her parents at that age ever get back on her feet? How does she grow up to become a functioning member of society? It can be hard enough for people with parents who care for them to succeed in life and find happiness, but with criminal acts perpetrated by family members this seems impossible.
Driving home from dinner last fall, my sister-in-law Jessica told me about her mother's holiday shoebox drive. For many years, Veronica has been asking her friends in Montreal to fill a shoebox with small gift items, which she collects and delivers to a women's shelter. Jessica wanted to do the same thing in Toronto for the Red Door Family Shelter and I immediately offered to get involved.