Chelsea kneels in the grass with her hands buried in the rich soft soil as she positions a fern into its new hole. She fills the extra space with dirt and gently packs it down before rubbing her hands up the front of her thighs. A subtle smile slips from her lips as she inhales a deep breath and admires the striking garden she has nurtured back to life. After years of neglect, Chelsea was hired to repair the abandoned yard, which required weeks of sweat and labour. Now she was relishing the best part: a fruitful resurrection undertaken with her own two soiled hands, just as she had done for herself years earlier.
In 2012, 29-year-old Chelsea was a frail 92 pounds. She described herself as hallucinating and ripping her body apart. Using her fingernails, she had hollowed bloodied holes that spread from her arms to her face. Her body was like a shell; it had the ability to move, but the essence and soul of Chelsea had been swallowed by addiction. Chelsea lowers her gaze, recalling the horror in her fathers’ eyes. He had always been her rock, the one who picked her up when she was psychologically broken from the torment she experienced at school. “When I let the world swallow me, he would pull me out … he was my only friend,” Chelsea says of her father.
Chelsea admits that for the first time, her father couldn’t save her. She knew his hands were tied as he helplessly watched her die a little more each day. Dehydration, sleep-deprivation and hard drugs had dragged Chelsea to her knees – she had gone clinically insane. Her father later admitted to Chelsea that he and her mother almost wished she would die to end her suffering and their gut-wrenching grief.
It wasn’t always this way. In 2001, like many young girls, Chelsea, an 18-year-old college student, fell in love with the bad boy. Jon was nothing like the wholesome Christian boy she had followed to Bible study over the last four years; she found herself drawn to the crazy and criminal – to the turbulent blood pumping through Jon’s veins. Determined to save him, she followed him into the dark where she was sucked up like quicksand and erased.
Chelsea rakes her fingers through her soft autumn hair and chuckles as she recalls how naïve she was back then. She describes the butterflies in her stomach and how she felt around Jon, “He would do these crazy and nefarious things, and I’m like holy crap, this guy’s crazy, but my god he’s so attractive … like he can take me for a ride that I will never forget.” And as fate would have it, one drunken night outside of Outbacks nightclub in the dusty town of Kamloops, she ran into him again. Squealing with anticipation as she leapt into his arms, stomach fluttering, she wrapped her legs around his waist and held on tight for the ride. Little did she know, this ride was a sharp free-fall, one that would drag this fresh-faced girl into an unrecognizable desolate place.
Chelsea plummeted hard and fast into Jon’s world, where she traded her Bibles in for blow. Blow led to crack, crack led to meth and meth led to heroin. A few months later, she dropped out of college, stole from her parents and rapidly withered into a shell of the little girl her parents used to know. She sank further and deeper than her own definition of rock bottom: needles and prostitution. “I didn’t really know how to even start doing something like that, so, I just started,” Chelsea said about the first time she sold her body. She borrowed her drug dealer’s car and drove to Tranquille road in the North Shore of Kamloops where she walked the strip and found a place on the corner. Her life had mutated into what she described as a scene from a scary movie, where she found herself walking the strip night after night selling her body to a john in order to stick a needle in her arm.
Chelsea’s dog, Chia, nuzzles her nose into her lap and peers up with her sky-blue eyes. She meets her warm gaze and continues to explain how she lost herself with Jon and morphed from honour roll student into a drug-addicted prostitute, “I followed him into it, bit by bit. It’s kind of like the frog, you know, if you throw a frog into a pot and you slowly turn the temperature up, it’ll adjust its body heat and you can eventually boil the frog alive. You slowly acclimate yourself.”
Chelsea’s eyes sadden as she recalls seeing her dad one Christmas. Diagnosed with cancer, he dropped from his chubby-cheeked 230 pounds to a feeble 120. Her eyes widened in horror just like he had looked at her. Choking on tears she ran from the room, unable to even look at him. “I remember thinking to myself that my dad is fighting for his life, the least I could do is clean up my life for him … I remember thinking I was a piece of shit because I couldn’t even do that.”
Several years later, on September 29, 2012, she did get clean for her dad. It was an unlikely man who changed the trajectory of her life; he was a 64-year-old john who had picked her up off the strip eight months earlier and brought her home to live with him. Chelsea described their relationship as transactional: she received drugs and shelter in exchange for sexual favours, until one day he told her she was costing him too much. He gave her an ultimatum, she could either hit the road or go to treatment. So, days later he dropped her off at a treatment centre in Vancouver.
Chelsea spent the next 19 months in treatment, describing her experience as all-consuming. “There was no time to think between chores, group work, and individual work.” Her counsellor, Deanna ripped her apart until she was nothing but a pile of pieces on the floor. Once Chelsea was broken open, Deanna taught her how to rebuild herself into the person she wanted to become. The process was like sifting through a treasure chest. Chelsea could keep the pieces of herself she wanted to cherish and discard the parts that did not serve her.
Suddenly, her parents had their little girl back. They stayed by her side, supporting her every step of the way. At first, Chelsea was doing it for her parents as she had more love and compassion for them than she did for herself. She especially wanted to give her father a period of peace and serenity as he had always given to her. He had the ability to pluck her out of reality like when they “would look up at the half-moon, he’d say it kind of looks like we’re all stuck in this big toy box and some kid forgot to cover the hole.”
Today Chelsea is 50 pounds heavier and describes her body as healthy and strong. She has deep scars on her face, markers of her strength and endurance. She is proud of her body, not just physically, but for what she developed on the inside. Chelsea stands solid and tall after rebuilding herself. She picked up the scraps of broken pieces and moulded them into something beautiful much like she does for people’s gardens and yards.
After years of addiction, Chelsea has tapped into her creativity and discovered she had transferrable skills from her life on the streets. In 2014, she launched her own landscaping business with her current boyfriend, Maksym, saying, “If I can figure out how to get dope and money, I can definitely figure out how to get through life.” Chelsea admits that it’s hard work and involves a lot of long, sweaty days, but it’s where she feels alive, with her hands in the dirt feeding and nurturing mother nature.
Written by Monique Elise
Photo Credit: Tomas Jasovsky