My story… Hmm… Where do I begin?! Well, some important ‘back-story’ I guess.
I was born in a small-ish town near Calgary. I lived there until I was 12, and half-way through grade 6, I moved to another small town just north of Red Deer (we’ll get into why we moved in a little bit…). Between then and graduating high school, I entered social services, lived in 5 different homes, and was adopted by my best friend’s family. I graduated high school there, then went off to Abbotsford, BC to do a one-year program called Lifeteams (<-click to check it out!) – we’ll also get into what that was like in a bit. After that program, I then moved back to Alberta to continue education at Prairie Bible College where I completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in Youth Outreach. I decided I needed a break, so I planned to go to Australia for a year to take a “Sabbath” (if you want to know what that word means, send me a message through the contact page!). At the time of writing this, I am leaving in ten days! Which is crazy to me. But anyways, back to my story…
So that’s a very quick snapshot of where I’ve been and what I’ve done (and am doing). Now I’ll give you some details and a deeper view into what my life has been like leading up to this point.
Brace yourself and check the clock… It’s a bit long…
When I was in southern Alberta (near Calgary), I had a fairly normal growing-up life. I learned to ride bikes, I loved swimming and grounders, I had a cat named Peanut (because she was the size of a peanut when we got her), and a fairly normal family. I have two older brothers and a mom and a dad (which is – sadly – not as common these days). We had a modest house with a nice backyard. We had a trampoline (which I basically lived on) and sprinklers – and if you put the two together, it gets pretty fun! We had raspberries and a massive nanking cherry bush that we loved gorging on. However, things started to turn around in grades 5 and 6…
When I went to middle-school (grade 6 in my town) I ended up being quite the target for bullies. They were often friends of Middle brother who never really stood up for me and just watched things happen. I was made fun of constantly and never had a lot of friends. Then, when things were starting to get a little better, a kids worst nightmare happened: we moved.
“Why did you move?” you ask. Well, my Dad had some problems. He quite enjoyed gambling, as well as beer. He also had a bit of an anger problem. And it was starting to affect our family. He decided to go to GA (Gamblers Anonymous), a treatment centre for those addicted to gambling. …Or so we thought.
After a little bit, Mom got a phone call from the treatment centre to tell her that Dad had finished his program. Only, the receptionist said he had finished “CA” – “Crack-Cocaine Anonymous.” Mom said, “I think you have the wrong number?”
“Is this [My Mom]?” the lady asked.
“And your husband is [My Dad]?
“Than this is the right number.”
My Mom found out about my Dad’s drug addiction (which he had since he was 16) through the treatment centre’s receptionist. At this point, she wanted to divorce him. This, of course, put a lot of strain on our family – especially us kids when Mom sat us down and told us she was thinking of divorcing Dad. However, she decided to give him a second chance, and we decided to move in order to some-what start fresh in a new town. But when you’ve been an addict for so long, you end up having connections in a lot of places…
We moved north of Red Deer, and things went really downhill for me. Dad never stopped using and the bullies got worse. Especially since I came half-way through the year, I didn’t have much of a chance to make friends since everyone already had their friend groups and such. I was constantly attacked and harassed and was made the “lowest on the food chain” so-to-speak. Because of this, and the stress of my family situation, I had no one to talk to or to go to in order to talk about what was going on and how I was feeling. I developed severe depression and insecurities, and in my high school years, this manifested as self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
I was involved in my first “relationship” in grade 7, though. Which was great at the time, but not so great after a bit. I ended up being cheated on and broken up with by her 3 months later which didn’t help my insecurities or depression. And my brothers weren’t any help, either. Middle brother, like I said, was usually a friend of the bullies and never did anything to stop it (and he was struggling with his own issues so he was pretty occupied as it was). And Oldest brother is 4 years older than me so we were never really in the same school. And none of us were that close so we didn’t really talk about things anyway.
In high school (grades 9 through 12), things didn’t get any better. At all. Actually, quite the opposite. The insults got worse, the depression spiraled, and the loneliness skyrocketed. In order to try to connect with someone, I started going to the local Youth Centre which seemed to help distract me from the struggles of school and home. Most of the youth I met there seemed to be there for the same reason: they didn’t want to be at home and/or they needed a place to connect with someone. (Also, there were a few older kids that I tried to befriend so I felt cool by being with the “older kids.”) The workers at the Youth Centre were also pretty cool and were basically the only people who gave me positive, healthy attention. So I kept going.
