Little House, big hearts
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
For families trying to cope with a loved one trapped in the self destructive cycle of substance addiction it seldom is. And it can often come as a surprise how far down someone has drifted before their problem surfaces.
Jane—not her real name—was a gifted child. She went to private school, tested in the 97th percentile and took vocal lessons from a noted opera singer and played piano.
“She was just this beautiful and bubbly girl, very charismatic,” says her mother, a Tsawwassen resident.
On the surface there wasn’t a problem in sight.
She’d always kept the family curfew. And often, when she was out at a friend’s home for dinner, she’d call in to tell her parents where she was.
“We actually only found out she was a drug addict when she overdosed on cocaine and the Delta Police phoned telling me she was in hospital,” Jane’s mother says. “She had hid it very well. She got up every day for school and got good grades.”
To her surprise, Jane’s mother later found out from her daughter’s school counsellor that school officials already knew she was a drug user, but because Jane was over the age of 14 there was a matter of confidentiality that prevented relaying that information—which included the fact she had been dealing drugs a couple of years earlier when she was in Grade 10.
What followed were numerous brushes with the police locally which led to her mother asking the police to arrest her daughter.
“That way she could go into drug rehab,” says Jane’s mother. She decided to tell her story to help raise awareness of a fundraising campaign to re-establish the Little House Society’s expanded facility on 12th Avenue in Tsawwassen which fell victim to arson in 2009.
The community-based non-profit organization has been serving the community for 27 years and its mandate is to promote and advance education related to substance use, abuse, and addiction, and abstinence-based recovery from addiction.
Little House president Jim Stimson, who has been clean and sober for 39 years, said the organization’s mandate is to create a healthier, safer and more knowledgeable caring community.
“The goal and objective of the Little House is not so much to hold these meetings—we can meet in other places. It’s to create this educational awareness, this increase sense of knowledge, understanding and awareness of substance use, abuse, addiction and recovery for families, early on," he said.
Little House was originally run by RADAT (Richmond Alcohol and Drug Abuse Team) and used the building as an outpatient counseling service.
That evolved into a meeting place for individuals and families in recovery which eventually became a non-profit society in 2004.
Five years later the arson fire gutted the building and Little House has operated locally in rented space. Plans are to rebuild on the original site, and a fundraising campaign is underway to come up with the $225,000 needed.
The response to date has been exceptional.
One local on board is Tsawwassen Rotarian Leslie Abramson whose own life was affected by addiction with the loss of her son.
“I told my Rotary Club that when this is all finished this community will be very proud of the Little House. To say that we did it,” says Abramson, who along with former Delta mayor Doug Husband are co-chairs of the fundraising campaign.
“It’s (the fundraising campaign) quickly turned into a community based barn-raising,” Stimson says. “It’s recalling spirit of community which we usually don’t see unless there’s a serious calamity.”
But there is a calamity, largely unseen in today’s society which often tries to cover up the problem of substance abuse and addiction.
“The average age of first time use of substances in our province is 12. And it’s dropping right now to age 10,” Stimson says, based on anecdotal evidence from treatment agencies.
To deal with that scope of problem the Little House board of directors has been expanded and an education advisory council struck to lengthen its reach into the community.
For example, one of the programs scheduled to start soon is called The Heart of a Mother.
“It’s for mothers and grandmothers in South Delta who have a child or grandchild who is caught up in some form of substance abuse and they don’t know what to do,” says Stimson, adding the 13 to 15 spots will likely be filled quickly.
It’s a program that hits close to home for another local mom who had to deal with her daughter’s addiction.
For Mary—not her real name—the future had looked bright. Her mother says she was always a smart, bright and sassy kid, full of life.
“She was very good with horses, trained and rode them and was 12 when she entered high school.”
That was when things started to go wrong.
“She was suspended for three days in her first term for smoking pot in the bushes near the school,” says her mother, adding there were never any early indications of drug use.
But that first incident led to others over the years and Mary’s grades began to drop and the drug use escalated.
She started using crystal meth.
“Since she’s left school (Mary is now 24) I found out she’s been using GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid) and heroin, something she never did before. She’s living in Richmond somewhere, on welfare.
“She’s in a really bad way.”
Mary’s mother says beyond the principle concerns for the health and safety for her child comes guilt and misplaced shame for what is an illness—addiction.
“We have to try and take the shame away,” she says. “Because when you have a child who’s an addict you feel shame. And you feel as if you’re being judged.”
“That’s because the illness is not understood by the community,” Stimson adds.
The toll can also be significant on the family of an addict.
“If they don’t get into a healing process, they are four times as likely to have an emotional or physical breakdown than the substance abuser themselves will. Because the substance abuser has the distinct advantage of being numb during all the problems they are causing with the family,” Stimson says. “And the family is trying to deal with this on raw emotion, hold down jobs, keep mortgages paid and see their own flesh and blood as a child going down the tube.”
For Jane, now 21, the help from Little House could have played a significant role as she did enter rehab but relapsed just weeks after finishing her treatment.
After being asked to leave the family home to help protect her younger brother from the negative effects of her behaviour, Jane has steadily spiraled downwards, said her mother.
“She’s lived with addicts, lost a lot of weight, lost her teeth from the use of crystal meth (a physical effect where you produce less saliva and more acid in your mouth which can cause tooth decay, gum disease, bone and tooth loss), and she’s cut off welfare,” says her mother. “I hardly see her anymore. And finally the phone company have stopped giving her a phone. I still get calls from (drug money) collectors because she leaves my phone number.
“But I have hope. She’s young. She’s been through several drug programs and when she’s hits bottom, whenever that is, maybe she’ll go back into recovery.”
Both mothers believe a re-established Little House with a broader mandate can be a valuable tool in the community.
“It would be hugely beneficial,” says Mary’s mom, who knew very little about the drug culture and didn’t know where to turn to for help.
“I think that it’s just fantastic we can get out into the community and advocate on addiction,” says Jane’s mother. “You know, it’s not just that addict down on skid row with a needle in their arm. It’s your kid at the local high school. It’s that person in front of the liquor store panhandling. It’s that housewife using crystal meth just to get through the day.
“If we can get that education out there and take away the stigma it will be fantastic.”
The Little House Society’s goal is to have completed fundraising by June 4 and the building finished and operating by early 2012. For more information call 778-887-1828 or visit littlehousesociety.ca.
(The Little House Society is holding a fundraising concert Sunday March 13 at Cedar Park Church—5300 44th Ave. The event features guitarist Ryan Enns with violinist Patrick Ernst. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 604-720-3392 or email Jones-inc.@telus.net)