A hope and a future at Lydia Home
by Jenny Schweyer
A brown stucco, two-story house sits in a quiet, family-oriented neighbourhood in Mission. It draws no more attention to it than any other home in the area. This very ordinariness belies the incredible transformations that take place inside. The house is Lydia Home, a 90-day drug and alcohol treatment centre, and at any given time you’ll find up to nine women living there in various stages of cleaning up and learning how to take control of their futures.
Lydia Home is a ministry of the Union Gospel Mission, an organization well-known in Greater Vancouver, particularly for its large urban ministry providing meal and recovery programs and emergency shelter on Vancouver’s east side. Lydia Home maintains a quieter community presence, but still transforming lives in a powerful way.
The Manager of Mission Ministries, Karen Flanagan, helps oversee several of UGM’s ministries in the City of Mission, including Lydia Home, where she spends a few days a week. Flanagan has seen women come to Lydia Home utterly broken, with no self-esteem and little hope for recovery from the grip of addiction. She watches them develop confidence and character as they move through the three-month program which addresses more than physical addiction.
“UGM takes a very holistic approach to recovery,” says Flanagan. Women who stay at Lydia Home are required to take a full day of classes five days per week. The curriculum includes anger management, life skills training and a program on co-dependency, as well as Bible studies. Participants must also commit to attending no fewer than five AA meetings per week. It’s intensive, but Flanagan notes there have been very few deserters over the years. Women come to Lydia Home because they have hit rock bottom and they really want to change their lives.
One of them is Sherry Robison, who wasn’t afraid to share her last name because her “story has a happy ending.” But most of her life has been a haze of addiction, organized crime and jail.
Sherry first became an addict at the age of 13, and she remained that way for a decade before becoming pregnant with her first child. Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Sherry felt like she had a real reason to live. She kicked her habits cold turkey to give birth to her daughter, and she managed to stay clean for four years. She met a new man, got engaged, and life was good for awhile.
But when she and her boyfriend broke up, her life spiralled out of control and she returned to her old habits. A subsequent pregnancy helped her to clean up again, but this time it didn’t stick. When her second daughter was seven months old, Sherry found herself facing a serious illness that threatened her life. Months of aggressive treatment eventually cured her, but the intense fear of dying had driven her to relapse again.
Another clean-up and one more relapse would follow before Sherry was driven to a desperate decision. By now her children were being cared for by her mother, and she could see the toll that her swings between sobriety and relapse were taking on them. “I thought my kids would be better off if I just killed myself,” Sherry says. In her darkest hour, she remembered an application for treatment that she had picked up from Lydia Home on the advice of an acquaintance years earlier. It was a pinpoint of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Instead of killing herself, Sherry applied to the treatment program.
Sherry spent three months at Lydia Home where, for the first time in her life, she began to understand that her life had value and a higher purpose. Before Lydia Home, “I was broken but I didn’t know why. Now I know.”
In the months since graduating the program, her children are learning to trust their mother again. They no longer panic when she leaves the house, fearing she won’t return. Sherry’s community of friends and supporters at UGM have reached out to her children, providing a week at a Christian camp for her oldest daughter. A benefactor also made it possible for both girls to attend a Christian school in Mission at no cost to the family. Sherry’s eyes tear up as she describes how meaningful it has been for all them to have a Christian school education.
Today, she is back with her children and continues to attend AA meetings, and venture into leadership. She takes parenting classes several times per week and attends church with her children regularly. She knows community involvement is crucial to maintaining sobriety. She hopes to eventually get a full-time job.
Every now and then, Sherry still drops by Lydia Home. “It feels like home to me,” she says. “Lydia Home helped me deal with my past which was the key to peace. It gave me hope and a solid foundation to build on,” she declares. “If I can change, anyone can!”