One night after drop-in at the Youth Centre, we were waiting outside for rides and such and I was getting in a bit of an argument with one of the kids and I yelled at him, saying, “You have no idea what I’m going through! You have no idea that both my parents are drug addicts [which, yeah, my mom started using after we moved…]! You have no idea that my dad is in a coma! You have no idea that I’m depressed and hate my life right now! Just leave me alone!” Well, one of the youth workers was out there and overheard all this – and if you know anything about working with youth, when you hear something like that, you are obligated by law to report that information. So he pulled me aside and into his office and told me what he overheard and told me what he had to do about it. So I went with him to the police station and told them what was going on.
Let’s back up a bit. Coma? What are you talking about? On a cold January night in 2008, I had gotten home late (like 3am…) from hanging out with some people (I finally sort of had friends) and had just gone to bed. After what seemed like only 5 minutes of sleeping, I woke up to our front door being slammed open and Mom screaming and crying in hysterics. I don’t remember what she said, but I think it was somewhere along the lines of “He’s gone!”
My dad got into a major car accident that night and was in critical condition in the Edmonton hospital. He didn’t die, but he did suffer severe brain damage, a lot of broken bones, and a little bit of memory loss. We went and visited him while he was in the ICU in somewhat stable condition a few weeks later, and the man that I saw in that bed was not Dad. My dad was a bigger guy, thick black hair, and usually quite lively. However, the man laying there was maybe 100lbs soaking wet, had a large bald spot where they had to hook up a drain for fluid in his head, was entirely bed-ridden as a result of a shattered leg, broken hip, and fractured skull, and could barely make a sound, let alone say words. The worst part for me, however, was not seeing him like this at all. That, I could handle. But the part that broke me was when Middle brother went up to the bed to say hi.
Middle brother and Dad never really got along all that much growing up. There was a lot of yelling and fighting and a lot of issues. Thankfully, it was (mostly) never physical. There was a little bit of pushing here and there, but nothing crazy or bad. But they never got along. Oldest brother, on the other hand, always had a great relationship with Dad. They did stuff together all the time, and it seemed he was the favourite (I was somewhere in-between the two).
When Oldest brother walked up to the bed, a smile broke on Dad’s face in recognition of his son and made a little noise as if to say hi. There was some non-verbal interaction, and he walked away. Middle brother walked up to the bed, and when Dad looked up at him, he had a blank face. Dad then looked over at us who were standing a little bit away from the bed with a look as if to say “Who is this and why is he here?” With that, and a tear in his eye, my brother walked away from the bed. Then Dad fell asleep so I didn’t get a chance to say hi or anything. To this day, it still brings tears to my eyes when I envision the look on Dad’s face. It broke me that our father wouldn’t recognize his own son.
He slipped into a coma a little while later, but thankfully awoke a couple weeks later and was healing quite well. He was eventually transferred to a brain injury facility near where we lived and stayed there for a couple years until he moved into a group home for men with disabilities.
Today, Dad can walk and talk just fine and remembers all of us and everything. He has healed quite well. There are still a few complications resulting in him never being able to live on his own again, but in terms of where he was at first, he is doing very well.
We went home that night and that’s when my depression really spiraled downward. I started injuring myself with anything I could find (but I never wanted to use a knife because I was too afraid). A few months later (after the Youth Centre incident), social services stepped in and gave my mom some options:
Option 1: she went into a treatment centre for women with drug addictions which they would set up and get her set up with that and everything she needed to get better.
Option 2: she continued living the way she was living.
Whatever she chose, though, they said, “But we’re taking your kids.”
Oldest brother at the time was already 18 so they couldn’t do anything with him so he just moved out, lived on his own, graduated, got a job, and lived life. Middle brother and I moved to our neighbours/good family friends’ who knew what was going on and everything for the summer while social services found an “official” place to go. At the end of the summer, just before school started, we moved into a group home. Group homes are not a healthy environment at all. It is just a building with a bunch of really messed up kids with really messed up families thrown in one place with workers basically there to feed us and make sure we didn’t kill each other.
