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Visions Journal

My Life in a Better Place


Reprinted from the Families, Friends and Substance Abuse issue of Visions Journal, 2024, 19 (2), pp. 26-27

stock image of woman on a walk

I’m a person with lived experience. A mother of four children, I also have grandchildren. I live in non-profit, transitional housing. I’ve been here close to four years. My life is better now, better than it was. Things were a lot different. 

When I was younger and lived with my grandparents, I did not live with my mom. She left me at the hospital when I was a newborn. My grandparents took me home and raised me until I was about 10. That was in a small town in Ontario. 

How did I end up with food addiction? My grandparent would fill my plate, and if I didn’t finish my meal, I would be in trouble and sit there all night to eat the food. Grandmother would always tell me there were kids starving in other parts of the world, so I had to clean my plate. Growing up, our family entertained often, so we had lots of big meals. I have been big all my life. I just kept getting bigger and bigger. 

Coping with food 

My mother insisted that I move back with her when I was about 11. She was a large person. She ate everything. She didn’t eat the proper way. When she passed, she weighed 630 lbs. I was basically brought there to raise my siblings. I had to cook and look after them. In the morning, I helped them get ready for school, get the baby up and change the diaper—ready for the day. 

I would take them to my mom, then get the lunches ready. We would eat breakfast then catch the bus to school. Coming home from school, I had to cook the supper meal. If I didn’t prepare a proper meal, I got beaten for it. I had to prepare what they wanted. My stepfather did not like me. He had a terrible hate for me. My mother kept on telling me not to say anything back to him, to shut up or shove some food in my mouth. I kept gaining weight. I used food to cope with the situation, and that was all I knew. 

When I did finally get out on my own, at 20, I had my first child. At that time, I did what I knew: made big meals. But with my son, he didn’t grow up bad. I didn’t forcibly feed him. When he was done eating, he was done. I tried to do that for myself, but it didn’t work. I tried to change, but ended up with non-stop eating, as if I could not get enough to eat—when I was stressed out, mainly. The rest of my time there, I just kept on eating and eating. I got up to 350 lbs, then almost 400 lbs before I turned 25. 

In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. At first, the diagnosis didn’t feel like it impacted my life. My doctor at that time didn’t explain things to me, nothing about what could happen. 

Years went on and I ended up having three more children. I tried to get them to eat properly. I always had vegetables with low-calorie dips in the fridge ready for them. I taught them to cook. I would eat what I prepared for them, but I also had snacks: cookies, cakes and so on. I felt that I had to eat them. When I had to deal with my mother, she would stress me right out, and all I wanted to do was eat. With my mother and stepfather, who were both drunk, it was like living under a microscope.

Starting again

I wanted to have a fresh start, be who I wanted to be and not what they expected. With my kids, I came to Vancouver about 11 years ago, in my 50s. I had to get away from the crap. There wasn’t the stress I had back home. There weren’t the problems I’d been having. I started to eat properly. I ate snacks only occasionally. 

At this time, I couldn’t do the stairs very well. I had been using an electric scooter since my mid-40s. My knees were having issues. I saw a doctor out in Surrey. After doing tests, I found out how bad my diabetes really was, and my knees were to the point they needed replacements. But my diabetes was so bad I would never heal. At that point in time, I could not do much about that. It concerned me greatly that I was having all these health issues. I was getting sicker. I felt scared, literally scared for my life. 

I was renting with other people. Everybody flipped off, and I ended up getting evicted. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t want to burden my kids with my issues. They were all living independently. I ended up at a shelter in Surrey. I was there for quite some time. Then I moved to another homeless shelter and stayed there about eight months. Dealing with all these stresses, I turned to sweets and junk food: cakes, hamburgers, donuts and so on.

A shelter staff person helped me secure a suite at my current housing. Soon after moving, I was referred to a community clinic and finally got a permanent family doctor. I underwent more medical tests and gained fresh eyes on the situation. I found out that I have high blood pressure, lung issues and thyroid issues. From there, I saw health specialists, psychiatrists and an occupational therapist, among others. I was prescribed proper medications. I also went to a diabetes clinic, and the doctor explained everything to me. I want to tell people, based on the life I’ve lived: deal with your physical and mental health problems. Don’t let them get ahead of you. You need your health or you have nothing.

With all my needs met, I began to pursue other things. I am currently an advocate and board member at Ageing in the Right Place. We fight for the rights of seniors and get them to understand what is out there when they become homeless. We try to help them get the support they need. I talk to people, share my experiences and provide peer support and advice. I participate in community kitchens, arts and crafts workshops. My eating habits are better because I have other things to take the stress away. I’ve already lost some weight, and my diabetes is under control. I no longer have high blood pressure and lung issues are being dealt with. It is only going to get better.

About the author

Dorothy is 62 years old. She loves to spend time with her grandchildren, do crafts and help other people

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