There were two key moments that saved the life of BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Mental Health and Substance Use Senior Director Darci Skiber. One involves her mother, who helped her detox from substance use, and the other involves an emergency room physician, who made her feel human.
If Darci had to pick three words to describe her childhood, they would be: poverty, violence and substance use.
Born three months early to a mother using substances, she started using substances herself at age 11 or 12 and was placed into government care during her first years of high school.
“It was horrible from a social and developmental perspective because I moved from my small community to a city where I knew nobody and really struggled to fit in. That being said, it helped me get some separation from the chaos and my own trauma," she says. “I had regular meals, participated in social activities, and felt cared for."
No neighbours or family friends stepped in to help when things were really bad with her parents, despite the fact that everyone in the community knew about what was happening. The help Darci received was initially from the government.
“Everyone knew my house was a disaster," she says. “My house was not the house friends came to. I didn't have sleepovers or birthday parties because my house wasn't safe and everyone knew it, but no one ever said it out loud."
Darci started using opiates at age 17 or 18 and quickly progressed into injection drug use, overdosing multiple times. It was during one of those trips to the hospital, when an offhand joke by a physician in the emergency department changed her life.
“He didn't say anything meaningful or transformative," Darci says. “I remember laying in this hospital bed, hooked up to machines, and he was standing at the end of my bed. I was not charming. I hated everyone and trusted no one. I just looked at him and I said, 'What are you ****ing looking at?' Without missing a beat and with a total deadpan face, he said, 'I'm just trying to figure out what I can put in that other arm just to balance it out, like, do you need another IV or something?'"
The physician smiled and they both started laughing.
“That was the moment for me. I don't even remember his name," Darci says, as she starts to get choked up. “I get so emotional talking about that interaction. And it probably sounds so stupid. But for me, as a recovering person who used substances, it was the first time that I just felt like I was being seen as a normal person, like I had value, and that he saw that."
A nurse, who also had experience using substances, came to visit Darci and shared her story. This support planted a seed of hope. Maybe there was another way to live.
Darci left the hospital with those conversations swirling in her head. Three weeks later, she reached out for help.
“March 30, 1997 is when I quit," she says. “I called my mom as she was sober by that point. I said I needed help and she picked me up. I detoxed in the spare bedroom of my childhood home and then she dropped me off at a recovery program. That was it. It was one of the times she was able to really show up for me and saved my life. I felt like it was one of those spiritual amends."
Darci leads work in mental health and substance use at BC Women's, including a program called Families in Recovery, or FIR. She wishes her mom, who has since passed away, had access to the services she now helps to provide.
“I wish there had been someone to say to her 'Hey, I don't think things are OK here.'" Darci says.
“She had these Betty Crocker moments where she'd make doughnuts or homemade potato chips, but she used substances to numb her own pain. My father was an abusive alcoholic and my mom tried to take the brunt of that to decrease the beatings we received as kids. She had no support."
Darci now has three children of her own, ages 8, 10 and 24.
“The women in my life teach me how to parent, remind me to ask for help, and continue to love me when I make mistakes," she says.
“I want women and families to know that there's a community here to support, guide, advocate for, and love them as they move through their own recovery oath, whatever that looks like."
Her husband is also in recovery and provides balance to her life. Darci is completing her PhD in research that highlights how gender impacts engagement in health-care services for people who use substances.
“I don't think we're going to change the world, but we can be the right person, saying the right thing, at the right time," she says. “I am living proof of how you can change the trajectory of someone's life just by being that person."
For more information on referrals or the care FIR provides, please visit the BC Women's website.
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