We lived in this group home for about 6 months while social services tried to find a foster home in town that were willing to take two teenagers (I was 14 and Middle brother was 16 about to turn 17 at the time). In January of 2009, a year after the accident, we moved into a foster home. This was the beginning of the upswing.
I was still struggling with severe depression and suicidal thoughts, but of course no one knew that (I had gotten really good at lying about how I was doing and hiding things – especially since I often used quite “unconventional” methods of harming myself so people didn’t notice). However, the foster parents were really nice older people who had been foster parents for quite some time. They were extremely kind and good to us. It was around this time that I met Best Friend – my first really good friend. Best Friend and I hung out all the time and I stayed over at his house almost every weekend. His family got to know me and what was going on quite well so they knew my situation. That summer, Middle brother moved out and went under “supported independent living” while I stayed in the foster home, but I basically lived at Best Friend’s house. It got to a point where my social worker actually had to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to spend so much time over there because “they had found this nice home for me at the foster home and that is where I lived.” Yeah. Actually happened. The government tried to tell me I was too good of friends with someone. Anyways…
So as Best Friend’s family got to know me and my situation, they began to think and talk. One night, I was staying over at his house and we were chatting about life and stuff and I jokingly said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if your parents adopted me? Haha!” Without being serious, really, at all.
They overheard that, and a few weeks later, Best Friend’s dad was driving me back to the foster home and before I got out of the car, he stopped and said, “Cody, we know a lot of what is going on and we really like you. We would love it if you came and lived with us.”
So we started the conversation with my social worker and in November of 2009, I moved in to Best Friend’s house. His family immediately took me in and welcomed me – even all the extended family. Grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, all the cousins – everyone welcomed me as a part of the family. It was nice to finally have a stable place to live for the first time in a long time.
At first, I was just living with them and nothing was really “official” in a sense. However, because there were so many hoops to jump through in order for me to do anything with them (like vacation, get my passport, get my license, etc. – all had to be approved and signed for by my social worker who was so hard to get a hold of let alone set up a meeting with), they decided to take the extra step, cut out the middle-man, and become my permanent guardians. In May of 2010, Best Friend’s parents became my parents by law (whom I will call Mom2 and Dad2 from now on). The judge presiding at the court when we went to get it finalized looked up at me and said, “I love when these kinds of things happen,” and stamped the form “approved.”
After that, things in life started getting a lot better. Mom finished her treatment and was clean with no intentions of ever going back (she did relapse once, but only for a short time and got right back up and has been clean ever since). I was living in a stable home. Both brothers were graduated and off starting their lives. I finally had a real friend. And a few months later, Mom2 and Dad2 helped me get a job! Even still, I couldn’t shake the depression.
At my job at Subway (yes, I am an official Sandwich Artist. I have a certificate from Subway University to prove it – and yes, that is a legit thing.), I met another friend who we became really good friends because we had similar stories and life experiences. She told me about this trip she had gone on a few times to Vancouver through the people at the Youth Centre and told me that she felt like I should really go on this trip.
Now, I’m going to take a little break in the story to tell you some other important things. Today, I would consider myself as someone who tries to follow Jesus (if you didn’t catch the whole ‘Bible College’ thing earlier). But at this part in the story, I was a complete atheist. I hated religion, and I hated Christianity especially. I didn’t want anything to do with religion or God or the Bible or anything. Well, that’s what I told everyone… Deep down, however, I could never shake the feeling that I was wrong. Several times I would be so deep in depression and crying myself to sleep, and I would look up and say, “God, if You’re there, give me some sort of sign. If You’re real, show me! Please! I can’t live on like this anymore!” Also side-story: whenever I was deep in those moments of suicidal thoughts, with the blade against my wrist, there was always a voice in the back of my mind that said, “You’re so much more than this. If you don’t go through with it, there is so much more for you.” So I never could. Back to the Christian thing… this trip I knew was with a Christian organization and was what we call a “missions trip” meaning we were going to serve the community while learning about God and sharing about God to the people there. But I didn’t want anything to do with that – at least outwardly.
