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Teresa’s story (Roots and Wings)

July 19, 2018

Teresa, a mother of five, had struggled with substance abuse for years, starting with drugs and alcohol at the age of 12. She soon after ran away from home and was sent to Calgary to live with her then step-mom. “My life really took a drastic turn from there,” Teresa says. “I started doing crack cocaine and prostitution when I was 16, and basically my whole life—up until I was 30, I’m 42 now—was gangs, prison, using while I was pregnant. I had no parenting skills because I was raised by the streets.” Teresa then saw the need to turn her life around. “My kids were in Permanent Guardianship Orders, I got them out, I got it rescinded, changed my life, and now I’ve been clean for thirteen years.”


Teresa still recognized that she had a lot of work to do. “I felt that I was in over my head parenting wise,” continues Teresa. “I have a son who at the time was living with me. He was involved in gangs and drugs—the same gang that I was a part of for many years—so that was overwhelming.” Teresa’s daughter also started experimenting with drugs and alcohol when she was 12 years old, and her eight-year-old daughter was struggling with behaviour issues.


That’s when Sarah, a Roots & Wings worker at Teresa’s daughters’ school, came into the picture. “I never asked for support because I was too ashamed,” says Teresa. “Maybe not really ashamed, but I didn’t want people to judge me. The day I met Sarah, I kind of knew that I was in a good place.”


“When I met with Teresa the first time, she shared she was completely overwhelmed with parenting and was at a loss with what to do with girls,” says Sarah. “She was receiving daily calls from the school to come pick them up, and the stress from these calls was impacting her job, her relationship with her partner and daughters, and the overall functioning of the family at home.”


Sarah and Teresa got to work right away to set up mental health counselling for both Teresa and her daughters, appropriate school supports, and more structure and routine at home. “We also worked on parenting strategies to improve communication between Teresa and her oldest daughter as their relationship was quite strained,” says Sarah. “Teresa felt she was not bonded with her and due to the constant conflict, she was unsure if her daughter was going to be able to continue to live with her.”


Sarah introduced Teresa to EMDR therapy and allowed her to clearly look at her trauma. “I live in my trauma every day, and Sarah pointed that out to me. When I’m in my trauma or things aren’t good in my relationship, my kids feed off that,” says Teresa. “I’ve learned to deescalate and reach out. I’m able to stop and reframe. I’m not who I used to be, and it’s just learning how to accept and go forward.” She continues, “Sarah always reminds me that we’re all human. She doesn’t judge me whatsoever, no matter what I tell her. She gives me a lot of parenting techniques. And my daughter loves her; she adores her.”


“Both daughters are now attending school regularly, feeling successful in their classes, have not received a suspension in months and are respecting their mom’s boundaries,” says Sarah. “This has lessened conflict in the home and left more time for bonding, laughs, and quality family time.”


“Everybody’s doing great,” Teresa says. “My one daughter’s in boxing, and my other daughter’s in gymnastics, and they love it.”


“Teresa has done an incredible amount of hard work to advocate for her daughters’ mental health and school needs,” says Sarah. “She made repairing her relationship with her teen a priority and is now involved in her daughter’s life more than ever. She’s now better able to manage her trauma-related triggers in order to remain calm and follow through with limit setting and various positive parenting strategies.”


For Teresa, working with Sarah and the Roots & Wings program has been very effective. “I feel more empowered. I feel like I have more self-esteem. I don’t feel so isolated. I have support.” Teresa also acknowledges the advocacy that comes from the program. “Sometimes as a parent, you only have one voice, but that changes if you have more people supporting and helping. I’ve noticed a huge improvement since I’ve had Roots & Wings in my life. It’s just amazing. Sarah’s a really amazing person, and I appreciate everything she’s done for me and will continue to do for me.”