Because she was a teenager when the following events happened, the girl in this story is using a different name to protect her identity.
Melody was lucky to hit rock bottom and survive.
At her worst, when life could have gone one way or another, the teenager found herself living in a filthy boarded-up mobile home in a trailer park. The windows were smashed. What was left of the rotting floor was covered in junk.
She was living in a crack-shack and she was smart enough to know it.
Many people reach their rock bottom moment and it kills them.
Melody sat in that trailer one morning, still bleary-eyed from a night of drinking and drugs. Her head hurt and she could barely put two thoughts together. But as she peered around her squalid surroundings and gathered her wits, reality woke her up with a stinging slap in the face.
She left, and never came back.
Looking back on it now, Melody can pinpoint exactly where her descent into that horrible darkness began, in an upper-middle class home that’s maybe a lot like yours.
She was a 13-year-old Grade 8 student when she experienced the first signs of depression and anxiety.
Melody came home from school most days, slunk downstairs to the basement, crawled into bed and slept for 10 hours. She withdrew from her friends, overwhelmed by the grey cloud that dogged her every waking moment.
“I felt empty and lost and hurt,” she says.
Her family didn’t believe in mental illness and wouldn’t be swayed, even as Melody landed in the psych ward, cut or burned herself and, three times, tried to kill herself with pills. She says she had suicidal thoughts every day for more than three years.
“I come from a higher end home and it was always, ‘What do you have to be upset about? I gave you this. I gave you that,’” she says. “I don’t know what led me to the depression and anxiety and hopelessness, but I had it and it was real, and they just didn’t see it.”
She had nowhere to turn and the pain and hurt built and built and built until Melody thought she’d explode. She was a thoroughly broken girl the day she told her family she was leaving. There was yelling and screaming and they were determined to keep her there. But she was far more determined to leave.
She had to, because if she got to a fourth suicide attempt she was going to succeed.
“As hard as it was at the time, I’m glad I did it because I didn’t want to die.”
A shockingly large percentage of Chilliwack’s homeless population is youth and many of their stories share a common thread. The people who are supposed to love them unconditionally are the ones who harm them the most.
As Melody left her home she felt her heart lift for the first time in months.
Then her brain piped up. Where do we go now?
Truthfully, she was never homeless in the strictest sense of the word. She went to her alcoholic mom’s house and that lasted a week. She couch-surfed for a few days, crashing with anyone who would take her in.
Finally, she landed at the doorstep of the Cyrus Centre. Located on the corner of Main Street and Wellington Avenue, Cyrus Centre is the only place local youths can go to for immediate shelter beds (they have six).
“I didn’t care about myself when I walked through those doors the first time and I was an emotional wreck with tears coming out of my face every day after that,” she says. “But the people there were really good at calming me down, talking to me and saying, ‘It’s OK. You don’t have to feel out of place here because you’re wanted and we want to help you.’”
“I was like, ‘There’s people who actually want to help me?’
“That was shocking because I’ve never had that in my life and that’s the most valuable thing anyone said to me, that I was wanted.”
Melody stayed at Cyrus Centre long enough (two months) to get her emotional feet under her.
“I wasn’t self-harming anymore, which was a big thing for me,” she says. “I had food in my stomach, a roof over my head and someone to talk to. They helped me through the emotional pain and stood by me every second.”
When she felt stable enough, the Cyrus Centre set her up with her own place in ‘The Village,’ a 33 unit apartment building on School Street.
Eleven of those units are set aside as interim housing for youth in transition, and when Melody moved in she thought life was looking up.
But another shared trait of many homeless youth, and the homeless in general, is one step forward and two steps back.
For a young girl out on her own for the first time, it was too easy to fall in with the wrong crowd.
She met a guy who seemed nice and turned out to be a cocaine addict (a very common thread for homeless girls).
“I had daddy issues, where I wanted a man’s attention and he seemed sweet and kind,” she says. “He started inviting me out on weekends. That turned into every couple days and then every day. And he supplied me with cocaine as long as I did him favours.”
Melody’s rent at The Village was only $375 per month. But even though she dropped out of school to work full-time at a local restaurant, she couldn’t afford it because she was spending her money on drugs.
“I had no where to go, so he was like, ‘Come live with me,’” she says. “And I thought that was the greatest idea in the world.”
“I just got hooked.”
Melody found herself in so deep that she’d come home from work, and if he didn’t have a line (of cocaine) waiting for her she’d start shaking and sweating and pace back and forth.
She tried to get clean, and failed.
She tried again, several times, to get clean, and failed.
“I always thought I could do it on my own, but I couldn’t,” she says. “It was hard to see myself go downhill when I knew there was support for me, and I turned away from it because of my desire for men.”
“Most of them are 30 or 40 or 50 years old and they see an 18-year-old girl looking for drugs and they’re like, ‘Here you go!’”
“They think, ‘Maybe if I give her drugs she’ll stay and give me favours.’”
“It’s gross and disgusting and not a life that I was ever proud of living, but it was reality for me.”
It was a rapid descent to that boarded-up mobile home.
As she circled the drain her friends at Cyrus Centre tried contacting her through Facebook, almost begging for her to come back.
Their pleas finally hit home after a night of ridiculously heavy drinking.
“My best friend and I decided to get a 60-pounder of vodka and I drank the whole thing and we ended up doing coke,” she says. “I woke up the next day and I was scrounging for money for coke and I was like, ‘Are you serious Melody? You can’t go back to that.’”
For many homeless youth there is no happy ending. Their stories end in jail or in the ground.
Melody was lucky to get a second chance from the Cyrus Centre.
When she walked through the doors a second time at her very lowest point, she didn’t feel judgement. She felt like she was coming home.
She felt safe.
“I knew I’d be welcomed back because I know that they love me,” she says. “They tell me that, every day. I see one of the female workers and she says, ‘I love you hun. I’m proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished.’”
“You can tell when someone just says they love you and when they actually mean it.”
“I can feel the love in this place.”
Melody went through detox and has once again been set up with a place of her own. She has stopped working full time so she can go back to school. She’s become a Christian and is determined to put her experiences, bad and good, to use in her career.
“Either a drug-and-alcohol counsellor or a social worker, for youth,” she says with a smile. “I know that’s what I’m going to do.”
Until then, Melody’s got enough self-awareness to know she’s not fixed.
The threat of relapse will always be there and there will be moments when she’s tempted to make a dumb decision and throw it all away, again.
“When I think I don’t need the help anymore, that’s when I really need it,” she admits. “I still have issues being alone, especially at night-time, and that’s when I want to go out and do certain things. So I know I’ll struggle with temptation my entire life, but I think Cyrus Centre’s given me the proper tools to get through it.”
“Love gets you through anything and if you’re breathing, there’s hope.””
Additional stories in this series:
Part 1: The long way home