Vancouver Foundation

Spring 2013

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Youth Homelessness Initiative TTIP-ing the Scales Working together to make youth homelessness a thing of the past by paul heraty | photo brian hawkes One of Alexandra O'Donaghey's first memories is of her drug-addicted and alcoholic parents splitting up. She was only four, but already smart enough to know she would be staying with her grandmother. Not long after the split, her father gave up drugs and drink. But the party went on for her mother for another eight years. She drifted in and out of O'Donaghey's life in North Vancouver. Then came an invitation to join her clean and sober mother for a year in Bella Bella – home of the Heiltsuk people on BC's central coast. O'Donaghey jumped at the chance. Turns out her mother had been clean for almost two years, and O'Donaghey was looking forward to spending time with her. This would be a new start. But less than a year after O'Donaghey arrived, her mother relapsed; the last time she saw her mother was in the emergency room of Bella Bella Hospital, where she passed away. O'Donaghey was 12 years old. "Things went downhill after that," she says, her dark brown eyes narrowing. "I moved back to North Van to live with my dad, and started drinking. At first, it was coolers, then beer and 'hard bar' . . . It was just fun and games. Then I started smoking pot, doing cocaine and ecstasy. "I moved a lot in North Van and Vancouver," she says. "I was living with my grandmother, and with my dad. I got kicked out of one school, transferred to another, and then had to transfer again. "Eventually, it got to the point where I didn't care about having fun or having a good time. I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. I became the type of person that needed a drink. I'd have a drink if I was anxious, if I was mad or sad, or if I felt guilty. My addiction took me to a deep, dark place. I did a lot of things that I regret today." At 16, O'Donaghey got pregnant and had a son, Sean. At 18, despite a number of interventions by her family, she continued to drink. O'Donaghey tells her story very matter-of-factly, not shying away from any detail. She looks you straight in the eye as she talks, displaying a confidence and self-knowledge that is obviously hard-won, and rare in a 23-year-old. Despite the fog of alcohol, many alcoholics can recall, often with stunning clarity, the day they hit bottom. For O'Donaghey, it was January 15, 2011. "It wasn't an external hitting bottom," she says. "Like losing family or anything. It was an internal thing. I'd been drinking for eight years. I was 21. My addiction hit me so hard I lost all hope. I realized then that I would either die from my addiction, or I would turn it around. It was one way or the other." On January 17, 2011, after eight years of active addiction, O'Donaghey finally reached out and sought treatment through a page 20 I Vancouver Foundation l Spring 2013 p20-21 Watari.indd 20 13-05-22 1:22 PM

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