Inner City Diary
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When CFS serves children and families
December 14, 2003
Can a mother’s love for her children overcome alcoholism and self-loathing?

This was the cold reality facing Dotty. The question dogged her since her birth to a mom who never satisfactorily answered the question herself.

She was born up north, the youngest of eight children. Alcoholic parents, an isolated community and silence compounded her abuse. “People didn’t talk much about their problems in my community. Despite all her problems, my mom was my best friend.”

Dotty got drunk for the first time at eleven years of age. Just curious. Just wanting to be accepted by relatives and peers. She remembers being horribly sick and wondering, “Why would people do this?” But this question, like many others, remained unanswered. Her mom drowned when she was fourteen. Her own situation worsened and her self image deteriorated.

She moved to Winnipeg and had the first of four children at 16.

“I was determined to be the parent I didn’t have.” But the challenges were significant. Her boyfriend was abusive. “I kept hoping he would change. But he kept calling me down. I felt like nothing, but I stayed with him because I felt even worse without him.”

“Alcohol gave me courage to tell him how I really felt about him. Besides, if I was drunk, it would hurt less if he hit me for talking like that.”

She was 22 when the cops came to break up a drunken brawl. She recalls, “I told them we were okay, that he’s a pretty good guy most of the time. I told them what I wished, not what was true.”

The police took him away and told her to go to sleep. They returned later with Child and Family Services offering help. Dotty accepted their offer of respite childcare. The temporary breaks, however, didn’t erase her addiction.

Eventually she acknowledged her alcoholism. CFS took the kids into care for nine months while she attended parenting courses and addiction treatment at Addictions Foundation and the Anchorage Program. During this time, her boyfriend left her.

“I was angry. I was still blaming others rather than looking at myself. I didn’t really want to be there. I was just there to do what I had to do to get my kids back.”

She got her kids back, but bad relationships and unanswered questions soon found her back in the bottle.

CFS took her kids again. This time for three years. The realization that she had chosen her addiction over her children led to a four month drunk, trying to drown her pain. When that wasn’t enough, she tried to kill herself.

Waking up in the hospital, she saw a minister. She doesn’t remember much about their conversation, but she remembers the words, “You’re trying to kill what you hate about your life. What about living for the good things in your life?”

Something clicked. After release from the hospital, she phoned the Anchorage Program again. She spent two and a half months there. Way past denial, she didn’t just complete a program. She made some life-changing decisions.

“I decided to be more honest, independent, and to stop blaming others for my problems. I didn’t need a man to take care of – or to take care of me. What I wanted from others I would do for myself.

“And I wanted God in my life. I figure he knew me better than anyone and wasn’t judgmental. He helped me get myself back. He had a plan for my life, but he also expected me to do some hard work.”

Denial was replaced by determination. Shame replaced by the confidence of knowing she was doing the right things. Dotty has had her kids back for almost two years. By all accounts, she’s doing good for them – and herself.

“I see life differently now. I love my kids, enjoy my meetings, and even have time to help others.”

She volunteers with CFS as a mentor for a little girl who lost her mom at the age of 9.

“Kids need someone to guide them, to tell them about being a woman.” She wants to be a childcare worker.

I asked if she had advice for others. She said, “Do it for yourself, cause no one else can do it for you.”

I’ve had some beefs with CFS. Perceived by some as child snatchers, they are generally feared more than trusted. But to be fair, they’ve got a tough job and often do it very well.

Dotty’s story is reason for hope – not just for us, not just for CFS – but, most importantly, for one amazing mom and her children.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929