After 6 months of working together, and every single shift she brought it up saying she really thought I should go, I finally said I would, but only as a social justice thing (we were going to volunteer at a few homeless shelters and learn about poverty and all that kind of stuff) and I would ignore the whole Christian part. Little did I know what was in store for me…
I didn’t really know anyone on the trip at all except for a couple of the youth workers. But at this point I was doing better and was pretty social mostly. I made friends with pretty much everyone on the trip, but especially a few of the ones from my own town. We pulled up to the place we were staying for the week which was a house on the side of Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford, BC (also the place where Lifeteams is held, if you remember from the beginning of my story). The trip is organized, put together, planned, implemented, and all that by the Lifeteams students, and the Central Alberta people just bring the youth and help run the trip. We then stay at the Lifeteams house for the week and travel from there to all the different places we go with them.
We did a lot of social justice work and learning about what poverty is really like and what homelessness really looks like (because it is quite different than what we thought), while also learning about who God is and about the Bible. We sang songs called “worship” songs which I didn’t know at the time (feel free to ask me about what that means through the contact form!) what that really meant. But I was really musical and loved music – music was basically what kept me alive and going. So hearing and singing the words we were singing was really impactful, but I mostly just sang along because that’s what I do – even if I hate the song, I often sing along to it just because I love music/singing so much.
There was one song, however, that we didn’t sing and isn’t a Christian song at all, but was my favourite song at the time and throughout the entire trip – every moment – it was stuck on repeat in my head. It was As Much As I Ever Could by City and Colour. (Recently, I discovered what I thought were the lyrics weren’t actually the lyrics at all… But hey. God uses anything.) The words I heard were “Lost at sea, hoping you’d hear my plea and come save my life. As the storm group fierce, an angel was certainly near. I knew there was nothing to fear. Bring me your love tonight. Bring me your love tonight. No I am not where I belong, so bring me your love tonight.” These words hit me so hard every time I heard them/thought about them. I was so lost in the sea of depression, feeling so alone and nowhere near where I belonged in my life. I felt like I had no one to love me, and I needed someone to show me their love. Like I said earlier, I would often cry out to a God who I didn’t think was there… So this was kind of my prayer at the time.
The end of the song says, “No I am not where I belong, so shine your light and guide me home.” It were these words that impacted me the most. Because I had never really had a home in the last while and my life was so dark, I knew I wasn’t where I belonged in life and I needed some light and a home. I realized that Jesus was the only one who can shine that light, because He is the light.
On the bus ride home back to Alberta the next day, I was talking with some of the youth workers (who were all followers of Jesus) about my life, what was going on, and how I felt about the trip. Well, in the middle of the conversation, one stopped me and said, “Cody, I think you’re ready to follow Jesus.” I said, “No… That’s okay. I don’t really want that.” Knowing full well that wasn’t necessarily true, but I didn’t want to admit that to myself yet. So we kept talking about what I thought about everything that happened on the trip and what I thought about the whole “Christian” thing and everything. Then he stopped me mid-conversation again and said, “Cody, you’re ready to follow Jesus.” I looked up at him and said, “Yeah. I think you’re right.” So we prayed together and I told God I was ready to follow Him and make Him Lord of my life. (If you want to know more about this, don’t hesitate to contact me!)
So I got home as a follower of Jesus on April 1st, 2011. I told my coworkers and they were all super excited for me because they were also all followers of Jesus (and all went to the same church – fancy that). I decided I should probably start going to church, which was an easy choice since, like I said, most of my coworkers all went to the same church. So I started going there every Sunday. Then got involved with a youth group where we met every Tuesday night to talk about the Bible and all kinds of stuff. Then one on Thursday mornings. Then one on Mondays after school. Then one on Wednesday mornings. Pretty soon, I was learning about the Bible 5 days a week and growing so much while making lots of new friends. My life turned around. Making friends was much easier, I stopped caring what other people thought or said about me and started to just love everyone. I became pretty social and by the end of Grade 12, I had basically no bullies, lots of new friends, a stable home, and was mostly out of my depression (I still have moments now and then, and it will be a lifelong battle, but I have not self-harmed since then and have been relatively good). Now, following Jesus isn’t some magical formula where everything gets easy and life is great and rainbows and unicorns. No. There are still many struggles; in fact, the Bible even says that followers of Jesus will have it tough. But things did get better. I still had my struggles, but I was (and am) able to walk through them knowing I was/am not alone – Jesus was (and is) right here.
