"I was 14 years old when my parents divorced. After the divorce, I lived with my mom. She couldn’t handle my anger issues, so by the age of 15, I became a ward of the crown through the Children’s Aid Society. I had to grow up rather fast when that happened. After becoming a ward of the crown, I lived in a group home for 6 months, then with a foster family for a year. At 16 I was renting a room in a house with 4 older guys and still going to school. Children’s Aid was paying for the room I rented as well as other bills; the money I received was equivalent to student welfare. I got involved with drugs and alcohol during that time, as it was readily available.
My relationship with my mom was strained. After I left home, I would visit my mother off and on, but would never live with her for more than a few weeks. Both of my parents were alcoholics. My mother was a recovering Alcoholic who was in AA for years and my father was still active in his addiction. I never had much contact with my father. I believe that the last time I saw him was when I had just turned 19. During this visit he threatened me with his belt, like he had done and hit me with for many years. This time I was able to challenge him because I was older and no longer small, and he backed off. My father passed away when I was 24 and my mother passed when I was 30. I have a biological sister with whom I do not have a relationship with. To me, we happen to have the same parents and that is it.
I was a street kid on and off from the age of 18 to 25, at which point I aged out of being considered a youth. When I turned 18 I dropped out of school. As I was of age, and no longer in school I was cut off from Children’s Aid. That summer, a friend and I joined a midway where we worked and traveled throughout Ontario. Once the season ended in October, I became homeless and lived in youth and men’s shelters throughout Toronto. Most shelters only allowed you to stay there for 3 weeks, at which point you were kicked out and not able to return there for 60 days. To survive, my friends and I would rotate our stay between 6 or so different shelters. During that time I would spend my days panhandling or hanging out either at the Eaton Centre, or at a drop-in literacy centre. Being a homeless youth was hard both mentally and emotionally on me. People look down on you like you are the scum of the earth and are no better than trash. Over the years I developed a bit of a drinking problem. I drank to kill the loneliness, the feelings of emptiness and my own self-hatred. But, it ultimately made things worse. I had and still do at times suffer from depression and general anxiety disorder. I’ve also been on and off antidepressants since I was a teenager.
I went back to finish my high school diploma at 21. Even though I was still drinking at the time, I did far better than I did when I was younger. I finished that semester still needing 3 credits to graduate. At the time, I was living in another city and yet again, got evicted from my home. I decided to go back to Toronto because that is where most of the resources were available. I started volunteering at the street youth literacy centre that I used to hang out at and enrolled in an alternative school program where I finally graduated high school. During this time, I got an apartment with some friends and earned money working as a temp for different agencies. I tried to limit my drinking because I knew that with my family history, I had a higher chance of becoming an alcoholic like my parents. Even though I wasn’t homeless, I felt like I was just surviving, working and trying to hold on. At times I felt suicidal, anxious and depressed. I didn’t really go to therapy because I felt like I had had my fill of it when I was younger. I suppose what kept me going through those times were my friends. I had known them most of my life, meeting some of them through Alateen or as a result of our common background.
After being laid off from a job that I was working at for almost 10 years, I had the opportunity of pursuing my post-secondary education through Second Career training. So, I went to a career college and got my Community Service Worker diploma. I decided to go into the social work field because I felt it was a way for me to give back to the community that helped me survive all of my life. I also remembered that I once saved a girl who was having an overdose as a result of a fight she was having with her boyfriend. I was able to get her to the hospital in time for her to get her stomach pumped. That experience really affected me and put the thought in my head that I could do some good in this world. To this day, I still wonder how her life turned out.
After graduating college, I got a job as a counselor working in a group home for at risk youth. I did well at this job because I was able to relate to the youth – as I was once in their shoes. Unfortunately, the job ended after 8 months and I found myself going back to a manufacturing job to pay the bills. Breaking into the social work field was challenging. Competition for Social Service Workers is high in Toronto. During this time, I met the woman who would become my wife. After two years together, we were presented with an opportunity to move to Temiskaming Shores to work for Community Living and we took it.
I am grateful to have met my wife of 3 years. Bev is amazing in her own right. She has put up with me for 7 years and sees things in me that I don’t see in myself. She always encourages me to do better and is truly the best part of my life. I still live with anxiety, and sometimes depression. I also recently learned that I am on the Autism spectrum. Bev always knew and says that it explains a lot of the challenges I faced in my past and why some things where harder for me than others. With everything that I have experienced and learned, I am glad that I get to work with the people that I do and I am able to give back to those in need of help. I was lucky enough to survive, but a lot of people I knew did not."