I graduated in 2012 (a year after this trip), and decided I wanted to become a youth worker like the ones at the Youth Centre so that I could help kids just like me. At the time, the only place I knew that did something like that was Lifeteams. So I applied, got accepted, and moved out to Abbotsford to attend this school for youth outreach. It was a really cool “cycle” moment when I got to plan and implement the missions trip from Central Alberta and see where I had come from. A lot of crazy things happened and a lot of learning and growing took place while I was there.
To sum briefly, Lifeteams is a program where there is a maximum of 10 spots (my year we had 8 students), and we all lived in a house together on the side of the mountain for 9 months, learning about working with youth, how to communicate, how to live well together in community, and all sorts of life lessons. It is also very practical-based learning. So 2 days a week we’re in classes (which was just our basement living room with the couches pushed aside and a table set up in the middle) learning about youth work and 2 other days a week actually doing youth work in what we call “placement.” A “placement” is chosen for us within the first week of the program and we are paired up and sent to wherever we were placed for the next 9 months where we would become a part of the team there, and be youth workers – much like the ones in the Youth Centre. There is a LOT (and I mean a lot) more to this program, but that is all I will share here for now.
After that, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to do youth work full time yet so I needed some more training. I decided to go to Prairie College to do a Bachelor’s degree in youth outreach. (By the way, Prairie has some pretty cool programs, such as an EMR/EMT program, LPN, Aviation, Digital Media and Photography, Outdoor Leadership, Intercultural Studies, and more. Check it out! Also, its a free online application!)
So many things have happened and God has done so many amazing, incredible things in my life these last 5 years, I could go on for a loooong time telling you all my stories. But to spare you the time as I’ve already taken up a lot of it (which, thank you! by the way for taking the time to read this far! I really appreciate it!), I will leave you with this:
At my darkest moment, someone decided to listen to my story and found out I wanted that chapter of my life to be the final chapter and to end my story there. But he (and God) knew that there was a much better ending waiting for me if I only flipped the page. Since then, my life has been incredible – incredibly difficult at times, but nonetheless amazing. I wouldn’t trade my story for anything because it brought me to where I am today. Thank you for listening.
If you want a little update about the people in my life, keep reading! But that is the rest of my story for now. If you have any questions at all about anything I said, or want some clarifications, or just want to know a little bit more about something, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the “Tell me your story!” page. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Grace and peace to you, my friend!
My mom, after treatment, decided to go back to school and become a Unit Clerk at a hospital where she is happily still working and absolutely loving it.
Mom2 and Dad2 are mortgage brokers and have since moved back to their hometown since they are empty-nesters now. Best Friend has gone to college and is moving/transferring up north to Edmonton with his girlfriend. He is loving school.
Middle brother now lives on Vancouver Island, has quit a lot of bad habits, totally turned himself around, went back to school and graduated with his certificate as a Community Support Worker and is now looking for work.
Older brother is doing well for himself, working on the rigs and in a serious relationship, thinking about marriage and hopefully settling down with a family soon.
Dad is in a home with another man with a disability where a lady takes care of them. They have their daily and weekly chores, and they love it there. We email back and forth once in a while. I saw him last Christmas (2015) for the first time in ~7 years. That was a lot better than I anticipated. It was the first time that all of us have been together since the accident. He is doing really well, can have normal conversations, walks great, and has gained a lot of weight. So much that he needs to start losing some… Haha. But he is a jolly man. His memory isn’t perfect, which makes it difficult sometimes to have real conversations because he will often bring up a conversation that we had just a few minutes ago as if it were a fresh topic and he can only focus on one subject for a short amount of time. But I’m hoping to see him and talk to him more, especially since I’m leaving for a while. I would like to get to know him because I no longer know the man I once called Dad.
Mom and Dad are officially divorced now, which is okay considering the circumstances. She is happily single and he totally understands and has moved on (I think as much as one can given his condition).